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Column: Hall County before World War II
Johnny Vardeman

In 1939 to 1940, the country was on the cusp of World War II. Greater Gainesville had a population of 16,098 and Hall County 30,313. 

The city limits extended only one mile radius from the downtown square.

Hall County ranked 14th in the state for population size, and its property values totaled $6.7 million. It had 20 manufacturers, including textiles, clothing, women’s stockings, furniture, silk thread and chenille bedspreads. 

The poultry industry, although long important in the county’s history, was a few years from reaching its boom stages.

Directory editors at the time wrote that Hall survived the Great Depression better than some areas because a silk-throwing mill had opened in 1938, and Owen-Osborne Hosiery Mill had opened in 1933. Gainesville Broom Co. on South Maple Street also operated during this period.

There were nine dairies in the county, four bus lines stopped in Gainesville and three blacksmiths were still in business: Edgar Conner and Demmie Gordon on South Bradford Street, and Homer Davis on Athens Street.

Hall seemed prosperous with hundreds of businesses, new ones seemingly sprouting weekly.

That information and more details were listed in the 1939-1940 Gainesville city directory published by Baldwin Directory Co. A copy of the directory was donated to Hall County Library by late historian and merchant, Lester Hosch. It is available in digital form on the library’s website.

The directory had few, if any, privacy concerns in those days. For example, it listed occupants in every house in the city. However, only numbering children under age 16. It even identified widows. Men of the house were listed first, their wives’ names in parentheses.

African-Americans were designated with a circled letter C for “colored.” The directory editors commented, “The publishers are very careful in this, but do not assume responsibility in case of errors.”

In listing the three movie theaters at the time, it named the Royal on Main Street, the State on Washington Street and the “Colored Theater” on Athens Street.

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The Old Dixie-Hunt Hotel in its heyday. Image courtesy Johnny Vardeman

Gainesville had three “first class” hotels, the Dixie-Hunt, the Princeton and Wheeler, a total of 250 rooms. Hall County had two hospitals, the private Downey on Sycamore Street in Gainesville and Hall County Memorial off Peachtree Road, as Atlanta Highway was called then.

The three banks were Citizens, First National and Gainesville National.

The city had three commissioners in 1939: H.H. Pilgrim, C.B. Stovall and R.A. Brice. Fred Roark was city manager.

Funeral homes listed were Newton-Ward, D.C. Stow, Hubert Vickers, Greenlee and J.B. Vickers. Furniture stores included Pilgrim-Estes, Jimmie Reeves, Hood and Gainesville Mather.

Two newspapers operated, the Gainesville News and the Eagle, founded in 1860 and predecessor of The Times.

The sole bakery, Small and Estes at 127 North Bradford, advertised “Aunt Betty’s Home Science Bread, flavored with fresh milk and country butter.”

Some businesses that are still in operation today include Bell’s Dry Cleaners; City Plumbing and Electric, then operated by the Romberg family; Coca-Cola Bottling Co.; Norton Insurance; Jackson’s Flowerland, established in 1887; and Gallant-Belk (now Belk), which had opened during the Great Depression in 1934.

The 1939-1940 city directory contained more than 450 pages and listed where you could buy everything, from corsets and cigar lighters to liver pills.


Emory Jones of White County has published his eighth book, “Cunningham and Other Pigs I Have Known.” It’s a humorous account of Emory’s alleged experiences with his fictional pet pig. His wit and creative way with words come through on every page. Jim Powell of Young Harris deftly illustrates each chapter. Powell’s editorial cartoons appear in The Times as well as several other newspapers.

First-time author Jimmy Hope of Gainesville, former parks and recreation director, wrote “Smitty, a True American Hero.” It’s the inspiring story of a young Georgian, who overcame one hardship and temptation after another to become a decorated hero in World War II.

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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