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Johnny Vardeman: 100-year-old health bills seem like bargains now
Johnny Vardeman

The cost of health care is top-of-mind for most everybody these days, from doctors, to hospitals, to insurance companies and, of course, patients.

One hundred years ago next month, the Hall County Medical Society announced its doctors would be raising their rates. They would be:

  • Day visits (house calls) $2, plus $1 each for other members of the family

  • Night visits $3 after 9 p.m.

  • Obstetrics $15-$25

  • Consultations $5-$10

  • Country visits $1 per mile

  • Vaccinations $1, plus 50 cents each for additional family members

  • Prescriptions $1

The announcement was signed by physician members J.H. Downey, J.D. Mauldin, Pratt Cheek, L.R. Bryson, H.L. Rudolph, Jesse L. Meeks, A.D. White, Will T. Meeks, E.T. Gibbs, J.B. Rudolph and C.B. Whelchel.

Dr. Downey, of course, was Pacolet’s New Holland Mill physician before he founded Downey Hospital.

Hall County had no hospital in its early years, and it wasn’t until after the 1903 tornado that killed more than 100 in the Gainesville area that a movement began to build one. Mayor P.N. Parker at the time urged the community to push for a hospital.

It would be 1912 before a “real” hospital would be built. Dr. Downey had received patients in his home, then built a small clinic before he opened the two-story brick hospital on Sycamore Street, now E.E. Butler Parkway.

Another hospital operated for a while in Gainesville, Parkview, across from City Park beginning in March 1919. It was located in what then were known as the Webb Apartments, renovated to hospital standards. It started with 10 beds, but proposed adding 15 later.

Dr. C.W. Larrabee, who had doctored in Helen, started the hospital and served as its superintendent. Its board included Larrabee, E.P. Ham, Wylie Quillian, W.W. Liles, W.A. Palmour, J.C. Gower and P.E.B. Robertson.

Parkview didn’t last long, perhaps because of a scandal involving Larrabee. A nurse, who had been with him in Helen, sued him the same year the hospital opened for $25,000 for breach of promise. Katherine Zhien alleged that Larrabee promised to marry her after he divorced his wife. He did divorce her, but married instead Dovie Mae Collins, head nurse at Parkview.

Dr. Larrabee had started his practice in Gainesville in 1918 before establishing the new hospital.

A house of healing, then entertainment

Before the present Northeast Georgia Medical Center was built on Spring Street, now Jesse Jewell Parkway, Hall County had another hospital at the top of a hill off Atlanta Highway. The building still stands on what is known as Hospital Drive. Besides serving as a hospital, it also had been a home for the indigent. After the medical center was built, the building has been occupied by various uses, including a restaurant that featured female dancers in various versions of dress or undress. The building now houses a new restaurant without the added attraction.

Five months of book learning

Hall County’s school year was just five months long until 1912. The school board then voted to extend the term to six months. H.F. Wood was superintendent at the time, and Homer Langford of Tadmore chaired the board of education.

That’s a big omelet

Further proof of Hall County’s long history as a poultry and egg center. In 1912, farmers shipped 2,625,260 eggs to other markets.

Shining straight into the 1970s

While you hear of few illegal liquor stills being discovered today, as late as the 1970s, revenue agents were still finding them. A couple and their son were arrested after agents discovered a highly camouflaged still operation in the Airline area of Hall County.

Hall County and Woodrow Wilson

Woodrow Wilson had a lot of connections to Hall County; he had relatives, his two daughters were born here, and he visited Gainesville often.

It didn’t help him in the 1912 Democratic presidential primary, however. Oscar W. Underwood, an Alabama congressman, beat him by 312 votes in Hall County. Underwood also carried the state by 14,143 votes. Wilson went on to win the presidency, defeating Republican William Howard Taft and Progressive Teddy Roosevelt. In the national election, Hall County went for Wilson by 754 votes, and he carried all but two of the 9th District counties.

Watch for more local history in this column next Sunday.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. He can be reached at 2183 Pine Tree Circle NE, Gainesville; 770-532-2326;

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