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Johnny Vardeman: 100 years ago, Hall’s centennial slipped past everyone
Johnny Vardeman

Hall Countians are marking the 200th anniversary of the county’s founding in significant ways, including Northeast Georgia History Center’s 12th annual Taste of History luncheon Thursday.

But if county residents made much of a fuss about its 100th birthday it wasn’t obvious in the newspapers of the day. In 1918, Hall County had three weekly newspapers: The Gainesville News, the Gainesville Eagle and The Herald.

Searches through the News and the Herald that year found no notice of the county’s centennial. Eagle issues for that year were unavailable, but it’s probable that if the other two papers ignored the occasion, so did it. The Chamber of Commerce held its annual banquet, and if it celebrated the centennial, it wasn’t in its report to the newspapers.

There are some possible reasons that nobody chose to mark Hall County’s 100th birthday. Perhaps anybody in a position to remember the date of the county’s founding, Dec. 15, 1818, just plain forgot. Maybe nobody cared at the time.

More likely, however, it was the tenor of the times. 1918 was the year World War I was winding down. People had that on their minds more than anything else.

That year in December, the anniversary month, instead of stories about events noting the county’s founding, newspapers were filled with military news. The armistice had been signed Nov. 11, but soldiers and sailors from Hall County were still missing, coming home or listed as casualties. Even after the armistice, families anxiously awaited word of their sons, daughters, husbands and fathers.

For instance, one newspaper announced that Capt. Edgar Dunlap, whom nobody had heard from in weeks, was safe. It had been feared he might have been lost because of his unit’s heavy fighting in the Argonne Forest in Germany.

Likewise, Silas Waters sent word to his family in New Holland that he had survived the sinking of his ship, the San Diego. First word was that he had gone down with the ship, but he reported he swam around for four hours before being rescued.

Other war stories, letters from servicemen and accounts of their experiences filled the columns of the local papers.

There was an appeal to citizens to adopt children from France orphaned by the war. The Red Cross urged residents to join its chapter and donate because of its heavy expenses during the war. Some Hall County residents were boycotting anything “Made in Germany.”

Otherwise, around the county’s anniversary date, things seem to be going swimmingly. Seventy-five soldiers were performing in a production, “Machine Gun Click,” at Brenau College.

The Alamo Theater was showing Dorothy Gish in “The Hun Within” and the fourth episode of “The Brass Bullet.”

W.W. Cooper, president of the Hall County School Board, was campaigning for a countywide school tax instead of taxing individual school districts. Gainesville residents were trying to get a new high school building to relieve crowding at Candler Street and Main Street schools. The high school at the time was in the Main Street building. It would be a couple of years before the new high school would be built on Washington Street.

Riverside Military Academy was showing off its brand new Lanier Hall.

A mass meeting was scheduled to discuss the cotton situation and what farmers could do about low prices.

Otis Lathem and George Bagwell won Gainesville’s election for seats on the board of aldermen, as the city council was called at that time.

Georgia Power Co. was appealing to “discharged colored soldiers” to apply for construction jobs with the company.

Other advertisers at the time, seeking customers during the holiday season, included Pilgrim-Estes furniture company, George P. Estes department store, Byron Mitchell’s meat market, The Fair, Jake Sacks and Palmour Hardware. Sidney O. Smith Insurance also was an advertiser. Wrigley’s advertised its Spearmint, Double Mint and other chewing gum.

But nothing about the significance of Dec. 15, 1818, when Hall County was officially born. The war was over, soldiers were returning home, it was the Christmas season and optimism about the future bubbled over in the newspaper pages of the day. Maybe those in that era preferred to focus ahead and put the past behind them.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times whose column appears Sundays. He can be reached at 2183 Pine Tree Circle N.E., Gainesville, GA 30501; email.