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Column: ‘Drys’ dampened holiday for ‘wets’ in Christmas 1903
Johnny Vardeman

Christmas 1903 was dry for Hall County holiday celebrants. Those reveling joyfully were supporters of Prohibition.

They had won in a referendum 1,766 to 247 “wet” votes. Five precincts, including Oakwood and New Holland, cast nary a vote to allow sales of alcoholic beverages.

It was the largest margin of victory for dry supporters in years. During that era, voters cast ballots on Prohibition about every four years. In 1891, the “drys” won by 181 votes; in 1895 it was by 370.

Hall churches naturally were the principal supporters of Prohibition. Most of them had conducted rallies to get out the vote against alcohol sales. The Sunday before the vote, congregations met together to be sure the “dry” message had been heard loud and clear throughout the county.

This was part of a reform movement, especially in Gainesville. In December 1903, the city was shut down “tight as a drum” on Sundays, a newspaper reported. 

A solicitor had warned businesses they could not open on Sunday, or if they did, could not make sales, such as for cigars, chewing gum or soda water. The only exception was drug stores selling medicine.

The reformers resulted from a Law and Order League that had been formed to protest lack of enforcement of laws on the books, especially “blue laws,” that prohibited Sunday sales.

In that reform year of 1903, many Christmas activities went on as usual. The Episcopal Church, then on College Avenue, had special services, as did the Presbyterian Church, which honored Sunday schoolers at the Hunt House. 

Eastside Mission Methodist on Myrtle Street, which became today’s St. Paul United Methodist Church on Washington Street, conducted a “fish pond” Christmas night when children would “fish” for goodies.

The Rev. J.C. Otwell held a “Christmas commissary” at Hobb’s Chapel, and the Ladies of First Methodist Church had a holiday bazaar to raise money for a new church building on Green Street.

Weather forecasts a few days ago gave North Georgians hope for a bit of 2020 white Christmas. In 1876, folks were getting tired of snow and ice around Christmastime. They had had a month of wintry precipitation, some of that icing Gainesville in before and after Christmas.

It was a “raw and blustery day” that month when Gainesville elected R.E. Green as mayor. Green Street apparently is named  after him, and he operated a street railway down that street to the Chattahoochee River, New Holland and the railroad depot. He had 174 votes to C.R. Simmons’ 126.

That same holiday season, prospectors were sharpening their shovels for gold in “them thar Hall County hills and dales.”

Atlanta Mining and Testing Co. listed these properties as prime mining sites: William F. Tanner and David B. Tanner, a 4-foot wide gold vein 12 miles southwest of Gainesville; Joseph H. Reed, a 3-foot wide gold vein 7 miles southwest of Gainesville.; J.S. Owen, a foot wide vein 4 miles south of Gainesville; Sam Lester, a gold and silver vein, 11 miles east of Gainesville; O. Buffington, a 10-foot wide copper vein; and W.A. Harrington, a 4-foot wide gold vein, also mica, kaolin and feldspar in the Glades area in East Hall.

One of the most productive and valuable sites in Georgia — W.S. Mooney, McCluskey Mine — was 4 miles west on Browns Bridge Road. 

Lousy legislators

Legislators, bless their hearts, are often criticized for their actions or inactions. The Atlanta Sun Gazette, after the 1878 General Assembly, had this to say, “We are heartily glad that the Legislature has adjourned. A sorrier body of men than the present lower House never assembled in Georgia. It was a mob of howling demagogues with a sprinkling of really good men.”

You wonder how they really felt.

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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