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Column: Some old news from the Baptists
Johnny_Vardeman
Johnny Vardeman

Numerous newspapers have been published in Northeast Georgia over the years, some lasting just a few months while others such as The Times and its predecessors have continued for decades.

Newspaper names such as the Gainesville News, the Northeast Georgian, the Dahlonega Nugget, the Georgia Cracker and the Gainesville Eagle are familiar to those acquainted with some history of the area. There are lesser-known titles, too, of those publications that were here one day and gone the next.

The Baptist Banner was among those, published in the early 1880s in both Forsyth and Hall counties. J.W. Wood was its editor and J.C. Blackstock its business manager. But the real boss apparently was its board chair, the Rev. W.C. Wilkes — first president of what was then called Georgia Baptist Seminary for Women, now Brenau University in Gainesville.

On his board were B.H. Brown of Browns Bridge, treasurer; J.E. Rives of Wooley’s Ford, C.C. Bell and J.D. Bagwell, both of Gainesville.

The Banner would carry such items as a dog fight in a church that resulted in one of the animals making off with the loaf of bread for the communion. The Banner advised, “Let the pastors make a separate appointment for dogs and not have the congregation mixed with canines and humans.”

The newspaper was more serious about politics: “We advise Christians, especially ministers, ordained and licensed, to avoid political complications and excitements. Let us save our breath and fervor for a better and holier cause. ... No minister can meddle much in this line without injuring his influence for good.”

Wilkes appealed for money for various causes, including the seminary. He also asked for contributions to “old worn-out needy Baptist preachers.”

The newspaper’s slogan was “Am I therefore your enemy because I tell you the truth?”

Wilkes had founded what became Brenau University in 1878. A tornado struck the school in 1885, and the 1936 tornado that visited downtown Gainesville also damaged Brenau, the nearby Episcopal Church and other structures.

Wilkes died in 1886. Wilkes Hall, a prominent building on the Brenau campus facing Boulevard, is named in his memory.

Another early Baptist publication was the Baptist Sun, published later in the 1880s, also from Gainesville.

The North Georgian of Gainesville, not to be confused with the Northeast Georgian of Habersham County, came out in the 1870s. It circulated primarily in Belton (Bellton) and Gainesville of Hall County, Maysville and Banks County.

John Blats was its publisher. He published from Belton June 1879 to August 1883. The paper moved to Homer later, and W.A. Worsham moved it to Maysville. The paper would carry such headlines as “Hogs are scarce on the square this week.” Or this item: “There are more octogenarians in Hall County than in any other county in the state.”

More important was the news that the town of Belton was being abolished. Joseph H. Banks had sued Belton’s mayor and council on the grounds that their actions were invalid because Belton wasn’t really an incorporated town. A judge agreed, saying whatever legislation that created Belton was unconstitutional.

However, Belton remained somewhat of a town until 1956 when it merged with its next-door neighbor Lula.

Belton, in its beginning was spelled Bellton with two L’s. It was named for Maj. John Bell, an early settler. Before that, the area was called “Glade Mines.” The Glades, as the nearby acreage across Ga. Highway 365 is known today, was the site of gold and other mining and where it is said a large diamond was uncovered.

The scenic area is largely undeveloped today, and a reservoir proposed for part of the property has been on hold. Glade Farms Road runs through the property from Clarks Bridge Road to the Lula-Brookton Road. 

The Airline Eagle was another early Northeast Georgia newspaper, published in Gainesville by W.A Mitchell.

It carried some serious news about the Civil War as it was published in the 1860s. Here’s one less serious item in the Eagle: “The Republican papers are making a great row because some of the pretty girls of the South kissed the president of the New Republic (Jefferson Davis was president of the Confederacy.) There is no danger that any pretty girls will kiss the Northern President (Abraham Lincoln).”

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.