A new street sign went up in Gainesville the other day — Sweet Bay Drive, the entrance to Atlanta Botanical Gardens’ Smithgall Woodland Gardens off Cleveland Road.
The name honors the memory of Lessie and Charles Smithgall’s late daughter Bay, but it also refers to the Sweet Bay trees that are plentiful in the gardens. The Smithgalls donated the property for the gardens.
The Botanical Gardens have spent months spiffying up the entrance to the Smithgall Woodland Gardens in anticipation of the official opening this spring.
Years later, people probably will wonder the origin of the Sweet Bay name, just as today people are continuously curious about names of places, streets and streams. Newcomers, particularly, wonder about the origin of those names, but even long-time residents of the area forget or never knew in the first place.
So here’s a review of some of them. The list could go forever.
• Screamer Mountain in Rabun County: Some say an Indian woman screamed from the top of the mountain all night long. Another legend is a Cherokee woman jumped off the mountain rather than being removed from the state on the Trail of Tears.
• Clarkesville: From Gov. John C. Clark, who served from 1819 to 1823. Note he spelled his name without the “e,” but the town adds it. The town’s name often is mistakenly spelled without the “e.”
• Yonah Mountain: Supposedly Indians named it because it’s shaped like a sleeping bear. But it also could be for Gadalulu, an Indian chief noted for killing bears. Whites knew him as Yanu, an Indian word meaning bear.
• Soque River: The only river in Georgia that begins and ends in the same county, Habersham. Sometimes spelled with two “E’s.” It comes from an Indian word, Sakwi yi, which isn’t defined. Old maps actually showed the Soque running into Hall County, but the river in Hall County is the Chattahoochee.
• Hunter Street in Gainesville: Named for the Rev. Green Hunter, for whom Green Hunter Homes also is named. He pastored and birthed numerous churches in the area.
• Prior Street in Gainesville: G.H. Prior, Gainesville mayor in 1881, also active with city schools, Brenau and First Baptist Church,
• Green Street in Gainesville: Dr. Robert Green, who operated a street car from the city along Green Street and Riverside Drive to Chattahoochee Park, now home of American Legion Post 7.
• Roberts Crossroads in South Hall County: Col. James Roberts operated a store and post office there.
• Clark’s Bridge: The bridge and road are named for the Clark family, specifically Elizabeth Clark, who first operated a ferry, then a toll bridge at the site in Hall County.
• Sugar Hill community on U.S. 129 south of Gainesville: Supposedly a wagonload of sugar spilled on the hill.
• Asbestos Road in White County: Scene of extensive asbestos mining in years past.
• Bolding Bridge over Lake Lanier: W.R. Bolding built the first one over the river in the 1800s.
• Light’s Ferry Road, Flowery Branch: Obediah Light operated a ferry across the Chattahoochee.
• Flowery Branch: From the Indian word, “Nattagaska,” interpreted as “blossom creek,” which some people still refer to as Flowery Branch.
• Brown’s Bridge: The road and bridge are named for builder Minor W. Brown, a prominent citizen.
• Helen: The president of the sawmill company that once operated in the town, R.M. McCauley, named the town for his daughter, Helen.
• Bell’s Mill: The mill is no more, but the bridge over the Little River arm of Lake Lanier on U.S. 129 north of Gainesville, gets its name from the Bell family, primarily Tom Bell, longtime 9th District congressman. There once was a Tom Bell voting precinct on Clark’s Bridge Road near Gainesville, and there is a Tom Bell Road in White County.
• Tanner’s Mill: The community and former mill operated by Mose Tanner in south Hall County.
• Lula: For the daughter of railroad man Ferdinand Phinizy, who also once operated White Sulphur Spring resort. The daughter, by the way, spelled her name “Lulah.”
• Mundy Mill Road in Oakwood: For Andrew J. Mundy, who ran a grain mill on Balus Creek, and also served as Hall County sheriff.
• Thompson Bridge: The bridge and road are named for the first builders of a covered bridge over the Chattahoochee River north of Gainesville, Ovid and Guilford Thompson, sons of Andrew Thompson, prominent pioneer Hall Countian.
Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. His column appears Sundays.