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Column: Riverside’s old moniker dates back over 100 years
Johnny Vardeman

When Riverside Military Academy in Gainesville changed its name a few weeks ago, the original name had stuck with the school since its founding in 1908.

The new name, Riverside Preparatory Academy, is supposed to more accurately reflect its mission as a college preparatory school. Nothing else will change, Riverside officials say, including the military tradition. 

The school often is referred to as “RMA,” especially in newspaper headlines. “RPA” will take some getting used to. 

The Riverside name came when H.J. Pearce and A.W. Van Hoose started the school along with a dozen or more mostly local citizens. Obviously, it was because the campus practically overlooked the Chattahoochee River.

As it was opening, the school advertised itself as a part of Chattahoochee Park, a 2,000-acre area that now consists of American Legion Post 7, its marina and the original restored pavilion at the end of Riverside Drive. The park’s history includes a Georgia Power Co. camp, a country club and a golf course.

The months before its first school year, Riverside’s co-presidents, Pearce and Van Hoose, touted the success of their other educational ventures, Brenau Conservatory in Gainesville and Alabama Brenau in Eufaula, Alabama.

Riverside Military Academy would cost a student $300-$500 per year. Rooms were advertised as steam-heated with electricity and electric bells in every room, along with private baths. Boating and fishing would be available on nearby Lake Warner, which was formed by the Chattahoochee.

G.A. Moore was the first headmaster.

The school advertised, “If you wish to send your boy away from the temptations of the city located in the most beautiful section of the South, where his moral, mental and physical education will receive the most careful attention, send for a catalog …”

The summer before Riverside’s first term, its first dormitory served as “The New Chautauqua Hotel” to house an unusually large throng of visitors to nearby health resorts and other activities.

The school’s first building filled with students that first year, as did a second building the next year.

Sandy Beaver, a Stone Mountain educator, was hired in 1913. He had turned down a chance to be Georgia’s first Rhodes Scholar and intended to be a lawyer. Instead, by 1915, Beaver owned the school. He became a well-known Georgia educator and served on the state Board of Regents.

Not a barnburner

Many Hall and White County residents especially remember the late Joe and Clara Telford, he a prominent lawyer, she an active civic and church leader.

White County historian Judy Lovell tells an interesting story about Clara in the historical society’s newsletter.

Clara was the daughter of T.V. and Leila Roberts, who lived in a beautifully landscaped home on the highway between Cleveland and Helen. Prominent on the property was an ancient log barn built by T.V.’s father, John Cantrell.

Clara, T.V. and Leila’s only daughter, thought it unattractive and was embarrassed by its looks, according to Judy. Even after her marriage to Joe Telford, Clara continued to press her father to burn the barn, which she called an eyesore. She even threatened to have her yard man do the job.

To the rescue came Albert Taylor, who bought the barn and had it moved to his property. He prized it so much, when he and wife Martha Jean moved to Adair Mill Road, the barn went with them.

Clara wasn’t done with barns, however. She found another old one and salvaged the wood from it for the walls of her sunroom overlooking Lake Lanier.

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.