Few Hall County communities have changed more over the years than Blackshear Place in south Hall County.
Its center has been known as the intersection of Atlanta Highway and Ga. 53 or Winder Highway running through Chestnut Mountain.
The construction of I-985 in that area, Gainesville Junior College, now the University of North Georgia, and Lanier Technical College, which relocated north of Gainesville off Ga. 365, brought a boom to Oakwood, next-door neighbor to Blackshear Place. Businesses and industries, big-box stores, strip shopping centers and restaurants thrive all around.
Years ago, Blackshear Place was identified by a Kentucky Fried Chicken on the Atlanta Highway. It’s been long gone, succeeded today by Smokehouse Barbecue, which recently relocated from its longtime location nearby. Johnny West’s hardware store once occupied that site.
Longtime residents also remember Red’s Bait Shop, a grocery store and service station in that area. They consider Blackshear Place’s rough boundaries from Redwine United Methodist Church to the old South Hall High School, now a middle school, out Atlanta Highway to the Plainview community.
Ralph Mills, a Blackshear Place resident, worries that the community’s name is being swallowed up by all the development. So much, so he persuaded the Georgia Department of Transportation to return “Blackshear Place — Unincorporated” signs to their locations on Ga. 13/Atlanta Highway, Ga. 53/Winder Highway and Poplar Springs Road.
There remain a Blackshear Place Motors used car lot, a Blackshear Place Drive and a Blackshear Place compactor site. The most prominent institution in the area, Blackshear Place Baptist Church, recently changed its name to Christ Place, a move Mills opposed, especially since his wife Beverly’s father, Hoyt Oliver, was a founding member in 1955.
Mills’s research shows that Blackshear Place as a community began shortly after the Civil War when Confederate veteran Henry M. Blackshear moved to the area from Twiggs County to provide his family a new start on life. His Hall County connection was his wife, Philocles Louise Banks, a daughter of Dr. Richard and Martha Banks. Dr. Banks was a prominent physician and owned a large amount of property in the area.
Blackshear chose a ridge south of Gainesville that ran to south of Hog Mountain in Gwinnett County. The Blackshears built on the east side of a road between Gainesville and Flowery Branch.
Their homeplace and farm soon became a landmark for the farming community, more families moving in, and everybody referred to the area as Blackshear Place.
It must have been considered the center of south Hall County in the early 1900s. Residents in that area had pressured county commissioners for years to improve roads in that area. In 1912, the commissioners proudly announced they had built new roads from Gainesville to Blackshear Place, from Blackshear Place to Flowery Branch and from Blackshear Place to Oakwood and Chestnut Mountain.
Those were the apparent beginnings of the roads now known as Ga. 13/Atlanta Highway, and Ga. 53/Winder Highway. Perhaps if Henry Blackshear had not built his new home where he did, that busy intersection might not have emerged.
Newer residents today might not recognize Blackshear Place, but longtimers still call the area by that name. The landmark for years retained that name on local and state maps.
Big church, humble history
Four farmers decided Blackshear Place needed a Baptist church and pooled their money to buy the acreage on which the sanctuary sat for more than six decades. But first the 37 charter members met in the arbor of nearby Redwine United Methodist Church, later using its sanctuary for evening services.
Those four and other charter members meanwhile labored after they had completed their work on their farms to build the new church. The first sanctuary was a painted block building interior with a brick exterior, according to Mills. He said worshipers first sat in folding chairs before pews could be purchased.
As south Hall County has boomed over the last few years, so have Blackshear Place, Oakwood and Flowery Branch. That has caused the church to expand to accommodate its more than 8,000 members. A new worship center was completed two years ago, and the church’s name was changed to Christ Place Church.
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; Vardeman1956@att.net or firstname.lastname@example.org.