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Johnny Vardeman: You ask, we answer solving some mysteries of local history
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Readers now and then have questions about local history. Here are a few of some that have popped up over the years:

Where was Downey Hospital located?

The hospital, founded by Dr. James Downey was at 212 Sycamore St. between Broad and Spring streets in Gainesville. Sycamore now is E.E. Butler Parkway, but Spring and a section of Broad still exist. The building later was used by Hall County Board of Education and various county offices before it came down when the widening of Sycamore led to E.E. Butler Parkway. The Avion Restaurant and Motel were just down the street on Broad.

What was the original use for the multistoried building on Green Street next to The Times?

Several banks have occupied the main floors and other offices on the upper floors. First Federal Savings and Loan, whose president was Buford Battle, built the building. Great Southern Federal followed along with other banks.

How long has The Times been in its present location?

Since 1970. It moved to 345 Green St. from West Spring Street, where it occupied a building that formerly housed an ice cream company. WGGA Radio Station shared the building with the newspaper. The same building once was offices for Sawyer Advertising, later an insurance company and now Ninth District Opportunity.

The Gainesville Daily Times, as it was originally known, started in an old funeral home that now houses Urbain Hair Artistry, at the corner of Maple and Washington streets just off the Gainesville downtown square. A Sears catalog store and later a Singer Sewing Machine Co. once operated at that location, as well as radio station WLBA.

Why is the vacant lot on Gainesville’s downtown square called “the Belk lot?”

Gallant-Belk once operated on part of the lot, actually at the corner of Bradford and Spring. The store later moved to Sherwood Plaza, then to Lakeshore Mall, where it is presently located. Both the Sherwood Plaza location on South Enota and the Lakeshore Mall store on Pearl Nix Parkway operated at the same time for years. Belk is a major anchor of Lakeshore Mall today.

What was the area like before Lake Lanier was impounded?

It was less busy, for sure, but even then Gainesville was a major trade and poultry center and gateway for tourism in the mountains. The Chattahoochee and Chestatee rivers, the main streams forming the lake, were popular fishing holes, and still are upstream from the lake. Gainesville’s downtown still was the main shopping center for the county as well as surrounding counties. Bottomland along the rivers once brimmed principally with corn or cotton crops.

Much commercial and residential development today covers what used to be open fields and pastureland. Development is more pronounced in south Hall County, while north Hall County retains more of a rural feel despite more development in recent years.

What was Townview Plaza?

It was a strip shopping center south of what is now Jesse Jewell Parkway across the pedestrian bridge. Stores included Grant’s, Jacobs Drugs and Kroger.

What once was in the building that Turner-Wood-Smith Insurance Co. is vacating on Brenau Avenue?

Colonial Stores.

Where was there an A&P in downtown Gainesville?

One operated at the corner of what is now West Academy Street and West Washington Street across from the old Gainesville High School building, now Gym of ’36 building. Dixie Tire Co. later was located in the building, and the corner site now is home to Peach State Bank and Trust.

How long did it take for Lake Lanier to fill?

The gates at Buford Dam closed Feb. 1, 1956, and the lake reached what was then called its normal pool of 1,070 feet above sea level May 25, 1959. However, by Aug. 1, 1958, the lake level was 1,068.77 feet, which was pretty much considered full. Buford Dam, which impounds the rivers to form Lake Lanier, actually was dedicated Oct. 9, 1957.

What is the scalped peak of a mountain that can be seen in the Hiawassee area?

That is Bell Mountain, a prominent feature of Towns County that also can be seen in neighboring North Carolina. The scar on the mountain comes from asbestos mining that was operating about 50 years ago. Mining apparently discontinued because of hazardous conditions on the mountain.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times.

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