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Johnny Vardeman: Hall County had to fight to keep its boundaries
Johnny Vardeman

There might have been controversy when Hall County was created in 1818 because the former Indian territory also was carved out of Franklin and Jackson counties.

Maybe Franklin and Jackson counties didn’t want to lose any of their land. Georgia was in a county-creating mode, and it probably took some horse-trading in the legislature to draw the boundaries.

 Or it might have been similar to today’s trend of creating cities around metro Atlanta when existing counties don’t want new cities gobbling up their unincorporated territory.

More than eight decades after Hall County formed local officials and residents had to fight off attempts to shave off some of their county. That was in an era when new counties were being created from existing ones.

Some folks, apparently fans of the late political figure Ben Hill, wanted to take part of Hall County and name it after the man. He was somewhat of a Zell Miller figure in his day, a Confederate veteran, state legislator, a 9th District representative (though the district then was different from today), and died in office as a U.S. senator. He was a Democrat most of the time, other times an independent, opposed secession, criticized Reconstruction, but wanted the country to come back together after the war. He was born in Jasper County, practiced law in LaGrange and is buried in Atlanta’s Oakland Cemetery.

In 1905, Ben Hill supporters wanted to take much of the southern part of Hall County and make it a county in his name. That would have meant slicing off Flowery Branch, the Roberts District and other Hall County land. The new county line would be just 7 miles south of Gainesville.

Flowery Branch opposed it, of course. Residents there were perfectly happy being in Hall County. Buford, however, supported the idea and would become part of the new county.

Hall County Rep. H.H. Perry led the opposition along with lawyers H.H. Dean and F.M. Johnson. A Hall County grand jury also weighed in against the proposed new county. Some supporters vowed to run J.S. Johnston out of the county on a rail because as a member of the grand jury he opposed Ben Hill County. Johnston lived in the Roberts District in the southwestern corner of Hall.

Hall County was Georgia’s 45th county. By the time of the Ben Hill controversy in 1905, Georgia had 100 more counties, and legislative limits had capped the number at 145. Ben Hill County would have made it 146, which would have required a change in the law.

In the end, Hall County legislators with backing from their citizens were able to stop the movement to carve up the county. Instead, the legislature took parts of Irvin, Coffee and Wilcox counties in South Georgia in 1906 and named it Ben Hill County. Its county seat is Fitzgerald. At the same time, Jenkins, Tift, Jeff Davis, Stephens, Toombs, Grady and Crisp counties were created.

By 1924, Georgia had 161 counties, but two were eliminated in 1932 when Milton and Campbell counties merged with Fulton. 

Hall County’s boundaries have changed over the years. Actually, before it got lands from Franklin and Jackson counties, it had emerged as a county from former Indian territory. Since its creation, it has variously lost or gained small pieces of territory from Habersham, Banks, Lumpkin and Cherokee. 

In addition, the boundary between Gwinnett and Hall has been changed several times.

In late 1940s, when Buford Dam was being seriously considered, folks in counties affected became concerned. A series of meetings was held all over Hall County and other counties. Many residents became alarmed when it was learned the lake would inundate 43,000 acres and cover 539 farms. One opponent said 12 percent of Hall County would be underwater. 

A Hall County grand jury also weighed in, not flat-out opposing the dam, but urging local officials to watch the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers every step of the way to protect the county’s best interests.

At the time, only three bridges were proposed to replace 16 that would be affected by the rising waters. Only Longstreet on U.S. 129 north, Brown’s Bridge and the Dawsonville Highway bridge would be rebuilt. As it turned out, however, numerous bridges provide crossings over parts of Lake Lanier.

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; email.

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