Northeast Georgia History Center recently celebrated journalism and freedom of the press. The history of community newspapers, such as The Times, was told in a special newspaper section.
Some say newspapers are becoming obsolete, that other forms of communication in this hyper-technical age will replace them eventually. If so, it’s too bad, because nothing takes the place of a sheet of newsprint that you can hold in your hands, start a fire, swat a fly or line a bird cage.
More importantly, there are few other places you can put your wedding story, birth announcement, church meeting, class reunion or learn about that property rezoning down the street. While websites carry considerable news these days, the newspaper is a record of the community, a prime source for scrapbook clippings that tell a family’s story, as well as that of their neighbors.
The history of newspapers in Northeast Georgia is rich. They have produced Pulitzer Prize winners, best-selling authors and writers widely quoted around the country.
In earlier days, such notable editors as W.B. Townsend of the Dahlonega Nugget or Jim Davidson of the Cleveland Courier attracted national attention with their wry comments on local, state and national issues. Townsend particularly was a popular, aggressive, crusty writer whose often acerbic words were set in type by hand, one letter at a time.
Davidson was a big booster of Northeast Georgia and sweated over old-fashioned hot type into the wee hours of the morning to get his paper before the eyes of its readers. His office often was a first stop for political candidates coming through town.
Maude Howard published the Dawson County Advertiser for 50 years before she died in 1961. She was another whose strong opinions were picked up regularly by national publications.
Jim and Mary Waldrip acquired the paper in 1962, and Mrs. Waldrip followed Mrs. Howard’s path as a writer with a column called "Kate’s Korner" that also was quoted around the country.
A.J. ("Uncle Jack") Hilton of the Banks County News was another who painstakingly set type for his newspaper by hand. He published the paper for a half century, still using the old printing process through his last issue. Hilton and his son, Pat, who eventually took over the paper, also were known for their commentary on current events.
The old Banks County newspaper office complete with the outdated hot-metal printing press and other equipment is now preserved in downtown Homer, thanks to the paper’s current owners, the Jackson County Buffington family and MainStreet Newspapers.
Weekly newspaper operations often were family affairs. The Hardy family owned the Gainesville News for many years, starting with Albert Hardy Sr. in the late 1800s. He, too, was a widely quoted publisher and editor and became president of both the Georgia Press Association and National Editorial Association. Both those organizations had their conventions in Gainesville with Hardy serving as host.
Printer’s ink coursed through Hardy’s three sons’ veins. Albert Jr. operated the Commerce News, and Charles Hardy succeeded his father as publisher of the Gainesville News, which ceased publication in the 1950s when it converted to the short-lived daily Morning News. Milton Hardy, who became Gainesville’s mayor, operated a photo studio and engraving business next door to the News’ offices on Main Street.
Another newspaper family prominent in Northeast Georgia journalism was the Craigs. Harve Craig was publisher of the Gainesville Eagle, rival to the Gainesville News. He and Albert Hardy Sr. were good friends, though they often took opposite editorial positions. Craig started his career as a teenager on the Dahlonega Signal, eventually writing for the Washington Post and other newspapers across the country. At one time he owned the Gainesville Eagle, Jackson Herald and the Brownsville, Texas, News.
Craig’s son, Britt, worked on the Gainesville Eagle before advancing to Atlanta and New York newspapers. Another son, Pete, was an Atlanta newspaper reporter and had a successful career as a race car driver.
Most community newspapers up until recent years were family operations, with sons or daughters succeeding their parents as editors and publishers. Some continue that tradition.
The small-town editors of a bygone era wrote in a sometimes flowery hand, but they added a spicy flavor to the newspaper in a time when everybody looked to it as their main source of information and often entertainment.
Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. His column appears Sundays and at gainesvilletimes.com/johnny. He can be reached at 2183 Pinetree Circle NE, Gainesville, GA 30501.