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Column: Ancient hearse carried Jaycees to Los Angeles
Johnny Vardeman

The Stow family operated one of Hall County’s early funeral homes, established in 1913. 

Stow Bell & Co. was located next to Palmour Hardware on South Main Street after moving from Spring Street. D.C. Stow also was county coroner.

Harold Westbrook has a story about Stow’s hearses, a 1931 Studebaker and a 1937 Buick. Bill Strickland, now of W.R. Strickland Funeral Home in Clermont, bought the Studebaker when Stow retired.

He later sold it to Doug Bowers as his first vehicle. He used it like an everyday car, even trying a trip to the Smoky Mountains before it had a flat tire that couldn’t be replaced right away. It provided a lot of fun for him and his friends.

“We could pile a lot of people in the back of it,” Bowers said. 

Bowers lost track of the hearse after he sold it to Johnny Irvin.

Gainesville Jaycees bought the Buick hearse to take to the national convention in Los Angeles in 1958. Repainted white, Westbrook said according to the late Bunk Sorrells, who was a Jaycee at the time, the hearse only made it the first night to Canton. The Jaycees woke up a mechanic in the middle of the night to install a new fuel pump.

They continued on their way, sounding the hearse’s siren (it also had been used as an ambulance) going through small towns along the route. That attracted considerable attention, and they continued to do that when they drove up to the convention hotel in LA.

Actor Dan Dailey was walking out the front door when they arrived, but he was less than impressed. He told the Jaycees they might get away with such shenanigans back home, but it wouldn’t cut it in Hollywood. A Jaycee is said to have told him to “go to hell,” but apparently didn’t offer to take him in their hearse.

Doughnuts and airplanes

D.C. “Doc” Stow Jr. followed his father in the business, operating a mortuary on East Spring Street into the 1960s.

The funeral home was on the corner of East Spring and Race streets where Georgia Power offices are now located. When it closed, Doc Stow Jr. converted a multi-car garage into a doughnut shop. 

He later operated a model hobby store out of the former garage. Saturday mornings and Sunday afternoons, Doc often would put on a show of model airplanes at City Park.

Downtown bullets

Hall County and much of Northeast Georgia didn’t see much of the Civil War up close, although it provided plenty of troops for the Confederates. Downtown Gainesville, however, saw some bullets flying, just not from rifles or pistols.

Cartridges for the Rebels’ arms were manufactured on Gainesville’s square. J.B.M. Winburn had volunteered for the Confederate Army, but was assigned to duty making cartridges for the troops’ weapons. He also built “ambulances” in the building on the east (Bradford) side of the square.

Winburn was born in Jackson County in 1834 and practiced medicine for one year in Banks County before moving to Gainesville. After the Civil War, he built carriages and wagons until he was elected Hall County ordinary — a combination of a probate judge and county commissioner — in 1871. 

During his 12-year service, Judge Winburn was in part responsible for building a paupers’ home on Browns Bridge Road and the $40,000 courthouse in downtown Gainesville, which stood until the 1936 tornado destroyed it.

Later, Winburn worked for both the Gainesville Northwestern and Gainesville Jefferson and Southern Railroads. He retired after being injured in a railroad accident. He served as Gainesville postmaster for four years, was a member of First Methodist Church and organized the first temperance society in Hall County, the Good Templars.

Judge Winburn’s son, W.A. Winburn, was president of Central Georgia Railroad, and his daughter, Ella, became the wife of Congressman Tom Bell.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. He can be reached at 2183 Pine Tree Circle NE, Gainesville, GA 30501; phone, 770-532-2326; email, or His column publishes weekly.

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