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Johnny Vardeman: Gainesville Cracker newspaper made debut on Valentine’s Day 1894
Johnny Vardeman

The Georgia Cracker newspaper first appeared in Gainesville on Valentine’s Day 1894. Its editors declared that a good omen. “We are not much on poetry,” they wrote, “but the Cracker heart beats gentle, true and warm ... and is for all that is good, beautiful and true.” It would advocate for the “unhappy, poverty-stricken and oppressed.”

The Cracker, which succeeded the Gainesville Industrial News, had visions of circulating not only in Hall County, but to become a voice throughout the country. It was owned by John Blats and H.W.J. Ham, who became a renowned speaker and humorist in demand from all over the United States.

“We are proud of the fact that we were born a Georgia Cracker,” the editor proclaimed, adding that it would be a Democratic newspaper, but non-partisan “and wear no man’s collar.”

Perhaps Mr. Ham’s speaking schedule caused him to eventually give up the paper, which morphed back into the Gainesville Industrial News, then just Gainesville News, which was operated by the Hardy family until the mid-1950s. The Georgia Cracker never reached its goal of becoming a nationwide publication.

Newspapers once had country correspondents, whose writings sometimes were called “rurals,” and included news from around the area. They were mostly personal items, such as who was sick, who visited whom or who had made an out-of-town trip. 

The Gainesville News once carried a regular column called “Dip Dots.” It consisted of news from the community of Dip in north Hall County. That community later changed its name to Clermont, which is one of the county’s incorporated towns today. 

Gainesville changed its charter in 1923 to allow for a commission-city manager form of government. Three commissioners were elected from wards dividing the city. The candidate earning the most votes would serve three years, the second most two years and the third one year. Those first commissioners and their votes were H.H. Dean, 255; M.B. Carter, 232; and W.G. Mealor, 231.

Charter changes since provide for five council members, who previously chose the mayor among themselves, usually on a rotating basis. The mayor now is elected by a vote of the people.

Oglesby Hall at Brenau University was named for Lt. Wilber Oglesby, son of Col J.W. Oglesby. Lt. Oglesby died in France during World War I.

Cornerstone for the building was laid in July 1919. Oglesby is no longer, but it once fronted on Prior Street along with Van Hoose and Lanier dormitories.

West Avenue in Gainesville originally was named Findley Street. Residents of the street in May 1913 petitioned the city to change the name. The street runs from West Washington to Jesse Jewell Parkway, or West Broad Street as it was called at the time. It was unpaved at the time, so the residents next asked the city to pave it, which they did sometime later.

Hall County Library is embarking on an extensive renovation project. Many remember the site as the location of the Wheeler Hotel at the corner of Main Street and Academy Street. It was named for A.C. Wheeler, who had bought the property for $10,000 from Mrs. J.H. Martin. The hotel was torn down in 1966 and the site used for a while by Gainesville National Bank for a drive-in teller with a tunnel leading from the bank’s main office at the corner of Main and Washington.

Then the county in 1969 built the library, which for a time served as headquarters for Chestatee Regional Library, but now is Hall County Library, Gainesville branch. Other county libraries are on Spout Springs Road in south Hall County, Blackshear Place, Murrayville and North Hall Technical Center.

The current Post 7 American Legion home, which sits on a hill overlooking Lake Lanier at the end of Riverside Drive in Gainesville, replaced a building that had burned. That building had been the home of Chattahoochee Country Club, adjacent to a golf course. H.H. Perry, a prominent lawyer and legislator from Hall County, had built the home about 1920. Gainesville National Bank bought it after Perry died in 1934 and renovated it for the golf clubhouse.

After Lake Lanier rose from the waters of the Chattahoochee River, Chattahoochee Country Club was organized off Thompson Bridge Road, and the municipal golf course built in the same area.

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

He can be reached at 2183 Pine Tree Circle NE, Gainesville, GA 30501; e-mail.

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