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Johnny Vardeman: Shoebusiness, chickens, eggs were staples in Hall County
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Hall County was experiencing a mini-boom in 1897.

It had long ago become a center for trade in Northeast Georgia with people bringing wagonloads of goods from over the mountains and elsewhere to Gainesville.

While we think of Hall County’s poultry business being born in the 1950s, its reputation as a chicken center dates to the 19th century. In 1897, farmers were bringing 10,000 chickens a week to sell to stores and individuals from all around. In addition, during that same time 300 to 500 cases of eggs were being traded in Gainesville.

Prices paid farmers for chickens and eggs in Hall County were better than most anywhere around, including Atlanta. Eggs were selling for 6 cents to 8 cents per dozen, and chickens went from 8-10 cents per pound.

Gainesville was known for more than farm products, however, though prospects for crops that year were excellent. It also had become a hub for leather products, especially shoes from Hynds Manufacturing Co. It was shipping 250 cases of shoes a week; that’s 7,000 pairs, going to retail stores in Georgia, Tennessee and Alabama.

“There is greater demand than ever for the celebrated Gainesville shoe,” reported the Georgia Cracker. Hynds was expanding its facility on the southside of Gainesville.

Bagwell and Gower Co., makers of buggies, also was going great guns at the end of the 19th century, just a few years before automobiles would cut into their business.

There was a building boom, too. R.D. Mitchell and John H. Hosch had just completed their new homes on Green Streets, and other residences were going up all over town.

Plans also were being discussed to build a street railroad in the city.

• • •

Horses and buggies, mules and wagons, and the street railroad weren’t the only way to get around Hall County in those days. There were plenty of bicyclists, called “wheelmen” at the time. Apparently few women rode bicycles in the 1890s.

The “wheelmen” would ride as a group to such places as Flowery Branch or Mossy Creek. While the roads weren’t paved at that time, they didn’t have to worry much about traffic as they could navigate around buggies and wagons before automobiles began to dominate the roads.

• • •

Reginald Tatum had a good memory of the late Helen Longstreet, second wife of Confederate Gen. James Longstreet.

About 1950, Mrs. Longstreet was holed up in the Commercial Hotel in Cornelia to do some writing. Tatum worked after school and on weekends at the hotel. He began serving as Mrs. Longstreet’s courier to transport packages of her transcripts every day to the Cornelia post office. Tatum got a nickel for every trip if he happened to be on his way home at the time. If he was to return to the hotel after mailing a package, he would get 10 cents.

Tatum remembered her carefully planning her budget, trying to avoid the 10-cent charges, but she always had a daily package to mail. Mrs. Longstreet gave him a quarter for postage, but if the package were overweight, he’d had to pitch in his extra nickel.

She didn’t have a name for her book, but it was about her late husband, the general. Mrs. Longstreet told Tatum he was being a part of history, so that was why she didn’t pay him anymore.

Mrs. Longstreet’s signature book was “Lee and Longstreet at High Tide,” refuting critics who tried to blame the general for the Confederates’ loss at the Battle of Gettysburg, but it was published in 1904.

• • •

Three wives in 10 months? How could that happen? Was this guy a polygamist?

No, Dan Kelly of Hall County’s Wilsons District just liked to be married and preferred women from the same family.

In 1899, it is said, he married Jennie Fowler, who died within a few weeks. Kelly immediately began courting her sister, Sallie, who died within three weeks. So, finally he married the last of the Fowler sisters, Lithonia.

• • •

Parents of Lizzie Strickland of Butts County didn’t want her to marry George McAllister, so they sent her to Gainesville to get her away from him.

Alas, McAllister followed her, and the Rev. J.G. Davis married them “near” the First Methodist Church, not “in” the church, according to the Gainesville News in July 1902.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times.

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