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Column: City directories of old contain local history
Johnny_Vardeman
Johnny Vardeman

You can find a lot of local history browsing through city directories of various eras.

Hall County Library has in its digital collection a number of such directories. These are not telephone directories with names, addresses and phone numbers with a Yellow Pages section for businesses.

City directories of old contained a lot of information you can’t find in those of today because of privacy issues. For instance, city directories were almost like a census, telling you who people were, whether they were married, where they lived, where they worked and even listing children in the household. They also would list every street in a city along with residences and businesses on those streets.

The 1913-14 Gainesville City Directory was compiled and published by a local citizen, Grady Gaston. It contained names of every resident at the time and a list of businesses and industries by category. In a brief introduction that included some history, he estimated the population of Gainesville at “about 10,000, including suburbs.” His directory listed 7,007 names.

It was segregated in every way, Black residents designated as “col.” or just plain “c.” The same with businesses and other categories. Most Black women’s occupations seemed to be “cook” or “laundress.”

A map of Gainesville showed how small geographically the city was. Its streets extended hardly a mile in each direction. For instance, Broad Street, today’s Jesse Jewell Parkway, ran only to about where Alta Vista Cemetery is. 

East Spring Street did run to New Holland, and Green Street ran north to about where it does today. But, the map didn’t show Riverside Drive, although we know there was a road and street railway toward Riverside Drive to the park on the Chattahoochee River.

Some street names were changing: Rice Street to Forrest Avenue, Gower to Ridgewood, Race Street to Boulevard and Seminary Avenue to Brenau Avenue. West Avenue at the time was Findley Street, and Industrial Boulevard was Railroad Avenue. What is now Holly Drive off Dixon Drive and Green Street was Grape Street.

Gainesville City Hall and the firehouse were in the block bounded by East Broad, Church, Main and Bradford. The courthouse, which stood until the 1936 tornado, resided between Bradford and Green, and Spring and Broad.

The city council contained six members, two from each of three wards. Hall County was governed by three commissioners.

Many residents had livestock in their own backyards, mostly cows for milking or chickens for eggs or Sunday dinner. 

Farms were near the city limits. W.H. Brock had a dairy on Rainey Street, and another that bore his name on Park Street. Adderholdt Dairy operated on Athens Street.

Hotels downtown included the Arlington, Princeton, Mountain View and The Rowe. Three newspapers operated: The Eagle, Gainesville News and The Herald. The three theaters were the Alcazar and Alamo on Main Street and the Grand on East Washington.

Motor vehicles were steadily appearing on the roads, and there were three car dealers for Cadillac, Maxwell and Overland. They were still making wagons and buggies at Bagwell and Gower, and at Crow, Byrd and Miles, who also sold “lap robes.” In all, five wagon makers, six blacksmiths and at least eight livery stables that sold mules and horses were in business.

Frank T. Davies and Sons operated a funeral home on East Spring Street that advertised “open all night.”

Gainesville Mill and New Holland textile manufacturers were among the largest industries, but there were a variety of others, including W.T. Stone’s Star Bed and Pillow, which specialized in feather beds.

The banks at the time were Gainesville National, First National, State Banking and J.H. Hunt’s “private bank.”

Gainesville was fortunate to be served by three railroads: Gainesville Midland, Gainesville and Northwestern and Southern.

Helen Longstreet, second wife of Confederate Gen. James Longstreet, was postmaster of the Gainesville Post Office, a building that still stands at the corner of Washington and Green streets.

N.C. White and W.J. Ramsey were the main photographers listed in the 1913-14 City Directory. White’s studio was on South Main Street in the vicinity of today’s Brenau University downtown complex. Ramsey’s former studio and home remain at the corner of Park and Prior streets.

Old directories can be accessed from the Hall County Library website.

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, vardeman1956@att.net or johnny.peggy1956@gmail.com. His column publishes weekly.

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