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Johnny Vardeman: Tunnels still cross beneath the streets of Gainesville
A view of Gainesville's Dixie-Hunt Hotel as seen on a postcard.

Underground Gainesville?

Yes, there are tunnels crisscrossing under the streets of downtown Gainesville.

Gainesville National Bank moved from the corner of Spring and Bradford on the downtown square to the corner of Main and Washington, a building once occupied by Estes department store. The bank had drive-up windows down Main Street toward what is the Hall County Library today. Tunnels were built from the bank building to the drive-up kiosks to avoid tellers having to go outside to their posts.

Garland Reynolds, an architect for the library building, said he recalls the old Gainesville National tunnel ending near the library loading dock and being sealed during the library construction.

Other banks also had tunnels to their drive-in windows, including the old First National, now Regions. Former Gainesville Council member Bob Hamrick, who retired from Home Federal Savings and Loan at South Green and Washington streets, said it also had tunnels to its outside teller windows in the rear of the building. They were filled in during construction of the Sun Trust Bank that now occupies the site.

Hamrick also said utilities have tunnels carrying water and sewer lines under streets, and AT&T has underground space for lines, as can be noticed by a hump in the street in front of the Jackson Building.

• • •

The accompanying photo shows the old Dixie-Hotel in its prime in the late 1930s or early 1940s.

The hotel, now Hunt Towers at the corner of Spring and Main streets in downtown Gainesville, was a popular stop for visitors to Northeast Georgia. Salespeople made it their headquarters, and parents of Brenau College and Riverside Military Academy students stayed there while visiting their children.

Other hotels, such as the Princeton on the corner of Main and Washington, also flourished during that day. A report in the Times recently suggested that because of an increase in tourism in Hall County, more hotels might be built as existing ones seemed to be successful.

Dixie Drug Co. is also shown in the photo. Its soda fountain was a popular place for coffee drinkers as well as prescription drugs and the usual notions found in drug stores. Overhead was a beauty shop.

The arcade in the hotel contained from time to time a barber shop, the Little New Yorker dress shop and other businesses. DeWitt Brogdon presided over the barber shop, but other barbers, such as John Hooper and Myron Leckie, later manned the clippers. Larry Kleckley’s sporting goods shop was nearby.

The Arlington Hotel preceded the Dixie-Hunt at that location. Jim Hunt bought the Arlington and operated it for 25 years. He died in 1925, and his wife, Aurora, deeded the property to then-Brenau College before her death in 1927, and W.W. Faw operated the hotel for several years.

• • •

Central Baptist Church on South Main Street in Gainesville is celebrating its 125th anniversary today. Community leaders and those involved in the church’s history will be recognized. The Rev. Don Elrod, a former staff member, will provide special music, and another former staffer, the Rev. David McLendon, pastor of Lebanon Baptist Church in Epworth, will deliver the message.

Central’s origins date to 1890 when it began as Chestnut Street Mission in the schoolhouse of Miss Amanda McCants. The first actual service of Chestnut Street Baptist Church was held Jan. 30, 1891. Fifteen charter members were present when the church was constituted. The Rev. J.L.R. Barrett was the first full-time pastor in October 1891, and it moved into its first building in June 1892.

The 1903 tornado that struck the southside of Gainesville destroyed the church building, and the church relocated and changed its name to Central Baptist Church. The church remained in a building at the corner of Myrtle and Maple streets until December 1926.

The present building wasn’t completed until 1931. There have been several additions and expansions since, and a parade of prominent pastors has led Central through the years.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times.

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