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Johnny Vardeman: Old map shows how growth has changed Hall County quickly
Johnny Vardeman

Ronnie Williams found an old Georgia transportation map in his grandfather’s attic that apparently was made for the State Patrol.

It isn’t dated, but apparently was made in the 1950s when Gainesville’s population was 10,400.

What is interesting is the map shows Hall and other counties before Lake Lanier formed, only the Chattahoochee River snaking out of the hills of Habersham. Besides the absence of the lake, there is no four-laned Interstate 985, no Ga. 365, no I-85, no Gainesville Junior College (now University of North Georgia). 

There was a winding road from Gainesville to Dahlonega, but not like the Ga. 60 today. U.S. 23 ran from the South Carolina line to and through Atlanta, but it was two-lane and the way Hall Countians drove to Atlanta was right through the middle of Oakwood/Blackshear Place and Flowery Branch. What is now the Old Cornelia Highway was (and is) a dangerous, snaky route between Gainesville and Cornelia. There was no McEver Road.

They took some of the curves out of U.S. 129 north from Gainesville to Cleveland, though many remain.

Brenau Lake, in what is now Sherwood Heights subdivision, is on the map, along with Lake Takeda on the Brenau University campus, though both are long gone. The map even shows Lake Warner, which was formed by Dunlap Dam on the Chattahoochee River at the end of Riverside Drive, despite the fact that the dam burst, and the lake disappeared in 1935.

City limits of that day were designated by perfectly round circles in most cases in contrast to today’s octopus-like tentacles that wander all over the map. Oakwood’s population was 207, Flowery Branch’s 506, Clermont’s 297, Lula’s 316 and Belton, still in existence at the time, 100. 

Dots represent homes, businesses and churches along the highways and backroads. For instance, Friendship Road along the Hall-Gwinnett counties line was sparsely populated at that time, scattered specks illustrating the once-rural nature of that area.

Such a map today would look quite different. Friendship Road is a widened thoroughfare, and thousands of homes have been built in that area, including the massive Sterling on the Lake development. Spout Springs Road in the 1950s was pretty much a lonely route through farms and pastureland. South Hall County in recent years has been building up; a new hospital is there, along with numerous businesses that followed the rooftops.

Signs of development are everywhere and spreading north. Industries are expanding on Ga. 365 north of Gainesville. The Times reported recently more than 3,000 homes, apartments, condominiums and townhomes are in the works or under construction since the first of the year. Business and industrial development is keeping pace. Almost every week, a report in the paper shows another project being proposed or approved.

Russ England, a Hall County Vietnam veteran and retired state fisheries biologist, goes against the grain of those who promote such development. He has written a book, “Gross Deceptive Product: An Ecological Perspective on the Economy,” that rails against uncontrolled, unlimited growth. 

“I wrote the book because I strongly believe that economic growth is the most serious threat faced by humankind, and that relatively few people realize the significance of growth’s impacts,” England said. “Economic growth depends on population growth, depletion of finite natural resources and ever-increasing debt — all of which are unsustainable. It is a threat because the earth cannot support ever-increasing numbers of people using rapidly disappearing resources and causing unchecked pollution.”

Asked if he thought this was happening in Hall County, he said, “If you mean rearranging the natural landscape and replacing natural ecosystems with urban sprawl, factories, concrete and asphalt, then Hall County is surely overdeveloped. This is happening largely because our society has been taught for decades that growth is the answer to all problems. Our society as a whole worships growth as if it were a religion.”

England believes the only thing that can slow down growth is a complete turnaround in governments’ attitudes about growth. Governments need to stop using public resources to promote growth for the benefit of a few at the expense of everyone’s quality of life, he said. What he’s saying is he doesn’t believe incentives are necessary to attract growth; it will come naturally.

Some people for years have warned that Hall could become another Gwinnett County, whose traffic, population and other woes have overwhelmed it. England believes Hall County is rapidly becoming another Gwinnett County, making the same mistakes that Gwinnett made.

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


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