Brenau University perhaps is in its most aggressive mode in its history with all the building going on at its expanding Gainesville campus and its arms spread wide to locations in Atlanta, Augusta and King’s Bay.
Yet it was in a growth mood in the early 1900s, too. An Atlanta Georgian editorial in 1906 praised what was called Brenau College at that time for its reach beyond Gainesville’s city limits.
No college in the South, said the Georgian, had been more progressive and courageous. It pointed out that A.W. Van Hoose and H.J. Pearce had jump-started the college when they took it over from the former Georgia Baptist Female Seminary. They soon carried it to new heights, and it ranked No. 1 among colleges in the state, although the newspaper didn’t say who ranked it.
An Alabama Brenau was established in Eufaula, its early success demonstrated by a building filled to capacity and a new building under construction at the time. The college there succeeded Eufaula Female Academy, and residents were so anxious for Brenau to come they raised $1,500 for the building and provided a 10-year lease free. The school apparently didn’t last that long.
Brenau also at the time was building a $40,000 military academy, which became Riverside Military Academy, the highly successful school that continues to flourish today on its Riverside Drive campus. Brenau had organized a Chautauqua association modeled after the parent Chautauqua in New York and with a summer program in Chattahoochee Park, now the American Legion Park at the end of Riverside Drive. It attracted crowds to listen to well-known speakers, musicians and other artists.
It also had a School of Oratory that conducted an oratorical contest in cities throughout Georgia.
“Brenau has done more than this,” the Georgian wrote. “It has had the audacity to cross the ocean and establish a branch institute in Paris, that such of its students as may wish to do so may receive the advantages coming from foreign study and travel.” Applications, the newspaper reported, were pouring in for the “foreign school.”
Brenau also was moving to establish schools in New York and Washington, D.C.
Of course, there is no Paris Brenau today, nor are there branches in New York or Washington, let alone Eufaula.
Its reach, however, is wide and deep, and its prestige higher than when it was a smaller school endeavoring to do big things. Brenau and Riverside established Hall County’s tradition as a center for education, enhanced today by the Gainesville campus of the University of North Georgia.
• • •
Gainesville wasn’t officially a city yet in May 1820 as the legislature would incorporate it Nov. 30, 1821. But perhaps its first hotel already was luring visitors to the village that would become the seat of Hall County, which had been formed officially three years earlier.
If the hotel had a name, it didn’t give it in the advertisement in an Athens newspaper of the day. J.W. Shaw listed the “House of Entertainment,” as he called it, in May 1820. Such a description might be misleading today.
Shaw, in the ad, said he “will not pretend to say his accommodations are superior to those of any other person in the same section of the country, but passengers are solicited to call with an assurance that no pain will be spared to render them comfortable.”
The “house,” he said, “is large and commodious with private rooms for those who prefer such. His stables are capacious and well supplied.”
Plugging Gainesville as a tourist stop, he urged those wanting to spend the summer months in the “upcountry,” apparently appealing to residents of the more muggy southern climes, to visit the village.
Shaw didn’t give an exact location for his hotel in Gainesville, but he wrote, “It is situated contiguous to several limestone springs and in the vicinity of the mountains, surrounded by an elevated and romantic country with fountains of the purest water.”
So Hall County early on was being promoted as a resort center of sorts. The abundant mineral springs inspired others eventually to exploit that reputation and establish several health resorts such as New Holland, White Sulphur and Gower Springs.
Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times.