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Paper pushed for highways, more tourism
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Jim Davidson, who published the Cleveland, Ga., Courier, was the consummate old-time editor who tediously hand-set one at a time every letter of every word of every sentence in his four-page newspaper long hours into the night, but never on Sunday.

He became an influential voice not only in White County, but throughout North Georgia. During election campaigns, the little print shop just off the downtown square was a must politician-pit stop. It was news when some candidate didn't drop by the Courier office.

Davidson supported Phil Landrum for 9th District congressman when Zell Miller ran against him. Noting that Miller and his wife campaigned in Cleveland, he pointedly wrote, "They did not visit The Courier office."

The Courier also served as an unofficial welcome center for the town, and local residents would stop in to talk or pay for their subscriptions, sometimes with apples or a dozen eggs instead of cash.

When Davidson didn't think things were moving along as they should, he'd prod people in charge. "Cleveland could go forward faster than any North Georgia town if only we could establish unity among all our people," he wrote. " ... and then just a lot of action, else we will dry up like Clermont," referring to the town's Hall County neighbor.

"The Editor has lived in Cleveland 66 years ... and we have never seen so much damnable feuding among the leading people. It is so offensive it stinks."

Urging White Countians to emerge from the "Rip Van Winkle" age, he lobbied for an airport, ice skating rink, ski resort, modern hotel, golf course, roads and anything else that would draw tourists.

"He was the kind of person who got up every morning with a task or project in mind," says his daughter, Judy Lovell. "He had a purpose. He wanted to see the mountains developed and allow people to enjoy the beauty and serenity of White County."

Davidson sided with those who wanted to preserve the old courthouse in the middle of Cleveland's square while others would tear it down when a new one was built a block away. He celebrated in 1967 when the White County Historical Society welcomed 2,000 visitors during an open house at the old courthouse, which continues to serve as a museum.

Davidson took over the paper from his father, Alex Davidson, in 1920 at age 23. All his family, including seven children, helped put out the weekly.

He was progressive-minded, independent and plain-spoken. After Barry Goldwater won the Republican nomination for president in 1964, Davidson wrote, "Now he'll wage a campaign to defeat and send Lyndon Johnson back to his cow pasture in Texas."

While his father consistently had railed against any effort to legalize alcoholic beverages in the county when he was publisher, Jim Davidson was more than open to the idea and campaigned for beer and wine sales.

The Courier quoted local people often with just little snippets of humor, sometimes as corny as what came out of a moonshine still. "George W. Davidson declares the way to keep from smashing your thumb is either hold the hammer with both hands or get your wife to hold the nail." Or, "Henry Davidson affirms it's fine to be a gentleman, but it's a handicap in a good argument."

Many believe the scenic Richard B. Russell Highway (Ga. 348) in White and Union counties wouldn't have been built if not for Davidson's persistent nagging in his newspaper and button-holing key decision-makers. But he gave credit to W.G. Murrah of Choestoe, who also had tirelessly pushed for the road over Tesnatee Gap.

That was a signature success for Davidson and the Courier, but he never saw one of his pet projects even started, a bypass around Cleveland. In 1964, he wrote, "Isn't it a dirty shame that all through traffic on (U.S.) 129 must come through the public square? Why don't we all get together and demand that the State Highway Department build an ultra-modern bypass of Cleveland?"

Finally, construction on the first phase of a bypass might begin next year.

Though he had cancer, Jim Davidson worked at the Courier until a week before he died in 1972 at age 75. Son Richard kept the paper going for another year before it stopped publication.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times and can be reached at 2183 Pinetree Circle N.E., Gainesville, GA 30501. His column appears Sundays.

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