In the years before the Great Depression, which is said to have started in earnest the fall of 1929, there seemed to be no signs of an economic downturn in the Gainesville area.
In the summer of 1928, Hall Countians were boasting about the $1 million spent to get Johnson & Johnson’s Chicopee Manufacturing Corp. up and running, as well as upgrades to Pacolet’s Gainesville Mill. Local leaders were predicting pretty much a boom for Northeast Georgia business and industry. Mayor Sam C. Dunlap noted that Gainesville had a reputation as a resort city for years, but now it was becoming known for its industrial development.
Just the previous year, 1927, Hall County had been proclaimed the largest chicken market in Georgia with $1 million in production. The county also was listed at or near the top for minerals and produce.
Residential building in the fall of 1929 was at a frantic pace. The Gainesville Eagle declared that it was “the surest sign of prosperity ... never has Gainesville seen such an era of building in the residential sections.”
Southern Bell released a survey in 1929 that showed Gainesville had added 182 businesses since 1914, from 325 to 507. Eleven different car dealerships operated in Hall County. Gainesville Chevrolet Co. had expanded twice in the past few years. H.M. Newman of Newman’s Dry Good Store told of increases year over year the past few years.
The Styles family, operating the Princeton Hotel on the downtown square, added 25 rooms and expanded the dining room to accommodate a 25 percent increase in tourists and business travelers.
Across the square, the new proprietor of the Dixie-Hunt Hotel, J.W. Yon, also was all smiles. With 125 rooms and 100 baths, the hotel was busy and predicting, “Gainesville is destined to grow and prosper.”
Asked why Gainesville was a good place to live and do business in the late 1920s, Brenau College’s T.J. Simmons answered, “It is a beautiful town with many trees and flowers, good streets (perhaps the best paved town of its size in the South), beautiful homes … and the climate of Gainesville is not only delightful but it can be statistically proved to be about the healthfullest in America.” And there was no unemployment, he said.
The tax digest increased, reflecting the additional business activity and residential building.
Cotton farming was near its peak, and dairy products from Hall County showed an increase.
An extravagant Spring Festival took place on the Brenau College campus and included a historical pageant and two days of grand opera.
Roadwork was bustling throughout the area. A big project completed paving between Buford and Lawrenceville, the major route for Hall Countians going to Atlanta.
On the same front page that announced Republican Herbert Hoover had defeated Democrat Al Smith in the 1928 election for United States president, an article boasted of the city’s new slogan, “Watch the Gain in Gainesville.” The article told about products from Hall County being sold in every state in the country, including thousands of overalls trademarked “Gold Diggers” made by Bellmore Manufacturing Co.
T.E. Atkins and J.H. Curtis of the State Bank were optimistic and enjoying their best year after seeing year-to-year increases in business.
In the early years of the Depression, at least, things continued to hum in most of Northeast Georgia. Building permits issued by Gainesville increased in 1930 over 1929. The city’s financial situation was considered good.
Thanksgiving as the Depression began was hopeful. A Gainesville News editorial had a positive outlook for the area. Christmas wasn’t at all dismal either with the city putting up 2,000 lights and a number of trees around the square.
There were some hints of things to come as one businessman talked of “untoward financial conditions all over America.”
But overall, in the early months of what would be called the Great Depression, Northeast Georgia escaped the worst of it. With things mostly bright and cheery, few could see the ominous clouds of the Depression looming on the horizon.
The Gainesville area might not hurt as badly as other areas, but it would soon enough feel its impact in the years to come.
Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. His column appears Sundays and at gainesvilletimes.com/johnny.