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Column: Was Wauka higher, or did it just shrink?
Johnny Vardeman

The city of Gainesville is razing the old Turner, Wood & Smith Insurance building on Brenau Avenue.

That building has had a variety of uses. In the 1940s, it was a Big Star supermarket, and in the 1950s it became Colonial Stores. During the 1980s, it was home to the Social Security office. 

Then the insurance agency moved into it from nearby Bradford Street. And, after Turner, Wood & Smith moved to Jesse Jewell Parkway, Hall County Library used the building as a temporary location, while its main property — at the corner of West Academy and Main Street — underwent renovation.

The city plans a parking garage on the site.

Ponce plaque

Atlanta honored a Hall man in 1935 by placing a plaque in front of the old Sears building on Ponce de Leon Avenue. That is now Ponce City Market, and Sears was across from the old Atlanta Crackers Ponce de Leon baseball park.

The Hall Countian was Robert Young, who was recognized for building the Peachtree Trail from Atlanta to Flowery Branch. The plaque on the front of the old Sears building was placed by the Joseph Habersham chapter of Daughters of the American Revolution.

Young operated a tavern near Flowery Branch. He and members of his family, along with about 70 slaves, are buried in the Young Family Cemetery on old Atlanta Highway, about 2 miles north of Flowery Branch, according to Sybil McRay, a late Hall historian.

Brenau tourists

The town of Helen in White County is a far cry from what it looked like in the early 1900s. 

It was a bustling lumber village at the end of the Gainesville and Northwestern Railroad. Yet it was a tourist town then, as it is today with its alpine-themed buildings. While the train hauled timber to Gainesville — to be transferred to other railroads for markets elsewhere back in the day — it also carried passengers eager to enjoy the mountains.

In April 1915, Brenau College and Conservatory, as it was called then, sponsored its first excursion for students to Helen via the railroad. Students and faculty were so excited by the opportunity that Brenau administration decided to make it an annual affair with a barbecue in Helen. The railroad offered a special train for the occasion.

Wauka Mountain in North Hall was also an attraction for Brenau students in that era. 

The college bulletin wrote, “Wauka Mountain, 15 miles from Gainesville, is another point of beauty and interest. Lifting its head 4,000 feet above sea level, Wauka seems to keep guard over the surrounding country for miles around."

The college might have been making a mountain out of a molehill, so to speak. Wauka isn’t exactly a molehill, but its peak is only 2,759 feet, more than 2,000 feet smaller than Brasstown Bald, Georgia’s highest mountain. Surely Wauka hasn’t shrunk that much in a century of wear and tear.

Brenau seniors also got a trip to Dahlonega to sightsee the old gold mining sites. The entire student body also made a pilgrimage to Tallulah Falls each year.

Clermont chamber

Clermont in North Hall had its own chamber of commerce at one time. J.M. Oxford was its founder and wanted to attract some industries to that area. At least one did eventually arrive. Addington Chenilles in 1945 installed machinery to make bedspreads and floor mats. It wasn’t a big operation, employing only about a dozen people.

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, His column publishes weekly.

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