Traffic on Gainesville’s Green Street today many times is almost bumper to bumper, cars competing with trucks of all sizes, everything from chicken trucks to monster tractor-trailers.
Since American Indians used that trail to come trade in Mule Camp Springs, Gainesville’s early name, the route has been the main path to and through the town. Widened outer roads and bypasses haven’t seemed to make the impact they were supposed to.
In the early 1900s, when the first automobiles were seen in Gainesville, horses and buggies or mules and wagons had to compete with them, along with street cars that traveled on tracks to the depot, to New Holland and to Chattahoochee Park at the end of Riverside Drive.
They were able to do that because few people could afford cars, and traffic, of course, wasn’t what it is in today’s Hall County.
Skeptics were abundant, however. At one point, a newspaper declared the automobile craze being over. “The novelty of this thing has worn off,” it wrote. Indeed, the Dawsonville newspaper got excited about a car visiting its town on an automobile tour, an event that was becoming popular despite the road conditions.
Others believed the buggies and wagons were there to stay. As new car buyers tried their skills at navigating through them or plowing through the then-dirt, and often muddy, roads, accidents became common.
Dr. J.A. Knott, physician for Gainesville Mill, bought a Model R Ford in 1907, a car that was designed to expedite doctors’ house calls. It took him three hours to drive it from Atlanta to Gainesville on muddy roads. It wasn’t long before he overturned it on Main Street.
Doctors were the first to have cars in Hall County. The Ham family was especially fond of the new mode of transportation. Dr. M.M. Ham is credited with being the county’s first car owner in 1902. He paid $850 for a Locomobile. It was big news when he and his wife rode it all the way to Gillsville, returning the next day. Dr. E.P. Ham bought an EMF the next year.
Both automobiles attracted a lot of attention as many residents had never seen “a horseless carriage.”
Safety was a concern as drivers drove their new cars through the streets and around buggies and wagons, just as today wanting to get wherever they were going as fast as they could. Critics asked, “What do you give a man for stealing a horse? String him up! And the man who steals an automobile? Give him a purse for ridding the county of a nuisance.”
By 1906, county commissioners were urging legislators to set speed limits for cars. Several pedestrians, used to dodging the slower wagons and buggies, were struck and injured by the faster-moving cars. But it would be 1909 before Hall County’s Rep. J.O. Adams could get a speed limit bill through the State Capitol.
Entrepreneurs saw dollar signs as car prices fell, and assembly lines, such as those making Ford’s Model T, produced automobiles in mass. That led to a demand for garages and car dealers, and the county began to make them pay for licenses.
Frank Meaders already had started a taxi service between Dahlonega and Gainesville. Will Summer opened Gainesville Auto Co. at 83 Main Street in May 1909. He serviced and sold cars, sold gasoline and ran a taxi service to and from the railroad depot.
By then, car owners began to demand better roads. Hall County leaders wanted to get in on a highway from Atlanta to New York. A “path-finding car” had stopped in Gainesville as it surveyed the best route. Eventually, such a “ridge route” was building, roughly following the present old Atlanta Highway and Old Cornelia Highway out of Gainesville, as do newer roads such as Ga. 365 and I-985.
Dealers abundant today
Car dealers are all over the place in North Georgia today. In Gainesville, most new car dealers have found a home on Browns Bridge Road. In the 1950s, most were closer to downtown Gainesville. The Ford dealership, and Martin Motors Chevrolet were on South Main. Later, Chapman Motors, a Pontiac dealer, joined them nearby.
DeLong Motors Buicks was on East Broad, as were Gainesville Lincoln-Mercury, Jimmie Haynes Motors Chrysler, Jacobs Motors Cadillacs and Oldsmobiles and Sawyer-Wommack, Dodge and Plymouth. Lee Waldrip sold Willys on West Washington, and J.B. Prosser had DeSotas on South Green.
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; firstname.lastname@example.org.