When a winter like Northeast Georgia is having this year, when electricity and gas bills soar, when firewood runs low, and school schedules are slammed, people begin to reminisce about winters past, those that stand out.
Mild winters in recent years seem to bring on conversations about the worst cold season. Winter 2014 will be one of those with “polar vortexes,” constant cold temperatures along with occasional snow and ice.
Perhaps the most memorable event will be yet another ice jam in metro Atlanta two weeks ago, one that made the city the brunt of jokes from colder northern climes because only 2 inches of snow and ice caused the disaster. The images of freeways lined with stalled trucks and cars in Atlanta played constantly on national television.
People who hearken back to those seasons when bitter weather seemed more frequent might recall March 1960 when a series of sleet and snow storms not only closed schools but devastated businesses and caused the National Guard to come to the rescue of chicken farmers running out of feed. They also remember the blizzard of 1993 that briefly brought the area to its knees.
This year is the 50th anniversary of another numbing winter not as dramatic as others, but just as humbling in its degree and longevity. Below-freezing temperatures became almost routine, and frozen precip disrupted schools, travel, business and industry.
Actually, the snowy weather began at the end of 1963 as residents all over Northeast Georgia were bringing in the new year. It was an event similar to the most recent one: snow, a little rain, then more snow, running into New Year’s Day. The state patrol at that time would close roads deemed unsafe, and it did so with several, only to open them again, then close them within hours as temperatures fell and ice formed.
Schools weren’t in session yet from the Christmas holidays, a good thing because 3 inches of snow fell in Gainesville, and 8 to 10 inches up in the mountains. After schools resumed, however, another snowstorm caused them to close. All the while, winds knocked down ice-laden trees and broke windows in Habersham County.
Recovering from that spate of bad weather, yet another snow was forecast, but this time it didn’t materialize, and milder temperatures allowed the area eventually to return to normal.
• • •
But 1964 won’t be remembered solely for its wicked winter. During all the bad weather in January, Quinlan Art Center dedicated its facilities on Green Street in Gainesville. First exhibitors included Ed Dodd, creator of the comic strip Mark Trail, Lamar Dodd, head of the University of Georgia art department, and Brenau College sculptor A. Wolfe Davidson. The center was named for Leslie F. Quinlan, a Gainesville industrialist, civic worker and promoter of the arts.
1964 also was the beginning of a push for establishing a junior college and vocational-technical school, which now are a part of the University of North Georgia and Lanier Technical College. The two institutions were an impetus for the galloping growth in the Oakwood area and all of south Hall County. From a modest start, they are now among the shining lights of Georgia’s educational system and still growing in size and importance.
The year also was the beginning of the end of the system of paying county sheriffs based on fees rather than a salary. And Gainesville was in the midst of its urban renewal program, approving its first project in the southeastern part of the city, $4.4 million of redevelopment on 166 acres.
While the Winter Olympics are under way this year in Russia, the 1964 Winter Olympics were in full swing in Innsbruck, Austria, where the Russians won more medals than anybody.
• • •
With icy weather playing havoc with utility lines, there are the usual questions about why more cables don’t run underground instead of being strung on unsightly poles all over the countryside. Expense is the answer, though numerous new subdivisions bury lines.
Underground cables might seem like a new idea, but as early as 1919, people wanted to get rid of the poles. Gainesville persuaded the telephone company to put its cables underground around the square and was leaning on the power company to do the same. It took years before that happened.
Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. He can be reached at 2183 Pinetree Circle NE, Gainesville, GA 30501. His columns appear Sundays and at gainesvilletimes.com/johnny.