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Old-school journalism was more partisan than you think — like the former Gainesville Southron
Johnny_Vardeman
Johnny Vardeman

The Gainesville Southron was a weekly newspaper that stirred up readers from 1874 to 1885.

In those days most newspapers were unapologetically politically partisan, not just on its editorial pages, but opinions were apparent throughout the news columns.

James U. Vincent was the paper’s founder, and it was said its purpose was to promote politician Emory Speer’s agenda and candidacy for public office. Ninth District voters elected him to two terms to Congress as an independent Democrat before he was defeated for re-election by A.D. Candler of Gainesville, who eventually also served as governor.

The Gainesville Eagle, The Times’s predecessor, was usually on the opposite side of local politics, and the two newspapers often exchanged not-so-subtle barbs. The Southron was so popular, it was said people stood in line at the newspaper office to get a copy on publication day.

The Southron, in addition to its political punditry, reported plenty of personal items and painted a picture of Northeast Georgia, particularly Hall County, while the South was still recovering from the Civil War.

P.F. Lawshe was its editor and dealt in real estate on the side. His items were usually laced with a measure of wit and satire: “The latest insidious attempt to destroy the Yankee nation by the Southern rebel has been delivered in the shipment to the North of 11 tons of cucumbers from Florida.”

The railroad had come to Hall County at the time, and Gainesville was promoting itself as a tourist destination. Hotels and resorts were doing well, especially during the summer when, while there was no air-conditioning, the climate at the foothills of the mountains at least seemed cooler than in Atlanta or other more southerly points.

W.M. Nichols opened New Holland Springs in the summer with a grand ball. Col. J.G. Longstreet (Gen. James Longstreet’s son, who managed his father’s hotel) of the Piedmont Hotel chartered four “hacks” for his guests and those of the nearby Richmond House operated by J.B. Craig near the railroad depot to attend those festivities. “A whole lot of ladies from the city” also took advantage of the rides to what was considered the opening of the tourist season.

The Piedmont offered a special to Atlantans: $6.25 for a weekend, including train fare. Normally, the Piedmont’s rates were $2.50 per day, $13 for a week or $40 for a month. New Holland Springs joined with the Markham House in Atlanta offering a package for $3 a day or $35-$40 a month at the Springs.

During this time in the 1870s, Gainesville had a mayor, D.G. Candler, and six council members from three wards. The Southron listed only four churches, though there were more, the Baptist, W.C. Wilkes pastor; Methodist, D.D. Cox; Presbyterian, T.F. Cleveland; and Episcopal, W. Epps.

The Wilkes family was prominent in the religious and education life at the time. W.C. Wilkes was one of the founders and first president of Georgia Baptist Female Seminary in 1878, predecessor of today’s Brenau University. Earlier, he served as president of Gainesville College for Male and Female Students on Main Street. On the faculty there were Mrs. M.A. Wilkes, Miss L.M. Wilkes and Miss Rosa Wilkes.

The Southron supported the education movement, as well as local businesses in its pages. Here is how it plugged a local barber shop: “The barber shop at the Piedmont is in charge of William Doyle. He is a first class shaver and hair dresser and can give you a hot or cold bath, shampoo you and black your boots. Give him a call, and be rejuvenated.”

The newspaper didn’t limit itself to Hall County. Here’s an item from Tallulah Falls:

“Miss Fincher, a mountain lassie, while milking threw a rock at her cow, striking her in the head and killing her instantly. This is the sort of Amazonian female we have in Northeast Georgia. When a girl gets tired of splitting rails or plowing, she varies her amusements by going out with a handful of stones and slaying a few cows instead of driving all the neighbors crazy by thumping the keys off an ancient piano.”

Despite their differences, the Southron and Eagle shared the same building in downtown Gainesville. Unfortunately, that building burned in 1885, and the Southron had printed its last page. The Eagle, printed temporarily in Atlanta, remained in business until it was absorbed by The Times in 1947.

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 N.E., Gainesville; 770-532-2326; johnny.peggy@gmail.com. or vardeman1956@att.net.

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