The Good People of Gainesville
I remember one of my first meetings in Gainesville was a Rotary Club meeting where I learned that Gainesville had a history with tornadoes. All information below has been taken from sources around the web. I wanted to share this story with you.
On April 6 1936, a F4 tornado came in from the southwest of town while another one came in from the west. They both met in downtown Gainesville, sparing the Catholic Church on Spring Street, but hitting and destroying the square. The storm left more than 200 dead, 1,600 injured, 2,000 homeless and millions of dollars in damage. It ranks as of the deadliest tornadoes in American history.
William M. Brice, a prominent citizen and correspondent for the Atlanta Journal and Associated Press, described Gainesville in his writings as “a city laid waste.”
“We were talking about how dark it had become,” then teenager John “Rudy” Rudolph remembered many years later. “My friends and I stopped in front of a store in downtown when the owner came out and told us to take cover. I really didn’t understand what he meant. It was daytime, but the sky was as dark as night.
“We’d never seen anything like it…just before it struck there was a sound so loud that I felt in my body… When I woke up, I couldn’t move my leg. I waited for what seemed like hours for someone to come and help me…my leg was broken (from falling debris).”
The tornado caused a fire in the collapsed multi-story building that housed the Cooper Pants factory, killing some 70 workers (depending on whose report, this number can be as high as 125). School children who sought shelter in a downtown department store died when the building collapsed. A third storm, which skirted the city a few minutes before the double tornado, headed northeast doing additional destruction around and to the Pacolet Mills building in New Holland. The Gainesville storms, spawned from the same weather system that created the Tupelo tornado, would cause more extensive physical damage ($13 million) but the cost in human lives lost (203) would be below the earlier storm.
Clean-up efforts began immediately. Rangers from the Georgia National Forest (now the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest) brought men to help clean up and two-way radios so residents could communicate with friends and family outside the area. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who was on his way from Washington D. C. to Warm Springs, Georgia, stopped in Gainesville three days after the storm and witnessed the destruction. The devastation was mind-numbing. From his special car President Roosevelt saw buildings torn from the earth, some deposited in a random fashion across the landscape. Others, especially buildings made from wood, ended up in unrecognizable chucks. However, the town began to rebuild immediately. Money from the government was on the way shortly after Roosevelt spoke. Plans were quickly made to build a better downtown. Two years later the President would return to the city to praise these Georgians for their hard work in restoring Gainesville. You can view that speech here.
It was a long speech but a few words stuck out, “Good people of Gainesville.” The square is named after FDR ‘Roosevelt Square.
“On the contrary, you determined in the process of rebuilding to eliminate old conditions of which you were not proud; to rebuild a better city; to replace congested areas with parks; to move human beings from slums to suburbs. For this you, the good people of Gainesville, deserve all possible praise.” ~FDR
Pictures from google images and the AJC.