One hundred years ago, Europe was in the throes of World War I, called the Great War prior to World War II, and countries were declaring war on each other right and left.
The nervous United States officially proclaimed itself neutral, but didn’t mean it wasn’t involved in or affected by the European war.
Americans were jittery about the prospects of sending troops “Over There,” and there was division among the people as to how much, if any, involvement the United States should engage in. Indeed, it would be 1917 before the U.S. declared war against Germany.
Hall Countians reflected the apprehension of the nation as a whole, particularly as how the war would affect business, which in 1914 already had slowed to some extent. For example, Jefferson Mills had closed, throwing hundreds out of work, though it reopened under a receivership.
There was a concern, too, about the ability of grist mills in those days to survive. They were an important part of the local economy. A Gainesville newspaper tried to allay those fears, declaring three corn mills and one flour mill were prosperous. So much so that no longer was meal being shipped from out of county, but that grain grown locally was keeping the mills busy as well as local railroads that were hauling what surplus there was to other areas.
There were other reasons for optimism locally as some business and other activity appeared normal, if not bustling. The Alamo Theater was reopening under new management after closing for renovations. It promised “only the best films — clean, moral, elevating, illuminating and educational with wholesome comedies.”
The first railroad in Banks County got its charter, the Lula-Homer Railroad that would run 15 miles. Thompson Bridge in Hall County was about to reopen after $1,500 in repairs to replace rotted timbers and a cracked support. The covered bridge, then 43 years old, also would get a new roof.
The Gainesville Midland Depot, which still stands at the corner of West Spring and West Academy streets as home of The Arts Council, would open in 1914. The Midland and Gainesville and Northwestern railroads were humming, with Midland trains making two trips daily to and from Athens. You could ride to Cleveland on the Gainesville and Northwestern for $2.73 and to Nacoochee, Helen and North Helen (Robertstown) for $3.18.
The Atlanta Crackers would play an exhibition baseball game against a Gainesville team at Brenau Park.
It was a tough year for President Woodrow Wilson though. While dealing with the country’s response to the war in Europe, he lost his wife to Bright’s Disease. The Wilson family had a special place in the hearts of Hall Countians as they often visited Gainesville, where two of their daughters were born.
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One hundred years ago, Hall County’s tax digest, the accumulated value of all taxable property, had increased to $8.4 million from $7.6 million in 1913. The county reported a surplus with no outstanding debt. Naturally, as in today’s times, that inspired taxpayers to call for a tax decrease. The tax levy was 45 cents per $100 of value.
In those days, the county school tax was levied and varied by district instead of countywide. Schools included Center, Airline, Chestnut Mountain, Flowery Branch, Flat Creek, Gillsville, Home, Laurel Hill, Latty, Macedonia, Oakwood, Providence, Oconee and Lee Institute. Lee Institute was located in Lula and provided dormitories for boarding students.
T.W. Seabolt was its principal. J.D. Underwood was superintendent of Hall County schools. Other schools in the county at that time didn’t receive local tax funds.
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Gainesville’s tax was levied at 1 percent of the property value. Besides Gainesville High School, elementary schools operated on Main Street and Candler Street. Gainesville High had an enrollment of 190, of whom 25 were seniors. Enrollment in 1914 increased by 30 students overall.
1914 also was an election year, and it featured the epic campaign between longtime 9th District U.S. Rep. Tom Bell vs. popular local leader W.A. Charters. Bell won the bitterly fought election. He spent $3,482 doing it, a sizable sum in political campaigns in those days.
Gainesville was voting on a new charter, which, among other things, would ditch its seven-person council, including the mayor.
Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. He can be reached at 2183 Pinetree Circle NE, Gainesville, GA 30501. His column appears Sundays and at gainesvilletimes.com/johnny.