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Posted on: February 1, 2021

Gainesville triumphed through tragedy before earning reputation as popular Northeast GA destination

The Gainesville Cotton Mill after the tornado of 1903

Editor’s Note: To celebrate the City of Gainesville turning 200 years old on Nov. 30, 2021, Gainesville Georgia Government is sharing interesting highlights from its centuries-old history. This is the second installment in a series, which will be featured monthly through November 2021 on gainesville.org and social media. For January, we present to you tidbits from the history of challenges Gainesville overcame before growing into the community you know and love today.

GAINESVILLE, Ga. (Jan. 28, 2021) – For many, a new year signals a time of rebirth – an opportunity to reinvent one’s self, take on new challenges or experience new places and things.

The City of Gainesville is no stranger to rebirth. In fact, the community you know and love today has changed drastically in its almost 200 years – including its name.

Humble beginnings as ‘Mule Camp Springs’

The City of Gainesville, county seat of Hall County, is located in Northeast Georgia approximately 50 miles northeast of Atlanta and 100 miles southwest of Greenville, South Carolina. But did you know Gainesville started out with a different name?

The community was originally established as "Mule Camp Springs” and was located near the crossing of two Indian trails followed by settlers in the early 1800s. Less than three years after the creation of Hall County, the village of Mule Camp Springs was chosen to serve as the site of government for the new county, and was officially chartered by the Georgia legislature on Nov. 30, 1821.

At the suggestion of Justice John Vance Cotter, it was given the name "Gainesville" in honor of Gen. Edmund P. Gaines, a hero of the War of 1812, and a noted military surveyor and road-builder.

Gainesville has been a part of the nation's governmental framework longer than 26 of the 50 states. Since its establishment, the City has maintained and built upon its historical legacy as a regional transportation and trade center for almost two centuries.

Rebirth after tragedy, part No. 1 – The fire of 1851

While Gainesville is known today as a thriving and bustling community, the City encountered setbacks early in its history.

Just 30 years after Gainesville’s founding, and on the heels of becoming a resort town in 1849, much of the City was destroyed by fire in December 1851. The blaze consumed buildings in the area of what’s known today as the historic downtown square, including private residences, storefronts and offices, plus the courthouse.

The fire reportedly started on the east side of the square on what is now South Bradford Street and was blown by high winds to adjacent buildings. Though Gainesville would eventually recover, it was a process that took a couple years.

During what was supposed to be a joyful time with the holidays near, many residents were left grappling with substantial loss and relying on aid from nearby communities.

Rebirth after tragedy, part No. 2 – Destruction from the heavens

In June 1903, a cyclone struck Gainesville, leaving more than 100 people dead and 300 more injured. The greatest loss of life was reported in the cotton mill district, where about 80 people were killed. Of the dead, nearly two-thirds were women and children.

Property damage amounted to $750,000 as storefronts and schoolhouses were damaged or completely blown away; roofs were ripped off buildings, including that of the City hotel; and industries like the Gainesville cotton mills and Gainesville Iron Works were destroyed. Reportedly, more than 300 homes were lost – many in the mill district – leaving around 1,000 homeless.

In April 1936, devastation struck again when two F4 tornadoes hit the heart of Gainesville, destroying much of the business district and the Hall County Courthouse. The storm left in its wake more than 200 people dead and 1,600 people injured. Approximately 750 homes were destroyed, leaving around 2,000 people homeless, with total damages estimated at several million dollars. The tornadoes that struck Gainesville-Hall County this day were part of a devastating outbreak of 17 tornadoes across the South, with Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, South Carolina and Tennessee also witnessing death and destruction.

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