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Some rebelled against closets city required
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We take so much for granted, it’s hard to believe how far we’ve come in basic living conditions in less than a century.

For instance, in 1921, Gainesville was in a controversy over what were called “sanitary closets,” apparently a high-faluting name for indoor “privies.” The closets consisted of a wooden box with a tin container under a seat with a hole.

Gainesville’s council had bought 1,100 of them to install in homes that weren’t connected to a sewer system. It charged citizens about $5 for the sanitary closets, including $1.45 for installation, unless homeowners installed them themselves.

The controversy developed when some of the closets overflowed, and the disinfectant used with them produced a foul odor in addition to the normal odor associated with outhouses or privies. Some dissatisfied residents removed them from their premises. The city took offenders to court, some paid fines, but others appealed to higher courts.

Citizens petitioned the city to abolish the sanitary closets, and the council considered retaining them on a voluntary basis. However, in a close vote, the council decided to continue to require them.

Mass meetings were held on the issue, and with the expansion of the sewer system and improved plumbing, eventually the new-fangled sanitary closets went the way of the horse and buggy. However, outhouses still were being used as recently as the 1960s and no doubt a few still might exist in some rural areas.

Gainesville was ahead of the curve as far as electricity was concerned. Because of dams on the Chestatee and Chattahoochee rivers, electric power was available in limited areas at the turn of the 20th century. But it would be the 1920s before it spread to other communities and the late 1930s before the Rural Electrification Administration extended power into rural areas.

Pacolet Manufacturing Co. established what at the time was considered a model mill village at New Holland. But its neat cottages, many of which remain, were without electrical power until 1919.

At that time, Pacolet installed electricity in all the textile workers’ homes, in addition to other buildings in the village. That was part of numerous improvements undertaken by the company, including installing bathrooms inside the homes and repainting all the houses and buildings on the mill property inside and out.

Residents of the mill homes paid the company a nominal monthly charge for electricity.

Remaining company-owned homes long since have been sold to any prospective buyer, as has been the case in most other textile mill villages, including Gainesville Mill and Chicopee.

Jim Burch, 94, who died Nov. 4, was a revered retired member of The Times staff. Jim was an old-school printer, one of the few surviving who had worked in what were called the “hot metal” days. That was when Linotype and other such machines spit out lines of lead type one at a time at a cantankerously slow pace compared to today’s high speed computers that can produce whole pages in minutes.

Jim had oversized thumbs, believed to have been caused by using them to stuff stubborn lines of type into tight-fitting pages. He loved to play tricks on newspaper newbies by coaxing them to look for mythical “type lice” in a page of type he was composing. As the rookies leaned over to get a closer look, he would push the lines of type together to squeeze a piece of water-soaked cotton and squirt them in the eye.

Georgia Press Association inducted Jim into its 50-year Golden Club following his retirement.

He also was widely known as “the honey man,” an expert beekeeper whose knowledge of his avocation was tapped by numerous others in the field from all over the state. When swarms of bees bothered some homeowner or business, Jim usually was the first to be called to capture them.

Friends remembered Jim as good-natured and fun-loving with a big heart. He was a World War II medic who refused the Purple Heart after he was wounded. Instead he asked that it be given to a more seriously injured fellow soldier.

Jim took part in this year’s Memorial Day parade and was honored at his funeral for his military service with a phalanx of American flags and during the procession to the cemetery.

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

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