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Johnny Vardeman: This year's cold snap similar to one that hit in 1945
Johnny Vardeman

The recent stretch of cold weather is similar to one experienced in North Georgia in early winter 1945.

This most recent cold snap so far has been minus heavy snow or ice, though there was a dusting one day.

In December 1945, for 10 days straight, high temperatures were mostly in the 20s with lows in the teens. Gainesville recorded a low of 11 degrees Dec. 20, and single-digit readings were common throughout the mountains.

This was right before Christmas, and the worst was to come on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. With last-minute shoppers trying to get to the stores before they closed, and some businesses trying to complete deliveries before Santa Claus arrived, sleet, some snow and freezing rain began to fall. It didn’t let up until Christmas Day.

Gainesville for a time was without communication with the outside world as telephone lines fell under the weight of the ice or from tree limbs taking them to the ground. Electric transmission lines were down around Hall County, power was off for 32 hours, and thousands spent their Christmas in the dark and cold. 

Gas service also was curtailed. Wood or coal heaters were still common back then, so those who had them considered themselves fortunate. Nevertheless, many Christmas dinners were spoiled for lack of refrigeration.

Candles, flashlights or even oil lamps lighted homes.

A photo in the Gainesville Eagle showed all the trees on the Gainesville downtown square broken, weighed down by the ice. The Confederate statue on the square, then called “The Southerner” before its current nickname “Old Joe,” stood high among the devastation.

Even after the ice had melted, Hall County schools couldn’t reopen for a week because the many dirt roads outside Gainesville were almost impassable.

That winter of 1945-46 was one to remember because to add insult to injury, some of the worst floods in the area’s history would cause additional damage in early January. From Jan. 5-8, daily rains totaled 5.46 inches. Doesn’t seem like a lot, but the ground already was saturated from the ice and snow in December, and streams all around quickly overflowed their banks.

As much as 7 feet of water filled the basements of homes. One home in Forsyth County had water on its second story. Another home was washed away, and some farmers lost chickens to the high waters.

Besides crossings over small streams, three large bridges, including Brown’s and Thompson, were destroyed. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers later installed one-lane Bailey bridges to replace them. The Iron Bridge on Shallowford Road across the Chattahoochee also was washed away.

Gainesville’s city limits today look like an octopus with tentacles spreading in all directions from its original center. The city takes in land up Thompson Bridge Road to Ledan Road, out White Sulphur Road and to Longstreet Bridge on U.S. 129 north, the Cleveland Road. It crosses Lake Lanier on the Dawsonville Highway, taking in patches of property along the way. 

Cresswind, a large residential development off Brown’s Bridge Road, is in the city. Large tracts between Athens Highway and Candler Road are in Gainesville, as well as some of McEver Road, Gainesville bumping up against Oakwood in south Hall County.

When Gainesville was incorporated in 1821, the city limits encompassed a mile radius from the middle of the public square. The first attempt to expand the city limits didn’t come until March 1946. Twenty-eight prominent citizens, some of them owning property adjacent to the city, petitioned for their land to be annexed. The city limits would have extended 2 miles from the square, northeast to New Holland, west out to Dawsonville Highway. Riverside Military Academy on the north would not be included.

As per law in those days, a referendum was required among property owners affected outside the city.

Proponents had conducted a vigorous campaign, even enlisting the support of Atlanta Mayor W.B. Hartsfield. They pointed out city services such as garbage collection, fire and po-lice protection, paved streets and maintenance, sewerage, lower water rates and no tuition to city schools. The city also would have taken on bonded debt for River Bend and Sardis schools.

Opponents countered that schools were inadequate, Gainesville streets were filthy and full of potholes and sewerage insufficient. They also worried whether they could continue keeping hogs and chickens on their property.

Of 549 voters eligible, 87 percent voted, defeating the issue 312 to 166.

Laws since have changed, making it easier for willing property owners to be annexed into a city. 

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

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