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1960s decade began changes, crucial times
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The 1960s are remembered mostly as a chaotic period in American history, marked by assassinations of major public figures, desegregation and civil rights struggles.

It was indeed a watershed decade that doesn’t seem so long ago. Yet significant milestones back home, some seemingly trivial to larger events, are a half century in the rear-view mirror.

In 1960, Wally Butts resigned as the Georgia Bulldogs football coach. He was as much an institution as the University Arch on Broad Street in Athens. He’d been coach since 1938, won two national titles and four Southeastern Conference championships, the last one in 1959 when that team also won the Orange Bowl.

Baseball’s Atlanta Crackers won the Southern Association championship that year and became a farm team of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Coach Graham Hixon of Gainesville High School was state Class AA Coach of the Year, and three of his players, Bimbo Brewer, Mike Hulsey and Preston Ridlehuber, made all-state. Chattahoochee Golf Course finally opened, operated by the country club, with Charlie Aaron as pro and L.C. Jackson as course superintendent.

1960 also was the year Charlie’s son, Tommy, turned pro after winning seven amateur golf tournaments.

1961 was the first year of the Lanierland Basketball Tournament.

Many remember March 2-15, 1960, when more than 15 inches of snow fell and practically paralyzed Gainesville and other North Georgia communities.

First Baptist Church, then at the corner of Washington and Green streets downtown, burned in 1960.

As the decade opened, North Georgians still were arguing over the location of Interstate 85. Folks in Gainesville, Cornelia and Toccoa had lobbied for the northern route to bring it closer to them. They thought they had it approved, but Gov. Ernest Vandiver and federal highway officials adopted the middle route, taking it closer to his hometown of Lavonia.

Lyndon B. Johnson, running for the Democratic presidential nomination, campaigned in Gainesville. He later lost the nomination to eventual President John Kennedy, but was on his winning ticket as vice president.

Gainesville City Commission, as it was called then, voted to end sales of beer and wine, but promised to let people decide in a referendum. The referendum didn’t get on the ballot that year, but alcoholic beverage sales eventually won out to include liquor.

The new decade had brought in a new set of commissioners as none of the long-serving commissioners returned. The “new” commission included Cliff Martin as the veteran with only two years of service, Mayor Milton Hardy in only his second year, Otis Helton in his first year and newcomers Harold DeLong and John Cromartie.

Commissioners raised taxes along with a howl among city residents when the millage rate rose from 31.8 to 34. However, the protests were calmed somewhat when the city started a tax equalization program that would set property values on a more equitable basis. The commission had only three members at the time, Chairman Clay Driskell, A.C. Stringer and Clyde Pirkle. Their priority as the 1960s began was to reduce the county’s debt.

Hall County Sheriff Ed England had a staff of only 10, including deputies and detectives. The chief deputy earned $325 a month and deputies and detectives $300.

Lake Lanier Drive-In on Thompson Bridge Road and Skyview Drive-In theaters on Atlanta Highway were still packing in cars loaded with young and old. At the Royal Theater downtown, an Elvis Presley movie opened the year.

The Gainesville High School Class of 1955 already was having reunions, this one happening at the Avion Restaurant near today’s intersection of E.E. Butler and Jesse Jewell parkways.

They brought in the new year 1961 in style in Cleveland in White County. It wasn’t much to Sheriff Frank Baker’s liking, but more than 500 attending the celebration on the square enjoyed it until it got out of hand. 

Besides the usual firecrackers being thrown around, some of the rowdies began to throw rocks and stage drag races. The rocks damaged a State Patrol car, Christmas decorations were torn down, and officers eventually had to resort to tear gas to break up the crowd. 

However, the celebrants didn’t decide to leave until firefighters turned cold water out of their hoses on them. Perhaps it was a sign of things to come in the sizzling ’60s.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. His column appears Sundays and on