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Horses, mules almost overran Joeless square in Gainesville
This vintage photograph shows horses tied along the Gainesville downtown square.

The picture is of Gainesville’s downtown square probably in the early 1900s before motorized vehicles were common and before “Old Joe,” the Confederate statue was erected. The view is toward the west side of the square where Saul’s, Frames You Nique and other stores stand today.

While horses, wagons and buggies were the primary mode of transportation in those days, some residents complained about the mess they made around the square. But, especially on Saturdays, farmers and others came to town to shop the stores, perhaps sell some of their produce, horse-swap and chew the fat.

About this time, Hall Countians were discussing improving the square, maybe erecting a statue of Lyman Hall, the county’s namesake. But United Daughters of Confederacy instead in a yearslong campaign overcoming numerous obstacles secured a lease on a plot in the middle of the square to honor Confederate veterans by erecting the statue that still stands today. It was unveiled in 1909.

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Farmers were reluctant at first to abandon horses and mules when steam- and gas-powered machines began to follow automobiles and trucks off the assembly lines. A gas-powered tractor had been introduced in the 1890s, but it would be another couple of decades before it would catch on.

Louis E. Wisdom was the Fordson tractor dealer in Gainesville in the early 1920s. He evidently had a hard time persuading some farmers to switch from animal power to gasoline power.

He drew a comparison between horses used to pull farm machinery and tractors. For example, Wisdom said it cost $90 a year to feed hay to a horse, $112.50 for grain, $6 for shoeing twice a year, $3 wear and tear on harnesses and depreciation for one horse, $12.50. In comparison, a tractor would use $100 in fuel over a year, cost $50 in repairs and $100 in depreciation.

The total for a horse or mule was $224 or $896 for four horses. The total cost for operating a tractor for a year would be $250, giving the farmer a saving of $646.

While Woodson said thousands of such tractors were being sold all over the country, farmers in Northeast Georgia had better act quickly as his inventory was running low. Indeed he had testimonials from farm tractor buyers from Hall and several surrounding counties.

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When the new Chattahoochee Country Club at the end of Riverside Drive was opened in September 1920, a lot of dignitaries from Atlanta came up, including golf legend Bobby Jones and sports writers Ed Danforth and O.B. Keeler. The course, laid out by Jack Inglis. was only nine holes although plans already were drawn for an 18-hole course that never materialized.

A dry summer had reduced greens to mostly sand, and the fairways hadn’t fared much better among all the pine trees. Nevertheless, the Atlanta writers praised the course, diplomatically it seemed, focusing more on its potential.

One of the speakers during a dinner in the clubhouse — which later became American Legion Post 7’s home, and which later burned — was industrialist Felix Jackson, who built Gainesville’s Jackson Building downtown. He poked fun at the Atlantans in suggesting Gainesville had advantages over their city.

Jackson said if the Chattahoochee River, which the new golf course overlooked, were dammed at that point, Atlanta would be dry in four hours. In addition, if the electric lines that ran through Gainesville were cut, Atlanta would be dark instantly.

Then he added, “I won’t go so far as to say Gainesville also supplies Atlanta with sunlight, but it has been charged that Hall County furnishes a commodity known as moonshine for our sister city.”

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

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