The purpose of this article is threefold. First, I want to highlight the local businesses of our past to illustrate how buying locally helped the Buford economy both then and now. Second, I want to reiterate how much I personally appreciate how much Handsel Morgan has done for the City of Buford and preserving our history. The third thing I want everyone to take from this article is the importance of sharing “Historic Buford” with the next generation. We need to instill a sense of connectivity between our children and the greater collective past.
One brief excerpt from the “Preface of Historic Buford” addresses the first two purposes and makes it easy to understood why Morgan’s extremely informative yet easy-to-read writing style is worthy to share.
“On the time line of history, Buford is a newcomer. Although brief, Buford’s history has been rather impressive.
Buford never had the ‘sleepy little village’ aura which characterized most small towns of the 19th century and early 20th century. The town was early blessed with able, far-sighted citizens, interested in business and education as was evidenced by its rapid growth and early attention to schools. Buford was early called the “city of many factories.” A news article in the News-Herald of December 18, 1902 referred to Buford as the “New York of Gwinnett” in paying tribute to its industry and activity.
For more than 60 years Buford was the largest city in Gwinnett County and during most of that time it had the only significant industrial development in the county. During this period it exerted a powerful, many times dominant influence upon county politics. As early as 1900 Buford was the largest city in the county, and Sugar Hill Militia District listed more ad valorem taxpayers than any other district in the county.
Buford had the first bank in the county. In fact, Buford had two flourishing banks before any other permanent banking facilities were established in the county.”
It wasn’t just the large industries here in Buford that made Railroad Avenue (later renamed Main Street) the center for commerce for much of the surrounding area; it was all the local small businesses that provided both services and goods to the growing community. The earliest businesses that we know about (prior to 1880) include the Garner Hotel, Thompson Mills, a meat market, two millinery shops, a sawmill, a telegraph office, several dry goods stores, a wagon manufacturer, fertilizer dealers, a manufacturer of tin and sheet-iron, a blacksmith, a guano warehouse, a cotton warehouse, and several general merchants.
“By 1880 the young town had shown a surge of energy. The decennial census of that year showed Buford with a population of 400, 53 whom were Negro. There were 14 merchants listed, (in addition to) two teachers, three blacksmiths, two wagon makers, a boot and shoe maker, three carpenters, two photographers, and three physicians.” (Historic Buford) Other notable, and maybe more interesting occupations mentioned were one lawyer, two ministers, a railroad agent, two hotel keepers, two washerwomen, two laundresses, a pharmacist, a manufacturer of saddle trees, a tanner (Bonaparte Allen) and a manufacturer of saddles (R.H. Allen).
Our immediate economy flourished because the residents purchased locally. Now granted, they didn’t have the vast choices we do today with online goods and services and whopping malls*, nor did they have the “big box” retailers where most of the profits go to shareholders and others outside our bubble. And, yes, I do understand the economics of those big box stores creating local jobs and all, but think if the profit were re-invested locally how much larger our community bubble would grow.
Okay, so that is enough preaching on the “buy local” topic; now how about a short sermon on Spreading History to Our Next Generation? Just kidding, but you get the point. The recently reprinted “Historic Buford” is available at City Hall for $35, and a limited quantity of signed copies is available at the Museum. And no, none of the proceeds go to the Museum, even though I sound like a broken record or a walking advertisement. It is just important that we spark interest in our youth to love our history and to perpetuate it through the successive generations.
*Whopping malls: Three times I tried typing “shopping” malls, and each time my fingers typed “whopping.” I guess it is something in my subconscious coming out or some type of Freudian slip as to my general distain for large mega-malls with the throngs of people and the atherosclerotic traffic leading to and fro. Any idea where I prefer shopping? Buy local, support your small stores in your hometown. Oh, and I think I just coined a new phrase: Whopping Malls. I just wanted to type it again; but if it goes viral, you heard it here first.