Connie Propes and other neighbors where Wal-Mart is building a grocery and installing gas pumps on Thompson Bridge Road in Gainesville are researching the history of the area, in particular Slaughterhouse Creek, which might be affected by rainfall runoff from the development. The creek eventually feeds into Lake Lanier.
Their findings uncover some interesting history of the area, which was pretty much “out in the country” until the 1950s.
Slaughterhouse Creek, which runs behind the Wal-Mart development, apparently got its name, naturally, from a meat processing operation owned by Byron Mitchell, who also operated a popular meat market in downtown Gainesville for many years. It was last located on South Main Street, next to the Collegiate Grill and the long-gone Royal Theater, according to Garland Reynolds. His father, Garland Reynolds Sr. bought the Slaughterhouse Creek property from the Mitchell estate in the 1940s.
Garland Sr., “Butch,” as he was known, operated the meat market and abattoir for a few years before developing the property off Thompson Bridge Road with homes and chicken houses. Garland Jr. can remember when Thompson Bridge Road was a two-lane asphalt road, and real old-timers recall when the road was unpaved as it branched off north Green Street.
Vanessa Hyatt Fugate as a youngster remembers exploring the woods behind what will be the Wal-Mart, finding bones that were apparently detritus from the slaughterhouse. Neighborhood children called the area “Bone Valley.” They used old bottles and cans from a city trash dump for rifle practice.
Many years ago, upstream was Gower Springs, one of many health resorts operating in North Georgia in the 1800s and early 1900s. It was situated near the north end of what is now Green Street Circle off Thompson Bridge Road. An 1888 brochure on Gainesville listed P.B. Holtzendorf as proprietor and praises the springs for helping guests with kidney troubles, indigestion and hemorrhoids, among other ailments. The resort included a dance hall, skating rink and bowling alley.
Mining also occurred along the creek and much of the area west of Thompson Bridge Road. Prospectors at first searched for gold, but numerous shafts also were sunk for mica. Abandoned shafts can still be found at the end of such streets as Dixon Circle north to Mountain View Road. A mica washing and processing house was near what is now called the Gainesville High School “rock” on the West Bypass, according to Steve Wang. He also said a swimming pool in Lakeshore Heights off Dawsonville Highway caved in because of a shaft beneath it.
During World War II, mica, sometimes called isinglass, was used as transparent covers on instrument panels in vehicles or aircraft. In earlier days, isinglass was used for mirrors, vehicle windows, electrical parts, peepholes in carriage curtains and heaters.
The U.S. Geological Survey issued a report on mica mining in Hall County after World War II. It referred to the Merck mine as the old Hope mine at the northwest end of Grape Street, which is now Holly Drive. Grape Street used to start off Green Street in front of the Civic Center and ran through the area where Fire Station No. 2 is today.
That area used to be called Sandy Flats. Ruth Starbuck owned the property, and the mine was last operated 1943-45 by J.A. Rhine of Atlanta. A Mr. Reece had opened the mine in 1890. George M. Hope and E.S. Wessels later owned it, and George Gowder and Sidney Smith Sr. operated the mine in 1938. Wessell Road and Wessell Park in that area probably derive that name from E.S. Wessels.
The report also mentioned deposits along the Gainesville-Dahlonega highway 3.5 miles northwest of Thompson Bridge. The survey reported on other mica mining in several Georgia counties, including Rabun, Lumpkin, Cherokee and Union in North Georgia.
A Gainesville man, who used only his initials “M.H.,” wrote about mica mines in the 1870s. He led a group from Connecticut on a tour of mines in the Holly Drive/Piedmont Road area or Sandy Flats. He said Indians built mounds for burial sites or religion monuments in the same area. Connecticut became a major mica mining area.
Propes and her neighbors hope to discover more history of the area to keep people alert to the potential of pollution that might enter Slaughterhouse Creek and Lake Lanier.
Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. He can be reached at 2183 Pinetree Circle NE, Gainesville, GA. His column appears Sundays and at gainesvilletimes.com/johnny.