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A short street, Woodsmills past is rich
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When Gainesville officials announced during Truman Day festivities July 4, 1945, they were planning to pave the road to the golf course, they might have been talking about Woodsmill Road.

The golf course at that time was nine holes at the end of that road. This column incorrectly reported last week that the golf course was at the end of Riverside Drive. That golf course, built in the early 1920s, had been abandoned after a decade of use. The American Legion used the clubhouse as its post home until it burned several years ago. It rebuilt on the same site.

The golf course at the end of Woodsmill Road in the vicinity of today's Longwood Park was inundated by Lake Lanier in the mid-1950s. It had been built as an 18-hole course in the mid-1930s, but only nine holes were ever completed.

Woodsmill Road is a short street that branches off Oak Street from downtown Gainesville and runs by the old Gainesville Middle School to Centennial Elementary School, site of the old golf clubhouse, and nearby Wilshire Trails Park.

As with most such roads that contain "mill" in their names, a grain mill once operated there. W.A. Wood was the proprietor and owned about 70 acres in that area. He later went into the tannery business, which apparently thrived in the late 1800s. It was called the Oak Tannery, thus apparently the connection to the Oak Street name.

The tannery also housed a shoe-making factory. It was a big operation covering several thousand feet of floor space in a number of buildings and working 15 or more people. The tannery used 80,000 pounds of hide and $2,500 worth of tan bark a year and shipped products all over Georgia and into South Carolina.

A Gainesville Eagle writer reported on the operation in the 1890s. At the time, he wrote, 3,500 hides were in various stages of the process. Hides went into one of eight lime vats in a beam room, then into finishing rooms to make leather for harnesses and shoes.

The reporter quoted Wood as saying, "I make principally upper and harness leather. The former I dispose of to the factory here and at Anderson, S.C.; the latter I sell at other points. Just now I am running just as much as I can with the present power and hope ... to add a 50- or 60-horsepower engine, which will increase production of sole leather. I shall use then only chestnut and Spanish oak bark in tanning since that makes the prettiest leather."

Water power was used to power the various pieces of machinery.

Before he got into the tanning and grist mill business, Wood had been a partner in a downtown merchandise store with K.L. Boone. He also served as postmaster for Gainesville, appointed by President Benjamin Harrison in 1889 and served until the end of 1893.

Wood died at age 78 in 1926. He had fallen on ice earlier near his home on Green Street Circle and died from complications from the injury.

His wife, Elizabeth, had died the previous year. Both are buried in Alta Vista Cemetery. He was an uncle to the late Lester Hosch, prominent businessman, civic leader and local historian.

In W.A. Wood's obituary, he was praised for his service as Gainesville's postmaster and "led an active life and was an influence for good in the commercial, civic and social life of the city."

On a map, Woodsmill Road looks insignificant, tucked away off the city's main thoroughfares. But it has been important in Gainesville's history, serving as a route for buggies and wagons to haul corn for grinding in the mill or leather from the tannery; as the road to the city's only golf course for many years; and in modern times to lead parents, teachers and students to the city school campuses of Woodsmill Academy (the old middle school), Centennial Elementary School and nearby Gainesville High School.


The tornado that destroyed downtown Gainesville and other parts of the city April 6, 1936, continued to be tragic weeks later. A baby who was born during the tornado survived, but died six weeks later in a car wreck near Greenville, S.C.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times and can be reached at 2183 Pinetree Circle N.E., Gainesville, GA 30501; phone, 770-532-2326. His column appears Sundays and on