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Johnny Vardeman: Old fire maps provide peek into citys past
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David A. Sanborn, a civil engineer and surveyor, began mapping urban areas as early as 1866 for fire insurance purposes.

Insurance companies used the maps to evaluate risks on various properties. The company he formed remains in existence in some form, but the large paper maps are outdated by more sophisticated techniques. Still, the old maps are used by historical researchers and are a valuable tool in seeing what cities looked like as far back as a century and a half ago.

The Sanborn maps of Gainesville in 1886, for instance, showed the principal business district around what was called the public square. The square itself was a little park in the middle of town with no Confederate monument yet erected. Some business lots were vacant.

The two main hotels were the Hudson House at the corner of Washington and Main, predecessor of the Princeton, now the site of Dress Up!, and the Arlington at the corner of Main and Spring, predecessor of the Dixie-Hunt, now the home of Hunt Towers.

The primary streets in Gainesville at the time were for the most part the same in the middle of town today: Green, Bradford, Main, Maple, Washington and Spring. A major difference is in 1886 Lawrenceville Street was the thoroughfare that led west toward Gwinnett County and Atlanta. That street later became Broad Street, parts of which remain today, but was replaced in large part by Jesse Jewell Parkway. The street that led toward Athens, of course, was Athens Street, much of which today is E.E. Butler Parkway.

The Piedmont Hotel, once owned by Confederate Gen. James Longstreet, was at Maple and Myrtle streets with access from Main. A portion of the restored hotel by the Longstreet Society remains in that location today. The Richmond Hotel was nearby on Main Street.

Church Street naturally got its name from the major churches in that area: the Methodists between Green and Bradford and the Baptists in the same area. The Methodist College was nearby, and by 1903 that site was designated as the Gainesville Public Schools, which became Main Street School before the building was torn down to make way for the Hall County jail and sheriff’s office.

Old maps, too, show the makeup of a town in those days. In more modern times, people used to say there was a “filling station on every corner.” Now it’s a convenience store on every corner, it seems. Back before automobiles, there was a livery stable every block or so.

In addition, buggy and wagon manufacturing was a major industry. The Bagwell and Gower Co., known for its products far and wide, was located between Main and Bradford streets. G.W. Walker’s carriage company was nearby.

The 1893 Sanborn maps show Hynds Shoe Manufacturing Co., possibly the largest employer at the time, on the corner of Lawrenceville and Maple streets. J.M. Cox had a grist mill just off the square at Bradford and Church streets.

Mealor and Co., Founders and Machinists, was on Maple and Main streets, the predecessor of Gainesville Iron Works, founded by R.I. Mealor in 1899.

Georgia Manufacturing had a cotton mill at the end of Mill Street, which paralleled Pine and Maple streets. Today’s Mill Street parallels Martin Luther King Boulevard off E.E. Butler Parkway. The Georgia Match Factory was at Athens and Myrtle.

The courthouse was between Spring and Lawrenceville streets in a block also bounded by Green and Bradford.

The fire maps showed locations of wells and cisterns for firefighters to get water in fighting fires. They also located a fire engine company at Bradford and Lawrenceville streets in addition to a “hook and ladder” location nearby.

Gainesville Jefferson and Southern’s railroad depot was on Grove Street along with a turntable to turn trains around at the end of the line.

Many residences at that time were just off the square, but numerous dwellings also were on the southside.

Gainesville Sanborn maps of 1903 are especially important because they were made six months before a tornado struck on the southside of town in June that year. The storm hit both Gainesville Mill and New Holland, destroyed numerous residences, churches and businesses in addition to killing more than 100.

That map shows the Episcopal Church at College Avenue and Bradford, the Presbyterian Church at the end of Spring Street on what was then Grove Street, now West Academy. Chestnut Street Baptist Church at the corner of High Street would be destroyed in the 1903 tornado and later would become today’s Central Baptist Church.

Sycamore Street ran from what was then Broad to Green, and Seminary Avenue led to the Baptist Seminary, now Brenau University. Seminary Avenue now is Brenau Avenue.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times.

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