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Johnny Vardeman: Chattanooga Choo Choo was headed to Hall
Johnny Vardeman

Hall County just completed the celebration of its 200th year, having been founded officially Dec. 15, 1818. Habersham County has the same birthday, and it also marked the year with a series of events.

Though those celebrations are done, there remain endless bits of historical trivia about Northeast Georgia.

For instance, Spanish explorer Hernando DeSoto has been a part of stories about the settlement of this area of Georgia for years. But his exact travels in search of gold have been hard to pin down.

The Gainesville Eagle’s Georgia Bicentennial Edition published in 1933 tried to throw some light on DeSoto and his gaggle of travelers. 

“We have reason to believe that DeSoto and his band of brigadiers and cavaliers in their search of gold and other riches came through what is now Hall County and probably camped inside what is now the city limits of Gainesville,” the newspaper declared. “There have been relics found, a piece or two of old Spanish money picked up in the vicinity of Gainesville and Hall County, which allows us grounds for contention that this part of the state was a direct line of march from the Gulf to the Mississippi. But at best it can only be conjecture with nothing of definiteness about it.”

The New Georgia Encyclopedia, however, published a more detailed account of DeSoto’s route through Georgia, though it doesn’t mention Northeast Georgia. That version takes the explorers from South Georgia into the mountains of Northwest Georgia and even concludes they discovered the first barbecue in the state. Two historical markers commemorate DeSoto’s visits, one in Augusta and another in Milledgeville.

* * *

A railroad once was contemplated from Chattanooga to Gainesville. In 1885, a Cherokee County paper proposed a railroad from Gainesville to Canton and Rome.  Then it would connect Rome to Chattanooga.

The same paper commented on Hall County: “Gainesville is now a dry town, and the glorious work goes on.” 

Prohibition in Hall County was adopted in the summer of 1885, and “It works like a charm,” said the paper.

A.D. Candler

A.D. Candler, one of two Georgia governors buried in Gainesville’s Alta Vista Cemetery, served as mayor, state legislator and congressman before he was elected governor. He had been a farmer and lost an eye fighting for the Confederacy during the Civil War. 

During his political campaigns, he earned the nickname, “One-eyed Plowboy from Pigeon Roost,” from his small-town upbringing. During his congressional campaign, the Southron newspaper opposed him and mocked him as “The Bantam from Pigeon Roost.”

* * *

Did a meteor fall on Gainesville? The North Georgia Citizen reported on Jan. 26, 1885, a meteoric stone fell during one night near Gainesville. The light emitted from it was so bright that objects in darkened rooms were plainly visible, according to the newspaper report.

* * *

When Bell’s Mill was at its peak in the 1930s, it not only ground meal, flour and grits, it was a tourist attraction on the way from Gainesville to the mountains. The second bridge over Lake Lanier going north from Gainesville to Cleveland is still called “Bell’s Mill Bridge” because nearby is the former location of the mill over the Little River.

Bell’s Mill was named for A.B. Bell, a native of Cleveland and former assistant Gainesville postmaster.  His nephew, W.H. Bell, was manager of the mini-resort. The Bells built lodges and cabins for both local residents and tourists. 

The mill itself put out products that were distributed in other parts of the country.

* * *

Neel’s Gap, through which U.S. 129/19 runs, was named for W.R. Neel, chief engineer for what was called the Scenic Highway that connects Lumpkin and White counties to Union.

* * *

Georgia Chair Co., now closed, once had the reputation for its “cane bottoms.” That referred mostly to its cane-bottomed rocking chairs. During the 1930s, the 30 employees could produce 2,000 chairs a week. Also a manufacturer of school desks and other furniture, products were distributed in several states.

Watch for more local history in this column next Sunday.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. His column appears Sundays.

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