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First seniors really earned their diplomas
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Seven boys and six girls earned Gainesville High School's first diplomas in 1894.

They were Robin Adair, Kedar L. Boone, Marian Chambers, John T. Dorsey, William E. Dozier, William H. Hosch, Frank Looper, Maude Montgomery, Julia Palmour, Charles A. Rudolph, Lillie May Smith, Mary B. Whelchel and Mattie B. Woodliff.

R.E. Park Jr. was the first city school superintendent, later becoming a prominent professor of English literature at the University of Georgia, where Park Hall is named in his honor. Principal was Esten Whelchel, who later entered a federal government career in Washington, D.C.

Eight of the graduates had parts on the graduation program, either speaking or reading essays.

William Hosch, one of the graduates who later wrote a history of Hall County, said of that 1894 graduating class: "The curriculum at the time was very thorough and complete for a high school. We went far into the classics, completing Sallust and Horace in Latin, trigonometry and part of the analytical geometry in mathematics, and physics, chemistry and history with a splendid course in English literature. ... the examinations were very thorough. Not only were we examined with written questions in each subject, but orally by the board of education. Well do I remember Col. Sanders having me go to the blackboard and prove a proposition in trigonometry before the whole board and visitors. And every member of the class went through just such an ordeal before we received our diplomas."

H.H. Perry, chair of the school board, presented the diplomas in exercises in Stringer's Opera House, upstairs in a downtown business.

During that same year, 1894, W.P. Rivers, then living in Winder, recalled an earlier Gainesville school called an academy. That school was a two-story building on a hill north of the square.

"In the rear was a beautiful grove and a chinquapin thicket, where the boys hulled the nuts, and the teachers found rods to hull the boys and flail the girls ... In the grove was a graveyard where both whites and Indians were buried; two of the latter had been executed for some capital offense ... In this grove the boys had their sports and games and races, and none was more active and fleet than a Cherokee boy who excelled them all."

Rivers called teacher John Park a most rigid disciplinarian. "He handled the birch with skill and resorted to many strange devices for punishment."

Pistol duels were common in America until about the mid-1800s, but they faded out with time. Only an occasional one would occur in the years after the Civil War.

Two well-known Hall County residents, however, dueled to the end in June 1927.

Carl Little and Minor Brown were said to be enemies and held grudges against one another. They apparently arranged to meet at the intersection of Atlanta Highway and Brown's Bridge Road to shoot out their differences.

It happened about 8 o'clock at night, and several people witnessed the shooting, either accidentally passing by, but more likely learning about the duel beforehand.

Brown drove up in a truck and Little in his car. They left their vehicles, exchanged some words, then pulled their weapons and began firing at one another. Seven shots were fired, according to local papers' account of the event.

Brown fell to the ground first, but continued firing at Little until he, too, fell fatally wounded. He had been hit in the arm and side. Little's shots struck Brown in the heart. Both died minutes after they fell.

Stow, Bell and Co. Funeral Home took charge of the bodies. Coroner D.C. Stow announced later that a coroner's jury had ruled voluntary manslaughter on the part of both combatants, each dying of bullet wounds inflicted by the other.

The Minor Brown that died in the duel isn't to be confused with an earlier Minor Brown, for whom Brown's Bridge and Brown's Bridge Road were named.

1927 had opened with another tragedy, the wreck of a Tallulah Falls Railroad train. That occurred in February of that year. E.S. Hogsed, railroad agent, died in the wreck, and injuries to baggage clerk J.A. Merritt of Cornelia eventually proved fatal.

The TF Railroad was noted for its high wooden trestles that carried the train over mountain ravines through Habersham and Rabun counties.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. His column appears Sundays and at

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