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Johnny Vardeman: County made notable news 50 years ago
Johnny_Vardeman
Johnny Vardeman

Fifty years ago The Times staff judged a series of arsons in Lumpkin County as the top story in 1969.

An elementary school and Dahlonega’s City Hall were among targets of the arsonists. Among six suspects accused of the crime was chief of the volunteer fire department, who also was a city councilman.

Also in Lumpkin County that year, John Owen succeeded Merritt Hoag as president of North Georgia College, which is now the University of North Georgia.

Significant news in Hall County was in the Top 10 news stories of 1969. The county had gone from a three-person to a five-person commission. And that commission made its mark by ending the year in the black, the first time in memory that the county hadn’t overspent its budget.

The county also that year bought the old Mather Furniture Co. building at 219 S. Green St. as a courthouse annex to house school board and other offices. The county school offices had to move because Sycamore Street was being widened, resulting in the razing of the old Downey Hospital building, where they had been located. 

Sycamore became E.E. Butler Parkway. The county school offices are now located in the former Southern Bell Telephone offices at the corner of Green Street and Ridgewood Avenue.

Hall County also had to deal with emergency ambulance service because two funeral homes discontinued answering emergency calls. That left the county with one funeral home ambulance and one private ambulance service.

What is now Hall County Park and Leisure Services was launching its first recreation program.

In Gainesville, Model Cities was among the top stories of 1969. This was a federal program aimed at rejuvenating declining parts of the city with improved housing and economic development.

1969 also was the year A.C. “Cliff” Park was tried a second time in Jackson County for the bombing death of Floyd Hoard, Piedmont District solicitor general or district attorney. The first trial ended in mistrial, but he was convicted in the second one and spent the rest of his life in prison. Park was the alleged mastermind behind the plot to kill Hoard, who had been cracking down on illegal whiskey and other criminal activity.

This was the year, too, in which the Gainesville Board of Education had its desegregation plan approved by the federal Health, Education and Welfare department. City school officials had been haggling with HEW officials for months over a plan to desegregate the schools. The plan called for the closing of E.E. Butler High School, which had accommodated black students. Those students then integrated into the formerly white Gainesville High School.

Hall County schools also desegregated, but with much less disruption. During 1969, the county schools launched an ambitious program to expand and build new schools with a $4.5 million bond issue. Among them was what was then called Johnson Memorial High School, now simply Johnson High School. It was named for Robert Wood Johnson, head of Johnson & Johnson, who donated land for the school complex. Johnson & Johnson had acquired vast acreage in south Hall County when it located Chicopee Manufacturing Co. here in the 1920s.

Other highlights during 1969 included:

Gainesville golfer Tommy Aaron was named male athlete of the year. Aaron had won the Canadian Open, was named to the Ryder Cup team and was runner-up for the Verdon Trophy, awarded for the lowest stroke average on the professional golf tour. Aaron’s average that year was 70.13 over 112 rounds, just a fraction off Dave Hill’s winning average.

Chestatee Regional Library completed its Hall County headquarters at the corner of West Academy and Main Streets in Gainesville. It is presently the Gainesville branch of the Hall County Library System.

Gov. Lester Maddox “rescued” the foundering Lake Lanier Islands development with an infusion of $550,000 in state funds.

Gene Tyner opened his second discount grocery store at the corner of Ridge Road and Athens Highway. His other store was on Atlanta Highway.

Georgia’s first ski slope opened at Kingwood Resort in Rabun County.

Nationally, America celebrated man’s first landing on the moon, and the country continued to agonize over the war in Vietnam.

The assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963 was named the top news story of the 1960s decade.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times whose column appears Sundays. He can be reached at 2183 PineTree Circle NE, Gainesville, GA 30501; phone (770) 532-2326; e-mail vardeman1956@att.net.

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