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The top local stories of 50 years ago
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There was no shortage of nominees for the Top 10 stories of 2008: a watershed election year, drought, wars and the usual controversies, state, local and national.

But how about 50 years ago? What were the top local news stories of that year, 1958?

A real newsy year for sure. The Times led off with a confession in a sensational murder case in Jackson County. James Foster had been wrongly convicted of murdering merchant Charles Drake, but Rocky Rothschild confessed to the killing, and he and A.D. Allen eventually were sentenced to prison for life for the crime. Foster went free.

\The No. 2 story was the city of Gainesville's financial crisis. It barely made the December payroll that year. That was the last year of the three-person city commission. New commissioners Pete Tankersley, Milton Hardy, Perry Chapman and Cliff Martin took office the next year, and with the help of new City Attorney Bill Gunter turned things around. That also was the year the well-respected and frugal Pete Whiten became city manager.

The No. 3 story was a traffic accident that killed four people. A Black and White taxi cab from Gainesville ran into Lake Lanier near Bolding Bridge on the Dawsonville Highway, killing its occupants.
No. 4 was a controversy over beer sales in the city. The city commission approved beer and wine sales in the city in July, but the ministerial association rallied voters to overturn the decision in November.

Seems like voters were constantly going to the polls in 1958. They also approved a new gymnasium for Gainesville High School, but rejected county fire protection, a recreation tax and changes in the school board.

Just like today, the state was suffering through a financial crisis.

High on the list of important stories was the first time North Georgians saw Lake Lanier at its full level, which was 1,070 feet above sea level at the time. As a result, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers formally declared the lake open for recreation. Fishers and boaters, however, had been using the lake since Buford Dam gates closed on the Chattahoochee River back in 1956.

Few would have thought at the time they would ever see Lake Lanier's elevation fall into the 1,050s again as it has the past two years.

The lake had covered Gainesville's old municipal golf course at the end of Woodsmill Road, and a new one, Chattahoochee Golf Course, was being built off Thompson Bridge Road. Controversy haunted its construction and management, aggravated by the city's financial problems in 1958.

This was the year, too, that Ernest Vandiver, elected governor from Lavonia, vowed to revisit the route of Interstate 85, moving it closer to his hometown and farther from Gainesville, Cornelia and Toccoa. The original route had it eight miles from Gainesville and brushing by the other towns along the former two-lane U.S. 23 highway. The route change happened, but later years saw the development of I-985 and Ga. 365 to bring multilane highways right by those population centers.

Mountain poet Byron Herbert Reece, who had become nationally known, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in Young Harris that year. That also was the year that Lumpkin Countians hauled some of its gold in a wagon to Atlanta to apply to the State Capitol's dome.

In sports in 1958, Gainesville golfer Tommy Aaron began to gain national fame by finishing second in the National Amateur after making his name in college and other tournaments. South Hall High School fielded its first football team, going 5-2-1, and East Hall did the same with a 3-5 record. Fair Street High School's Tigers had their first loss in 25 games.

Names in the news that year included James Mathis, winner of Boy Scouting's Silver Beaver Award; Mrs. Earle Vance and Joe Telford, Rotary's Woman and Man of the Year; Ray Haynes, Hall County's Farmer of the Year; Linda Helton crowned Miss Lake Lanier; Claude Williams Jr., Young Man of the Year; Joe T. Wood, president of the Georgia Hatchery Association; Ed Jared, president of Gainesville-Hall County Chamber of Commerce; John Jacobs Jr., governor of Georgia Kiwanis; Ray West, Mr. Hall County; Margaret Cromartie, Belle of the Ball; Chemell's Hatchery, Chicken of Tomorrow contest winner; and Jack Bell and Doug Wilson, winners of Elks Leadership Awards.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. His column appears Sundays and on