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Johnny Vardeman: Rival counties hoped to attract more tourists
Johnny Vardeman
As more people discovered the beauty of the Northeast Georgia mountains, and as access to them improved, communities discovered there was gold in them thar tourists.

Visitors had been coming to the mountains forever, but as railroads reached farther north, and with the advent of the automobile and roads improved, it became apparent that tourism was an untapped industry.

In the 1920s, the Clayton Tribune newspaper, and other papers of that era, would carry the names of people registered in their hotels. Privacy didn’t seem to matter as much then.

The Cornelia Enterprise newspaper noticed that 175 guests’ names were listed for the Clayton hotels. It complained that Habersham County’s communities of Cornelia, Baldwin and Mount Airy could have the same number of visitors or more if they had the accommodations that were available in neighboring Rabun County. Besides, Habersham County had good telephone and telegraph service, as well as “quick transportation,” the Cornelia newspaper noted.

The Clayton Tribune countered that the 175 hotel guests were only a small percentage of those actually visiting the county because some were camping or staying in cabins or other accommodations not listing those registered. Besides, said the newspaper, “We have the finest climate, the purest mountain spring water and the finest mountain and valley scenery in the United States.” In addition, hundreds of people from outside the county were buying land and building summer homes to spend time away from “the distracting heat of the cities and southern climes.” It boasted that people just discovered the area without any advertisement.

During the same period, the Cleveland Progress reported real estate agents from Gainesville complained they could rent at least 20 more homes if they had them. “Many families desire to spend their summers there, but can’t find rooms,” the newspaper reported.

Northeast Georgia built its tourism business with numerous attractions, including Tallulah Falls and Tallulah Gorge and later the Georgia Power lakes, streams for fishing, rich history and health resorts, and it continues today with those amenities in addition to many others, including Lake Lanier, the natural beauty of the area still its most valuable asset.


The Dahlonega Telephone Co. in the 1920s had little patience with non-subscribers who used their neighbors’ telephones. In an advertisement, the company didn’t mince words when it wrote, “To Phone Deadbeats. Dahlonega telephone rates are made low with the understanding that the phones in residences are for use only by people living therein, and others using them are simply deadbeating the company for service which belongs to those who pay. It is just as dishonest as covering children from the railroad conductor to save your fare. If you have to save the price of a phone be honest enough to carry your messages or mail them at one cent each. Pay for your talk or walk.”


The Dahlonega Nugget newspaper reported on a man who had hidden $25,000 in his bed apparently without telling his wife. When he died, the wife, desperate for money, sold the bed and other belongings, learning too late of the money in the mattress. The Nugget’s advice: “Always look under your bed before a sale. And sometimes it pays a husband when he comes home unexpectedly during the night.”


The 1927 Nugget reported after Christmas there were quite a number of killings, burnings and robberies occurring during the holidays. “One fellow killed his brother for a Christmas trick.”
Among those fires was the Murrayville Post Office in Hall County, including a store and another building.


And this note from the Gainesville Eagle in 1896: Thad Waters, originally from Michigan, was in Elias Montgomery’s blacksmith shop getting repairs to his wagon, when the blacksmith thought Waters was a familiar face. After each stared at the other for a few minutes, Waters remembered as a Union soldier during the Civil War he was a prisoner in Andersonville, Ga., and Montgomery was his guard.

The two let bygones be bygones and became fast friends.

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 NE, Gainesville, GA 30501; phone 770-532-2326; email