Education funding and teacher pay aren’t just recent controversies in Georgia’s history.
Back in 1899, the legislature cut schools funding so severely, they had to close by March 1 of the school year. Worse, there wasn’t enough money to pay teachers for their work in January. They had to wait until March to get paid, and even then didn’t get all they were due.
Gainesville’s school budget that year was $2,658, up from $910 in 1888. The number of voters had increased from 470 to 645.
Hall County schools had increased its budget from $6,164 to $17,850. At the time, Hall County’s tax digest over 10 years had grown from $3.2 million to $3.6 million.
As the county approached the end of the 19th century, considerable business activity dominated newspaper headlines.
A new post office was being built inside the Hudson House, a lodging place on the downtown square. Postmaster H.P. Farrow proudly announced there would be separate windows for men and women to receive mail. “No mail will be passed out to a gentleman through the ladies’ window under no circumstances,” he proclaimed. You could rent a post office box for 50 cents for three months.
J.H. Hunt, a prosperous businessman, bought the old Stringer Opera House at the corner of Washington and Bradford, where Christopher’s Bridal and Tuxedo is today. He would turn it into Hunt’s Opera House, where well-known opera singers would perform until it burned in a spectacular fire years later.
Hunt, who would later turn the Arlington Hotel at the corner of Main and Spring downtown into the Dixie-Hunt Hotel, paid $4,240 for the property and moved his bank into the same building.
Here are some examples of property prices in 1899: E.E. Buffington bought a house and lot on Oak Street for $87; J.A. Lyle bought 10 acres next to New Holland Springs for $41; W.R. Brian bought 99 acres in the Gillsville area for $1,300, and 250 acres along the Chattahoochee River sold for $1,411.
Mining was top of mind as a new gold vein had been discovered at Bowdre on the Southern Railroad at White Sulphur. Another active mine was the Currahee, and gold had been mined at Flowery Branch and other places in Hall County. There was enough going on that a miners’ labor union, Southern Gold Miners Association, formed in Gainesville. H.D. Jaquish was its president. Meanwhile, miners, led by state Rep. A.R. Smith of Hall County, were fighting the state’s cutoff of funds for the state Geological Survey.
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The winter of 1899 was fierce with constant sub-freezing temperatures, falling to seven below one day, and snow up to 7 inches, the most since 19 inches had fallen in 1888. The winter and spring were wet, and what they then called a cyclone in March did considerable damage, blowing away barns, damaging businesses and residences and even blowing Brown’s Bridge into the river. Weeks later, a missing man’s body was found in the bridge wreckage downstream.
The bridge had stood for 25 years, and Hall County had bought it in 1888 for $1,500 to convert it from a toll bridge to a free bridge.
Two churches, Oak Street Mission and East Mission, suffered serious damage.
The same storm killed a woman when it struck Toccoa.
Superior Court Judge J.B. Estes wrote Hall County commissioners in the spring of 1899 that the county roads were the worst in the area. He demanded roads be ditched and marked with mileposts and signs. The commissioners promptly responded they would.
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While official government documents today might suffer from technological problems, that wasn’t the issue in those days. A grand jury complained that ink used in some court record books weren’t standing up to time. “Very much faded, too dim to read,” the jury wrote, itself apparently using a better quality ink, and suggested county officials use a more durable ink.
When people are needed in court today, they are called, emailed, texted or sought out by deputies in cars. In the old days, bailiffs would ride on horseback to fetch witnesses, jurors, defendants or lawyers.
They joked when bailiff C.D. Cagle of Lula was on duty, he was so strong of voice, all he had to do was yell out the courthouse window.
Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times.