Hall County’s economy has had its ups and downs through its history, with disasters striking and industries opening or closing.
Often cited are the tornadoes of 1903 and 1936 that not only killed hundreds but also set the economy back for a time. Then there are those significant announcements about new industries coming, particularly Gainesville and New Holland textile mills and the Chicopee Manufacturing Corp. model village.
Predating those and not as well known was the closing of a large manufacturer of shoes, J.G. Hynds Mfg. Co. It is said to have employed hundreds in a three-story building that covered half a block on what was then West Broad and Maple streets. John A. Smith was called by a local newspaper as the genius behind the enterprise, which also included a tannery, planing mill and retail store.
Unfortunately, the plant closed, leaving hundreds out of work. It was the major employer at the time, and Gainesville felt a slump in the economy for a while afterward. Another shoe factory on South Main Street, Finger and Shelley, took up some slack, but eventually closed, too. H.J. Brandon also had a harness factory in the vicinity.
Dr. J.H. Downey is a well-known name in Hall County history. He came to Gainesville as the doctor for the Pacolet textile mill at New Holland. He started the hospital that bore his name on what was then Sycamore Street, now E.E. Butler Parkway. A street that runs by the present Northeast Georgia Medical Center bears his name, Downey Boulevard.
The hospital he built was considered one of the most modern in the state at the time, and the first of any significance between Atlanta and Greenville, S.C. He also invented a fracture table, which helped patients recover faster and more comfortably from broken lower limbs.
All of that is pretty well known, but lesser known is his romance with his eventual bride, Lillie Farrara. The future Mrs. Downey was a nurse who helped Dr. Downey when he came to the aid of victims in the 1903 tornado that struck Gainesville Mill and the New Holland Mill village.
They began to see each other outside of work and married in Atlanta in November the same year. She became immediately involved in Hall County civic life and is credited with starting a library in the basement of Grace Episcopal Church, and it eventually became Hall County Library.
We have Eastern Standard Time and daylight saving time nowadays. Some remember during World War II Eastern War Time. It lasted till after the war, officially ending in September 1945, when Eastern Standard Time resumed.
Those who lived during that war also might remember Civil Defense drills, blackouts and rationing. Gainesville’s first blackout drill in World War II was in February 1943. Besides all businesses, industries and residences dousing their lights, all vehicle traffic came to a halt, headlights extinguished, of course. H.E. Terrell was Civil Defense director at the time and reported a successful blackout all over the county.
Lights were slow to come on anyway in rural areas because electricity was scarce until about the beginning of the war. It wasn’t until 1939 that the Rural Electrification Administration allowed Jackson Electric Membership Corp. to string 224 miles of lines in the area. JEMC did it with $212,000, dousing kerosene lanterns and wood stoves for thousands in Hall, Gwinnett, Jackson and Lumpkin counties.
Electricity in rural areas came during the Franklin D. Roosevelt presidency, whose New Deal programs helped bring the country out of the Great Depression. Despite being elected to an unprecedented four terms, FDR sometimes is criticized for programs that some say led the country toward its present financial predicament. He is characterized as a big spender, yet for his fourth inaugural, he displayed an economy of words, only 500 in his inauguration speech, but more amazingly used only a 10th of the $25,000 budgeted for the occasion.
We complain about taxes today as sometimes it seems governments at all levels look at ways to slip another one by us. Gainesville enacted a tax for a while in its early days that surely was onerous and discriminatory. It charged a $3 “street tax” for every male ages 16 to 50. Females were graciously excluded.
Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times and can be reached at 2183 Pinetree Circle NE, Gainesville, GA 30501. His column appears Sundays and at gainesvilletimes.com/johnny.