5.04.07: A Visit to Gainesville, AL

Weather: Humid, rainy, high 80s

Drive to Gainesville, AL

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A number of people told us that we should visit the town of Gainesville because its historic architecture. The trip was further than what we could manage in a day. Since we were fortunate to have the use of a vehicle, we drove to the town (which is about 30 miles north of York). The terrain change dramatically as we traveled north:tree farms gave way to catfish farms.

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We set to meet with the informal town historian, who, with her husband, has renovated many of the town’s antebellum homes.

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We met Margaret early in the morning, and immediately embarked on a three-hour tour. When the town was first platted in 1832, it was, as she stated, a “real city” with a booming economy. It was close to the river and the railroad, which were both useful for shipping cotton. By 1840, the people in Sumter County comprised one third of the state’s total population. According to the 2000 census, there are 220 people now living in Gainesville.

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Gainesville was all but destroyed by a fire in 1855; it was rebuilt and the last remaining wooden store burned some time in the 1960s. The town’s downtown is nearly vacant. Margaret is determined to turn Gainesville into a gateway for the region. She plans to transform the town’s historic bank into a visitor center. This bank, which decades ago had been purchased by a wealthy businessman and relocated to his hometown, Tuscaloosa, was recently returned to Gainesville.

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Margaret told us about an adventure that we would like to take: the underground railroad bike route, a 2,100 mile trip that covers territory from the deep south all the way to Ontario, Canada.

The town has several churches, but because of the area’s slim population, Sunday services rotate among the different denominations. Margaret, weighted with an impressive collection of keys, took us in to a few of the buildings.

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We also visited the town’s two cemeteries, which are well visited by tourists who are researching their family genealogy.

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