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Before interstates, communities competed for railroads — Lula included
Johnny Vardeman

After railroads laid their tracks into North Georgia in the 1870s, there began somewhat of a competition for them, much like the competition for interstate and other major highways after World War II.

Communities realized the advantage of having rail service, both to move passengers and freight around the country.

There were railroad proposals popping up all over North Georgia. Lula is justified in billing itself as a “Railroad Town” and holds an annual Railroad Days festival, because it was constantly in the conversation about railroads in this area. It already was on the main line between Atlanta and the Carolinas, but there was talk of laying tracks from Murphy, N.C., through White County to Lula to connect with that line.

The Lula and Cleveland Railroad, a branch off the main line, was incorporated in 1881, but nothing came of it. In 1895, some proposed a railroad from Lula to Dahlonega, the idea being it would be handy to ship all those Lumpkin County minerals being mined to northeastern markets. A rail line from Gainesville to Dahlonega for similar purposes barely got started before it fizzled.

Still another idea around 1890 was to run tracks from Tate, center of the marble industry, to Lula.

A group of Lula and Banks County citizens formed the Lula-Homer Railroad Co. in 1914. Banks Countians had been lobbying for a railroad for years. S.S. Carter, large landowner and businessman, was president of the company. Other principals were W.A. Boling, E.B. Chapman, Joel Collins, E.F. Whitworth, J.N. Hill, L.N. Turk, R.C. Alexander, C.H. Chambers and E.A. Mize. D.G. Ziegler of Lula was engineer, W.M. Redmond the contractor. Right-of-way was acquired, and $20,000 in stock and $125,000 in bonds were to finance construction. Depots were planned for Lula, Carters and Homer.

Work on the railroad began in 1915, but there were obstacles because of limitations on the length of the line and its service to population centers. Apparently investors wanted the railroad to be nearer larger communities. That caused a number of alternate routes to pop up, including to Carnesville, Commerce and connection with the existing Gainesville & Northwestern Railroad between Gainesville and Cleveland.

By the middle of 1915, a map published by the Gainesville News showed the railroad skirting Banks County, but missing Homer. Lula’s adjacent neighbor, Bellton, or Belton, also was a player in the railroad derby. By 1916, it was mentioned in plans for a 110-mile railroad network into various communities. World War I might have interfered, or politics or whatever, but Homer got bypassed.

Norfolk-Southern now owns the connection between Lula and Athens, and the communities along the line include Gillsville, Maysville and Commerce.

Commerce complaint

Commerce residents wanting to ride the train to Atlanta had to go by Lula, but they often groused about having to wait so long for a train. “There is not a passenger from Commerce,” one rider complained, “who has not counted all the weather-boarding a dozen times at the Lula depot. The citizens of Commerce know every man, woman, child, dog and cow while they have remained thousands of hours waiting for old 37 or 39 or 40 of some other number on the main line.” They claimed a trip from Commerce to Atlanta and back would take two nights and a day of travel.

Round-trip for a buck

Athens merchants were so anxious for business from the Lula area, they offered a special train to carry customers from Lula, Gillsville, Maysville and Commerce to their businesses to shop. After a day in Athens, the train would take them back home.

Southern Railway offered Lulans a roundtrip to Atlanta for a dollar. Passengers also could take a train from Lula to Tallulah Falls and back for a dollar.

A bridge to church

A covered bridge over the Chattahoochee River near Lula also served as a church. On Sundays, benches were set up inside the bridge, and worshippers would “mingle their prayers and songs with the murmuring sounds of the waters of the Chattahoochee.”

A stray vote

Maysville voted against alcoholic beverages 30-1 in 1879. The Forest News of Jefferson reported the one favorable vote was by a “stray voter” new to the area.

Celebrating, the newspaper wrote, “If you can point us out a better location to send our children to school, send your wagons up here, and we will move.”

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; 770-532-2326;

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