Picture yourself at Christmastime in Hall County in 1897.
Roads and streets were unpaved. Travel was mostly by horse and buggy, mule and wagon or simply horseback.
Gainesville had a public square, but there was no Confederate statue on it yet. Farmers came in as far away as the mountains to park their wagons around it and sell the products from their farms. Even in the winter, they might bring what they could sell, including chickens, or trade with the few stores.
Parties were happening all over town in individual homes, and various clubs joined to have simultaneous Christmas get-togethers.
Green Street was not quite built out, but several of the homes still standing there today were occupied. Gainesville’s prime residential area also extended south of the square, and some homes were adjacent to the downtown business district. Georgia Baptist Female Seminary, now Brenau University, was on Christmas break, but, probably because transportation was difficult, many students remained on campus.
The predecessor company to Railway Express reported an unusually brisk holiday business, even delivering a pair of sheep from the North to a Hall County farm.
Electric lights were rare if non-existent, and kerosene lamps were common. Light from fireplaces reflected off ornaments on Christmas trees.
Christmas dinners were cooked on woodstoves. If you were well off, though, you might treat the family to a Christmas Day meal at the Arlington Hotel at the corner of Main and Spring streets in Gainesville. The Arlington was the predecessor of the Dixie-Hunt Hotel, which is now Hunt Tower offices and Luna’s Restaurant.
The Arlington went all out for its Christmas dinner. Its menu card was described as “a specimen of artistic beauty” and featured watercolors by Mrs. J.H. Akers and Mrs. H.D. Jaquish. If you were lucky enough to hitch up your horse and buggy and ride to the Arlington, here were your options:
The Arlington Hotel
H.N. O’Neal, proprietor
Christmas Dinner, 1897
Mock Turtle, Puree Tomato
Boiled Fish, Durkee’s Dressing
Western Rib of Beef, Brown Potatoes
Roast Turkey, Oyster Stuffing, Cranberry Jelly
Breast of Lamb with Green Beans
Baked Ham, Champagne Sauce
Boston Baked Beans, Creamed Irish Potatoes
Candied Yams, Green Corn Pudding
Pineapple Fritters, Stewed Carolina Rice
Heinz Tomato Sauce Catsup Dressing
Sweet, Plain and Mixed Pickles
Egg Bread, Wheat Hoecake, White and Brown
Mince Pie, Lemon Meringue, Ambrosia
Fruit, Coconut, Marble Layer and Plain Cake
Apples, Oranges, Mixed Nuts and Raisins
Moca and Java Coffee, Sweet and Buttermilk
Emperor’s Tea, Claret Wine
Dinner 1:30-3 o’clock.
The Arlington didn’t list the price, but it must have been substantial with such a generous menu.
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The Arlington was one of two major hotels around the square at the time. The other was the Hudson House, later to become the Princeton, now housing Dress Up! at the corner of Main and Washington. H.H. Dean, a mover and shaker, had an interest in the Hudson House, but also during Christmas 1897 was laying the cornerstone for a building across Main Street where Rehab’s Rope is today. The cornerstone contained loads of mostly Masonic memorabilia, but other items, too. A.D. Candler of Gainesville, Georgia Secretary of State, soon to become governor, was among speakers.
Christmas was calm in Hall County, but it wasn’t all peace and goodwill. The Republicans, not so popular after Reconstruction, had put up Judge J.B. Gaston for Gainesville mayor. Dean was a reluctant Democratic opponent, entering the election late, and lost by 52 votes.
The Georgia Cracker newspaper was decidedly Democratic and had supported Dean, writing that despite Gaston’s victory, it would continue to fight Republicanism and uphold Democracy. But it promised to work with the new mayor, whom it described as one of the wealthiest men in Hall County.
After the victory election night, a brass band escorted Gaston to his home, where a celebration ensued with numerous speeches of congratulations.
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Confederate Gen. James Longstreet, who lived in Gainesville, was embroiled in political controversy, too. A Republican with ties to Washington, he lobbied for his son-in-law, Jasper E. Whelchel, a Hall County native, to be appointed postmaster at LaGrange. It was said Longstreet had power enough to hold up the appointment of H.P. Farrow as Gainesville’s postmaster until his son-in-law got the LaGrange job. Many in LaGrange opposed the appointment because they said he hadn’t even lived there. Whelchel failed to get the appointment, and Farrow prevailed in Gainesville, later to lose the job because of Republican infighting.
Gen. Longstreet had served as Gainesville’s postmaster, and his second wife, Helen, later served several years in the position. The general and Helen had just married in September 1897.
Read more local history in this column next week.
Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. E-mail