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Column: Old photo unraveled mystery, provided clue to unknown piece of history
Johnny_Vardeman
Johnny Vardeman

The imposing monument had sat there more than nine decades overlooking Jesse Jewell Parkway and what was formerly East Main Street on a hill in front of the New Holland recreation building.

Most passersby probably thought it had something to do with the Pacolet, now Milliken, textile mill or the recreation/community building that now houses Lanier Therapy in Motion. They might have been puzzled if they read the plaque on the large boulder because it was about the founding of the Southeastern Underwriters Association of Atlanta.

Dana McCartney is a Snellville genealogist who browses through antique stores and yard sales searching for pieces of history. She bought a collection of family photos at Queen of Hearts Antiques in Buford that included a little girl unveiling a monument. Her only clue was writing on the back that mentioned the little girl’s first name, “Constance,” unveiling the monument in Gainesville. Dana was curious to find out who she was and something about the monument. The reading on the plaque in the photo was illegible.    

She later uncovered a May 27, 1927, article in an Atlanta newspaper about a group of insurance agents providing the monument to commemorate the founding of the Underwriters Association at New Holland Springs in August 1882. The Gainesville Eagle and Gainesville News also reported on the event.

The girl doing the unveiling was Constance Knowles, granddaughter of Clarence Knowles of Atlanta, the association’s first president. She was being presented with a bouquet of flowers in a silver cup by Mrs. Joseph Raines, wife of the association secretary.

D.W. Anderson, general manager of Pacolet Manufacturing Co., accepted the monument on behalf of the company.

More than 200 insurance agents from Georgia as well as out-of-state officers attended the ceremony. They were treated to a barbecue afterward at the nearby White Sulphur Springs resort.

The plaque on the boulder listed the names of 45 fire insurance companies that were original members of the Underwriters Association. It also read in part, “In commemoration of the founding and to perpetuate the memory of the founders of the Southeastern Underwriters Association of Atlanta … ”

Most of the insurance people who founded the association in 1882 were from the Atlanta area. So why, 45 years later, dedicate a monument at New Holland?

In 1882, New Holland Springs, a health resort with a hotel, was in its prime. Conventions were attracted to the resort. Many of the founders of the resort also were in the insurance industry. They gathered there to form the association.

Apparently when Jesse Jewell Parkway was widened several years ago, the bronze plaque on the monument went missing. Vic Wilson, retired educator, author and unofficial New Holland historian, tried in vain to find it. Somebody probably took it for its value as a metal.

After the boulder stood there without its plaque for several years, Wilson got permission in June 2016 to move it across the street as a memorial to New Holland servicemen who died in World War I and the Vietnam War. His New Holland boyhood friend Chris Kytle was helping build the Brenau University softball field across the street at the time and helped him move it. There already was a monument nearby to those who died in World War II.

McCartney’s research of the family of little Constance Knowles found she later graduated from North Fulton High School in Atlanta and Emory University. During World War II, she became a codebreaker for the U.S. Navy Waves, advancing to lieutenant before the end of the war.

The Knowles family was prominent in Atlanta business, social and civic circles. Constance died in 2019 and is buried with her husband in the Knowles family plot in Atlanta’s historic Oakland Cemetery.

The discovery of the picture of a little girl unveiling the monument at New Holland not only unraveled a mystery for McCartney, but provided a piece of Hall County history that many in this area apparently were unaware of.


Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. He can be reached at 2183 Pine Tree Circle NE, Gainesville, GA 30501; 770-532-2326; or johnnyvardeman@gmail.com. His column publishes weekly.

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Constance Knowles (right) unveils a monument in 1927 at New Holland commemorating the founding of the Southeastern Underwriters Association at New Holland Springs in 1882. - photo courtesy Dana McCartney
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A boulder from the original monument commemorating the Southeastern Underwriters Association at New Holland Springs was taken across Jesse Jewell Parkway and placed in front of the Milliken mill as a memorial to some who died in World War I and the Vietnam War. - photo by Johnny Vardeman