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Column: Wiley Ramsey’s photos help preserve Gainesville and Northeast Georgia history
Johnny Vardeman

We have a bevy of Hall County photographers to thank for preserving much of Gainesville and Northeast Georgia’s history.

Most often coming to mind is N.C. White, whose studio on Main Street was struck by the 1936 tornado. Northeast Georgia History Center shows a special exhibit of his photographs from the past.

Some more modern photographers whose images remain here and there include Ed Beazley, Leonard Cinciolo and the Masseys of Magic Craft Studio, which remains in operation on Candler Street.

Perhaps lesser known, yet just as important, was Wiley J. Ramsey, whose studio and home were at the corner of Prior and Park streets in Gainesville. Many of his photos are around town, including the history center and Poor Richard’s Restaurant.

When the old Blue Ridge Theater off Shallowford Road was operating, Ramsey photos decorated its walls.

The house where Ramsey practiced his photography still stands at the corner of Prior and Park streets. It remains in the Ramsey family, owned by Jill Ramsey Mansfield, only child of Wilbur and Dixie Ramsey. Wiley Ramsey received a building permit from the city to build a six-room cottage in 1907. He added onto it in 1911, apparently to house his photography studio and darkroom. That part of the house was later torn down.

Wiley Ramsey was not only a photographer; he was active in the community. His name appears on jury lists from time to time in the early 1900s. Apparently known as a singer, the Rev. B.F. Fraser of First Methodist Church chose him to lead singing for a big revival in 1907. Wiley’s wife Susie and their daughters accompanied him on the pianos.

Susie also was a member of the Prior Street Garden Club.

Wiley Ramsey was born Jan. 21, 1821, and diedNov. 5, 1964,  at age 83. He was the son of the W.M. Ramseys. Many of his photos were donated to the history center.

Wiley’s son Otto continued to live in the Ramsey home at the corner of Park and Prior. He also was a photographer for a time, apparently helping his father. He was listed in the 1939 Gainesville city directory as practicing on North Bradford Street and living at the time at 660 East Spring.

The Ramsey family can be traced back to 1820 in Hall County.

Otto was the second husband of Nell Chester. Nell and Otto Ramsey would take daughter/stepdaughter Dixie to the annual Ramsey family reunion. There she met Wilbur, Otto’s nephew, and after a courtship married Wilbur Ramsey at Camp Croft, South Carolina, July 7, 1941, just before Wilbur left to fight in World War II. 

Entering as a second lieutenant in the infantry, he became a most decorated soldier, including the Silver Star for his service with the “Bushmasters.” He also became the youngest major in the Army.

After the war, he developed an egg and poultry business and was active in the development of Northeast Georgia History Center and the growth of Northeast Georgia Health System.

Wilbur Ramsey died in 2009.

More on diamonds

Rafe Banks III’s great-grandfather, Joseph Henry Banks, is one of those who acquired one of the diamonds from the Glades Mines in east Hall County. It was a yellow diamond, which he sent to Germany to be cut. It remains in the Banks family.

The Banks family is another longtime well-known name in Hall County. Rafe points out that since his mother, Jane Wood Banks, died two years ago, it is the first time he doesn’t have a relative in Hall County. Rafe is the son of the late Dr. Rafe Banks Jr., a prominent urologist and important in the development of Northeast Georgia Medical Center. Dr. Banks’s father was Rafe Banks, banker, businessman and large landowner.

The Banks were known for their philanthropy.

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.