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Column: Students helped spearhead construction of Gym of ‘36
Johnny Vardeman

Gainesville High School didn’t have a gymnasium when its new school was built on Washington Street in 1921.

It was hard enough over the years for the community to get a new school building. Previously, high school and most elementary classes were held in the old Main Street School building, which was demolished to make way for the Hall County Jail, which also has been demolished. The lot stands between Main and Grove streets at the corners of Parker and Banks.

A groundswell of support for a new gym on the Washington Street campus finally materialized by 1935, a decade and a half after the school board had promised it. Local newspapers got on the bandwagon, but Gainesville High students really rallied to put pressure on city officials to build a combination gymnasium/auditorium.

The Gainesville News urged in the winter of 1935, “When young people want anything very much, they are hard to appease unless their wishes are carried out. Students really need a gymnasium and a larger auditorium. The gymnasium must be built.” GHS students had waged an editorial campaign in the school newspaper.

That’s how the name “Gym of ’36” came about. The building was still under construction when the tornado of April 6, 1936, devastated downtown Gainesville and interrupted completion of the gym. The GHS campus narrowly missed a direct hit.

Having finally gotten the building going, the storm provided a temporary setback to its completion. There were other priorities after the tornado, mourning the more than 200 dead, caring for the injured and rebuilding downtown and other areas affected.

The gymnasium eventually was completed and used for many events besides basketball games. It was where physical education classes were held, dances, plays, Halloween carnivals, school assemblies, et cetera, until the school moved its campus to its present location off Pearl Nix Parkway in 1956. Gainesville High is in its second gymnasium at that location, and its campus is undergoing further expansion today.

Upset citizens

Hall County citizens in those days were in a progressive mood despite a depression ravaging the national economy. They were clamoring for a new courthouse, and they got it after the 1936 tornado destroyed the old one.

But they also wanted changes in county government. A grand jury recommended replacing the current county commissioners and appointing a county manager. Local legislators even introduced a bill that would accomplish that. Without comment, the grand jury in a 13-9 vote simply recommended the county’s commissioners be removed.

However, its presentments alluded to dissatisfaction with the way contracts were being handed out. They recommended hiring a county manager who would be “competent and well trained,” and be a non-resident of Hall County.

The grand jury also wanted the offices of tax collector and tax receiver consolidated.

Those changes didn’t come about immediately, but years later those grand jurors’ wishes did get implemented. In addition, the county expanded from three commissioners at the time to five today.

Wright good price

Many longtime residents fondly recall Wright’s Ice Cream on South Main Street. You could get a large slab of ice cream on a cone for a nickel or a quart for a quarter. The business, run by A.D. Wright, once had a place on North Bradford Street in downtown Gainesville.

A.D. and W.P. Wright operated a dairy about three miles from Gainesville on Browns Bridge Road. They had a herd of 100 cows and used electric milkers, not all that common in this area at the time. The main reason for the dairy, the Wrights said, was to supply milk for ice cream for about 20 stores they operated.

The dairy cost about $6,000 to build, aside from the cost of the cattle.

Shoot, cut and bowl

Lee Crowe and Pete Tankersley were neighbors on South Main Street, just south of the Collegiate Grill. They both operated popular pool rooms, where you also could get a bite to eat.

Lee at one time not only had a pool room and grill, but a bowling alley and barber shop all in the same building. He called the place a “recreation parlor.” It cost just a dime to bowl.

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.