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Column: Elections of yesteryear and the story of Goat Rock
Johnny Vardeman

Elections don’t seem as fun as they used to be. Perhaps in this day of more divisive politics, uptight candidates and voters don’t cotton to much levity in the election season.

In times past, election nights and mornings-after might mean anything from cutting shirttails off the winners, burning the hats of the losers or a wheelbarrow trip around Gainesville’s downtown square for the winner courtesy of the loser.

In the 1907 mayor’s race in Gainesville, raucous supporters of Dr. John B. Rudolph sat him in a chair when he was declared winner, hoisted him on their shoulders and toted him all the way to his home.

 We could use another J.W. (Jake) Tolbert during these times. Jake, a justice of the peace, was a perennial candidate for something-or-other and an almost permanent resident of the Hall County Courthouse.

It probably was he who conjured the mythical “Goat Rock,” the place election losers were banished after the votes were counted. It was said his first trip came after he lost a JP election to Doc Tankersley, a popular politician of old. If still around today, Jake would announce that the population of Goat Rock had increased with the influx of those who didn’t make the runoff or lost outright the first go-round.

Politics continues to be a most popular topic at various coffee clubs around the state and  nation. In Hall County, if a coffee club member didn’t show up the morning after an election, others would conclude he or she had gone to Goat Rock. They would joke that the loser had been seen boarding a bus with other non-winners headed to that dead-end destination. Or Tolbert would offer them a ride in his 1957 Chevrolet.

Was there really a Goat Rock? It was a moving target for sure. Tolbert at various times located it around the Chicopee bridge and the former Little Giant grocery store. Other times it was “between Candler and Klondike” on Ga. 60 south of Gainesville or off the Atlanta Highway where Chicopee Woods Golf Course is today, or somewhere in north Hall County.

His many visits earned Tolbert the title of Mayor of Goat Rock. With former local radio executive A.O. (Red) Healan, he made a recording of his musings about the place, along with other humorous jabs at various politicians. He also made fun of voting machines, which were just being introduced before he died. On the recording he said, “They look more like a slot machine, but I sure didn’t hit the jackpot. I got more out of a bubble gum machine.”

On one of his last trips to Goat Rock, Tolbert said, “I was hoping I wouldn’t have to go anymore ... (but) I’ll dance every set.”

The turnout for this year’s election probably will be improved, but still a lot of people stay away from the polls. Somebody suggested there should be a “Vote Rock” to exile those who don’t vote.

A brighter Christmas

Gainesville got a brightly wrapped gift two days before Christmas 1902. That was the day the lights were turned on in the city at 4 o’clock in the afternoon. The electricity came from the Electric Railroad Co., headed by Gen. A.J. Warner. It was transmitted to Gainesville by way of a hydroelectric dam on the Chestatee River between Gainesville and Dahlonega.

The main attraction was the lighting of businesses downtown, which made for a bright holiday. Later, city leaders pushed for and got a “white way” for the public square with electric lights installed on the four streets in front of businesses and around the square itself. The word was that Gainesville was the first city south of Baltimore to light up its town.

At the same time, the Electric Railroad Co. was laying tracks along Green Street, around the square and to the Southern Railway Depot for the street railroad.

Warner’s Dunlap Dam on the Chattahoochee River closed in June 1904 to form the lake named in his honor, Lake Warner, at the end of the present Riverside Drive. Closing of the dam was a big deal and cause for celebrations that included rides for a nickel on the new street railroad from Gainesville to the lake and Chattahoochee Park.

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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