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Johnny Vardeman: Wet weather, dry new year greeted 1916
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Thousands of Georgians New Year’s Eve and beyond toasted 2016 with a flute of champagne or snorts of other liquid spirits.

One hundred years ago, 1916, you couldn’t do that — or weren’t supposed to. Georgia had just passed the most stringent and radical prohibition laws in the country.

You couldn’t sell or manufacture liquor, beer, wine or near beer. You couldn’t ship or receive alcoholic beverages, and advertisements of same were prohibited in any publication. Out-of-state publications — magazines, for instance — that advertised alcoholic beverages couldn’t be sold or brought into the state.

Ah, but the loopholes. Legislators, intentionally or not, always seem to provide us ways out. All of the above applied except when alcoholic beverages were for “personal use” in the home. You could even ship them if for “individual use.” Lot of latitude there. Of course, all the laws made the moonshiners happy as demand increased for their illegal products.

Here are other things that were happening as Northeast Georgia welcomed 1916.

Just as the last year ended wetter than normal, so it was in 1915-16. Floods washed away bridges, damaged roads and moved Gainesville & Northwestern Railroad’s trestle at Clark’s Bridge 10 inches. The railroad also had serious track damage between Gainesville and Helen, causing service to discontinue until repairs could be made.

Lumpkin and Hall counties lobbied federal and state governments to build a highway through the new 75,000-acre Appalachian Forest Reserve, what is now Chattahoochee National Forest. They wanted the road to reach the top of the mountains to accommodate the increasing number of automobiles on area roads and enhance the fledgling tourism business.

If that road were built, you could buy a new automobile to ride on it: a Ford for $390, a 40-horsepower, four-cylinder, seven-passenger Studebaker for $885 from Will Summer’s Gainesville Auto Co., or a Chevrolet from Griffin Bros. at Clermont for $490. You’d have to pay $60 extra if you wanted the Chevy with electric lights and a starter. Whatever car you bought, you’d have to buy a tag for $3-$4, something new in Georgia.

Felix Jackson was opening his new Jackson Building, the five-story office complex that still stands on Washington Street in Gainesville’s downtown. The Chamber of Commerce was one of its first tenants.

Twenty-four lawyers and their wives held a banquet at the Princeton Hotel to formally organize a permanent bar association. W.B. Sloan was its first president.

Dr. P.E.B. Robertson was sworn in as Gainesville’s mayor for 1916, succeeding John B. Rudolph.

Southern Railway and highway officials agreed on an overpass at New Holland on what is now known as Old Cornelia Highway. The railroad also agreed to build a bridge over its tracks at Lula.

Dr. L.G. Hardman of Commerce announced he would run for governor, having lost two years before. He made his first campaign speech in Gainesville, but lost again. Ten years later, he finally won and served as governor 1927-31.

The Carter family established Carter Wholesale Grocery Co., a fixture in Gainesville for many years.

Jake Sacks store in downtown Gainesville was advertising overalls for 39 cents a pair, and an ad for Pic Nic twist chewing tobacco boasted, “The thinkers of the country are tobacco chewers.”

Just as 1916 dawned, the first report of the Bureau of Ethnologists on the excavation of Nacoochee Indian Mound near Helen came out. The mound and gazebo are still familiar landmarks in Nacoochee Valley on what was then the property of Gov. Hardman.

The report debunked the romantic and tragic legend of Sautee and Nacoochee, mythological lovers from different Indian tribes, who supposedly had leaped to their deaths off Yonah Mountain overlooking the valley. Nacoochee’s father, Cherokee Chief Wahoo, opposed their relationship.

Otherwise, the expedition unearthed the bodies of 75 people, including children. Buried with some of them were various relics, pottery and clay pipes. All were facing the rising sun. The bodies were found on various levels of the mound. Evidence of fire pits also was uncovered.

Stories of a cache of gold or other hidden treasure had circulated through the valley for years. But none was found during the excavation. An 1808 Spanish silver coin was the only money discovered, and it apparently was unrelated to the mound itself.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times.

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