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Column: Sculpture marks the site of Gainesville’s Mule Camp Springs
Johnny_Vardeman
Johnny Vardeman

Gainesville Jaycees’ Mule Camp Market will be returning to its new location when it opens next weekend on the Midland Greenway.

And if those attending happen to go through the parking lot of United Community Bank off Jesse Jewell Parkway, they can see a group of children and their puppy on a log crossing the “real” Mule Camp Springs. The sculpture is courtesy of Hall County businessman Milton Robson and is near the entrance of the Midland Greenway, which runs through part of Gainesville’s southside.

Robson acquired the sculpture from a Florida artist about 20 years ago and had it in the yard of his home for several years. He decided the site of the original Mule Camp Springs would be an appropriate place for it.

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A sculpture off Jesse Jewell Parkway in Gainesville depicts children crossing the site of Mule Camp Springs. - photo by Scott Rogers

The springs gush beneath the bronze sculpture and form a small pond. Robson is convinced it is the site of Mule Camp Springs, the original name of the village that became Gainesville. The springs were at the crossroads of Indian trails and became a popular place for pioneers to water their livestock when coming down from the mountains or elsewhere to trade.

The exact location of the springs had been debated for years. One old-timer said she was told they were at the end of West Spring Street in a ravine near the location of The Arts Council Smithgall Arts Center in the former Gainesville Midland Railroad depot.

In 1993, some wanted the creek at Ivey Terrace Park designated the symbolic site of Mule Camp Springs. The Gainesville Planning Commission actually recommended the proposal, which the city council adopted. Residents in the park area protested, however, because they feared more traffic and noise from a “tourist attraction” in the quiet neighborhood.

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A sculpture off Jesse Jewell Parkway in Gainesville depicts children crossing the site of Mule Camp Springs. - photo by Scott Rogers

The late Hall County historian Sybil McRay concluded Mule Camp Springs was on or near the old Davis-Washington hardware company, which actually is where Robson says it is and where his sculpture marks it.

Robson had to fight City Hall for a while to use the “Mule Camp Springs” name on the former hardware company property, where he planned businesses, one of which would carry the name. The city had registered the name as a trademark and wanted to charge people to use it.

Robson had an 1836 deed that listed Mule Camp Springs on a 4-acre site off then-Broad Street, now Jesse Jewell Parkway. He also said he had talked with several longtime residents who said they were told of the location of the springs.

The city eventually allowed Robson to use the name and reversed its decision to designate Ivey Terrace Park as the site of Mule Camp Springs.

The year 1993 was also the year that Gainesville Jaycees wanted to change the name of their annual fall festival from Corn Tassel Festival to Mule Camp Market, which they did. The Corn Tassel name wasn’t a flattering one for the city because it was the name of a Cherokee Indian chief who, after several court appeals and a special legislative session, was hanged in Gainesville for a murder that happened outside Hall County.

Multi-springs

Perhaps Native Americans and settlers came to Gainesville because there were plenty of springs in the area. While they refreshed their mules and horses, they also traded with each other.

Besides Mule Camp Springs, there were the Limestone Springs at the east end of Spring Street at New Holland; Gower Springs, off what is now Green Street Circle; and White Sulphur Springs off Old Cornelia Highway. All of those at one time or another became tourist resorts, attracting people from all over to drink of the healthful qualities in the water.

Such resorts in Gainesville and other spring sites in the mountains thrived in the late 1800s all the way into the 1930s.


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 johnnyvardeman@gmail.com. His column publishes weekly.