Horses and buggies, mules and wagons remained the primary mode of transportation in North Georgia into the early 1900s.
Hall County was a big buggy-manufacturing town, with Bagwell buggies and wagons earning a national reputation. Roads remained unpaved and became difficult to travel after a rain.
Steam-powered vehicles were being experimented with as early as 1768. Gas-powered automobiles had come on the national and world scene in the 1880s, and electric cars debuted around the turn of the 20th century. But all of those were unknown in these parts, except for what people read about in newspapers or magazines.
The Dawson County Advertiser in 1903 reported residents excited about an automobile coming to the county for a demonstration. “Many people in Dawson County have never seen one,” the paper wrote.
While a few were already roaming the roads in Atlanta, it wasn’t until June 1902 when Hall County had an official car owner. Dr. M.M. Ham paid $850 for a Locomobile that got 10 miles per gallon of gas. His first trial run covered 8 miles and attracted considerable attention, the Gainesville News reported. Dr. E.P. Ham bought an EMF in November 1903.
But buggies continued to dominate. Instead of a new car, First Baptist Church gave its pastor, the Rev. J.A. Wynne, $300 to buy a horse and buggy.
What few automobiles on the streets were a plague to many. One resident described them as “sounding like a machine gun.” When somebody’s car was stolen, another resident suggested, “Give him a purse for ridding the county of a nuisance.”
Bealor Mundy and his son were hurt when W.H. Summer’s car scared their horse and ran off with their buggy. A local paper wrote that a national study showed people were living longer “despite autos and trolley cars.”
As late as 1905, a newspaper declared, “The auto is well in its place, but there’s still value in the horse and mule.”
Never mind the nuisance, there was excitement about automobiles. Atlanta built a racetrack, and Barney Oldfield, legendary driver, was among attractions at its first big race.
A demonstration vehicle called “The Red Devil” was showing up around the state and sought permission to race a Southern Railroad train beside its tracks from Atlanta to Gainesville. Its speed would be 40 miles per hour.
In May 1906, Frank Meaders of Dahlonega bought a car to go between Dahlonega and Gainesville. It could be hired to carry up to five passengers.
Dr. J.A. Knott in 1907 bought a Model R Ford specially built for physicians. He reported it took him three hours to drive it from Atlanta on muddy roads. Dr. H.L. Rudolph bought a 14-horsepower Maxwell in 1908, but soon traded it for a 30-horsepower model. Cars were becoming popular enough that local stores advertised “driving gloves” as Christmas gifts.
Citizens complaining about “dodging cars” were becoming routine. Cars were such a concern to safety that in August 1906, Gainesville City Council was pondering speed laws and recommending the state legislature do something to regulate motorized vehicles. Three years later, the council imposed speed limits of 10 to 15 miles per hour on streets in the immediate business district. It prohibited vehicles on city streets after dark unless they were properly lighted, and car owners had to pay a $2.50 registration fee.
“It is up to the auto driver,” a local newspaper declared in 1909, “to take care in passing other vehicles. A man in a horse and wagon or the driver of an ox team has as much right on the highway as the owner of an auto.”
It would be 1910, however, before Hall County Rep. J.O. Adams would introduce a speed limit bill in the state legislature.
Car owners began to have parties, gathering their vehicles for rides around town or residential areas, perhaps a short venture around the county if roads were passable. An automobile in the early 1900s was a star attraction in a parade.
By 1910, one newspaper wrote, “Autos are more numerous. It is not unusual to see several at one time.”
The reason was Henry Ford began making the first “affordable” car, the Model T, which could be purchased for $825.
(Continued next week: How the “Tin Lizzie” made an impact in so many ways.)
Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times.