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Vintage Gainesville photos stir memories, show changes
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Nothing funner on a rainy day than pulling out family photo albums, reminiscing and laughing over how you, your children, grandchildren and others have changed through the years.

Hall County Library in downtown Gainesville has photo albums of a sort, copies of vintage pictures it has accumulated over the years bound into about three dozen books. Residents have been helping identify the hundreds of photos, which date as far back as the 1940s or earlier.

It is a great exercise, especially for longtime residents, although newcomers to this area might enjoy seeing what the area and its people looked like decades ago.

There’s a story behind each picture, but many go untold because the photos remain unidentified. The books are somewhat of a photographic history of this area, depicting changes in all aspects of life.

For instance, there’s one from the 1960s showing Jack Prince pushing Bob Ham around Gainesville’s square in a wheelbarrow. It shows how the political climate has changed since then. Ham, a Democrat at that time, had bet Prince, a Republican, that the Democrats would continue their dominance in the elections. They did, and Prince had to pay off.

If such a bet were made today in Hall County, Prince would certainly be a winner, although Ham, like so many others, has joined the Republicans.

Other photographs feature politicians and political campaigns. Herman Talmadge, who was Georgia’s Democratic governor and later U.S. senator, is shown, cigar in the side of his mouth, visiting the Ray Haynes farm on Clark’s Bridge Road.

Hall County Sheriff Cal Wilson shows off a confiscated whiskey still, no doubt booty from a deep-woods raid. His daughter, Betty Allen, is pictured attaching a Georgia tag with Hall County’s designated prefix No. 11 onto a car.

Longtime State Court Judge C. Winfred Smith shakes hands with banker Bob Brice, and Smith is seen in other Civitan Club photos. Civic clubs are featured in numerous pictures in the library’s files, various luncheons with familiar faces of those days: Mayor Milton Hardy, city Commissioner Harold DeLong, banker Ray McRae, Conrad Romberg, Ed Dunlap Jr. and Sr., John Jacobs, chamber exec Moffett Kendrick, Avion Restaurant owner Jack McKibbon and numerous others.

While today’s United Way collects millions for numerous agencies, the Community Chest in those days strained to get thousands for a handful of agencies. One of those, the Boys’ Club, is pictured in its original home, a former residence on then-Sycamore Street, now E.E. Butler Parkway.

The original Jot ’em Down Store, a ramshackle building in north Forsyth County, is pictured with a farmer filling his tractor with gasoline.

Old-timers will remember when the lawn of the Civic Building was decorated with plastic reindeer pulling Santa’s sleigh. You might even recognize yourself in some Civic Building square dance pictures.

Pictures of downtown Gainesville stir the most memories: a great night shot of cars circling the square when it was round; Citizens Bank when it was at the corner of Washington and Bradford; Saul’s on the side of the square with Gallant-Belk and Whatley’s Pharmacy. Views of Gallant-Belk also are included, along with the Diana Shop, Debbie Shop and Dixie Drugs, on the lower floor of the Dixie-Hunt Hotel, now Hunt Tower, at the corner of Main and Spring.

First Baptist Church was still at the corner of Washington and Green, later the site of First National and still later Regions Bank. At the time, First National was on the opposite corner where SunTrust is today.

Numerous parade shots give a glimpse of what downtown used to be. Aerial pictures of Gainesville in 1957 show the old City Hall and courthouse built after the 1936 tornado surrounded by ample green space plus parking, quite a contrast to today’s jumble of buildings in the government complex.

Among numerous accidents is one showing a car in the side of J.M. Chambers Grocery at the corner of Wall and Spring streets. Other photos include Lake Lanier just beginning to fill; ballgames at City Park; cheerleaders who probably are grandmothers today; Winn-Dixie, where Memorial Park Funeral Home North is today; George Forrester’s Sinclair Service Station, and behind it, the Dairy Queen; and a Texaco station across the street selling gas for 29 cents a gallon.

You can help identify the pictures at the library 9 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Dec. 13.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times.