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Johnny Vardeman: What happened 108 years ago in Hall County
Johnny_Vardeman
Johnny Vardeman

Lessie Smithgall wasn’t living in Gainesville when she was born in 1911, but if she had been, here’s some of what would have been happening in Hall County.

There was a controversy about the downtown public square. Some business people wanted to sell the land to private owners, who would develop it commercially. Lawsuits were even filed to contest the ownership by the county.

The City of Gainesville was beautifying the square at the time because it was right in the middle of the business district. Those opposed to sale of the square wanted a park with trees in the middle of town. However, an injunction filed against the city interrupted the work.

A Hall County grand jury meeting at the time intervened in the dispute and called a cease-fire to the lawsuits and opposed the sale of the square to private parties. It noted the property had been legally deeded to the county and was owned by the county. The grand jury called for an end to the “constant agitation” over the issue.

The Gainesville News agreed and challenged the city to take over maintenance of the square as a park, a piece of green in the middle of the business district.

And, so the little park in the middle of town has stood since, presided over by a statue in memory of Civil War dead.

One hundred and eight years ago, also, the Rev. O.J. Copeland retired as pastor of First Baptist Church, which had built a new building on the corner of Washington and Green streets.

The Rev. Copeland was given credit for the new church building. It was said that his preaching was so popular the old church on Main Street couldn’t accommodate the crowds. He served the First Baptist pulpit for four-and-a-half years.

First Methodist Church also had a new building on Green Street, and its old building on Bradford Street had been rented by the Woodmen of the World. The organization would use it for a dramatic club to perform.

Because electricity had become more available, Gainesville was adding 40 new lights to its streets. Council member M.B. Carter proclaimed, “It is our intention to light every nook and corner of the city.”

Meanwhile, citizens of Belton, next-door neighbor to Lula in East Hall, weren’t as fortunate because electricity was not yet readily available. However, the little town installed gasoline lights similar to those already in use on some farms.

Southern Bell announced it had 11,000 subscribers in 1911, a considerable increase from the year before, and issued a thicker-than-usual directory.

In 1911, George P. Estes Co. on Gainesville’s square advertised ladies shoes for sale for $2.75 and silk petticoats for $2.98.

Because horses and mules were still in abundance, Gainesville Harness Co. was prospering and moving into larger headquarters. It also hired two traveling salespeople to attract more out-of-state business.

Gainesville National Bank announced assets of $322,000, S.C. Dunlap president. Pruitt-Barrett Hardware and Palmour Hardware both announced prosperous years. Both of those stores would be destroyed by the 1936 tornado, though Palmour Hardware rebuilt and continued for many more years in downtown Gainesville.

Hall County had ginned 12,902 bales of cotton the previous season, each of those weighing 480 pounds, evidence of how cotton farming was such an important part of the local economy in those days.

Almost a half-century after the Civil War had ended, there remained 320 Confederate pensioners in Hall County. This included veterans or their widows. The total budget for the pensions was increased from $17,000 to $20,500.

A Confederate veteran from Forsyth County, A.J. Julian, a regular visitor to Hall County, came to Gainesville to have a military uniform made resembling what he wore during the war.

And then there was 1912

It didn’t happen in 1911, but the next year Mayor P.E.B. Robertson of Gainesville declared “Shut-Up Day” on Sunday when no cigars, drinks or “dopes” could be sold. Restaurants also would be closed, though there was a loophole that “certain meals” could be served. Otherwise, no articles of any kind could be purchased.

The “closed town” on Sundays got the endorsement of local ministers.

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, 30501; 770-532-2326; vardeman1956@att.net.

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