People visiting downtown Dawsonville for next weekend's Moonshine Festival might think they're stepping back into a time machine.
Old buildings in and near the square have been restored to stir memories of an era when the town and county were cozy little places insulated from the Atlanta sprawl that has inched their way in recent years.
They include the old Gulf station operated for 40 years by Gene Gilleland, 82, who opened it in 1952. Open from 7 in the morning 'til 11 at night, the station was a hangout for locals wanting to talk cars, politics or other hot topics of the day, Gilleland said.
"We would sit there all day and maybe 25 or 30 cars would pass by," he said. Today that many might go through the square within a few minutes.
Harold Reece worked for Gilleland for 30 years, and today's mayor and former county commissioner, Joe Lane Cox, helped Gilleland inspect cars for about 15 years.
Some of Gilleland's best customers were drivers hauling moonshine whisky to Atlanta, he said.
Ironically, the restored station will become Dawsonville's first legal retail liquor store operated by Russ Marcot.
Gilleland's competition was Harben Brothers station across the square. Pete, Sherman and John Silvey Harben Sr. ran the WocoPep and Pure Oil station, which had been built by Ida Fouts in 1932. Until the Harbens bought the building, she rented it for a penny for every gallon of gas the station sold when gas was 14 cents a gallon.
Ida Fouts' son, Taft, worked for the Harbens in his youth and bought the station when he returned from World War II in 1945. It continued to operate as a gas station or automotive-related business until last year.
Taft Fouts, who died in 2003, told family members about moonshine "trippers" stopping by the 24-hour station to fuel up with high-test gas to give their cars an edge on their runs to Atlanta. He remembered one runner who filled his car three times the same night.
The station, believed to be among the nation's first all-night operations, also housed Dawson County's first pay phone and a deli.
It was known as "Rooster's" when Clinton "Rooster" Ingram ran it for several years.
North Georgia Real Estate Academy now occupies the restored station.
Ida Fouts had moved to the Emma community in Dawson County in the 1920s before opening a hotel on the Dawsonville square next door to the station. Her great-granddaughter, Angie Hammond Smith, said Mrs. Fouts would rent rooms to moonshine runners downstairs and revenue agents upstairs. Travelers would faithfully leave their quarter-a-night payments for the rooms on their dressers when they left the next morning.
Also on the square is Bella's Corner Bistro in the former Taft Fouts' hardware and general merchandise building, where the hotel stood before it burned.
The old jail built in 1881 across from the historic courthouse is home to Dawson County's Chamber of Commerce.
McClure's Store, now the Paper Moon antiques, was built in 1874 and 1883. An Oddfellows lodge once occupied the second floor.
Angie Smith's family restored the home where Maude Howard, longtime editor of the Dawson County Advertiser, lived on Ga. 9 just off the square. And the family is involved in other Fouts properties that are being renovated.
Gilleland's family homeplace, also on Ga. 9, is being brought back to life by Peach Brandy Cottage, a special events business that specializes in weddings and receptions. A large barn on the property has been renovated for large gatherings.
An architect's office uses the restored Taylor family home.
Standing watch over it all in the middle of town since the 1850s is the revered old Dawson County Courthouse. It began as a log structure before the red brick building rose. It was restored in the late 1970s and continues to be used as the county registrars' office and some court functions.
Georgia Mountains Regional Development Center has helped Dawsonville's Mayor and City Council and property owners with the historic restoration projects.
They'll all be on display 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday and next Sunday during the 40th annual Moonshine Festival.
Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times.