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Cornerstone not missing, no mystery after all
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Turns out the mystery of the missing 1883 Hall County Courthouse cornerstone is no mystery at all, and it isn't missing.

It's just where it ought to be, in the 1936 tornado section of the Northeast Georgia History Center at Brenau University.

The tornado destroyed the courthouse, which was to be torn down anyway to make way for a new one. The cornerstone, of course, survived, languished for a time in the courthouse that was built after the tornado, and then turned was over to the history center while it was still located in the old Gainesville fire station.

Rickey Tumlin, a former Hall County deputy sheriff, remembers seeing the cornerstone propped against a wall in the garage of the courthouse addition, which was completed in 1978. He said the history center had asked the county commission for the cornerstone, but the commission wanted to make a monument out of it on the courthouse grounds.

That never happened, so eventually the history center was allowed to display it, and that's where it is today. The history center is located at 322 Academy St.


Speaking of cornerstones, the laying of the one for Gainesville's Federal Building in November 1934 was quite an occasion. Doing the honors was Postmaster General James (Big Jim) Farley, one of President Franklin Roosevelt's closest cabinet members.

Many other Washington officials accompanied Farley, and Georgia senators at the time, Walter George and Richard Russell, were there along with 9th District Rep.-elect B. Frank Whelchel and former congressman Tom Bell. Outgoing Rep. John S. Wood earned praise for his work in securing funds for the Federal Building.

The Washington delegation was met at the train station by the Hall County Black Hats, a special group of deputies who escorted visiting dignitaries and distinguished themselves by, of course, wearing black hats. Robert C. McClure directed the Black Hats that day.

The visitors rested a bit at the Dixie-Hunt Hotel, then were honored at a reception at Brenau College. New Holland School students sang to them at the mill village's recreation building, and students from the community's schools waved American flags at them as the entourage returned to downtown via Spring Street and at the official ceremony at the new Federal Building. Riverside Military Academy's band provided the music.

General Farley, as he was called, spoke at the cornerstone program on a national radio network. He used the occasion to defend his boss's New Deal programs, which had been under criticism.

"Nobody claims that the Roosevelt program is a panacea for all our economic ills," he said, but he said that it had brought the nation well along on the return to normalcy and relieved a condition of great emergency, referring to the Great Depression.

Speakers praised the postmaster general, pointing out he came into office with a $153 million deficit in the Post Office Department left by the Herbert Hoover administration. After one year, Farley turned the deficit into a $12 million surplus.

Farley spread cement on the Federal Building cornerstone with a trowel he had been presented.

All the dignitaries went from there back to the Dixie-Hunt for a luncheon with more speeches from the senators and Rep. Wood. Banker and civic leader Heyward C. Hosch presented a Dahlonega gold nugget to Farley as a keepsake of the event.

The day wasn't over for the Washington delegation. They left the luncheon for Buford as guests of the Bona Allen leather-making family.

The Federal Building, now 75 years old, is made of Georgia marble, as noted by Farley during his speech. Just a year and a half after it was occupied, the building escaped serious damage from the 1936 tornado that devastated downtown Gainesville. The tornado did destroy Gainesville City Hall and the Hall County Courthouse. In the rebuilding of the city, officials wisely decided to put the city, county and federal government buildings together into what would be called a "civic center." They lined the three up in a campus roughly bounded by Washington, Broad, Bradford and South Green streets.

All that has changed now with the addition of a new courthouse, parking garages, joint administration building and Georgia Mountains Center, as well additions to the old courthouse. The Federal Building has recently undergone some exterior refurbishing.

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