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Johnny Vardeman: Floods in area seemed frequent many years ago before Lake Lanier
Johnny Vardeman

All we’ve seen on television news for weeks are floods devastating some of the states in the central part of the country.

Some of the images are almost unbelievable. The recent rains in Northeast Georgia after a weeks-long dry spell are welcome except in cases where streams overflow and cause damage.

Buford Dam, forming Lake Lanier, helps in controlling flow in the major rivers in the basin, the Chattahoochee and Chestatee, and downstream.

Long before that dam was built in the mid-1950s, floods seemed to be a regular occurrence along those rivers and the many minor streams that flow into them.

One of the worst floods on record in Northeast Georgia was in 1888, though details of the damage are lacking. It came during an active hurricane season in the Atlantic Ocean causing heavy rains from a tropical storm.

When a tornado struck Gainesville in 1903, heavy rains followed, but the devastation was in the winds more than the water. That was a different story upstream in South Carolina, where Pacolet Manufacturing Co. lost two mills that washed away because of adjacent streams that flooded. Rains from that same storm system washed out three other mills in that area. In Gainesville and New Holland, Pacolet’s mills suffered heavy tornado damage as did mill village homes, and more than 100 people died.

A flood in 1912 washed away a bridge at Flowery Branch, among numerous other smaller bridges throughout Hall County.

Gainesville & Northwestern Railroad also seemed to be a regular victim of flooding. The railroad, which ran from Gainesville to Robertstown, at least three times lost its trestle over the Chattahoochee River at Clark’s Bridge. One of those floods was in January 1916, and it knocked out the Seven Islands Bridge over the Chattahoochee in northeastern Hall County. Several smaller bridges also were washed away along streams that ran out of their banks.

That same year, July 1916, the trestle at Clark’s Bridge fell again to high waters on the river. Gainesville & Northwestern at the time had a train in Helen and one in Gainesville, but they were stuck and couldn’t complete their regular runs. Byrd-Matthews Lumber Co., which operated a large sawmill in Helen, also had its tram roads into the mountains damaged.

That same flood damaged corn and cotton crops in the bottomlands along the rivers. More than 13 inches of rain had fallen in Northeast Georgia, again remnants of a hurricane out of the Gulf of Mexico. The Chattahoochee’s flow rose more than 12 feet. Roads were heavily damaged, especially those that had yet to be paved.

The January 1946 flooding of the Chattahoochee and Chestatee Rivers, however, was one of the worst since the one in 1888. The damage probably was more extensive because the area was much more developed, and many more modern bridges had been constructed. December of 1945 had been wetter than normal, and the saturated ground could absorb no more water.

Entire farms and homes were inundated, perhaps similar to the pictures of the current floods we see in the papers and on television news. Major bridges were lost, including Brown’s, what was called the Iron Bridge on Cleveland Road and Clark’s Bridge, which seemed to suffer every time the river rose over its banks.

A new post office for Gainesville

Gainesville is scheduled to have a new main post office location shortly, the present facility on Green Street to be relocated.

The present building was preceded by another on the corner of Green and Washington streets in downtown Gainesville. It was a great celebration when that post office was opened Aug. 16, 1910. It was the culmination of a long campaign for a new post office, the old one in what was called an inadequate structure farther down Washington Street.

Helen Longstreet, while she was postmaster, or postmistress, whatever floats your boat, had lobbied for a new post office for years. Finally, when Tom Bell was elected to Congress from the 9th District, the first thing he did was secure a $50,000 appropriation for the building. He later got another $15,000 to make the total cost $65,000, which probably today wouldn’t pay for a single room.

The 1910 post office was constructed of Georgia marble, was “steam-heated and electric-lighted.” It is part of the federal courthouse complex today.

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;

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