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Column: Photography exhibit at Northeast Georgia History Center reveals pieces of Gainesville’s past
Johnny_Vardeman
Johnny Vardeman

Northeast Georgia History Center is opening its exhibit of old-time photographers, N.C. White Sr. and Jr., this weekend.

The Gainesville father and son photographed people and scenes from all over the area from the 1880s until the 1950s.

The exhibit’s hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Wednesday through Saturday, and 1-5 p.m. Sunday, running through the end of the year. It will include more than 30,000 glass and nitrate negatives of the White collection and a replica N.C. White studio.

Longtime Northeast Georgia residents will remember the N.C. White studio on South Main Street, just off the downtown square where the former Georgia Mountains Center parking deck stands today. 

In the 1950s, three studios stood within doors of each other on South Main. The other two were Hardy’s and Magic Craft, located today on Candler Street.

Lesley Jones, archives manager at the history center, has spent months researching the photographers and helping acquire the “Fadeless Photographer: The N.C. White Studio Collection.” Many of the photographs are studio portraits, but some depict Hall County of years gone by.

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An old photo of Lake Lanier from the N.C. White studio. Photo courtesy Northeast Georgia History Center

N.C. White Sr. was born in Danville, Virginia in 1828. He was captured by Union soldiers as he fought for the Confederates, then got into the cotton and banking businesses after the Civil War. He moved to Gainesville from Tennessee in 1884 and set up his photography business on the northeast side of the square.

White Sr. was 85 years old when he died in 1913. His obituary described him as “modest, unobtrusive and kind.” He had been the oldest elder in the First Presbyterian Church.

His son, N.C. White Jr., took over the studio, which later moved to South Main Street. He was born in Dyersburg, Tennessee, and lived 81 years in Gainesville. He died Feb. 8, 1965, at age 94 in Hall County Hospital, after an extended illness. 

White Jr. had retired in 1958. He lived at 700 Spring St., a two-story home at the corner of Spring and Prior streets.

White Jr. had been a director of First National Bank, an elder in First Presbyterian Church, a member of Photographers of America, a Shriner member of Yaarab Temple and Masonic Lodge 219 F. & A.M.

His wife, Viola Lockhart White, survived him. They had no children.

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Tornado damage shown around the N.C. White photography studio. Photo courtesy Northeast Georgia History Center

One of the items in the history exhibit is a ledger believed to be from the studio. E. Lee Eltzroth donated the book, which apparently was purchased at a flea market in North Georgia. It lists names of customers and prices for the photographs. 

Eltzroth blogs about old-time photographers on her website and has acquired some White artifacts. She also has accumulated a lot of history of photographers, including the Ramseys of Hall and Early Rogers of Forsyth and Hall counties.

In addition to the numerous glass negatives and photographs from the White studio, Bill Riley is loaning one of the photographers’ cameras. Riley explains how photographers used glass and nitrate film negatives and their eventual transition to safety film for their cameras. While regular film cameras are still used, much photography today is digital, and millions of amateurs use their smartphones to take pictures.

K.H. Cancelosi acquired the glass and nitrate negatives for the history center exhibit, and donated funds to put on the show. He had put the center in touch with Riley. Jones said if it had not been for Cancelosi, much of the White collection would have been sold on eBay.

The exhibit is free to history center members. Otherwise, admission is $6 for adults, $5 for seniors and military, $4 for students and free for children 5 and under.

Wedding photo

The Atlanta Constitution —  now The Atlanta-Journal Constitution — on July 31, 1938, published a photo of the wedding party of White Jr. and his wife. Some of the children in the picture were Heyward Hosch Jr., Rosemary Wood, Marian Matthews, Patti Palmour, Dora Kimbrough and Amanda Joiner.

When they were married Viola was 35 years old, and White Jr. was 68. Viola died in the 1990s.


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, johnnyvardeman@gmail.com. His column publishes weekly.

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