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From Atlanta to sea by boat never did float
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At the same time federal officials were planning Buford Dam immediately after World War II, they also considered making the Chattahoochee River navigable from Atlanta to Columbus. That eventually would allow barges to reach Georgia's capital from the Gulf of Mexico.

Buford Dam was a part of an overall plan for the whole river basin with other dams on the lower reaches. But the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers concentrated on the Buford Dam project after selecting that site over one near Roswell. The Roswell site lost out because of the costs of relocating railroads and highways.

Engineers recommended, however, that smaller reservoirs would be built at Roswell and Cedartown for flood control, electric power generation and navigation. Those never came about, nor did the navigable river channel between Atlanta and Columbus.

Other dams were built in the lower portion of the river system. The corps also deepened the channel between Columbus and the gulf, and maintenance of a minimum 9-foot depth has been one of the issues related to the water level of Lake Lanier.

The original estimate for the Buford Dam project was $17.6 million, but costs exceeded $44 million by the time it was finished.

During the feud among Georgia, Alabama and Florida over water being released from Buford Dam, some have argued the project didn't intend water supply for the Atlanta area to be a priority. A report recommending the dam, however, noted that Buford Dam would more than double the minimum water supply available to Atlanta, the minimum flow allowing 1,634 cubic feet per second compared to the city's need at that time of 800 cubic feet per second.

Flood control, water supply and regulation, electric power and river navigation were listed as purposes for the project.

• • •

While the lack of sufficient rainfall has plagued North Georgia the last few years, floods were a big problem before Buford Dam. For instance, in 1913, heavy rains sent the Chattahoochee over its banks, heavily damaging bridges and the Gainesville & Northwestern rail lines.

Raging waters knocked a railroad trestle at Clark's Bridge 10 inches out of line. More than 75 feet of track washed away between Helen and Nacoochee. Train service was out for several days. The river ran 2 feet over Clark's Bridge, the worst flood in two decades.

• • •

History indeed repeats itself. The country, as much of the world, is in a serious economic downturn. The state is laying off staff and trying to find $2 billion to cut from its budget. Local schools and governments are feeling the effects of less revenue because people are paring their own budgets and spending less. Unemployment in Georgia has risen above 8 percent.

While the years after World War II eventually would pump prosperity up from the smallest villages to the largest cities, the nation did go through a seriously slow economic period.

In the winter of 1947, things got so bad, Hall County schools almost closed. Superintendent H.G. Jarrard was warning that if the system didn't get some help from the state, it wouldn't be able to pay teachers, therefore, shutting down classrooms. The system was debt-free, but the school board didn't want to borrow $35,000 to keep the schools running.

Things worked out, though, and the schools remained open.

While almost 400,000 are hunting jobs in Georgia today, back then unemployment was considered high with 3,276 people out of work. Georgia's budget at the time was about $45 million compared to $20 billion today.

During the same period, Congress was trying to cut 500,000 federal employees from the payroll to balance the budget.

• • •

Despite the somber mood, Hall Countians were able to celebrate New Year's 1947 with gusto. Tradition had been for everybody to gather on the downtown square to bring in the new year.

The Gainesville News reported it was the largest celebration ever. The square was jammed with cars both parked and circling. Hundreds of pedestrians lined the sidewalks. As midnight arrived, horns honked and fireworks blasted, almost drowning out the chimes of nearby First Baptist Church.

Police were tolerant, though they began to disperse the crowds after about 45 minutes. A few dented fenders were the only downside to the spontaneous celebration.

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