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Looking back… 1930’s Snellville

I have been excited and nervous about this month’s article. Excited: because I was/am very anxious to learn more about ‘Our Town’, Snellville. Nervous: because I don’t want (or didn’t want) to get the dates wrong! I could only imagine the phone calls or FB messages I would get, correcting me. LOL So I decided I would get the decade(s) right and maybe even a year or two.

Mandy Snell

As the story goes two friends from England, Thomas Snell and James Sawyer made the voyage over to the United States in March 1874, landing in New York. They then made their way down into Georgia a few months later! 

They settled here in Snellville, which was mostly forest filled with hardwoods and previously occupied by the Cherokee Indians. Snell and Sawyer started a business together, they built a wood frame building (the Tire Depot occupies that spot now), and traded things that local farmers could not make, grow or borrow. 

Most of their ‘customers’ came from Lawrenceville or Loganville. It was a long trip for them in a horse and buggy, so they would stay overnight in “The Grove.” That was the area that Snellville Plaza is today. 

After some years, the two separated and Snell started his own business. Sawyer stayed in the original building, however they both advertised their location as Snellville! Snell died in 1896 and was buried on Brownlee Mountain, what we know today as Nob Hill, his grave later moved to another location. 

Sawyer continued with his store until the 1940’s, he is buried in the Snellville Historic Cemetery in a tomb he built himself. 

The land began to be cleared of the trees in the early 1900’s and farmers began to plant crops. The main crop was cotton, as it was for the whole state of Georgia. 

Granite was a very prominent building essential here. You can still see it in a few places. Snellville Methodist Church, the house catty-corner to SUMC (which was the home of Tom and Grace Snell). Also, a couple of granite houses directly across from Snellville Plaza are granite. Sawyer actually covered the wood building in granite and then knocked the wood walls out from the inside. Probably the most popular granite structure was the old Snellville School that was finished being built in 1922. 

On August 20, 1923, Snellville received its charter and the city limits were enlarged to a 1 mile radius (from the intersection of 124 & 78). Gladstone Snell was the first mayor. (My granddaddy!) ‘One’ of my favorite stories passed on to me from John Hancock (1968 graduate of South Gwinnett) and through Gwinnett Journal is this one: April 14, 1931– and I quote, “ In 1931 Snellville and surrounding areas suffered a severe hailstorm. The money crop cotton was leveled and other crops were ruined. With hopes of a prosperous harvest shattered, the people were faced with the harsh reality of surviving winter months. Under the leadership of W.C. Britt (John Hancock’s grandfather), they planted fall vegetables, more than they could possibly eat. Then, to take care of the surplus and provide sustenance for the coming winter, Mr. Britt was instrumental in starting a canning plant in the basement of the schoolhouse. Sears, Roebuck & Company furnished cans because people could not pay for them and the Red Cross sent enough money to cover the cost of approximately 3 to 4 thousand more cans. The citizens of the community used these to preserve their late and surplus crops. A few years later, in 1936, a granite canning plant was constructed on the school property. Designed to meet all the canning needs of each family in the community. In 1936, another article from the Gwinnett Journal stated that the Snellville community had accomplished more through the cooperative efforts of the people in the area. Additions were made to the school under President Roosevelt’s WPA program (Works Progress Administration). It was noted a great deal of labor and materials had been donated by the people of the community.” 

I think the warmth and concern that W.C. Britt had in the 1930’s, has spilled over into the present day here in Snellville. I’m pretty sure it will stay that way. I leave you with a poem my granddaddy wrote in 1930: 

“We welcome you to Snellville, with her great oaks and pines and think a greater country town, would be mighty hard to find. We’re not rich and mighty, but we try to do the will of God, And live it everyday.” 

  ~  Gladstone F. Snell

Mandy Snell is a freelance writer who enjoys writing about life in Snellville and its history. We welcome you to add your history by commenting below.