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Centennial party brings big crowd to downtown

DACULA - Residents, former residents and city officials celebrated Dacula's 100th anniversary with a party in the downtown streets Saturday.

Although today is the actual date of Dacula's incorporation into cityhood, planners chose to celebrate on Saturday to avoid competing with and disrupting church services.

A heavy overlay of clouds kept the day as cool as possible for summertime in Georgia, and the streets filled with people for the

10 a.m. parade.

Tommy Irvin, Georgia's agriculture commissioner, served as master of ceremonies. Mules, horses, wagons and dignitaries paraded in a circle from Hebron Baptist Church and back, along with Tom Wages and his hearse, and a tram full of former Dacula mayors, council members and city employees.

Patsy Wells, wife of Councilman Hubert Wells, sewed eight of the 10 historical costumes worn by parade dignitaries, and organized and found sponsors for the pie-tasting contest.

"I worked about six hours a day for three weeks on the costumes," Wells said.

Entertainment began at noon with the Crosswinds Saxophone Quartet playing the national anthem and was scheduled to conclude about 10 p.m. with square dancing in the streets. For 10 hours, festivalgoers enjoyed music by the Dacula Church of God choir, Justin Wilson, bluegrass by Tom Gadston, Barry Bailey, Bluegrass Inc., Joey Watkins, the Skillet Lickers and Silver Stars Square Dance Club.

The pie-tasting contest was the highlight of the afternoon.

Peter Lauderdale won the grand prize, $100, a trophy and a ribbon; and first place in the signature category, $25, a trophy and a ribbon; for his exotic butternut squash cheesecake. Robert Page, who also operates Kookin' Fer You, a concessions booth, won first, second and third place in the fried pies category for his fried apple, peach and sweet potato pies, respectively. The notoriety was good for business. By 3 p.m., Page's booth had sold out of fried pies.

Most of the vendors were happy, too. Karen Vybiral more than broke even selling her patented aluminum hair twists from under an awning. Vybiral invented the colorful twists because regular barrettes slipped from her hair.

"I've done most of my business in the afternoon, after it got hot," Vybiral said. "The product appeals to kids, so it sells well."

When the sun came out and the afternoon heat settled in, Nathaniel Hinton, 8, sat on a bale of hay under a shade tree holding Stinger, his cousin's chestnut horse. Nathaniel's family has lived in the Dacula area since the late 1800s. He accompanied his dad, Sam, who brought a display of the family's antique farm implements that were original to Dacula's cotton history.

Downtown Dacula hadn't seen so much activity in years as people strolled in and out of shops, bargained with weekend vendors and slurped Page's homemade peach ice cream.

"When I was a child, downtown was truly a downtown," said Betty Hale, Planning Commission member and lifelong resident. "You could buy whatever you needed, and we had doctors, a dentist. Refurbishing downtown is a project we should, and will, work on. The old concrete steps leading down the hill are still there, and they need to be brought back and beautified."

Dacula's first residents were Creek and Cherokee Indians. The town first showed up in 1884 named Chincapin Grove after a species of trees found growing in the area.

Railroad tracks were laid in Chincapin Grove in 1891, which still carry trains through downtown.

A year later, the town's name was changed to Hoke, honoring a railroad official. Hoke had the chance to become a town in 1899, but residents voted 18-1 against incorporation. Finally, on Aug. 7, 1905, Dacula became a city.

The name came about when the postmaster took three letters from Decatur and Atlanta, stops along the railroad, and formed the name Dacula.

Three Dacula sites are listed on the National register of Historic Places: Alcovy Grist Mill, Elisha Winn House (Gwinnett County's first courthouse), and the Strickland Archeological complex. Dacula, historically an agricultural town, was raised on the exporting of cotton.

"I can remember bales of cotton lined up all over downtown when I was a child," Hale said. "The population dropped at the end of World War II because people left the farms to go into Atlanta and do other jobs. It barely survived as a town. We are just now beginning to come back to life."