In the early 1900s, Gainesville already was becoming known as a poultry center, but it would be another half century before it could boast about being the “World’s Broiler Capital.”
However, in those days, Hall County might well have been touted as a mining capital because people were exploring for gold, diamonds, granite, mica and other minerals.
Its soil lent itself toward the manufacture of bricks, too, and three or more sizable brickyards were operating with a capacity of 20 million bricks a year.
Three of those were east of the railroad depot, site of the present Norfolk Southern station. The soil in that area was of a clay composition, which was good for making bricks.
One of the largest and best known was Hudson Brick Co., operated by M.D. Hudson, known as a pioneer and innovator in brick manufacture. He had been making brick in Hall County since 1874 and applied the most modern methods available at that time. Hudson had even invented a new process of burning that later was copied by others in the industry.
His plant apparently was located just east of the present Athens Street. It covered several acres and could produce four million brick per year.
Brick had long been a building material since America had been settled. But in Hall County, it had become more important because of a scarcity of wood, a little curious because forests surrounded Gainesville at the time.
Hudson worked about 50 men during its peak employment during the summer.
Clay was dug up by steam shovel and spread out to dry in the yard, sometimes as long as a year. Its color ranged from a salmon red to a deep cherry. When adequate shale, also used in the process, couldn’t be found in Hall County, it was shipped from as far as Floyd County in northwest Georgia.
Hudson also was a contractor whose projects were built all over Georgia and into other states. Likewise, he sold bricks all over, and at the time had a million-brick order from Jacksonville, Fla.
Another brickmaker in the early 1900s in Gainesville was G.R. Wheeler and Son. Their plant covered 18 acres in the same area as Hudson. Wheeler worked 20 to 50 employees and supplied two million brick for the new Gainesville Cotton Mill, which was under construction at the time.
One brick company was run by a woman, Mrs. P. Pfeffercorn. She succeeded her husband Frederick as owner after he died in 1895. The Pfeffercorns, of German descent, had founded the company some years earlier. The plant would produce 25,000 bricks per day and also was located on East Myrtle Street near the Hudson and Wheeler plants.
In the same area near the depot was Gainesville Granite Works, founded in 1900 by W.D. Sullivan.
Gainesville was just becoming what it felt like was an industrial giant at the time because Pacolet Manufacturing was building its textile plant at New Holland, and Gainesville Cotton Mills also was soon to open.
Besides the brick industry, Gainesville was well known for Bagwell wagons and its shoe factory.
Bagwell and Gower was founded in 1870 by J.D. Bagwell, worked 75 employees and could produce 3,000 wagons a year. It was one of the largest and best-known companies of its kind in the South. Wagon parts and accessories also were shipped to several states.
Another big industry at the time was Inman Smith and Co., which made shoes and also operated a tannery. It employed 175 people and could produce 250,000 shoes per year.
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Hall County’s population in 1900 was 20,752. Gainesville’s was estimated at 5,494.
Schools were in session only 90 days per year, apparently because so many children worked on their family farms. Families with 10 to 16 children were not uncommon in those days. Cotton was a principal crop along with various grains, which would be ground at numerous mills around the county.
Hall County had 4,655 children enrolled in schools in 1902, and per-student spending was $1 annually. Practically all of that was state funds with little or no local contribution.
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Here’s what the Rev. George White said of the county in 1849: “Hall County is rather shy of strangers.”
Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times.