Two major hotels operated on Gainesville’s square at one time, and a third smaller hotel, the Wheeler, also was in business downtown.
When the Princeton Hotel opened on Gainesville’s downtown square in January 1911, it was considered one of the most modern this side of Atlanta.
It boasted of 48 rooms, each having hot and cold running water, electric lights, steam heat, telephone and a clothes closet. It also had an electric elevator and a dining room that could seat 100 people. An open-air pavilion could accommodate 300 people.
The Princeton was located where Dress Up! is today at the corner of Washington and Main.
Not to be outdone, a block away at Main and Spring, was the Arlington, then owned by J.H. Hunt. He announced at the same time the Princeton was renovating, he would remodel his hotel with a new porch, sidewalks, steam heat and also an electric elevator. The Arlington later became the Dixie-Hunt, which is now Hunt Towers, housing Luna’s Restaurant and numerous offices.
H.H. Dean was the proprietor of the Princeton, which once was the Hudson House. T.P. Hudson came to Gainesville in 1883 and built the Hudson House in 1886. He is buried in Alta Vista Cemetery.
After Dean turned the Hudson House into the Princeton, he leased it to H.J. Brittain, who later leased it to Capt. and Mrs. J.H. Wherry. Longtime residents will remember Forrest Runnels as the operator who revitalized the hotel beginning in 1947.
During the 1950s, many of those working on the Buford Dam lived there. It also was the place to stay for parents of students attending then-Brenau College or Riverside Academy.
It also was the site of New Year’s parties and a venue to watch special television events when many homes still didn’t have TVs.
The Princeton lasted till 1960, succeeded by Woolworth’s dime store and later restaurants before the present dress shop.
The Dixie-Hunt, owned by prominent entrepreneurs and philanthropists Jim and Aurora Hunt, was the rival during the downtown hotel heydays.
He came from White County; she was a local school teacher, and they married in 1877. They started a store and a bank, then bought the Arlington Hotel in 1901. The Hunts also bought Hall County acreage, some of which is known today as the Glade Farms near Lula.
Along the way, the Hunts put their name on the Arlington, becoming the Dixie-Hunt, Dixie part of a chain of hotels. He died first, and before she died, Aurora Hunt deeded the hotel to Brenau College and the Glade Farms to the University of Georgia, which later sold it.
Both the Princeton and Dixie-Hunt at one time were operated by Mr. and Mrs. J.R. Styles as part of a chain that also included the Mountain View Resort in Helen.
During this time when the two major hotels were undergoing renovations, Gainesville was trying hard to attract more business, industry and tourism. Health resorts such as White Sulphur Springs in east Hall County were thriving.
But most streets and roads were still dirt. Mud in the winter and dust in the summer prompted city officials to begin a paving program on its major streets.
Main Street, naturally, was first as it ran through the middle of town by the two main hotels all the way to the railroad depot.
After it was completed in 1912, Green Street was next. At the time, the street railroad ran down the middle of it. The cost of paving was shared by the street railway, the city and property owners along the street.
The street railway had to pay for 3.5 feet of the 7 feet in width it took up. The city paid for 3.5 feet, and the Green Street property owners had to pay for 11 feet on each side.
Gainesville officials boasted that they had paved two miles of streets within a year without having to borrow money.
While secondary streets would have to wait years to be paved, the mud and dust still plagued residents who lived on them. For instance, Boulevard, once named Race Street, paralleled Green Street and was dirt, too. Residents there came up with the idea of applying coal tar and road oil to keep the dust down. Paving would come later.
Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times whose column appears Sundays and at gainesvilletimes.com.. He can be reached at 2183 Pine Tree Circle NE, Gainesville, GA 30501; e-mail.