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Column: Traffic en route to Atlanta used to be much worse
Johnny Vardeman

Motorists from Gainesville north once had to go through Lawrenceville to get to Atlanta.

That was the reason Gainesville’s Jesse Jewell Parkway once was named Lawrenceville Street, later Broad Street, going toward Atlanta. A new road bypassing Lawrenceville and going through Buford was completed in 1934 at a cost of $65,417, shortening the trip from Gainesville to Atlanta by several miles and minutes.

It’s within the memory of many that the only route from Gainesville to Atlanta was two-lane U.S. 23. Before Interstate 85, then Interstate 985, were built, it was a pain to make the trip to the big city with traffic so heavy there were few opportunities to pass other vehicles. An hour-long trip became more than that as congestion increased with population and business growing along the route.

The four and six lanes today help, but now even those are full and hazardous at times, making that Gainesville-to-Atlanta trip once again onerous.

Traffic between Gainesville and Athens doesn’t compare, of course, but before U.S. 129 was four-laned all the way, the trip had become much more challenging. Athens Street in Gainesville wasn’t paved until 1934.  

Federal Building

The Federal Building on Spring Street across from the present Gainesville courthouse took some fine old homes when it was built in the mid-1930s. They had been occupied by Dr. M.H. Ham, Dr. J.W. Bailey and W.B. Cox, an undertaker. The Bailey home had been built in the 1870s by E.A. Davidson.

A.D. Wright, a builder, ice cream maker and city commissioner, razed the houses. One of the structures had served as a community building and housed the Chamber of Commerce at one time.

The post office, which adjoined the Federal Building, had already been built in 1910. The Federal Building was built at a cost of $249,000. It was completed in 1934, two years before the disastrous tornado struck downtown Gainesville. 

The post office and Federal Building escaped with minimal damage, but a statue of Confederate Gen. C.C. Sanders on the property was destroyed.

The post office was relocated to a new building on Green Street in 1967. Because of traffic congestion and parking problems, efforts have been made for several years to no avail to relocate that main post office.

An Elvis connection?

Ron Stowe, a retired Delta Airlines pilot who lives in Gainesville, can’t claim an “Elvis sighting,” but he must wonder if he has some curious connection with the Presley spirits.

In the summer of 1977, he was on a flight from St. Louis to Atlanta, when the plane made a stop in Memphis, home of Elvis’ Graceland. While there, the pilot announced that the singer had died of a heart attack.

Earlier this month, Stowe was on a flight from San Diego to Atlanta and was watching the new “Elvis” movie. While the plane was flying over Memphis, he switched to the news channel and learned that Elvis’s daughter, Lisa Marie, had died of a heart attack.

Stowe, who wrote a book about his flying experiences with Delta, recalled that Elvis bought from Delta a Convair 880 in April 1975 for $250,000. He named it the “Lisa Marie” and had it refurbished for a penthouse bedroom with a queen bed and a bath with gold faucets and wash basin.

Too much reading?

Parents and educators today worry that children aren’t reading enough. They say they’re spending too much time playing video games, staring at their phones and tied to computer screens.

In the 1870s, when there were no such electronic devices, many children not only learned through reading books, they also read them for pleasure.

Educators then worried they were reading too much. They gave as examples a young boy who had checked out 102 books from a library in six months; a girl had read 112 in that same time period. That would amount to about four books a week, one observer complained.

Said one “expert,” reading at such a rapid pace would “doubtless be very injurious” to boys especially, who opted for more adventurous story books. “Boys derive no advantage” from reading that many books in such a short time, one critic said. “The present trending with children is to read too much.”

That likely would get a rise out of today’s parents and educators.

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.