It is approaching peak peach time in North Georgia. Trips to Jaemor Farms near Lula and other orchards in that area will become more frequent. Peaches will be showing up more often in the backs of trucks parked at local farmers’ markets.
Georgia continues to be known as the Peach State, even its vehicle tags advertise that fact, and peaches are symbols on a variety of other things Georgia. That’s despite the fact that other states have now surpassed Georgia in peach production.
Most of Georgia peaches come from middle Georgia, but plenty of them come from north of the gnat line.
Trains used to carry tons of peaches to northern markets, but most produced in North Georgia now are sold closer to home. While orchards have dwindled mostly to northeastern Hall County and Habersham County, peaches once were plentiful in South Hall. This time of year, peach pickers and packers were busy around Klondike and Belmont with growers like J.J. Adams and M.M. Ham.
In 1908, a train loaded with peaches from that area and headed to New York wrecked at White Sulphur.
Apples follow peaches in late summer and early fall. The North Georgia mountains, particularly around Gilmer and Fannin counties, produce enough apples that organized tours regularly visit those areas. But Habersham and Hall counties still grow their share. The Echols orchards at Jaemor Farms are about as well known as their peaches.
The Big Red Apple at Cornelia isn’t there just to look pretty. It’s a reminder that Habersham County once was a major producer of apples. More than a million and a half bushels of apples would come from Habersham County in its heyday.
To show how agriculture has changed in Hall County, in 1937, cotton gins ginned almost 11,000 bales. That same year, a quarter million chickens were produced in Hall County. Now, very little if any cotton is planted here, but the poultry raised and processed is in the multimillions.
Fairs used to be a big deal for farmers in Hall County. The Northeast Georgia Fair Association annually produced fairs at fairgrounds off Shallowford Road, where shopping centers now stand. Gainesville Jaycees later took over the operation as its main money-maker for many years.
Besides the usual carnival rides and attractions, the fair was a place for farmers, future farmers, 4-H and Home Demonstration clubs to show off their livestock, produce, canning, sewing, crafts and other exhibits. It was an annual ritual of fall.
Such a fair is long gone in Hall County. The first fair of that sort was held by the Gainesville Fair Association in the fall of 1888. It featured music, various contests, livestock and mineral exhibits. At the time, minerals were big in this area with some gold mining, mica, asbestos, silver and other metals.
J.B. Estes was the first president of the fair association, and R.E. Green was fair superintendent.
Some other trivia from Northeast Georgia’s past:
Those who have attended the University of Georgia or visited Athens at all are familiar with Prince Avenue, the main drag when you approach the Classic City from Gainesville and Jefferson. The street wasn’t named for a royal prince; rather, Oliver Prince, a lawyer and author of Prince’s Digest, who moved to Athens from Macon.
First National Bank of Gainesville, which was swallowed by Regions Bank, once was located on Main Street on Gainesville’s downtown square before it moved to the corner of Green and Washington, then across the street to a larger building. It proudly advertised in 1913 that it had installed a chiming clock outside its building for the enjoyment of its customers and visitors to the square.
The clock produced a different-sounding chime on the quarter hour. At the time, the bank boasted, the only other such clocks in Georgia were in Savannah and Atlanta.
First National wasn’t the only bank in Hall County those days. Ten financial institutions included six in Gainesville, and one each in Lula, Clermont, Flowery Branch and Gillsville. Total capital stock of all those banks was $370,000.
The Gillsville bank failed in 1922 with some of its principals being accused of fraud. State banking officials took over operations, but depositors recovered only a percentage of their accounts.
Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. He can be reached at 2183 Pinetree Circle NE, Gainesville, GA 30501; phone, 770-532-2326. His column appears Sundays and at gainesvilletimes.com/johnny.