Many people, especially newcomers, ooo-h and ah-h-h at the old homes on Gainesville’s Green Street, especially at Christmastime when they’re dressed up in their finest.
Perhaps the grandest of these is 625 Green St., commonly known as the Charters-Smith home after W.A. Charters, who built it in 1906-07, and the Sidney O. Smith family that followed.
Charters was a prominent citizen who settled in Hall County from Dahlonega. He was much involved in the community, banking, lawyering and politics, having served as district court solicitor and having run twice for 9th District Congress, losing both times against the formidable long-serving Tom Bell.
Charters married Isabelle Price, daughter of William Pierce Price, a Dahlonegan who is credited with founding North Georgia College, now the University of North Georgia. Price was a state legislator and congressman. He was instrumental in having the Dahlonega Mint turned back over to the state after the Civil War, and the gold-domed building is named in his honor, Price Memorial Hall. He also pushed for building more schools in Lumpkin County. Price and others, including some Hall County entrepreneurs, planned a railroad from Gainesville to Dahlonega, but it was never completed.
Baptist church bells tolled in Dahlonega when Price died in 1908 at age 73.
W.A. Charters died in 1925 and is buried in Alta Vista Cemetery in Gainesville.
The Charters’s daughter Isabelle married Sidney O. Smith Sr. in 1914, a wedding and its accompanying parties that made the front page of the Gainesville News. The newly married Smiths moved into a Green Street home across the street from the Charters home before eventually occupying 625 Green St. Isabelle was described as “a small feminine woman – vivacious, sensitive, high strung and intellectual.” She attended North Georgia College and Lucy Cobb Institute in Athens, but graduated from Brenau College where she later served as a trustee, following the tradition of the Price, Charters and Smith families who served as trustees from its beginning in 1878. She also was the first Brenau alumna to receive the college’s prestigious Sullivan Award, previously awarded only to males.
She was active in Hall County’s civic, religious and social life, even getting into politics as 9th District Democratic Party committeewoman during Sen. Richard Russell’s term. 625 Green St. was ground zero for bridal showers, United Daughters of Confederacy and Daughters of American Revolution meetings, birthdays, study clubs or any occasion that called for a party. She also taught Sunday School and served on the library board and League of Women Voters.
Her husband, Sidney O. Smith Sr., was a giant of a community leader, in the forefront of every good cause. He founded the Sidney O. Smith insurance agency in 1917 and held the No. 1 independent insurance agent license in the state. That company continued until it was recently acquired by McGriff Insurance Agency.
Sidney Sr. also founded the Georgia Association of Insurance Agents and became its president. The national association formed in 1939, and an award bearing his name continues to be presented annually. He served a term as its president.
A charter member of Gainesville Rotary Club, he earned its annual Man of the Year award and became the civic club’s Georgia District governor. The community honored him for his efforts in helping rebuild Gainesville after the 1936 tornado by calling him “Mr. Gainesville.” He promoted education on the school board and as a Brenau trustee for 34 years. Sidney Smith Sr. was one of those citizens who pushed for a municipal airport for Gainesville.
He was a member of Phi Delta Theta at the University of Georgia and was the first alumnus to receive the national fraternity’s highest award. He died at age 79 in 1966 and is buried in Alta Vista Cemetery.
The Smiths had a son and three daughters: Sidney O. Smith Jr., Isabelle Charters, Caroline Oslin and June Sterling.
Sid Smith Jr. played football with Robert Kennedy at Harvard University and served as solicitor and superior court judge in the Northeastern Circuit. He was recommended for a federal district judgeship during President John Kennedy’s administration, but President Lyndon Johnson actually appointed him. He turned down an appointment to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans so, he said at the time, he could continue to have coffee with friends at Clore’s Gainesville downtown restaurant.
Sid Jr. chaired the Brenau Board of Trustees and the state University Board of Regents.
Charters Smith married Hugh Embry, a Navy chaplain who died in an accident on a ship in 1957. She became a popular and respected teacher in the Gainesville school system, spending her last years before retirement as one of only three white teachers at the then-all-black E.E. Butler High School.
June Smith married Arthur Woodruff, and she became a popular writer for The Times.
More stories and memories from the Smith and Embry families and the Charters-Smith home, 625 Green St., next Sunday.
Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. He can be reached at 2183 Pine Tree Circle N.E., Gainesville, Ga. 30501; phone (770) 532-2326; e-mail email@example.com.