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Johnny Vardeman: Hall’s founding to be celebrated at lunch program
Johnny Vardeman

“Cherokees, Churches, Choo-choos, Chickens and Churns.”

A mouthful of alliteration of historic proportions in more ways than one.

It’s the theme of Northeast Georgia History Center at Brenau University’s luncheon and program marking the 200th anniversary of Hall County’s founding. It is scheduled for 11:30 a.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, at First Baptist Church’s banquet hall, 751 Green St., Gainesville. Tickets are $75 and can be obtained at the history center, 322 Academy St. NE.

The county’s official birth date is Dec. 15, 1818, but this event will be the highlight of the observance. It’s also the history center’s 12th annual Taste of History program.

The program will provide a sampling of various aspects of the county’s history. For instance, there will be a Cherokee Indian dance and a portrayal of Lyman Hall, a signer of the Declaration of Independence for whom Hall County is named.

Other segments will feature Confederate Gen. James Longstreet, who lived out his life in Hall County after the Civil War; Dr. E.E. Butler, prominent physician and civic leader; an interview with a chicken in a tribute to the county’s poultry industry; and nods to such sports figures as Masters Champion Tommy Aaron and events such as the 1996 Olympics on Lake Lanier.

Various video presentations and music will round out a fast look back at the county’s past emceed by civic leader Doug Carter.

There also will be an auction that will include Meaders and other pottery, old parking meters that once graced Gainesville’s downtown square and work by local artists. Those attending will get a chance to test their knowledge of local history by answering trivia questions.

Longtime residents of Hall County are somewhat educated about local history, but some of us take for granted what we have heard and learned over the years.

Thousands of newcomers have come to the county over the last few years, and most of them are curious about how we got where we are today. For instance, they see streets named for John Morrow, Jesse Jewell, Pearl Nix or E.E. Butler and wonder what part they played in our history. Perhaps a few old-timers might not know or have forgotten the answers to such questions.

The brief quick answers are: Morrow was the first black council member and mayor of Gainesville;  Jesse Jewell is considered the father of the modern poultry industry in Georgia; Nix was the developer of Lakeshore Mall and Lakeshore Heights residential area, among other projects; and Butler, a physician and civic leader, was the first black member of Gainesville Board of Education.

Here is a refresher course on other common names around the county: 

The Chattahoochee River, so prominent in Hall’s history, was called that by Native Americans, who once depended on it for food, travel and a water source. Chattahoochee is said to come from the Native American word “Chatu-huchi,” which actually came from a Creek Indian village on the river. It has been interpreted to mean “painted rock” or “picture rock.”

Of course, Lake Lanier bears the name of poet Sidney Lanier because one of his poems, “Song of the Chattahoochee,” sings the praises of the river.

The Chattahoochee, part of Hall County’s borders, once divided white settlers from the Cherokees, whose territory was considered on the river’s western and northern sides. When the North Georgia gold rush began in the late 1820s, white prospectors began to migrate into Cherokee territory, and Hall County became a more important location for trade and transportation. All the Cherokee territory was gobbled up by Georgia’s state government, and the Native Americans run off to what became Oklahoma.

Cherokee itself was the Native American term “Tsa-ra-gi.” Cherokees called themselves “ani-uni-wa,” meaning “principal people.”

Chestatee, the name for the river that runs into the Chattahoochee and helps form Lake Lanier, was a Cherokee word “at-sunstati-yi,” meaning “fire light place.”

The state legislature created Hall County out of Jackson and Franklin counties, from where some of the early settlers came. Gillsville, then known as “Stonethrow,” was the first settlement in the county.

Today’s Green Street in Gainesville was once an important trail from the mountains and became a main route into the city. As the town grew, the street became a prime location for fine residential homes. Robert E. Green operated a street railway around Gainesville, and the street supposedly was named for him.

More local history at the bicentennial “Taste of History” event and in this column next week.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times whose columns appear Sundays. He can be reached at 2183 Pine Tree Circle NE, Gainesville, GA 30501; email.