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Ottie Olen Stringer was a builder of roads and a friend, and keeper, of prisoners
Johnny_Vardeman
Johnny Vardeman

If you’ve ever visited Amicalola Falls in Dawson County, rode on the Gainesville-Dahlonega highway or climbed through the North Georgia mountain gaps, you have a late Hall County man to thank for making your trip smoother.

Ottie Olen Stringer, better known as “Capt. Stringer,” presided over a lot of road-building in North Georgia in an era when roads weren’t in their best condition. He also was lovingly referred to as “Double O” or “Double Ought” because of his initials, O.O.

Stringer was at various times a prison officer, Hall County road supervisor and maintenance engineer in the state Department of Transportation.

There was no road to Amicalola Falls before Stringer helped make it happen. This was in the 1940s when he was warden at a correctional camp there, as well as one in Cartersville. Prisoners at the Cartersville camp were said to be the orneriest in the state. When they went on strike, it was Stringer they called to settle things down. He went in unarmed among the rebelling convicts to diffuse the situation. “The prisoners respected him when no one else could do a thing and got them back to work,” said his daughter, Jean Priest of Gainesville.

Another time at the falls, a prisoner attempted to escape when a guard began to chase him with a shotgun. Stringer, who was not armed, told the guard not to shoot, then captured the prisoner himself.

As deputy warden in Union County, he supervised the engineering of roads across Neel’s Gap and Unicoi Gap in the mid-1920s.

In the 1950s, the road from Gainesville to Dahlonega was less than ideal. Many preferred to bypass it and drive to Quillians Corner, take a left on what is now Ga. 52 to Dahlonega. Stringer was overseeing work on the new Ga. 60, which is the route between the two towns today. Right-of-way had been secured, and everything was in place to start construction except for the final parcel along the route. That was when a resident appeared in his front yard with a shotgun attempting to halt the construction. According to Jean Priest, her father ordered the bulldozer to proceed through the man’s yard, and that was the end of that.

While Stringer was influential, particularly among elected officials, he never ran for public office. So many held him in high regard that a movement started to have him run for sheriff. His work as a prison warden would have qualified him for the county’s highest law enforcement office. He declined, content to perform public service in his unelected position.

When others planned to run for office, Stringer was sought out for his counsel and support. When he first offered for office, the late Byron Turk, longtime Hall County tax commissioner, was told to talk to Stringer first. “Whatever Ottie Stringer tells you, you can put it in the bank,” Turk’s father told him.

His influence among the county’s commissioners and other politicians was reflected in the lines at his house, especially on weekends, people seeking his counsel. They might have wanted a road paved or whatever. Some just wanted advice on road matters.

Stringer’s honesty and independence was demonstrated when he took on a member of an influential family in Pickens County. The man had been taking things from Stringer’s correctional camp at Amicalola Falls. When Stringer confronted the man, who was loading equipment into his pickup truck, he told him he couldn’t do that. “Don’t you know who I am?” the man asked Stringer. “You don’t value your job very much,” implying that his family could have him fired.

“I value my job highly, and it’s my job to see this property stays right here,” Stringer is said to have replied. The man attempted but failed to have Stringer fired. All was later forgiven, and Stringer and the man became friends.

While Hall County roads director, Stringer was involved in construction of Lakeshore Heights, a large Gainesville subdivision off Dawsonville Highway, part of which is on Lake Lanier. He was offered the finest lot in the subdivision overlooking the lake but declined because of conflict of interest. That was another example of his honesty and integrity, his daughter said.

He had started his career with the then-State Highway Department in 1922 before becoming Hall County’s road supervisor, but returned to the state as highway maintenance engineer in 1957. He died in 1974.

Many of the road names in Hall County today came about with the help of Stringer while he was Hall County’s road supervisor. Yet no road today bears his name.

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.; 770-532-2326; johnny.peggy1956@gmail.com.

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