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Johnny Vardeman: Here is how Hall helped its homeless folks back in the day
Homes line the streets in the Chicopee community, once the site of the mill village for Johnson & Johnson.

Before there was a welfare system as we know it today, there was somewhat of a local welfare system.

Hall County, as many other counties in the state and across the nation, “took care of” their poor, homeless or others needing help in its own way.

Johnny Vardeman

The county operated what it called the county farm and paupers home. Most of it was on 315 acres off Atlanta Highway where the former Chicopee Manufacturing Corp. was located. It was also a convict camp.

Convicts and probably some of the poor worked the farm, which sold its products to the county or others to help cover operational expenses.

In a report in 1915, the county valued the home and farm at $10,000. Products sold during the year brought in $998. The farm’s livestock included mules, horses, cattle and hogs.

On average, about 22 homeless “inmates,” as they were called, were housed on the place at an estimated cost of $3.90 a month, or about 13 cents a day, to provide for each, including medical expenses. There were 10 houses on the property to accommodate the paupers.

The county reported “only white people are admitted to the home.” The blind and bed-ridden were given a monthly allowance and left with relatives. “All colored were under the rule ‘out of home,’” according to the report.

“Out of home” meant the poor or disabled might be allowed a monthly allowance to fend for themselves on their own and not live in the paupers home.

The paupers home provided a place for the homeless during that era. While the homeless population today seems large, there were plenty in the early 1900s who had no shelter.

Whether the county commissioners of that day chose to embarrass those who were receiving taxpayer help or whether they wanted taxpayers to know how they spent their money, names of paupers and dollar amounts they received were published after every county commission meeting.

Sometimes the lists were long and separated by “whites” and “colored.” Generally, those “out of home,” not living in the paupers home, received anywhere from $2 to $4.50 per month. The commissioners themselves decided on who lived in the paupers home and who were eligible for monthly payments out of the home. “Every effort is made looking for the comfort and wants of the inmates,” commissioners said.

The property on which the paupers home and farm were located was particularly valuable because it was on the Gainesville-Atlanta highway and also on the Southern Railroad. Some in Hall County wanted to sell the property, but there was resistance in the community, those opposing the sale saying the county didn’t have the authority to dispose of the property.

However, when Johnson & Johnson came calling in 1926 to build a model mill village, the resistance evaporated, and the company bought more than 3,000 acres, including the county farm and home property. 

Johnson & Johnson decades later closed Chicopee Manufacturing and sold the property to other industrial prospects. Chicopee Village remains intact.

Hall County has a history of caring for the underprivileged, although in some years past the privileged might have looked down on them. Women of Gainesville in the early 1900s would organize a “Bundle Day,” during which residents were encouraged to bundle up old clothing and leave them for the poor at City Hall.

“They ask that every family that has anything worthless to it but of probably use to the poor be bundled and sent to City Hall,” an announcement read.

A century ago, Hall County commissioners were chosen by a grand jury rather than by direct election of the people. The state legislature passed a law to be effective in 1917 that county commissioners be elected by a vote of the people.

Resisting, a Hall County grand jury urged that the law be repealed before it went into effect.

“We strongly believe,” the grand jury’s presentments stated, “it would be better that the Grand Jury select commissioners and urge repeal of the law on the basis that 23 Grand Jurymen can better select a business board than 3,500 voters, this being strictly a business office and non-political.”

The law allowing voters to elect commissioners stuck, of course, and that continues to be the way they are chosen.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. He can be reached at 2183 Pine Tree Circle NE, Gainesville, GA 30501; e-mail His column appears Sundays.

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