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Johnny Vardeman: Does treasure remain hidden in Carter Park?
Johnny Vardeman

The death of Don Carter reminds us of how important the man was to the community and the state.

One of his legacies is the state park named in his honor, Don Carter State Park off of North Browning Bridge Road, which is off of Clark’s Bridge Road in northeast Hall County. It is proving to be somewhat of a treasure as visitors continue to book cabins, camp, hike or enjoy the other amenities of a park on the shores of Lake Lanier.

Is there also a treasure within this treasure? Legend has it that some gold was planted within the park’s property decades ago.

Van Peeples’ great-grandfather was James Jesse Hulsey or Jesse James Hulsey, he doesn’t know which. But he owned much of the property that is now Don Carter State Park. The story he tells is Hulsey was shoving some sugar cane or something into a grist mill turned by a mule. His arm got caught in the machinery, and his yelling for help caused the mule to speed up and continue turning around and around.

After he was rescued from this horrible accident, Mr. Hulsey lay dying in his bed at home for several days. Medical care back then wasn’t so good in that remote area, where the roads weren’t paved until many years later. On his deathbed, he is said to have told family he had buried a sock full of gold on the property.

Needless to say, after his funeral, relatives searched for that sock of gold. Van said his grandfather, John Adler Hulsey Sr., nearly dug the place up looking. If anybody found it, nobody said, but Van believes the sock and its contents are still up there somewhere.

He has even taken a metal detector on a prospecting hunt around the old Hulsey homestead to no avail, finding only beer cans or rusting car parts. Farmers used to bury valuables in their chicken houses because if somebody came prowling around, the chickens would cause a ruckus and alert the family.

The Hulsey family cemetery also remains in the state park. Peeples and Count Cooley of Gainesville are two of the few direct descendants of the family.

John Adler Hulsey used to haul a wagonload of apples or corn over the mountain to Blairsville and Young Harris, a trip that would take at least a day.

A match made in heaven

Here’s another story from another branch of the Hulsey family.

When Mary Louise Hulsey moved from her longtime home on Blue Ridge Drive in Gainesville to the Holbrook on Thompson Bridge Road, she ended up on the former property of her late husband’s grandfather. John Burel Hulsey was the grandson of Andrew Jackson Thompson, whose sons, Guilford and Ovid, built the first covered bridge at that site over the Chattahoochee River. She also has a big, heavy 200-year-old table built by A.J. Thompson out of walnut trees grown on the property she now lives on.

Mary Louise remembers seeing the covered bridge burn. She was on a date with Sam Dunlap when they spotted a fire and realized it was at Thompson Bridge.

She hadn’t been in Gainesville for long at the time. Mary Louise Durrette had been a 17-year-old paid soloist for Bull Street Baptist Church in Savannah when the Rev. Henry Stokes of Gainesville’s First Baptist on Green Street was a guest preacher.

Stokes told Mary Louise he was looking for an education director/secretary for the Gainesville church. She expressed interest, but before she would accept her mother rode a bus to Gainesville to check out the town and the church. She came upon Cousin Arthur Roper, a real estate developer and staunch First Baptist member who gave her a tour. Impressed, her mother put Mary Louise on the bus the next week, and she was hired for $120 per month plus $25 per month to direct the youth choir.

That was in 1945 when World War II was ending. A cousin of Mary Louise’s future husband told her to look up John Burel Hulsey when she got to Gainesville. The Hulseys occupied a whole pew in the church, and Mary Louise from the choir loft easily spotted him in his white Navy uniform and introduced herself after a service.

And that was the beginning of a long and happy marriage.

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 N.E., Gainesville, Ga. 30501; phone (770) 532-2326; e-mail

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