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Christmas past: North Georgia's tumultuous elections, fires, celebrations
Johnny_Vardeman
Johnny Vardeman

Notes from Christmases past:

1876 — Hall County experienced “a month of snow and ice.” A Christmas Day fire destroyed some of Dahlonega’s business district.

1878 — A Christmas present for fishers: the state was stocking the Chestatee and Chattahoochee rivers with California salmon.

1879 — Residents of the East Hall community of Bellton were celebrating Christmas with the incorporation of the town, John B. King its first mayor with J.M. Myers, E.S.V. Briant, J.N. Coggins and A.J. Carter on his incorporation committee. The town limits would be a half-mile in every direction from the railroad depot. Bellton, or Belton, consolidated with next-door neighbor Lula in 1956.

1897 — Holiday activities almost took a back seat to a Gainesville city election. Judge J.B. Gaston was running against H.H. Dean. Gaston was the incumbent Republican mayor in the day before city elections became non-partisan. Dean was a big Democrat backed by the pro-Democrat newspaper the Georgia Cracker, which printed an extra edition when Dean announced he would run for mayor. Gaston won by 52 votes, but Dean later was elected three times as mayor.

Dean was one of the most influential movers and shakers in local history. His 14-room home on Green Street was a show place between the present First Baptist Church and Hall County school offices. He died in 1927 from a chicken bone caught in his throat. His home burned six months after. You can still see the concrete steps leading from the sidewalk on Green Street to the former Dean homeplace.

That Christmas 1897 Hosch Brothers advertised holiday prices on its groceries, clothes, boots and shoes. Dahlonega’s new Baptist Church was dedicated, and the Baptists in Pendergrass celebrated around a tree Christmas Eve.

H.A. Terrell reported shipments at his Southern Express Co. unusually high, including two sheep from Michigan for some Hall County farmers. He was starting a chicken and produce store in the same building.

The Arlington Hotel announced its Christmas dinner menu that included five different meats, loads of vegetables, three breads, five desserts and fruits.

1903 — Prohibitionists received their Christmas present early when voters overwhelming voted against allowing alcoholic beverage sales in Hall County. The vote was 1,766 for keeping the county “dry,” to 247 “wet” votes. The margin for prohibition was even higher than votes in 1891 and 1895. Prohibitionists believed Hall County would remain dry forever. They awarded banners to precincts that registered zero “wet” votes. “No room for saloons here,” they declared.

That same year, “Commerce” officially became the Jackson County town’s name, changing it from Harmony Grove.

1922 — Oakwood High School marked the season with Eureka Literary Society’s annual debate. The topic was “Resolved, capital punishment should be abolished.”

Bill Wofford offered customers at his Feed ’em All Hotel a Christmastime menu of hot dogs, draft beer, sandwiches and fruit.

Gainesville Fire Chief W.E. Smith lost his own building in a fire. Lightning struck his grocery and fruit store and burned it to the ground, a $5,000 loss, along with Clarice’s Hat Shop. The same storm washed out bridges over the Chestatee River and Wahoo Creek and flooded, but didn’t damage, a bridge over the Chattahoochee River.

The Blue Bird Orchestra played for a masquerade ball Christmas Day while Gainesville civic clubs and churches joined to provide help for the poor.

Pilgrim-Estes Furniture Co. chose the holiday period to move from Washington and Bradford streets to the corner of Bradford and Brenau Avenue, where it remained until it went out of business several years ago. Scott’s Downtown restaurant now occupies that building.

On the sad side of Christmas, the state superintendent of banks ordered the Bank of Gillsville closed.

On Christmas Day 1922, a teenager died when a box of dynamite caps exploded in his face. Five other youngsters were “badly mangled,” while sitting around the box. One of them apparently dropped ashes from a cigarette into the box. All the boys worked at nearby Gainesville Mill.

Rudolph showed up in Gainesville, but not the reindeer, Rudolph Valentino starring in his latest silent film, “The Young Rajah,” at Gainesville’s Alamo Theater. Christmas shoppers undoubtedly were lured away from the stores to the theater for the movie that also starred Wanda Hawley and featured Buster Keaton in a comedy.

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; johnny.peggy1956@gmail.com or vardeman1956@att.net.

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