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Johnny Vardeman: ‘Booster’ paper praised assets of Hall County
Johnny Vardeman

You could kind of tell what kind of community Hall County would become in the Gainesville News’s Booster Edition in the summer of 1915.

The newspaper spoke glowingly of the county’s attributes: its 150 miles of graded and top-soiled roads (though few were paved), its seven-mile street railroad reaching as far as New Holland and Chattahoochee Park (the present American Legion Post 7 property at the end of Riverside Drive), the county’s $9 million tax digest, no debts or bonds and a $25,000 surplus, its 30,000 population and on and on and on.

The community even boasted, “Its convicts are well cared for and humanely treated.” This was in the era of “chain gangs,” when local governments forced prisoners to work on roads and other projects. They often were chained together and poorly treated. Prison inmates are still used as county labor, but the work isn’t as intense and the treatment kinder.

Felix Jackson in 1915 was just building what would become the Jackson Building that still stands today in downtown Gainesville. Town boosters boasted that it would be the tallest such structure between Atlanta and the Carolinas. The Chamber of Commerce would occupy offices on its ground floor.

Education was a primary attribute of the community, both Brenau College and Riverside Military Academy in full swing. Students could attend Brenau for as little as $300 a year, all expenses included. The college advertised it had 86 pianos and two pipe organs. Gainesville High School was in what became known as the Main Street School building with elementary students, but there was talk of building a separate building for high school students.

Industry was touted. Gainesville Cotton Mill on the southside of town and New Holland  on East Spring Street were textile plants humming away, consuming 50,000 bales of cotton a year, a boon for area farmers. In addition, B.H. Merck and W.F. Hetrick were producing women’s hosiery at a rapid pace. In a three-story building on Maple Street, they would be putting out 100 dozen pairs of hose a day with plans to add equipment to double production. 

In addition to the street railroad, Hall County was served by the Gainesville Midland, the Gainesville & Northwestern and Southern Railway. 

The chamber of commerce organized a “motor tour” of Northeast Georgia to promote Gainesville and Hall County. Only a few years earlier, cars were a rare sight on area roads, certainly a parade of them in rural areas quite a novelty. The motorcade included a dozen or more vehicles, including a truck that carried a band. It would stop in 45 communities in 14 counties, including Atlanta. People along the way would line their streets and treat the “autoists,” as they were called, with refreshments and gifts with peaches being a popular item. Most of the route was on dirt roads.

The caravan’s band would play at some stops, and a chorus would sing, led by Ed Barrett, who had to quit because he swallowed a plug of tobacco, according to the newspaper.

The Booster Edition called Gainesville “one of the most beautiful little cities in all of Georgia. With her well-paved streets, fine system of waterworks and street railways, modern power plants from water of the Chattahoochee River, her magnificent schools and colleges, unusually handsome church edifices, six active banks, prosperous wholesale and retail houses, immense cotton mills and hosiery mill and various other manufacturers, together with her healthful altitude of more than 1,300 feet and superior drainage and possessing three lines of railways makes her an inviting field for investment and place of residence.”

Further, the News commented, “There is no depressing heat in the summer, the winters are mild with occasional snows and germ-destroying freezes.”

In other words, the Hall County community was proud of itself and wanted the whole region to know it.

This was on the cusp of World War I, and while America didn’t enter it until the latter stages, it had an impact on the community, as did the Spanish flu pandemic, both of which took many lives, including those who were or might have become the community’s leaders.

Nevertheless, Hall County’s spirit, as is evident today, prevailed and led to a brighter future that present residents and commercial enterprises enjoy.

In observance of Hall County’s 200th year, more local history to come next week.

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