While the immediate years after the Civil War were troublesome for the South, including Northeast Georgia, it didn’t take long for conditions to improve.
Perhaps the most significant development was the building of new railroads, the main one being from Atlanta to Charlotte, N.C., in the 1870s. Gainesville was fortunate to become a stop on that line, as other routes considered would have taken it out of Hall County.
The immediate result of a train coming through Gainesville was to enhance its reputation as a resort village, snug against the mountains a few rugged miles to the north. Its springs, especially White Sulphur and New Holland, already were visited by lowlanders and Atlantans, but they had to come by horse and buggy or stage coaches on poor roads for the most part.
The train’s arrival produced excursions both ways, Northeast Georgians traveling to Atlanta and Atlantans to Gainesville. Visitors would relax in Gainesville resorts or take other transportation to Dahlonega or other points north. This was four decades before the Gainesville and Northwestern Railroad to Robertstown came about.
Excursions were segregated, males in one car, females in another. On one such train to Gainesville, a few men invaded the women’s car and took seats. The conductor asked the men to leave. One of the male passengers drew a pistol, and a scuffle ensued. Apparently, nobody was injured, and the train continued to its destination.
The prospects of rail service to Gainesville spurred development just as what happens today when a new highway is proposed and built. In Gainesville, Judge J.W. Davis offered to donate six lots he owned from the downtown square to the Methodist Church, then on South Bradford Street, if somebody would build brick business houses on them.
Other construction was underway. An Atlanta newspaper reported building so brisk in Gainesville that its three brickyards couldn’t keep up with demand.
Mail by 1871 was being delivered three times a week between Gainesville and Dahlonega. This perhaps inspired some Gainesvillians to propose a railroad between the two towns. The Dahlonega and Gainesville Railroad was organized by 10 prominent citizens: J.E. Redwine, Judge J.W. Davis, D.E. Banks, W.P. Smith, P.F. Lawshe, S.H. Miner, J.J. Findlay, E.M. Johnson, J.W. Bondurant and W.A. Christian.
They apparently had the support of many Gainesvillians because city residents voted 121-6 to allow the city to buy 400 shares of stock in the company. The city would contribute $20,000 to the cause.
However, there apparently was considerable opposition despite the lopsided vote as Hall County state Rep. I.A. Simmons repeatedly tried to block the city’s participation in the railroad by filing bills against it in the state legislature. He told his colleagues there was near unanimous opposition to the project.
Actually, such a railroad was chartered as early as 1847, a project then proposed by W.P. Price, a Lumpkin County congressman, using his own money. Right-of-way was acquired, and grading completed from Gainesville to the Lumpkin County line. The first 10 miles were under construction by 1879, and four miles of track had been laid seven years later, but a train never ran between Gainesville and Dahlonega.
When fire destroyed most of Gainesville two days before Christmas 1851, the only substantial building remaining was the Methodist Church off the downtown square on South Bradford Street. It was called the Courthouse Church, because the building had been the county’s first courthouse, a log building rolled on logs from the middle of the square to the Bradford Street site.
Many residents left homeless by the fire found shelter in the church for days after the fire. What made conditions worse was a snowfall on Christmas Day. The church also was used by other churches and other public gatherings until other buildings were rebuilt.
The Airline Eagle, a Gainesville newspaper, reported in May 1871 that A.D. Candler had bought a bell for the Methodist Church, weighing 786 pounds and could be heard some distance from the town. Presumably, that is the bell that once rang in the towers of First Methodist when it was on Green Street and now sits in the courtyard of the church on Thompson Bridge Road.
Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. He can be reached at 2183 Pinetree Circle N.E., Gainesville, GA 30501. His column appears Sundays and at gainesvilletimes.com/johnny.