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Remembering when Clarks Bridge closed for over a year after 1919 flood
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It has been inconvenient the last few days for those who use Clarks Bridge Road in northern Hall County as the new bridge is prepared for traffic shortly.

Not nearly as bad, however, as it was in 1919-22 when the road was without a bridge because of a flood.

Clarks Bridge Road wasn’t even paved in 1919 when heavy rains that December turned the Chattahoochee River into a monster and washed the bridge downstream. That left residents who used the bridge without a crossing of the river in that area.

The flood didn’t exactly destroy Clarks Bridge. Though it washed it 300 yards downstream, the bridge remained intact enough that at first commissioners thought it could be salvaged. A contractor and some prison inmates were supposed to rescue the bridge and put it back in place by the following summer.

That would have been cheaper, county commissioners at the time said, because otherwise they would have to wait a year or more to get steel for a new bridge.

Nevertheless, by spring a Hall County grand jury had concluded hauling the bridge back upstream was too much of a task and recommended Clarks Bridge be rebuilt entirely. Commissioners followed that advice and allocated money to order the steel and put up a new bridge, though it caused inconvenience for travelers in that area for months.

A contract for a new Clarks Bridge wasn’t awarded until the fall of 1921. Austin Brothers Bridge Builders of Atlanta submitted the low bid of $7,950 to complete the job within 100 working days. Work started in November 1921, and the new bridge opened in March the next year.

Luckily, the Gainesville and Northwestern Railway trestle across the Chattahoochee near that same point survived the 1919 flood.

The same flood, however, did cut off traffic to and from Cleveland because the approach to what was known at the time as New Bridge was washed away on what we now know as Cleveland Road. One car was stranded at the bridge approach during the high water.

Thompson Bridge and Browns Bridge weren’t affected by the flood, but water overflowed the power house at Dunlap Dam, which was on the Chattahoochee at the end of what is now Riverside Drive.

The approach to Keiths Bridge also was washed away, and damage to cropland and roads along the Chattahoochee and Chestatee rivers was extensive.

The 2015 version of Clarks Bridge cost $8.7 million to replace the 1958 bridge over Lake Lanier. It is wider and includes an 8-foot bicycle lane and a pedestrian tunnel under the road. The 1922 bridge was a single lane.

• • •

The Tom Bell Militia District formed around Clarks Bridge Road as it wound its way in north Hall County.

Its official existence dates to 1910, its number was 1692, and its name came from the long-serving 9th District Rep. Tom Bell. Perhaps the county named the voting district in his honor because he was at the peak of his popularity. Born in Nacoochee Valley in White County, he moved to Gainesville in 1885 and served as superior court clerk six years until he ran for Congress. Although Bell was engaged in some heated races for his seat, he normally won handily.

In the 1910 election, he carried every county in the 9th District, defeating his opponent, H.H. Perry, by 11,000 votes. Bell served in Congress from 1905 to 1931, some of that time as Democratic Whip. He lost his bid for renomination in the 1930 election.

The militia district or voting precinct that bears his name was formed from merging parts of Whelchel, Polksville and Quillians districts. Voters in Tom Bell precinct for years cast ballots in a tiny nondescript block building on Clarks Bridge Road. Voters in that area now vote at the North Hall Community Center on Nopone Road.

When militia districts were formed during Bell’s day, they had to contain at least 100 males age 21 or older liable for military duty.

• • •

T.W. McDonald was a cotton-pickin’ postal worker. The Oakwood resident in September 1911 set some kind of record by picking 507 pounds of cotton in 10 hours, somehow at the same time making his mail deliveries. A bale of cotton is about 500 pounds.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. He can be reached at 2183 Pinetree Circle NE, Gainesville, GA 30501.