It’d be a stretch, but kind of fun, to blame Atlanta’s water troubles on Gen. William T. Sherman, whose Union troops burned the city and anything else that got in his way on his March to the Sea during the Civil War.
Alabama and Florida, as well as some South Georgians, point to Atlanta as the culprit in taking more than its share of water from the Chattahoochee River basin, namely Lake Lanier. The three states have been haggling over water issues now for decades.
But apparently it was Gen. Sherman who first suggested Atlanta take its water from the Chattahoochee River. An article in an 1891 Sunny South newspaper was declaring Atlanta finally had decided the river would become its main source of water.
“Fifteen years ago,” the newspaper wrote, “old Tecumseh Sherman told a committee of citizens that they would have it to do, sooner or later, and advised them to go to work at once. He remarked to the writer that if his army had remained in Atlanta three months longer, he would have turned a large portion of the river through that city himself. He had the survey and estimates on hand and would have given them to the citizens if they wanted to use them.”
Atlantans probably were in no mood at that time to take any advice from any Union officer, much less the villainous Gen. Sherman.
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It was on the Chattahoochee River that one of the worst lightning tragedies happened in Hall County. On June 3, 1892, five men went to the river to fish. When a heavy rain came up, the men sought shelter under a beech tree. Three of them got under an umbrella, and the other two stood nearby under another umbrella.
A lightning strike knocked all five men down. One of the fishermen awoke from unconsciousness and sought help, and a large crowd responded. It was little use, however, for three of the men died instantly. The other two were seriously burned but recovered.
Tillman Sweatman, who survived the lightning strike, said he thought somebody had shot him. Four of the party were from Hall County and the fifth from Clarkesville.
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The Nov. 22, 1963, issue of The Daily Times, as Gainesville’s paper was called then, was notable because it announced on the front page the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Deep on the inside of the paper, however, was a happy story headlined “Gainesville’s Blind Singer, Combo Cut First Recording.”
The story was about Ronnie Milsap, who had just recorded a 45 rpm single, “It Went to Your Head.” The flip side carried “Total Disaster.” The recording was made with a local musical combo, The Dimensions, on Princess Records out of Conroe, Texas.
At the time, Milsap was a student at Young Harris College and living with the Fred Lothridges in Gainesville. From that meager beginning, he soared to the highest heights of country music stardom, winning half a dozen Grammys, numerous other awards and recording 40 No. 1 hit songs, among them the familiar “Smoky Mountain Rain” and “It Was Almost Like a Song.”
Ronnie was at his peak in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, but remains popular today, still performing at concerts and recording albums at age 70. Earlier this year, he was honored by being chosen to sing at the funeral of country music legend George Jones, performing a Jones classic, “When the Grass Grows Over Me.” Most recently, he was in a concert in Bremen, and yet another album, “Summer Number 17,” will be out next month.
Milsap isn’t the only Young Harris product to reach country music stardom. Trisha Yearwood, a native of Monticello, graduated from the college in 1987 and began serious recording in the early 1990s.
She, too, is award laden with three Grammys, and has appeared in several television shows. She is host of her own cooking show, “Trisha’s Southern Kitchen,” on the Food Network and has written a couple of cookbooks with her sister and mother.
Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. His column appears Sundays and at gainesvilletimes.com/johnny.