Immediately after the armistice was signed officially ending World War I on Nov. 11, 1918, Gainesville and Hall County leaders shifted into high gear a number of projects they had been chomping at the bit to begin.
Gainesville’s population at the time was about 6,000, and leaders felt the city and county were on the cusp of great progressive strides after years of war.
Brenau College and Riverside Military Academy began new buildings. Businesses around town sprang to life. American Legion Post 7 organized. Small industries came to town. Existing industries, such as Pacolet Mills, spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on improvements and expansion. New Holland was spending $50,000 on what was called a YMCA building, what later became known as a recreation building.
A group of Gainesville citizens was putting together a country club and golf course. Dr. E.P. Ham and others were opening a new hospital, Parkview.
The war hadn’t been over a month before campaigns began for a new Gainesville High School building and paving miles of roads throughout the county. The Gainesville News intoned: “One of the first movements to be considered is that of erecting a high school building, so urgently needed for some time, but action on which was of necessity deferred during the war ... Our school facilities are wholly inadequate ... Main and Candler Street buildings are filled to overflowing, and there is not really enough room for the primary and grammar schools, much less the high school.”
It urged city officials to set a bond election to pay for new facilities. At the same time, county commissioners were anxious to do something about inadequate roads and were asked to allow people to vote on bonds to add and improve roads.
In March 1919, county commissioners ordered a $600,000 bond election for the following May. Gainesville school board and the city council likewise voted for a bond election at the same time. It would include $100,000 to buy land and build a new Gainesville High School and $48,000 to extend its water and sewer system and expand the waterworks.
Both county and city organized committees to promote the bonds. Some worried that because the separate bond elections would be held on the same day, voters might be confused. All county voters would cast ballots on the roads issue at the courthouse, and all city voters would vote on the high school and water and sewer bonds at City Hall.
The county appointed a large committee of residents, all male, to publicize the roads bonds. They told voters that the money was needed to match federal dollars for road improvements. At the time, F.T. Davie was county commission chair, C.H. Martin supervisor and R. Banks, commissioner.
The road projects included Brown’s Bridge-Keith Bridge Road, Shallowford Road, Thompson Bridge Road, New Bridge-Clark’s Bridge, Lula-Belton, Candler-Belmont, Athens-Gillsville and Flowery Branch-Lawrenceville. With the federal matching dollars, commissioners promised that every foot of every major road in the county could be paved.
The pressure was on to pass the bond issue. It would take a two-thirds vote to approve the bonds, and at least 51 percent of registered voters would have to vote. Various committees raised money to publicize both elections. Newspapers were filled with testimonies from students and educators about the need for the new high school. County commissioners and others appealed through the newspaper and at rallies for voters to approve money for the roads.
City officials told of how the water system had trouble during the previous summer keeping pressure adequate to serve all its customers. They also cited health problems that could result from an inadequate sewerage system and the need to extend service, both water and sewer, to new customers as Gainesville grew.
Bond commissions were appointed to assure voters the proceeds would be spent wisely and for the purposes intended.
Both Gainesville and Hall County leaders apparently did a good job selling their projects to voters. In May 1919, less than six months after World War I, both bond issues won approval.
Gainesville voters overwhelmingly passed the bonds for building the new high school and water and sewer improvements. The need apparently was great with only 18 voting no, 752 for.
Hall County voters likewise passed their issue to improve roads 2,537 to 153.
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.