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Johnny Vardeman: No billiards, no bowling, no slingshots in no-fun Gainesville
A different world in the early 1900s
Johnny Vardeman

Gainesville’s city council in 1908 must have been a right conservative bunch, as it seemed bent on outlawing anything that smacked of fun and games.

For instance, it passed an ordinance outlawing pool tables in the city. Nobody could operate a pool room or billiards parlor. Nor would 10-pin or bowling alleys be allowed. The council had been discussing putting a high tax on such recreation to discourage it, but Mayor J.B. Rudolph said the council decided, “We won’t have them at all.”

That apparently met the approval of the local newspaper at the time, which commented, “The act of the city fathers will meet with the hearty approval of a vast majority of the citizens of the city.”

Of course, in later years those ordinances were rescinded, and many present citizens will remember the heyday of Pete Tankersley’s and Lee Crowe’s pool rooms on Main Street, Cobb’s Billiard Parlor on Athens Street and others here and there in the county.

The council wasn’t too friendly either to those bearing firearms. It prohibited the firing of pistols, rifles, air guns and “parlor rifles” on Gainesville’s streets, even extending the ban to slingshots.

The council even raided a church during services one evening. The black holiness church at the corner of Race Street and College Avenue was holding preaching, singing and shouting late into the evenings. Police rushed into the church one night with parishioners fleeing out the doors and jumping out windows.

Nevertheless, they arrested 100 church-goers, charging them with violating a curfew that apparently was in effect. Everybody without a permit or good excuse was to be off the streets and in their homes by 11 p.m.

Neighbors had complained about the church, saying services went way into the night and sometimes to the wee hours of the morning, disturbing their sleep with considerable noise, even after members left the church.

Mayor Rudolph, however, didn’t jail any of the church members, even though during a hearing some raised a mild ruckus. He let them go with a warning that they obey the curfew.

That same council, however, took some progressive steps.

It installed curbing along Green Street for the first time, and laid cement tiles along the sidewalks. Tiles also were installed on both sides of Main Street to the Southern Railway depot. Some of those tiles lasted until recent years.

Vitrified brick also “paved” the downtown square and streets leading into it. And some of those bricks were unearthed in recent years in a street renovation project.

The city, apparently seeing that increased automobile ownership required better maintained streets, spent considerable money for paving or macadamizing streets all over town, including the purchase of more modern equipment.

Meanwhile, roads countywide weren’t in such good shape. Most were dirt, creating considerable dust during dry, hot months and mud during rainy periods. Citizens and grand juries urged commissioners to improve roads and deteriorating bridges, calling them the worst condition they’d ever been in.

Their task wasn’t helped when in February of 1908 two straight sleet storms kept roads in mud for weeks. In addition, those back-to-back ice events toppled trees, knocked down utility poles and power lines, keeping Gainesville dark in one of the storms from a Friday into a Monday.

The street railway also couldn’t operate, telephones were out, and a telegraph company couldn’t send or receive messages.

Besides sleet, snow and freezing rain added to the mess.

The only casualty reported, however, was a mule that bumped up against a live wire lying across Green Street railway tracks.

A field commission for James Lathem

As happened often during the Civil War, as in other wars, soldiers are promoted on the spot. During the battle at Richmond, Va., a Confederate soldier from Hall County went from a corporal to commander of the troops in the field. The battle was so fierce, the officers above James Lathem were struck down one by one, and he kept being promoted as they fell.

Yet he fought all four years with suffering a scratch.

Lathem left Gainesville for the war, serving with the 27th Georgia regiment under Col. Jasper Dorsey.

He died at age 64 and is buried in Alta Vista Cemetery.

Watch for more local history 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, Ga. 30501; phone (770) 532-2326; e-mail