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Column: Numerous tornadoes to remember in Northeast Georgia
Johnny Vardeman

Tornadoes are so ingrained in the history of Northeast Georgia, whenever their anniversaries come around, we are prone to make note of them.

So it was earlier this week, March 20, when a 1998 twister struck early in the morning near Murrayville, then cut through 10 or 11 miles in north Hall County until it finally fizzled in White County. Thirteen people died; hundreds of thousands of dollars done in damage.

Another tornado of note in North Hall came in May 1909. It struck near Clermont in what was called the Concord community. J.J. Faulkner died in the storm; two other people were blown from their house, and a surviving baby was found a half-mile from his home. Many homes and other buildings were destroyed. People outside the area didn’t know about it until the next day because the phone line was down.

This weekend marks the anniversary of what residents at the time called the first tornado ever recorded in Gainesville. It was on March 25, 1885, that the storm crossed Green Street and destroyed a school.

In April 1920, a tornado skirted Jefferson, but did considerable damage in Braselton and Hoschton. A ginnery, warehouse, store and other buildings were destroyed. One of the casualties was the new Braselton High School under construction. Braselton Brothers had paid $40,000 to have the school built. Its auditorium was destroyed. The Braseltons’ store and inventory also were damaged.

Planing mills, shops, train cars, homes, machinery and other buildings were damaged. Several homes in Hoschton were damaged or destroyed along with a Congregational Church and a cotton warehouse.

It could have been the same tornado that struck the Candler, Poplar Springs and Tadmore areas of Hall County that same day. Poplar Springs School and church were hit, and Joe Elrod and Pack Johnson were killed.

Of course, the most destructive of tornadoes was April 6, 1936, the one that went right through Gainesville’s downtown square, killing more than 200 people and doing millions of dollars in damage.

Before that, the June 1, 1903, tornado that demolished Gainesville Mill and went on to New Holland killed more than 100. A Gainesville newspaper observing the fourth anniversary of that storm in 1907 proclaimed it “the greatest storm the state has ever known.”

Many of the casualties in the 1903 tornado were in the Gainesville Mill and New Holland mill villages. Pacolet Manufacturing Co. in South Carolina suffered from that same storm system, mills damaged, and weeks later more than 4,000 bales of cotton sat at the bottom of a nearby river.

While the 1903 storm in Hall County is beyond anyone’s memory today, its stories are still told, the most tragic being that many children who were working in Gainesville Mill died that day.

Four generations died in one house in New Holland. They were Mary Able, mother of Julia Neely, who was the mother of Belle York and grandmother of Pearl York, an infant.

W.E. Jenkins lost a bag of gold worth $190 when his house was blown away at Gainesville Mill. He searched and searched for it when, almost two weeks later, he found it, all the gold intact.

Whenever tornadoes strike, there are always stories of something being blown a county away or perhaps a state away. Several photos from the 1903 storm were found in Cleveland, White County, and a promissory note from W.L. Anderson floated all the way over the mountain into Towns County. Also found in White County were several insurance policies belonging to J.H. Whisenant.

A March 1913 tornado damaged a hotel under construction in Robertstown.

Other tornadoes have found their way through Hall County, including one in 1973 that did damage in the River Bend community. Another storm touched down at Riverside Military Academy and damaged homes in Sunset Heights off Cleveland Road.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. He can be reached at 2183 Pine Tree Circle NE, Gainesville, GA 30501; 770-532-2326; or His column publishes weekly.