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North Ga. drew attention during 1920s
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A lot was going on in North Georgia in the Roaring '20s. That was when Johnson & Johnson decided on Hall County for its Chicopee Manufacturing Corp. model mill village.

When the mill and village were dedicated June 23, 1927, thousands of people from all over the state came to eat barbecue, hear Sen. Walter George speak and tour the facility. Sidney O. Smith Sr., president of the chamber of commerce, was master of ceremonies.

At the time, Chicopee's 5-acre plant was touted as the largest one-story manufacturing plant in the world.

Hall County was beginning to grow during this period, the years before the Great Depression. The eyes of Atlanta and the rest of the state turned toward Gainesville. It also brought attention to better roads as more automobile owners began to travel on what was available.

More use of the automobile brought an end to the streetcar era, and tracks were taken up from Green Street, through the downtown square and on down Main Street to the railroad depot.

It wasn't until January 1928 that paving was completed on the road between Gainesville and Buford. That left only a section between Buford and Lawrenceville unpaved between Gainesville and Atlanta.

The Appalachian Scenic Highway and Piedmont Air Line Highway also provided greater access to Hall County and the mountains, and the state improved the road between Cornelia and Toccoa.

While Helen in White County in the 1920s was best known for its Morse Brothers Lumber Co., it also had become a tourist attraction. John E. Mitchell had built the 50-room Mountain Ranch Hotel, which contained a large lobby featuring a 5-foot wide fireplace. A fountain and pool graced the landscaped grounds.

Because of the lumber business, Helen had two smaller hotels, a bank, department store, swimming pool, post office, drug store, doctor, school, telephone station, electric lights, golf course and even a paved sidewalk running the length of Main Street.

The Gainesville & Northwestern Railroad carried visitors to the mountains from Gainesville. One of its "auto buses" provided a scenic tour that ran through Clermont and Cleveland.

A writer so enthralled with the mountains, Nacoochee Valley and Helen in particular on his first visit, wrote, "One has not truly seen this wonderful country of ours if they have not feasted their eyes on the marvels and delights in the scenery of these wonderful mountains of Helen, Ga. ... seemingly dropped from the clouds into the center of this surpassingly beautiful valley of Nacoochee ..."

After the lumber operation went bust, Helen settled into its role as a small mountain town with tourists still coming through occasionally. However, it wasn't until years later that promoters got the idea to turn the town into a Bavarian-type village, converting stores into architecture around that theme. Now it is bustling more than ever with an expanded business section and lodging of every description.

Gainesville has its Blue Sky Concerts on the downtown square today, but in the mid-1920s it went so far as to build a permanent bandstand on the square. That was primarily to accommodate a 40-piece Gainesville Band that had been organized. A. Francechini of Riverside Military Academy was the director.

The band played for street dances on the square and at other functions including dances at the White Sulphur Springs Resort off the Cornelia Highway in east Hall County.

When WGGA radio station went on the air in Gainesville in 1941, a worker had to hold a broken wire together during that first broadcast. The control panel sat on an old wooden table.

The station started out in a little building on Athens Highway. The original stockholders were Charles Smithgall, Henry Estes, Austin Dean and L.E. Christian.

Estes operated the downtown anchor Estes department store for many years. The store sponsored the 8 a.m. news on WGGA from its beginning.

Another early show on the radio was "Uncle Harmon Kanady and the Hall County Hotshots." The Queen City Quartet also was a popular program, and Randy Jones, a popular announcer, later became well known on one of Atlanta's first television stations, WLWA-TV. Bob Schwab and Jim Hartley joined the staff in the mid-1940s.

WGGA now is a part of Jacobs Media and features ESPN programming.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times and can be reached at 2183 Pinetree Circle NE, Gainesville, GA 30501; phone, 770-532-2326. His column appears Sundays and at

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