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Johnny Vardeman: Have we been riding I-985 for 50 years?
Johnny Vardeman

It’s hard to believe this is the 50th anniversary of the opening of Interstate 985 from I-85 to just north of Gainesville. The four-lane that extends past I-985 at Rabbittown in Hall County to Habersham County is Ga. 365.

Hall and Habersham counties, perhaps even Stephens County, had felt blindsided when the routing of Interstate 85 changed to steer it farther away from them. Original plans had called for the interstate to come within a couple of laps of Gainesville, Cornelia and Toccoa.

So when a new governor, Carl Sanders, came into office in 1963, powerful friends in Hall County — for instance, James “Bubba” Dunlap — helped persuade the state to build a connector from I-85 to Hall County. Talk about the connector began as soon as, probably before, Sanders took the oath of office.

But it would be six more years before I-985 was completed. Actually, that’s not so long compared to how long it takes to finish road projects today.

Even when I-985 was completed, it wasn’t called that. The road was called the I-85 connector until it later was designated as part of the interstate highway system. It’s also on the maps as Lanier Parkway.

Getting that route built was only a piece of the puzzle. In Hall County, it had to be decided where vehicles could exit from I-985. Exits would be built from U.S. 129 (Athens Highway), Ga. 60 (Candler Highway), Ga. 53 (Blackshear Place or Oakwood) and Ga. 13 (Flowery Branch). A Rabbittown exit (Ga. 369 east) would come eventually, and now an Exit 14 is a-building between Flowery Branch’s Exit 12 and Oakwood’s Exit 16.

The exits were problematic because roads leading to them would have to be improved and/or rerouted, and costly right-of-way had to be acquired.

Nevertheless, despite all, vehicles were permitted on the new four-lane in the fall of 1969. Those who remember its early days will recall long stretches where seemingly only a trickle of cars and trucks would be seen. Now I-985 is full for the most part much of the day and into the night.

It’s an example of how improved roads beget development. All those new subdivisions, apartments, industries and shopping centers put more vehicles on the highway. Already, discussions are progressing toward widening I-985 to six lanes from I-85 to Mundy Mill Road at Oakwood. Estimated construction would be in 2022 and 2023 at an approximate cost of $87 million.

Ga. 365 north of Rabbittown has the same problem, or opportunity, however you want to look at it. Industrial parks are thriving, sewerage is being expanded, and the relocated Lanier Technical College has an already-busy roadway getting busier.

Hang on, there’s more

Dr. Fay Stapleton Burnett, whose first book was “The Hanging of Susan Eberhart,” about the hanging of a woman accused of helping her lover murder his wife, has been busy. She’s got two more books out, “Ticklin’ the Funny Bone of a Georgia Cracker,” and “Miss Elvira Ivey.”

The book about Susan Eberhart told about widespread unsuccessful efforts to keep her off the gallows in tiny Preston, Georgia. Miss Elvira Ivey, in the latter book, escaped the noose. Dr. Burnett, a retired Winder dentist, contrasts the two cases.

“Ticklin’ the Funny Bone” contains humorous snippets from newspapers of long ago. She collected these and the story on Miss Elvira Ivey while researching her Susan Eberhart book.

Justice was swift in old Hall

One of the most notorious hangings in Hall County was that of George Corn Tassel, an Indian accused of murdering another Indian. Hundreds watched as he was hanged on Christmas Eve, 1830. A Supreme Court ruling was to delay the hanging in a case related to Native American territorial rights, but Georgia Gov. George Gilmer and an emergency session of the legislature ordered Hall County to go ahead with the hanging.

Hall County had a reputation of swift justice. In 1862 a man was convicted of killing a girl. He was hanged within four months of his conviction.

It would be 1912 before another Hall County man who had killed his wife died on the gallows. At that hanging, hundreds gathered outside the jail to view the spectacle, but instead it was done privately with only a few officials at the gallows. The state Supreme Court had denied an appeal of the case, and within seven months of the trial the man was hanged.

Those convicted and on death row today might die naturally before being executed years after trial.

More local history to come in this column next Sunday.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. He can be reached at 2183 Pine Tree Circle N.E., Gainesville, Georgia 30501; 770-532-2326;