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Column: Two centuries of city history to be marked
Johnny Vardeman

The year 2021 is significant in Hall County’s history because 200 years ago Gainesville was officially established.

The date of its formal founding is Nov. 30, 1821, when the state legislature passed an act “To make permanent the Site of the Public Buildings at the Village of Gainesville, in the County of Hall, and to incorporate said Village.” John Clark was the governor at the time.

The City of Gainesville and the Northeast Georgia History Center at Brenau University are talking about some sort of observance to mark the occasion.

The act creating Gainesville provided the first commissioners: Stephen Reid, John Stringer, John Finch, Jesse Clayton and Eli Southerland.

Hall County had been formed three years earlier, but Gainesville was not laid out until 1821. It was where Mule Camp Springs was located, a series of springs where settlers came to water their livestock. This site is believed to have been near the intersection of today’s Jesse Jewell Parkway and West Academy Street.

“Mule Camp” wasn’t the most appropriate name for a county seat, so leaders at the time chose the name Gainesville in honor of a military officer prominent in the country’s wars, Gen. Edmund Pendleton Gaines. His name also is attached to several other cities across the country.

County officials built a courthouse in 1822 in the center of the city, what we know today as the downtown square.

A lot of details about Gainesville and Hall’s history is hard to come by. The county had no newspaper before the Civil War. The Gainesville Eagle was established in 1860, but suspended during the war. Prior to that, Hall news had to be obtained from area newspapers, including Athens and Dahlonega.

The late James Dorsey, who researched local history, noted in one of his books that a history of Hall might have been written after its formative years, but if so, it hasn’t turned up. William Hosch did write one in the early 1900s, and other historians such as the late Sybil McRay, W.L. Norton Sr. and Ruth Waters researched, wrote and taught about the county and Gainesville’s beginnings.

One of the writings about the county’s early history came from a Methodist minister, W.J. Cotter, whose parents settled near what is today’s Gillsville in East Hall. His father, John V. Cotter, is credited with suggesting the site for Gainesville, which was described as “unbroken forest.”

Timothy Terrell, great-uncle of Georgia’s Gov. Joseph M. Terrell, who served from 1902 to 1907, was the surveyor who laid out Gainesville. Terrell’s descendants still live in Gainesville. The public square was placed where it is today. Lot No. 1 is where Hunt Tower is located and where the old Arlington Hotel, later the Dixie-Hunt Hotel, used to stand.

The lots Terrell laid out were different sizes, and most were north and east of the square. Though the names have changed over the years and physical characteristics altered, the primary streets were what we now know as Main, Bradford, Broad/Jesse Jewell Parkway, Green, Washington and Church. A street called Line, now Maple, was at the southwestern border of the new town.

It was not uncommon to see Native Americans in the vicinity because Cherokees had occupied much of the territory north of the Chattahoochee River. Settlers, many of them hoping to get rich off gold, later led to their removal on what became known as the Trail of Tears.

Even before its formal formation, the village that became Gainesville was somewhat of a trading center for Native Americans, settlers passing through and the few permanent residents. What became Green Street was a prominent trail and later road that people from the mountains used to come to the village.

Sprawling Gainesville today is a far cry from when horses, mules and wagons, along with human feet, were the principal modes of transportation. It was fortunate when the railroad came in the 1870s, and those early trails became highways with the advent of the automobile.

The city has a rich two-century history to tell, and this is the year to celebrate it.

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, or His column publishes weekly.

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