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Johnny Vardeman: Big spender sought voters in hired buggy
Johnny Vardeman

Financing a political campaign wasn’t much of an issue in Georgia in the early 1900s, but candidates still had to report their spending.

They were required to publish a legal advertisement after an election breaking down their spending, which was pocket change compared to today.

For instance, D.C. Stow reported spending $7.50 in his election for Hall County coroner. Sheriff W.A. Crow’s campaign expenses amounted to $12.50, and J.J. Hudgins spent $27.50 in his run for tax collector.

But the big spender was Jot Allen, clerk of court, who had $52 in expenses. That amount, however, included “hiring a buggy,” which he probably used to make his rounds around the county hunting for votes.

Local candidates in those days had to help pay for the election, too. So the expenses they listed included an “assessment” for their share in holding the election. Today’s candidates’ registration fees help defray the cost of an election.

Once you registered to vote back then, you remain registered, no matter if you didn’t vote for a while. But, if you didn’t pay your taxes, you couldn’t vote. You were taken off the voter registration list until you paid them.

The state legislature looked for revenue any way it could get it in those days. They approved a tax on unmarried males over 30 years old. The Gainesville newspaper commented, “Looks like Cupid and the Georgia Legislature have found a partnership,” implying that those in that age category would hunt a mate to avoid the tax.

Cleveland needs a courthouse

When the Gainesville & Northwestern Railroad started chugging from Gainesville north into the mountains, optimism broke out about the economic future in the affected area. Towns and villages would spring up along the tracks, the local paper predicted, “and prosperity seems abundant.” The little town of Helen certainly did prosper for years as the Byrd-Matthews and Morse Lumber companies took timber out of the mountains and shipped it via the railroad to Gainesville for further destinations. “There’s no end to work being done,” the newspaper pronounced.

Most of those other communities along the way, except for Cleveland, Clermont and Robertstown, almost disappeared when the timber ran out, and the railroad went broke. They had included Clark, Dewberry, Brookton, Meldean or Leo, Asbestos and Autry.

The Gainesville & Northwestern Railroad from Gainesville to Robertstown in northern White County was chartered in February 1912. It was capitalized at $750,000, and investors included J.H. Hosch, John Redwine, H.H. Dean, W.A. Roper, all of Gainesville; C.D. Matthews, R.M. McComb, J.E. Mitchell, A.R. Byrd Jr. and Sam Jeffries, all of Missouri.

At first, trains could run only to Cleveland and back because tracks north of there weren’t completed. The first train carload of hardwood eventually headed to New York came out of the sawmill at Helen in January 1913. The lumber company was sawing 100,000 feet of lumber per day at its peak. The railroad operated three engines at one time.

The White County courthouse was built between 1859-60, and by 1912 some people were calling for a new one. That was because the Gainesville and Northwestern Railroad was being built, and some White Countians said since Cleveland would come to be in touch with the outside world, it needed a new courthouse.

The old courthouse continued to be used till 1964 when a new one was built. It later became a museum and home of White County Historical Society.

Hall County was broke

When Hall County commissioners took office in 1910, they had only 18 cents in the treasury. But they buckled down and got rid of all the debt and had much more money left over before they left office. Commissioners at the time were W.T. Martin, D.T. Harris and M.J. Charles.

Whatever happened to the Brenau bell?

Who remembers when the chapel bell used to ring for classes, vespers and at other times at Brenau? When did the old bell quit ringing for students, and who knows what happened to the old bell? Let us know your memories.

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;