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Column: Columns keep church history alive in hills of Northeast Georgia
Johnny_Vardeman
Johnny Vardeman

People who remember the old First Baptist Church at the corner of Green and Washington streets, where the old Regions Bank building now stands in Gainesville, can still have a peek at its past if they want to travel the back roads of the Northeast Georgia mountains.

The columns that once graced the church now stand proudly almost in the middle of nowhere in Rabun County, near the North Carolina line. The church burned in 1960, but the columns remain intact. A Gainesville collector of all things collectible, Warren Castle, bought the columns and had them erected on a north Hall County farm. He later sold them to Brevard Williams, an Atlanta architect, who placed them on Pine Mountain near the trailhead of the Bartram Trail.

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Columns from Gainesville’s old First Baptist Church on Green Street still stand in the Northeast Georgia mountains. Photo courtesy Garland Reynolds.

Garland Reynolds, a Gainesville architect, recently visited the site off Hale Ridge Road, east of Clayton and Mountain City and near Scaly Mountain, North Carolina. Through the trees along the road, you can glimpse the columns standing on a manicured lawn. The property on which they were erected is called “The Columns.”

Saving the columns, which together weigh 100 tons, is something Warren Castle was likely to do. He and his wife, Mary Palmour Castle, operated Palmour Hardware, a longtime store at the corner of Main and Broad streets in downtown Gainesville. But the place was more like a museum than a hardware store. You possibly could find tools, nails, screws, plumbing supplies and other assorted merchandise of the usual hardware store. But this wasn’t the usual store, and you would have to weave your way through the various items Castle had accumulated over the years.

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The old First Baptist Church of Gainesville used to stand on the corner of Washington and Green streets before it burned down in 1960. Photo courtesy of the Hall County Library Historical Photo Collection

One of his prized collections was of miniature cannons. They weren’t exactly toys, but made by genuine craftsmen so long ago, some of the cannons were antiques. Some were 500 to 600 years old, and some would still fire.

Castle held a fascination for bells. His collection included bells from ships and trains. They ranged from a tiny bell with “Maysville” inscribed on it, to an 850-pound courthouse bell from Alabama.

Castle also had a vast collection of Native American arrowheads. He was said to pursue items for a particular collection, get tired of it, then move on to another. He collected keys, antique guns and other weapons, tools, grist mills and their parts, hats, old farm implements, hunting trophies and old cars. One of his prizes was a 1938 Cadillac Phaeton, which a Cadillac dealer offered to swap him even for a brand new model. Castle kept the old car.

His collections were so varied and unique because he had been a world traveler. Castle visited all over the globe working on a ship, then expanded his travels in the U.S. Air Force during World War II.

People might walk into the store for a specific item, but would end up taking a tour. A capable cook, Castle often would have friends to the store for lunch around a wood cook stove.

When Eagle Ranch was established in South Hall, Castle donated some of his cherished eagle items to it.

Castle and his wife ran the hardware store, but he also bought and sold land. He additionally built things from the various odd pieces that he would collect.

Castle died in 1985, proud that his most valuable collection, the limestone Corinthian columns of the old First Baptist Church, would continue to stand sentinel in the mountains that he admired.

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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