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Johnny Vardeman: At one time, it seemed nearly everybody owned a horse
Gloria Bloodworth Colter
Gloria Bloodworth Colter competes on her mount during a horse show at City Park in Gainesville. - photo by For The Times

Bill Crenshaw got to thinking recently about the days Gainesville was really a horse town.

Johnny_Vardeman
Johnny Vardeman

It wasn’t necessarily the popular horse shows that once were a highlight of the year, especially in the 1950s. Those events at City Park attracted people and their horses from all over the Southeast and were really fancy affairs.

But Crenshaw as a youngster remembers during those same times so many people owning horses, many of them keeping the animals in their own backyards for plain pleasure riding. That still happens in rural areas of the county, but not so much nowadays in the city.

Many homes had stables behind their houses. Before dairies delivered milk to your door, many people owned a cow, which they kept in their yards. Before automobiles, they also kept horses to pull their buggy or wagon.

In 1909, W.A. Charters was building a stable behind his house on Green Street. That’s that magnificent columned home that today serves as offices.

Crenshaw compiled a list of more than 100 Gainesvillians who once owned horses and rode them all over Gainesville. He tells the story of Ed Nivens and George Crenshaw chasing their ponies down Green Street the night of the Charity Ball, which once was held at the Civic Center. Of course, they were dressed in their finest for the dance.

Nivens doesn’t remember that as clearly as he does chasing cows down Riverside Drive all the way to the American Legion Post 7. Johnny and Jimmy Nivens also rode horses, and their favorite ride was down Enota Drive before it was paved. Riverside Drive, before it was paved all the way, also was a route horse lovers took.

Before Holly Drive was developed it was a favorite trail for city horse lovers to follow, as well as Dixon Circle. Riders could exercise their horses in a rink on what is now Enota Circle. Brenau Lake was a prime area to ride, too.

Ed Nivens lived on Park Hill Drive, and John Goforth kept eight walking horses that he showed at events.

Richard Riley, whose family was in the horse business, remembers riding around Gainesville, especially around Curtis Hudgins’ place near where Lakeview Academy is today. Riley, whose father was A.P. Riley and brought the champion walking horse “Talk of the Town” to Gainesville, grew up around horses.

He recalls when H.H. Dean kept horses in his backyard on the property where First Baptist Church on Green Street is today. He and others, such as Billy Ellison, would ride on the east side of Gainesville around Brenau Lake and what is now Sherwood Heights, where there was little but woods, no houses or businesses.

Riley later raised quarter horses and spent some time trail riding out west. He also for a time lived on Clark’s Bridge Road, and many riders would ride around the Chattahoochee River, later Lake Lanier, where Don Carter State Park is today.

The late Ode Parks, whose brick homeplace still stands at the corner of Enota and Park Hill Drive, provided a little rural atmosphere in the city as he kept horses in a pasture beside his home. That’s hard to do nowadays under present city ordinances. A property would have to be correctly zoned and contain at least 2 acres.

Among the many horse owners mentioned by Crenshaw back in the day were Dr. Warner Fusselle, when he was pastor of First Baptist Church, Clyde O’Kelley, Richard Parks, Joyce Parks, Nolie Joiner Motes; Crenshaw’s wife, Martha Ann Davis, Elaine Caras Waller, the Smithgall children, Sara Cromartie, Boyd Hudgins, Herbert Strickland, the Thurmonds, Wards, Riddles, R.A. (Skinny) Waldrip and many more too numerous to name.

One can’t write about horses without mentioning Gloria Bloodworth Colter, whose passion for horses caught fire in one of those City Park horse shows and resulted in a celebrated career as a horse farmer and trainer who won many national awards.

While the elaborate City Park horse shows are just memories, there still are plenty of opportunities for horse lovers even if not in Gainesville. Horse farms throughout Northeast Georgia are popular places for people to board their horses or rent one for a trail ride or for training.

In addition, Chicopee Woods Agriculture Center is host to numerous horse-related events, including shows, attracting people and horses from all over.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. He can be reached at 2183 PineTree Circle NE, Gainesville, GA 30501; phone, 770-532-2326; email, vardeman1956@att.net. His column appears Sundays and at gainesvilletimes.com.

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