About the series
These days, small towns are beginning to look more and more alike, with a fast-food chain on the corner and a big box retailer down the street. But this winter, The Times will take you to the unique communities within Hall County, sharing their history, their characters and their charm. Look for a story each day through the New Year.
Robbie Hulsey walks down the aisles of the Murrayville Hardware and General Store, past door hinges and seed-filled mason jars to help a customer find the tarpaulin he’s looking for.
The men find the plastic sheet and walk back to the front of the store. Hulsey stands behind the register and the two men exchange pleasantries as he deposits the dollar and change into the register.
The store hasn’t changed much over the past 50 years. A large gray stone fireplace still provides heat during the winter months. And Hulsey doesn’t mind bartering a few door hinges for fresh eggs every now and then.
“I have customers that I’ll give them seeds in the spring and then they’ll bring me vegetables in the fall. We do the barter thing,” Hulsey said with a chuckle.
The hardware store is a mainstay in the Murrayville community as it has been for half a century.
Every Friday the store would fill with old men and the occasional youngster to challenge one another to a game of checkers.
But Hulsey said the games stopped after most of the old men who played died.
“I guess it’s just a sign of the times. Everything changes,” Hulsey said, sighing.
He knows his store is part of a dying breed.
But he’s noticed that the young people are starting to fill in where their parents and grandparents have left off.
Young people, he said, are more
interested in gardening these days and he’s happy to share the farming secrets some of his older customers have shared with him.
Farming has been a central player in this small unincorporated town in North Hall County, even though it has seen a lot of changes in its more-than-190-year history.
The town was named for P. John Murray who ran a 15-room hotel in the 1830s, according to Times archives. The hotel likely served as a stopping point for miners and farmers traveling between Gainesville and Dahlonega.
The hotel is long gone but that doesn’t mean the town can’t provide some good old-fashioned hospitality.
A short distance down Thompson Bridge Road from the hardware store, there is a small family-owned restaurant called Reid’s Cafe.
Sherry Rundeles, owner of the cafe, said around 90 percent of her customers are regulars.
The cafe’s busiest meal is breakfast. She said a lot of the town’s “old folks” like to meet at the restaurant for breakfast and talk.
“Everybody knows everybody; it’s just good people,” Rundeles said.
Tony Cook sits sideways in his chair, casually chatting with Corey Black and Brian Klemmetsen while they finish their meal before heading off to their jobs for the day.
Black explains most of the people he knows who live in Murrayville are self-employed, doing “random stuff” like repair work and mobile detailing.
“All three of us own businesses, several of ’em in fact,” Klemmetsen said, laughing.
Cook, who works in tree service, has lived in Murrayville for the past 50 years.
He said a lot has changed since he was a kid.
His looks out of the cafe’s windows and points to places that can’t be seen from where he sits, recalling specific moments from childhood.
He remembers sitting on his aunt’s front porch watching cars drive past as she cut his hair. He remembers his family killing hogs on the farm. He remembers riding around a corn field in the deputy’s tractor.
“That’s a major change, now there’s a Dollar Store where the old field was. At least the hardware is still there. That’s been there my whole life,” Cook said.
A few tables over, Bryan Strickland finishes his biscuit breakfast.
Strickland’s family has been in Hall County for five generations. He recently moved back to Murrayville from Clermont.
“It’s a great place to live. I’ve been to a lot of places to travel but it’s always nice to come home,” Strickland said, wadding up the napkin in his lap and dropping it onto his empty plate.
He said there is just something nice about knowing your neighbors and most of the people in the community. It makes him feel safe.
But he said a lot more than the town’s layout has changed over the years.
As the elder generations die, their children don’t seem as inclined to hold onto their inheritance, often selling or renting out the property.
He said the trend is changing the town’s landscape. Families that once resided along a specific road have scattered, and new, more temporary families have moved in.
“It’s a plus and a minus. It brings people in, which is not bad, but at the same time it kind of breaks the continuity of the community,” Strickland said.
“But it’s like everything else. It’s a part of the times. It’s all changing with the times. Gainesville is the same way. Clermont’s the same. All these little towns in northern Hall County are the same way.”