Centennial Celebration: History of the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce

Centennial Celebration: History of the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce

Excerpted from Greater Hall Chamber History.

When World War II ended, veterans returning to Hall County were eager to restart their lives, including helping the community grow. Many found opportunities for leadership in the Gainesville Chamber of Commerce.

The year after the war, J.D. Jewell, Inc., that jump-started the poultry industry, introduced frozen chicken, a product that went worldwide and focused even more attention on Hall County as a poultry center.

Feeding off the success of the poultry boom, other types of industries and business helped pump new life into community. They also provided many of the leaders who would guide civic organizations to new heights and invigorate the chamber of commerce.

One of those returning veterans was John W. Jacobs Jr., whose father had led the chamber of commerce in the 1920s. Joe Telford was president in 1947 when he approached Jacobs Jr. about working as executive secretary of the chamber. He accepted at $50 a week. Fifty chamber members at the time were paying $25 dues per year.

While Jacobs Jr. was executive, the chamber produced Hall County’s first Poultry Festival that included an elaborate parade with floats sponsored by poultry businesses and other local concerns. The chamber also was in charge of the “Queen of the Mountains” musical, a massive undertaking that featured local talent portraying bits of the community’s history. Jacobs himself wrote the script along with The Gainesville Times editor Sylvan Meyer and Paul Williams. Riverside Military Academy’s Bill McIlwin wrote the music and directed a 50-voice chorus. Dozens more from the community were involved in the production.

The chamber began to take off during those first few years after the war. It had not been as aggressive previously in adding members, but Jacobs prodded volunteer leaders to recruit more. He remained in the job until 1949 when he left to start WDUN radio.

Another veteran, Ed Jared, became the chamber of commerce’s general manager in October 1949, serving until March 1953 when he was recalled into the U.S. Air Force for two years. He later returned to his chamber position making $50 per week. But in his first board meeting, the chamber didn’t have enough money to pay him. He eventually got paid, as did his secretary, Nell Pittman, who served the chamber for many years.

The chamber offices at the time were at 127 Washington Street across from what was then the Post Office.

During Jared’s tenure, Gainesville was named the Champion Hometown for the state. Jared served as general manager the second time until 1954.

The chamber expressed its philosophy toward attracting new companies in the 1952 city directory: “Reputable manufacturing firms with an eye toward the future are urged to give careful thought to the advantages of Gainesville and Hall County . . . Believing that responsible firms do not want free gifts, but would prefer to become citizens, Gainesville and Hall County offer no special concessions or gratuities to new enterprises beyond complete cooperation and community financing of general industrial buildings for long-term lease with option to buy. Gainesville only encourages firms which are interested in it for what it is, not for what it is able to donate. Other cities can offer more in free gifts. None can offer more of the friendly atmosphere where plants just naturally grow.”

That atmosphere apparently landed such big operations as Brunner Co., which built small engines, TEV, which built lawnmowers, and Warren-Featherbone, baby clothes. Hall County was in competition with Athens for the Brunner plant, but won out.

The chamber in years past had been mainly a vehicle for retailers, Jared said, but the 1950s brought added emphasis on manufacturing jobs.

While local government and the chamber weren’t overly generous with incentives for industry, the Gainesville-Hall County Development Authority did form to provide some tax relief as a response to competing locations.

NOTE: Johnny Vardeman is a former editor of the Times and is currently writing the Chamber history.