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Johnny Vardeman: Some historical trivia for Hall County’s 200th birthday
Johnny_Vardeman
Johnny Vardeman

Because this is the bicentennial year of Hall County’s founding, officially December 1818, here are some historical trivia to get you in the groove for the celebration:

Gillsville in east Hall County gets the honors for the first settlement in the county, known as Stonethrow, with the first residents, 43 families, coming from Franklin and Jackson counties in the late 1700s. More than 3,000 people lived in the area that would become Hall County before the county was officially organized.

Hall County’s first log courthouse stood on a hill on Athens Highway. In 1821, Duke William of Greene County deeded 50 acres as public land to establish Gainesville, and a brick courthouse was built in the middle of it, what is now the public square in downtown Gainesville. It burned about 1882, and a third courthouse was built just off the square. The 1936 tornado heavily damaged it, and the fourth courthouse was built, now used as an annex to the present courthouse at the end of South Green Street and on East Spring Street. 

Gainesville’s name originating from Gen. Edmund P. Gaines is somewhat of a puzzle because he might not have been the most popular person around at the time of the early settlement. He fought in the War of 1812 and other wars with Indians and was appointed by President John Adams to enforce an Indian treaty that would have resisted white settlers’ efforts to survey Indian lands, including what would be Hall County.

Gaines clashed with Gov. George M. Troup and settlers wanting to claim the lands immediately while the federal government wanted to give the Indians more time to leave the territory. He apparently was cozy with others, however, including the first commissioners of the county and John Vance Cotter, one of the first judges of the Inferior Court of Hall County, who suggested the name for Gainesville. Cotter served under Gaines in the War of 1812, and his family was among the first settlers in the area at Stonethrow, which became Gillsville.

Gaines apparently was in to having places named for him, including Gainesville, Fla., Gainesville, N.Y., Gainesville, Texas, Gainesboro, Tenn., Gaines Township, Mich., and Fort Gaines, Ala. There also is a Gainesville, Va.

Gainesville, Mo., apparently was named after Gainesville, Ga., where many of its first settlers came from. Its 2010 population was just more than 700.


Descendants of some of those early settlers of Hall County made their marks in the later history. John Bates was another of the five judges of the first Inferior Court and became one of the county’s first legislators. He was the great-grandfather of B. Frank Whelchel, who served as 9th District congressman 1935-45. John Bates also was an ancestor of the Julius, B.J. and other Hulsey families in the area.

Stephen Reed was one of the first commissioners of Gainesville, and his descendants included the late Sidney O. Smith Jr., a celebrated federal judge for whom the U.S. courthouse in Gainesville was named.

Another was John Stringer, whose descendants became prominent merchants and downtown property owners.


Hall County was a pioneer in the development of electric power for this area, even affecting the Atlanta area. The first hydroelectric plant in Georgia was built in 1902 at Leathers Ford on the Chestatee River 16 miles north of Gainesville by A.J. Warner, a former Ohio congressman. It turned the lights on in December of that year in Gainesville, said to be the first city south of Baltimore to light its streets.

The second hydroelectric dam in the state was built on the Chattahoochee River at the end of Riverside Drive in Gainesville two years later. Called the Dunlap plant because of the family who built it, it transmitted power to Atlanta, the first time electric energy was carried that far.

Those early developments led to the creation of Georgia Power Co., whose own hydroelectric and other efforts merged with those in Hall County.

The pioneering electric power advances allowed Gainesville to have a street railway before most other communities around the state had them. It ran from what was formerly Gainesville Mill off Industrial Boulevard (then Railroad Avenue) to Main Street, to the downtown square, then to New Holland. The route also included out Washington Street to Grove (now West Academy), then West Broad (now Jesse Jewell Parkway) to Alta Vista Cemetery. Another branch went out Green Street to Riverside Drive to Chattahoochee Park, now American Legion Post 7.

Previously, a horse-drawn street car ran from the Southern Railway Depot to the square.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times whose column appears Sundays. He can be reached at 2183 Pine Tree Circle NE, Gainesville, GA 30501; phone, 770-532-2326; e-mail vardeman1956@att.net.

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