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Column: Area history comes out of the attic
Johnny_Vardeman
Johnny Vardeman

Touring the Northeast Georgia History Center’s galleries on its main floor in Gainesville is like taking a walk back in time.

Yet it’s nothing like the artifacts that have accumulated in the center’s basement on the Brenau University campus. That isn’t open to the public because it is far from being organized and is overwhelming even to the history center’s staff.

The downstairs is the center’s attic because sometimes people empty their own attics and bring the contents to the history center.

Glen Kyle, executive director, says they want what people believe is valuable historically, but sometimes it is stuff people just don’t want taking up space in their own attics or basement. Still, he welcomes inquiries and any donations people believe enhance the center’s collections.

One example is a letter written by pioneer resident Minor W. Brown to some engineers about the construction of the early Browns Bridge over the Chattahoochee River. There are Bibles of all kinds, including one from Gainesville’s founding year of 1821, and a complete Bible in Braille.

Some records of organizations are filed away, such as the Gateway Garden Club and the Gainesville Music Club.

In a medical section, much of what was in the late Dr. Raleigh Garner’s office is in the collection. He was the father of the late Happy Kirkpatrick, who was involved in the history center’s beginnings.

There’s an old, uncomfortable-looking dentist chair, and a chair that many Hall Countians probably sat in getting a haircut at the old Dixie-Hunt Barber Shop.

One of two shoe “X-ray” machines is from Saul’s clothing store, where many children were fascinated to see their foot bones while being fitted for shoes by the late Bill Schrage. A vintage cash register from Saul’s is among several such donated machines.

Somebody in David Merritt’s family donated a display of his football equipment when he played for the Gainesville Red Elephants in 1964-65.

Military uniforms, trunks and other war artifacts are being organized. The uniforms are among rows of textiles and period clothing, including at least one retro leisure suit from the 1970s.

The N.C. White Photo Studio collection remains on exhibit upstairs on the main floor. Much more is organized downstairs. Glass negatives are filed by date from 1900 to 1943. Nitrate negatives, which are very fragile, are being stored in a freezer for their preservation.

Dozens of chairs of all descriptions line one of the many shelves. Early televisions, an ancient sewing machine, typewriters, looms, blacksmith tools and at least one ancient computer are scattered here and there.

The Times has a couple of displays. One is a panel containing some of the tools used in printing before the modern age of offset presses. Another is a sculpture the late publisher Lou Fockele had made from various parts of an old press.

A portrait of Gainesville’s namesake, Gen. Edmund P. Gaines, donated by Abit Massey to the city, is on display upstairs after it was assumed lost. Kyle doesn’t know how the history center ended up with it.

Confederate Col. C.C. Sanders’ head from his statue is on display in the galleries, but just outside the history center’s downstairs back door is some of the rest of the sculpture. The base of the statue and two of its columns lie there, perhaps too bulky and heavy to be accommodated inside for now. The statue that stood at the corner of Washington and Green streets outside the old post office was blown apart by the 1936 tornado.

The center already had one rare Bagwell farm wagon built in Gainesville, but Sue Goforth donated another that is even more unique.

Print feed sacks, once prized by farm families to make clothes with, are part of the collection. Other items in the basement include arrowhead collections, millstones, old record players and radios, folk art and pottery.

It’s a challenge for Kyle and his staff. It would be a full-time job for one or more people to inventory, catalog and organize the collection. His goal is to do that, but right now it’s a formidable task. Perhaps a job for some volunteers.

Meanwhile, memorabilia keeps coming in, and the staff is trying to make space for it and organize as best they can.


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