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Column: Some history of Hall County bridges and controversy
Johnny_Vardeman
Johnny Vardeman

The opening of the new Bell’s Mill Bridge completes the bridge replacement projects on U.S. 129 north of Gainesville over Lake Lanier. 

Longstreet Bridge, the first one heading north toward Cleveland, opened a few months back. Other bridges over the lake are being replaced, including Brown’s on Ga. 369, where work is under way. Clark’s Bridge at the 1996 Olympic rowing site on Ga. 284 previously was replaced

When all are completed, they will represent a new generation of bridges around the lake. 

Bridges have made news down through the years since the first ones crossed the Chattahoochee and Chestatee rivers and smaller streams throughout the area. They have been the victims of floods, storms, fires and controversy. 

A wooden bridge once crossed the Chattahoochee on the road between Gainesville and Cleveland. In 1905 after Dunlap Dam was built on the river to form Lake Warner and provide electricity to Gainesville, high waters damaged the bridge. It caused a controversy between county commissioners and the electric company because commissioners said the dam had caused waters to rise higher during heavy rains. In the end, the electric company had to raise the bridge 3 feet. 

A storm blew that bridge away June 6, 1916, and it wasn’t until August 1917 that another one replaced it. This was referred to as “the iron bridge” for a time but eventually became known as New Bridge. While that bridge was out, traffic had to use Clark’s Bridge between Gainesville and Cleveland.  

Two years later, the reverse was true. A flood washed Clark’s Bridge 300 yards downstream, and the New Bridge on what is now U.S. 129 had to be used for traffic to and from Gainesville and Clermont and Cleveland. The same flood damaged but didn’t disable the Gainesville & Northwestern Railroad trestle. However, another flood at another time did severely damage the trestle. 

When Lake Lanier formed in the mid-1950s, the New Bridge location was moved to the present site of Longstreet Bridge. 

Bell’s Mill once was a popular resort with picnic areas, lake and cottages. It also ground wheat and corn for customers from miles around. The name came from the Bell family, which included long-serving 9th District Rep. Tom Bell and the family that founded Bell’s Cleaners in Gainesville. 

Bridge opponents 

Bridges are usually popular because they get people to the other side of the stream. However, there was a great controversy in the early 1900s over two bridges proposed over the Chattahoochee River near Lula. At the time, Hall County was in debt about $10,000, which was considerable in those days. Commissioners wanted to build bridges at what was known as Seven Islands Ford and Browning Ford. 

The grand jury called the projects outrageous, unnecessary and lacking demand by the public. Two other bridges within a few miles accommodated what traffic there was, the jury said. 

Judge W.N. Dyer was commission chairman and ordinary at the time, and bridge opponents demanded he resign because he couldn’t hold both jobs at the same time. A restraining order prohibited work from starting on the bridges, and the matter went all the way to the Georgia Supreme Court before it was resolved in favor of bridge supporters. 

School feud 

That controversy also figured in the selection of the site for an agricultural school. Habersham and Hall counties were the prime contenders for the school; Habersham eventually was selected for the facility, which was predecessor to North Georgia Technical College in Clarkesville. 

Bickering among factions in Hall County figured in the county’s losing the school. Each faction supported locations in different parts of the county. In an attempt to resolve some of the differences, supporters of those two bridges wanted opponents to remove their appeals from the courts. The two sides also differed on the amount of money the county should put up for the agricultural school. Rival weekly newspapers at the time apparently didn’t help, taking different sides and sniping at one another through their columns. 

As usual in such controversies, there was considerable finger pointing, each side blaming the other for allowing Habersham to win the day. Habersham had presented a unified front, and the state apparently lost patience with Hall County’s squabbling factions. 

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, vardeman1956@att.net or johnny.peggy1956@gmail.com. His column publishes weekly. 

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