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Column: Old merchants would celebrate added parking
Johnny_Vardeman
Johnny Vardeman

B.D. Cohen should see Gainesville’s downtown square today.

Cohen’s father-in-law was Jake Sacks, who opened Jack Sacks clothing store in 1902 when the streets were still dirt around the square. Cohen ran the business in its final years, closing in 1971. He remembered Saturdays when sidewalks almost overflowed with shoppers.

Gainesville is currently building a third parking deck downtown. The first one served the Georgia Mountains Center, now part of Brenau University, on Main Street. Hall County built the second one to accommodate the courthouse and other county offices. The third one is under construction on Brenau Avenue across from Hall County Library.

Cohen had complained to city officials about the lack of parking downtown. He proposed building a multi-story parking deck in the middle of the square where the “Old Joe” Confederate statue resides. That didn’t go over well —  not just because of the statue —  but people didn’t want to do away with what little green space was downtown.

Cohen also chided shoppers, who he said didn’t mind walking a distance to shopping centers, but for some reason wanted a parking place right in front of the stores downtown.

When Jake Sacks closed, it created another vacant building downtown. Whether the parking decks are responsible for it, downtown today is quite busy, and most of the vacancies have been filled.

In its heyday, Jake Sacks was a popular place carrying work clothes, children’s school and play clothes, shoes, women’s fashion and fabric. When it was on Main Street, the store burned Nov. 30, 1911, a fire that also destroyed Palmour Hardware and Castleberry’s. Jake Sacks later moved to the Bradford Street side of the square.

President’s wife’s funeral

Ellen Axson Wilson, President Woodrow Wilson’s first wife, had a special connection to Gainesville because she spent several summers here. Two of the Wilsons’ daughters were born in Gainesville, one of whom was delivered in the old Piedmont Hotel. Part of the hotel still stands after its restoration by the Longstreet Society.

Hall Countians were so fond of her, they paid special tribute to the former first lady when she died in 1914. A gathering of Gainesville and Hall residents passed resolutions of sympathy to the president and his family, calling her an “ideal mother.” They voted to provide a floral pillow for her casket.

About 1,500 people gathered at Gainesville’s railroad depot as the special funeral train passed through. Stores even closed for the occasion. President Wilson was sleeping and did not appear, but a representative received the floral arrangement, as well as a floral cross provided by Mrs. Howard Thompson.

The funeral was in Rome, where the former first lady grew up.

Later, the White House sent a letter to Hall Countians expressing the president’s gratitude for their expressions of concern and sympathy.

Burning of the ballots

What happens to ballots during and after an election is a topic of controversy these days. Hall ballots were burned after a 1914 election, causing somewhat of a stir among citizens.

However, H.H. Whelchel, commission chair, explained what happened. The ballots from outlying precincts customarily were placed in a basket when they were brought into the courthouse in Gainesville. Somebody thought the basket was a trash can and piled other papers on top of the ballots. Later, somebody carried the trash and the ballots out and burned them.

Or, that was the story told.


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, vardeman623@outlook.com. His column publishes weekly.

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