When traveling north on Main Street through Clermont you will encounter one stop sign, and maybe another car or two that will pass you headed south; that’s about as busy as downtown Clermont gets on most days…but it hasn’t always been that way.
According to Mayor James Nix, Clermont was once a beehive of activity.
Nix, born and raised in Clermont and now in this fourth term as mayor, pointed at an old photograph hanging on a wall at the Clermont Dip Library and Community Center. The black and white image showed crowds of people filling the street as bumper-to-bumper traffic passed through the very intersection where the stop sign mentioned above now sits.
The year the photograph was taken: 1925, and it is just one of hundreds, maybe thousands, of images and artifacts available for public viewing. They fill the library and the community center because preserving the history of the north Hall County community is a matter of civic pride according to Clermont Historical Society President Sandra Cantrell.
THE OLD SCHOOL
Cantrell says preserving the past is an integral component to educating the next generation. She adds that Clermont has a long history of strong educational emphasis of which to be proud.
Starting in the 1880’s when the community was known as Dip (the name was changed to Clermont in 1905) until Clermont Elementary School closed its doors in 1977, high value has been placed on providing a quality education.
“Clermont was a Mecca for education at one time,” Cantrell said. “People wanted their children here; they wanted their students to study here.”
The first school established in the town was Chattahoochee School, started in 1901. According to Cantrell, “A lot of families wanted their children to attend here because upon graduating they were able to leave and go straight into Mercer University because they had such a rigid and rigorous curriculum for their students.”
“The interesting thing I find is that this was a private school…started during a time when people just didn’t have the money. There were students that boarded here; it had a dormitory,” Cantrell added.
Mayor Nix said an historic part of the last school house to operate in Clermont had been saved: the cast iron school bell. Nix said he remembers it well. He said it now serves as a reminder to the next generation of the proud history education has in Clermont.
“Back when I went to grammar school there was a big old bell that sat out by it,” Nix said. Nix said it rang loudly and summonded students to class every morning during the school year. “The Historical Society built this bell tower out here to house that.”
“When they tore the school down the bell was headed for the junkyard as part of the scrap metal,” Nix said. “Some guys ‘rescued’ it and brought it back over to the church where it stayed for years.”
Nix said money was raised and the iconic clarion was reconditioned, then prominently hung in the monument outside the library in October of 2017.
According to information available at the Clermont Dip Library enterprising investors saw growing commercial activity in the area and decided to purchase property and lay a railroad track between Gainesville and Helen. Governmental approval was secured and the Gainesville & Northwestern Rail Road was chartered in 1912.
The railroad was initially 35-miles long connecting Gainesville and Helen. A year later it was lengthened two miles and reached Robertstown. Additionally, a spur route was added that went to the copper and pyrite mine operation south of Dahlonega along the Chestatee River.
The trains also carried timber from the plentiful logging operations into Gainesville, raw and ginned cotton was taken to the mills in Gainesville, and passengers were always welcomed on the route with two round-trips each day.
The train stopped in Clermont, which, combined with the influence of the Chattahoochee School, gave rise to the need for a hotel for visitors. The two-story lodge was constructed and still stands today at the corner of Main and Dean Streets.
Over the ensuing years as roads were constructed and trucking became available the need for the services offered by G&NRR declined. Eventually the line was abandoned and dismantled in 1934.
WHAT'S IN A NAME
As the local history maven Cantrell says she is often asked how the names of Dip and Clermont came into being.
She said the most common reason given for the town being referred to as Dip has to do with the local topography. Surrounded by high places such as Wauka, Piney, Skitt, Rib and Yonah Mountains, among others, Cantrell said the water table beneath Clermont was relatively close to the surface so early settlers of the area referred to it as the place that dipped.
Cantrell said another explanation could be that the first postmaster (circa 1892) at the local post office cancelled postage by writing 'dip' across the envelopes.
Regarding the origin of the name Clermont, Cantrell says the most widely held understanding is that one of the first teachers at Chattahoochee School taught her students it was a combination of the words “clear” and “mountain”.
“That’s what Clara Head taught students for years and years,” Cantrell said. “I never met Clara Head but she...was also the historian at Concord Baptist for years.”
When asked what he felt made Clermont unique, Nix said, “From my viewpoint, it (Clermont) has stuck to a lot of its old ways. The town was a farming community, rural, and for the most part over the years it has stayed that way.”
Nix said once timber and cotton dominated the agricultural enterprises around Clermont, now poultry and cattle have supplanted them. Even the newer business ventures, Nix said, such as Glo-Crest Dairy and its retail outlet, Mountain Fresh Creamery, are agricultural producers.
THE FUTURE OF CLERMONT
"I'd like to see them continue, to not turn it into a big city thing," Nix says when asked about where he hopes the next generation of city leaders take Clermont.
He pointed out that remembering and honoring the past isn’t limited to events a century ago, that history is being written every day.
Evidence of that is on display in the north Georgia community. In March, 1998, a tornado tore through northern Hall County leaving death and destruction in its wake. Thirteen people lost their lives that morning; a memorial in the city’s downtown park honors those who died. More recently, about one year ago, following an act of the U.S. Congress, the city’s post office was named in honor of a Clermont man who lost his life fighting in Viet Nam as the Lance Corporal Zack T. Addington Postal Facility.
Remembering the past, honoring tradition and pursuing knowledge all serve to make the Town of Clermont a crossroads community northeast Georgia can be proud to call its own.
FAST FACTS ABOUT CLERMONT
Chartered by Georgia General Assembly as the Town of Clermont in 1913
Formerly know as: Dip (named changed in 1905)
Residents: 875 in the 2010 Census (estimated at nearly 1100 today)
Zip Code: 30527
Size: 2.98 square miles
Government: Elected Mayor and Town Council
Estimated median household income in 2016: $59,518 (statewide average $53,559)