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A hotel merger caused a marriage in old-school Gainesville
Johnny_Vardeman
Johnny Vardeman

As automobiles started coming off assembly lines, roads improved, travel became easier, and various new enterprises prospered.

Even in horse-and-buggy and stagecoach days, hotels and inns filled with both business and pleasure travelers. Hotels and resorts really became popular in the late 1800s into the 1900s.

That was the case in Hall County, which already had such resorts as New Holland Springs, Gower Springs and White Sulphur Springs.

In Gainesville, the local newspaper, seeing the area as a tourist attraction and more people visiting from out of town and out of state, urged community entrepreneurs to build another modern hotel. At one time, investors were talking about one beyond Green Street to take advantage of the street railroad, Chattahoochee Park and Lake Warner at the end of Riverside Drive.

White Sulphur Springs was owned by J.W. Oglesby and was surrounded by a several-hundred-acre farm. Piedmont Hotel, owned by Confederate Gen. James Longstreet, was near the railroad depot. J.H. Hunt owned the Arlington Hotel on the corner of Main and Spring in downtown Gainesville. In 1904 he expanded it to 100 rooms. He and Mrs. Hunt would continue to live in the hotel as they leased it to Frank Harrel in 1914.

The old Hudson House on the corner of Washington and Main was being renovated by owner H.H. Dean and would reopen as the Princeton in June 1911. It would have 48 rooms, and a $10,000 dining room to seat 100. H.J. Brittain leased it for a while.

Another popular hotel in that era was the Mountain View owned by Dr. W.K. Palmour. His expansion added nine rooms in 1909. Mrs. L.F. Roberts and later J.A. Cook managed the property.

Despite the good times, or perhaps because of them, there was a lot of turnover in hotel ownership and management. Brittain sold the Princeton to Capt. and Mrs. J.W. Wherry in 1911. The Wherrys also had been with the Mountain View Hotel.

Mr. and Mrs. J.R. Styles were prominent hoteliers, taking over the Arlington in 1921, but also leased the Princeton from Dean and operated Mitchell’s Mountain Ranch in Helen.

There even was a hotel of sorts on the Georgia Baptist Female Seminary campus, what we now know as Brenau University. While running the Arlington Hotel, H.N. O’Neal leased campus buildings for a summer hotel. It was called the Seminary Hotel and housed visitors in rooms in the same building complex as we know today as Pearce Auditorium, the front of which has been undergoing renovation recently. O’Neal even announced the school’s swimming pool would be available to visitors. There once was a pool in the bowels of the building.

Hotels also flourished in nearby communities, including Porter Springs Resort in Lumpkin County, the Burnside Hotel in Dahlonega and Commercial Hotel in Lula. A Commercial Hotel operated for many years in Cornelia.

Gainesville’s Arlington Hotel eventually became the Dixie-Hunt, now Hunt Towers, the Mountain View faded away, and the Princeton also became history, becoming a Woolworth’s department store in 1960, a restaurant and now Dress Up, along with other businesses. The Wheeler Hotel was a small hotel where Hall County Library is today.

Those were the prominent downtown hotels, and local officials in recent years have tried to lure major hotels with convention facilities with little success, though there are hotels near the downtown area.

A Black and White merger

One of those hotel turnovers in the late 1800s produced an impromptu elopement of a couple to Hall County.

R.C. Black of Atlanta was buying the Arlington Hotel from H.N. O’Neal in 1899 and told his son George he would have to move to Gainesville immediately to manage it. George and his sweetheart, Bettie White, who also lived in Atlanta, were in love and didn’t want to part. 

George told Bettie he would have to leave her. But Cupid couldn’t wait, and the two decided to marry right away. R.C. Black bid his son good bye as he boarded the Belle train from Atlanta to Gainesville, but he didn’t know Bettie had slipped onto the train, too.

When they arrived in Gainesville, Bettie and George hurried to the courthouse and found somebody to tie the knot. Their elopement was unknown to both sets of parents, but after the deed was done, the couple notified them. Though the Blacks and Whites might have been shocked, they gave Bettie and George their blessing, their only reservation being the ages of the couple; Bettie was only 18, and George 19.

Watch for more local history in this column next Sunday.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. He can be reached at 2183 Pine Tree Circle NE, Gainesville; 770-532-2326; e-mail johnny.peggy1956@gmail.com.or vardeman1956@att.net.

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