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Johnny Vardeman: North Georgia residents can identify with storm victims
Johnny Vardeman

The unbelievable devastation wrought by Hurricane Michael in the Florida Panhandle and southwest Georgia brings to mind the awful destruction and death from tornadoes that visit North Georgia from time to time.

Hall County has sometimes been referred to as “tornado alley” because of the number of storms that have blown through this area over the years.

The most recent tornado embedded in many residents’ memory was the one that struck north Hall County in 1998. Thirteen people died, and many lost their homes and/or livelihoods.

Many residents still remember the 1936 tornado, one of the worst in the nation’s history, that bull’s-eyed downtown Gainesville and killed more than 200 people. In 1903, a tornado killed many working in Gainesville Mill before also destroying homes and killing residents in New Holland. More than 100 died altogether.

But Hall County has known other storms whose destruction was not as great, but to those directly affected the pain was just as severe.

In May 1909, a tornado hit what was known as the Concord community in the Quillians Corner-Clermont area of north Hall County. It touched down between 5 and 6 p.m. and carved a path of ruin between a quarter and a half mile wide. J.J. Faulkner was the lone fatality, his wife and two children blown away with their home, but surviving. A baby was blown a half mile to a neighbor’s yard, but was unhurt.

In those days, some residents built storm pits to escape into when violent weather threatened. Many of those were below their homes. In the 1909 tornado, some survived in those pits even though the houses above them were blown off their foundations.

More than 20 homes were destroyed in that storm, in addition to barns, outhouses and a grain mill. Bales of cotton were blown apart and scattered over the countryside.

In April 1920, a tornado came down in the Candler, Tadmore, Athens Road and Poplar Springs areas. Poplar Springs Baptist Church was destroyed. Two people died, and several were injured. A mass meeting in Gainesville gathered support for the Red Cross in helping those affected by the storm. 

A map of Hall County tornadoes shows several over the years, most of them F1’s that didn’t last long and left little damage or injuries.

Hunting was prohibited at one time in Hall County. State Rep. J.O. Adams had introduced the bill that would ban hunting for three years. But the law was contested in court, and the Court of Appeals struck it down in 1911. Several other counties already had imposed a hunting ban, but the court said state game and fish laws took precedent.

Gainesville downtown parking over the years has been an issue of controversy, just as it is today. In 1946, the city imposed a one-hour parking limit on downtown streets. Offenders would be fined $1, and additional fines of $1 would follow if the violations continued.

Parking meters later tried to control the situation, but they were removed after several years. Then, just as is the case today, shoppers complained that many of the downtown parking places were occupied by employees of businesses in the area.

“TMC” for many years was that junior college in Cleveland that was known as much for its athletic teams as its academics. That’s Truett-McConnell College, now “TMU,” Truett-McConnell University, a four-year school.

Clarence Barrett of White County gets the credit for landing the school in Cleveland. He had heard that the Georgia Baptist Convention was looking to establish a junior college in the North Georgia mountains. Other communities, including Ellijay, Blairsville and Jasper, also had heard and tried to lure the school to their towns.

Barrett is said to have assembled more than 400 acres to attract the college to his community. He also spearheaded a $100,000 drive to help endow it, with $90,000 coming from surrounding counties.

George W. Truett and F.C. McConnell had operated a Christian school in Hiawassee before Truett-McConnell came into being in 1946 in Cleveland. 

The campus today covers more than 240 acres and enrolls more than 2,600 students.

Hall County is marking its 200th year in 2018. More about local history next week.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. whose column appears Sundays; e-mail.

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