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Happy 200th birthday, Hall County
Namesake of signer of Declaration of Independence marks bicentennial today
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The Hall County seal marks the year of the county's creation 200 years ago. The county was formed on Dec. 15, 1818. - photo by Nick Bowman

Saturday marks the 200-year anniversary of the establishment of Hall County.

Created on Dec. 15, 1818. in a land lottery act, the county’s boundaries were described originally as the area lying southwest of “a line to begin at a place where Capt. John Miller now lives on the Franklin County line, running north 30 degrees west of the Chattahoochee River, down the same to the Gwinnett County line.”

The county received its name from Dr. Lyman Hall, who was a governor, minister, physician and signer of the Declaration of Independence.

Officials celebrated the bicentennial all year, installing sculptures and other exhibits at the government center at 2875 Browns Bridge Road, and hosting a free concert at Mule Camp Market.

From the founding of Brenau University as Georgia Baptist Female Seminary in 1878, to the filling of Lake Lanier in 1959, Hall County has taken quite the journey over the past two centuries.

Gainesville Midland No. 209 in operation sometime between 1933 and 1939, according to the Northeast Georgia History Center, which provided this photo to The Times.

Working on the railroad 

Hall County jumped from a population of around 8,245 in the 1820s to 9,607 after Gainesville became the terminus for the railroad line in 1871.

The train mostly transported products south, but the northbound train to Gainesville was bringing manufactured goods, labor and money into the local economy.  

Brenau University soon opened years later in 1878, which added to the beginnings of growth in the area. 

“From the booming of the railroad is when Gainesville elected its first police chief,” said retired Gainesville Police Capt. Chad White of Thomas Haney. 

Lake Lanier

Lake Lanier becomes tourist hub

Fore more than 50 years Lake Lanier has provided its visitors with blue waters and endless leisure possibilities.  

Over its lifetime the lake has served people as a drinking water source, tourist hotspot and a sporting venue for the 1996 Olympics. 

Lake Lanier opened for business in 1957, welcoming more than 250,000 people. The lake was officially filled in 1959, reaching 1,070 feet above sea level. 

Lake Lanier Islands Development Authority was created as a state agency to “plan, develop and operate four islands in the southern portion of Lake Sidney Lanier for resort and recreation purposes and to enhance the tourism potential of North Georgia.”

In 1974, PineIsle Resort opened and would go on to host a number of major events, including a stop on the Ladies Professional Golf Association tour. 

In the mid-1990s the authority signed an agreement with the private company, KSL Lake Lanier, Inc., to operate the islands. 

Over a decade later, the family of Gwinnett County businessman, Virgil Williams, took over as the new management.

In January 2018, the family announced it would keep the primary lease on the resort, handling the hospitality side, while subleasing to Safe Harbor Development and Margaritaville Holdings.

Poultry monument
A chicken statue rises from Poultry Park in Gainesville.

Poultry capital of the world

Gainesville didn’t receive the title of “Poultry Capital of the World” just from raising broiler chickens. It’s the epicenter of many varied segments of the poultry industry, both state and nationwide. 

“The poultry industry is the heart and backbone of the economy in Gainesville and Hall County,” said Abit Massey, president emeritus of the Georgia Poultry Federation. “The commercial industry began at the time of World War II and has continued to grow and to make and keep this area as the ‘Poultry Capital of the World.’”

One of the main individuals responsible for catalyzing the poultry industry is Jesse D. Jewell. 

He opened his first hatchery in 1940, and soon afterward progressed into creating the vertical integration model that revolutionized the poultry industry. 

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A Statue of General James Longstreet is located at the site of his home 992 Longstreet Circle in Gainesville. - photo by Scott Rogers

Famous figures

Since Hall signed the Declaration of Independence and became the state’s first governor, the county has produced more political leaders on the local, state and national level. 

Two of these notable names include Allen Daniel Candler, Georgia’s 54th governor, and Gov. Nathan Deal.

Making history as one of the only doctors who served the area’s African-American community during the days of segregation, E.E. Butler arrived in Gainesville in 1936.

“At the time, he was the only black physician in Gainesville,” said James Brooks, member of the Gainesville-Hall County Black History Society and the Men’s Progressive Club. “He really cared about the black community.”

Known for his time as president of Brenau University from 1985 to 2005, John S. “Jack” Burd contributed advancements in the university’s arts and music. Brenau’s performing arts center is named after him. 

Emily Dunlap “Sissy” Lawson became Gainesville’s first female mayor in 1992. Lawson won the Rotary Club of Gainesville’s Woman of the Year Award in 2017 and received the Girl Scouts of Northeast Georgia’s Gainesville Woman of Distinction. During the late 1800s, Gainesville was the home of former Confederate Gen. James Longstreet, who was second in command to Gen. Robert E. Lee. He served as the city’s postmaster, opened the Piedmont Hotel and started the area’s first Catholic congregation, now St. Michael Catholic Church. 

He additionally joined the Republican Party and fought for the civil rights of former slaves.

Longstreet apologized, “in effect, for what the Confederacy stood for and what it fought for,” said Glen Kyle, Northeast Georgia History Center executive director. 


History of health care

Hall County’s first access to a hospital was from the home of Dr. James Downey in 1908. Downey Hospital was on South Sycamore Street before moving to today’s location on E.E. Butler Parkway. 

One of Downey’s well-known inventions includes the “fracture table,” which allowed broken limbs to be set at an angle, so people could recover from a wheelchair. Before this tool, pulleys and weights were used to set fractures, which forced patients to lie on their backs while their limbs healed. 

In 1951, the 90-bed Hall County Hospital first opened with 14 physicians and staff. It later became Northeast Georgia Medical Center in 1976. The Northeast Georgia Health System now has hospitals in Gainesville, Braselton and Winder. 

03232018 TORNADO OF 1936
Gainesville's downtown devastation is seen along Main Street after tornadoes struck on the morning of April 6, 1936.

Tornado that killed hundreds

Panic engulfed Gainesville as a tornado tore through town on April 6, 1936. 

When the skies finally cleared, more than 200 people were estimated dead, and more than 1,000 injured. Hundreds of businesses were affected, leading to around $13 million in damages. 

After listening to the story of survivors, Kyle said a certain “spirit of ‘36” prevented a place like Gainesville from crumbling over the tragedy. 

“That would have killed a lot of communities,” he said. “That would have been it, but it didn’t because everyone came together.”

Within the next 36 hours the citizens cleared the streets.

Because this occurred during President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, the city received federal funds to rebuild new housing and infrastructure. 

Three days after the tornado, Roosevelt stopped at the train station, promising to help revitalize Gainesville. He returned on March 23, 1938.

“I urge you to work for the good of the whole people and the whole nation,” the president said. “We need that spirit in Gainesville today — and throughout the nation.”