By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Pearl Harbor wasn't the only Dec. 7 tragedy to strike in the 1940s
Johnny Vardeman

Dec. 7, 1941, sticks in everybody’s mind whether you were living back then or not. That is when the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor happened, the real beginning of World War II for America.

But another Dec. 7, just five years later, in 1946 also was a tragic day in national history, moreso in Georgia history, and it had specific impacts in Hall and Habersham counties. That was the early Saturday morning fire that killed 119 people in the Winecoff Hotel on Peachtree Street in Atlanta. It remains the deadliest hotel fire in U.S. history.

What made it more tragic for Hall Countians were the deaths of four Gainesville High School students: Suzanne Moore, Ella Sue Mitchum, Carol Gwen McCoy and Frances Thompson. All but Ella Sue Mitchum are buried in Alta Vista Cemetery in Gainesville. Miss Mitchum was buried in Walton County. They were among 40 YMCA students attending an assembly at the state Capitol.

Three Habersham County residents also died in the fire: Louise Hood Brown, 46, Harold Irvin, 22, and Mary Green Stinespring, 57. All are buried in Level Grove Baptist Cemetery. Another Northeast Georgia victim was Mary Smith Minor of Winder.

Several Y students from Bainbridge also died in the fire, including Patricia Ann Griffin, 14, daughter of Gov. Marvin Griffin.

Also among the victims were the hotel builder and namesake, William Fleming Winecoff, and his wife Grace.

The hotel reopened as the Ellis in 2007.

Chief White Path

The Northeast Georgia History Center at Brenau University’s journal newsletter contains a video of Gainesvillian Counte Cooley relating the history of the Chief White Path Cabin at the history center. It was Counte’s father, Don, of Native American heritage, who rescued the cabin from Gilmer County, restored it and brought it to Hall County, where it eventually landed at the history center.

Don didn’t know he was of Cherokee heritage until some distant relatives informed him. Then a neighbor told him of the location of the White Path Cabin, which was abandoned and dilapidated. Don and son Counte are descendants of Chief White Path, who was among the Cherokees who died on the Trail of Tears after their removal from Georgia.

The video is from a WSB-TV segment that aired last month.

Longstreet’s neighbor

Richard Pilcher, in a recent newsletter of the Longstreet Society, relates a story about Confederate Gen. James Longstreet and a friend apparently going together to Alta Vista Cemetery in Gainesville to pick out family burial lots.

Richard is a regular customer of Blackstock Auto Service on Scotland Avenue in Gainesville. One of the owners, John Blackstock, told him he had been told his great-great-grandfather and Gen. Longstreet were buddies and went to the cemetery to choose future burial plots for their families.

Right away, Richard went to Alta Vista to see what he could find. The first gravestone he looked at was in a Blackstock family burial plot located near the Longstreet gravesite. One of the headstones reads “James Blackstock,” which could have been John Blackstock’s great-great-grandfather or perhaps great-great-great-grandfather. Hugh Blackstock, John’s father, isn’t sure, though it’s probable that whoever’s buried there is related to them.

Nevertheless, Pilcher put it this way: “In court this would be hearsay evidence, and not admissible, but in the quest for piecing together the Longstreet story in Gainesville, I think we can accept this as a story of two old friends in life and neighbors for eternity at Alta Vista Cemetery.”

Convicts for rent

In the late 1800s you could lease convicts to work for you. It would cost you $99 per year. In 1899, the state got $200,000 from those who “rented” convict labor. Hall County lumber companies and farms were among those leasing convicts. They paid $102 for 100 convicts.

“The Help’s” organizer

The Rev. A.B. Nicholson in 1904 attempted to organize a union for black women who worked for white families. He wanted to set uniform rates for “washerwomen,” cooks, nurses and other workers. His rates were higher than what the individual employees were charging, or what the families were paying. The idea apparently didn’t gain traction, but the workers probably got a little pay bump and a little more love out of the dialogue.

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;

Regional events