In Hall County’s pioneer days, alcoholic spirits were pretty much unregulated. Saloons and bars were common in Gainesville as it developed from a back-country crossroads into somewhat of a village.
Along the way, however, booze was outlawed, and the only strong drink you could get trickled out of stills hidden in the thick forests and along streams.
In 1935, a statewide vote let counties decide what they wanted to do about such sales. There would be separate votes in each county on sale of beer, wine or liquor. Hall County voted in favor of beer by 100 votes, wine by 114 votes and against liquor by 200 votes.
That allowed beer and wine to be sold even in open containers in both Gainesville and Hall County. That went on till about the middle of World War II when things got out of control, and officials just quit approving licenses.
In the 1950s, there was a fierce fight when county commissioners became inclined to legalize sales of packaged beer and wine. Considerable confusion, however, reigned as state and local officials, as well as local lawyers, dissected state and local laws.
As 1953 dawned, there was a serious attempt by commissioners to again issue licenses, though just for packaged beer and wine. The arguments in favor included the fact that it wasn’t too hard to find a snort if you wanted it anyway. People were selling booze undercover from their homes or businesses, some fraternal organizations were illegally selling drinks, and the county was missing out on revenue by turning its head. Proponents also suggested that legalizing alcohol would diminish the business of moonshiners.
So, Commissioners R.G. McConnell and Cone Abercrombie voted to issue beer and wine package licenses. McConnell had been on the commission in 1935 when beer and wine sales were legalized. The other commissioner, Tom Blackstock, voted against them.
For weeks, however, no licenses were issued. They just said they were going to. One beer dealer couldn’t wait and started selling beer without the proper license, although he claimed he had one. This caused an uproar that energized dry forces.
Opponents of the sale of booze in any form or in any way got their dander up. The local ministerial association took the lead, showing up at meetings to protest the two commissioners’ actions. The Gainesville High School student body even got into the act, overwhelmingly opposing issuing any alcoholic beverage licenses.
About 1,500 people turned out for a dry rally. The Rev. Bill Gardner of First Methodist Church was in the forefront of the opposition and threatened to recall McConnell and Abercrombie.
Commissioners, however, went ahead and signed permits allowing sales, but still didn’t approve any licenses. The stalemate lasted for weeks until finally, licenses were approved for Post 7 American Legion, the local Amvets chapter and three retailers on Athens Road, Rabbittown and Atlanta Road.
Opponents persisted, though, and went ahead with a petition drive to recall the two commissioners. They had collected hundreds of signatures, but a glitch suddenly surfaced. A law providing for the recall of elected officials passed the state legislature in 1935. However, some sharp-eyed lawyer discovered that it had been repealed two years later sort of clandestinely by attaching a measure to another bill that would pass easily.
Arguments continued that the recall law actually hadn’t been repealed; nevertheless, the recall drive fizzled, and packaged beer and wine continued to be sold legally in Hall County.
1953 was a watershed year in other ways. Blacks were allowed on jury lists for the first time. Pete Harrison became the first black man to serve on a Hall County jury in that year.
Women, however, still weren’t allowed to serve on juries. That would come later in the year when Gov. Gene Talmadge, despite misgivings, signed a bill allowing women jurors in Georgia.
It had been a struggle for women, who had fought for jury service since being allowed to vote in 1920. The Georgia Bar Association endorsed female jurors in 1949, but several attempts to get a bill through the legislature failed in subsequent years until final approval in 1953.
However, earlier, in 1951, Mary Bell Tinius, was seated on a White County jury, becoming the first woman in the state to serve.
Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. His column appears Sundays and at gainesvilletimes.com/johnny.