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First wireless message sent in 1911 from ship to Brenau
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“Wireless” is a common term in today’s age of modern electronics. It allows people to use their electronic devices in a variety of locations or situations.

Wireless had a different connotation in the early 20th century, referring primarily to radio waves or telegraphy.

Wireless transmission of data is prolific today. It is common to see people walking the streets or driving their cars texting messages to their friends or businesses, talking on phones or sending “selfies,” the term used for photos taken with phone cameras or other devices.

The first ever wireless transmission to Gainesville came in 1911 from a ship in the Atlantic Ocean. It was from Dr. and Mrs. T.J. Simmons to students at Brenau College. They were on their 13th voyage across the ocean on a world tour. The ship was the Hamburg-American steamer “Amerika,” which left from New York City.

The message the Simmonses sent wasn’t as profound as “What hath God wrought,” the first telegraph message sent by Samuel Morse. Nevertheless, it was a historic moment that had meaning for Gainesville and Brenau College students.

Here’s what it said:

“Steamship Amerika, Students, Brenau College, Gainesville, Ga. Left New York ten o’clock. Amerika is magnificent steamship, and our accommodations are excellent. We expect a fine voyage. I want our students to think of us daily, write frequently and gratify us on our return by having worked loyally to make Brenau the happiest place on earth. T.J. Simmons.”

Dr. Simmons in 1910 had purchased one-half interest in Brenau from its president, H.J. Pearce. The two served as co-presidents. Mrs. Simmons became a widely known musician, became head of the voice department and was instrumental in upgrading Brenau’s music department.

The couple came to Brenau from Shorter College in Rome, where they earned high praise for their accomplishments.

• • •

You could pay your tuition at Brenau College in cotton in 1914-15. Cotton prices had dropped to 6 and 7 cents a pound, preventing potential students’ parents from paying their way to college.

H.J. Pearce, president of Brenau at the time, had an idea. If farmers wanted to send their daughters to Brenau, they could pay him in cotton. The low price prevented them from profiting on their crops.

The idea was so successful between 15 and 20 students enrolled with their parents’ cotton crop footing the bill. Dry, Pearce stored more than 150 bales of cotton in a warehouse. Then he sold it for 10 cents a pound the next year. The Brenau president had predicted that the cotton price would rise, and the school would make a profit on what it took in.

Perhaps criticized by skeptics, Pearce said when the price went up, “I have been vindicated in my belief that cotton would sell for 10 cents a pound this season.” The first cotton he sold went to mills in Jefferson.

• • •

Prolific North Georgia author Emory Jones has another book out, “The Valley Where They Danced.”

It’s his first novel, but the story is based in the Sautee and Nacoochee valleys, some of its characters bearing names familiar to that area. There’s ample use, too, of real place names that North Georgians are familiar with.

The time period is just after World War I when Helen was becoming a bustling sawmill town and power companies were harnessing the power of rushing mountain streams to generate electricity for growing cities to the south.

The story features a new doctor arriving in the valleys, his introduction to the mountains and his first serious romance.

The author grew up in the Mossy Creek area of White County. He and his wife live on Yonah Mountain, which is featured prominently in his novel.

The book is available for $26.95 at various shops in the mountains, as well as the historic White County Courthouse in Cleveland.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times.

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