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Johnny Vardeman: Reform crusade shut down most stores Sundays
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A great reform movement swept Hall County in the early 1900s.

A Law and Order League organized, and churches cooperated in mass meetings aimed mostly at outlawing alcoholic beverages. Newspapers campaigned against crime of any kind, but Sunday sales of anything but necessities also were targets.

Gainesville City Council in December 1903 outlawed any Sunday sales except prescription drugs. The first Sunday that went into effect, a local newspaper called the city “closed tight as a drum.” Except for drug stores, other businesses were closed on Sundays. Drug store soda fountains also couldn’t operate. There could be no sales of soda water, cigars, chewing gum or any other “luxury item.”

Solicitor Fletcher M. Johnson decreed he would prosecute any violation of the laws.

In 1903, Southern Railway was fined $1,000 in Habersham County for operating a freight train on Sunday. Both the State and U.S. Supreme courts either upheld the fine or refused to hear the case.

The movement carried on for several years. Judge J.J. Kimsey in 1907 would receive grand jury indictments against 32 people for selling cigars and soda on Sunday. They were fined $10. One person even was indicted for operating a merry-go-round at Chattahoochee Park on Sunday.

This also was the era of prohibition on a local level. Gainesville and Hall County voters overwhelmingly voted “dry” in 1903. The Law and Order League swelled the voter registration list to 4,151, the largest in history. When the election was held, the prohibitionists won 1,766 to 247. The “drys” previously voted out liquor in 1891 and 1897. This time, a newspaper predicted, Hall County and Gainesville would never have to worry about becoming “wet” again.

Churches were so elated, they gathered for a praise celebration at Hall County Courthouse.

• • •

Was there a monster in the Tallulah River? E. Merton Coulter, in a history of Tallulah Falls, recounted the legend of a mysterious water creature that supposedly washed out of the river in a flood of 1891. Witnesses described it at first as 40 feet long, later adjusting that to 27 feet. It supposedly had a head like an alligator, a body like a rattlesnake, a row of short legs or paddles on either side of its body and a series of large fins.

When a man approached the critter with a pole, it snatched it out of his hands and broke it into splinters. When somebody shot the monster in the head with a rifle, the bullet bounced off it. The creature didn’t die until somebody hit it with a shot between the eyes.

Supposedly, the monster was skinned and sent to an exposition.

There was some speculation that Tallulah Falls businesses concocted the story to attract more tourists.

Tallulah Gorge and Falls had become quite a tourist attraction at that time, especially after the railroad expanded from the south.

• • •

Considerable tobacco once was grown in Hall County. So much that in 1906 Byron Mitchell exhibited part of his crop at the state fair, and carted 50 pounds of tobacco to an exposition in Jamestown, Va.

• • •

“You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby” Department: Gainesville people were unaccustomed to seeing a woman ride astride a horse, instead of side-saddle. “When one did appear on a horse in this fashion on the public square,” the Gainesville News reported in November 1906, “she attracted no little attention. She was a good horsewoman and handled her animal in good style. She was not known here, but she and her male companion didn’t appear to mind the gaze of those who lined up along the sidewalks to see them pass swiftly by.”

• • •

William Waring Habersham, who wrote articles in state and local newspapers about gold prospects in this area, was from the well-known Savannah Habershams. He was the great-grandson of Joseph Habersham, for whom Habersham County is named, and son of Dr. J.C. Habersham. W.W. Habersham took part in the California gold rush and was an assayer and mineralogist who spent considerable time in Hall County.

He died at age 63 in November 1906.

Joseph Habersham’s summer home still stands on old U.S. 441 north of Clarkesville.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times.