History/Renovations



Dawsonville
   
 Left to Right
  • Gas pumps and car - Front of Homer Grogan's grocery store
  • Lee work clothes sign - Clifton McClure's store
  • Old Dawson County Courthouse
  • Masonic Lodge - Upstairs housed the Masonic Hall, Post Office was downstairs
  • Ida Fouts' Hotel - Sherman and Lula Harben's store was on the bottom floor
  • Harben Brothers Service Station




"The Station"

Mrs. Ida Matthews Fouts was a small town entrepreneur who envisioned a growing city of Dawsonville well before many others of her generation.  She moved to the city of Dawsonville in the early 1920’s after her husband, Benjamin Fouts, was killed in a streetcar accident in Atlanta.  With three sons, Claude, Paul, and Taft and two daughters, Jewel and Thelma in tow, she left the small northwestern Dawson County farming community of Emma to start over in the city of Dawsonville.  Emma was only about seven miles away from Dawsonville, but according to her son Taft, the journey seemed endless.  He always referred to it as when the family “moved to town” and to hear him tell it, Emma was like a different country compared to the small-town life he soon discovered in Dawsonville.  Ida owned and operated a hotel on the square and rented rooms for a quarter.  She expanded her business by venturing into commercial development.  In 1932, she built the structure that would come to be known throughout the Northeast Georgia Mountains as Harben Brothers Service Station.  Upon the structure’s completion, she immediately began renting it to John Silvey Harben, Sr. and his brother Sherman Lafayette Harben.  The brothers opened Harben Brothers Service Station and rented it from Mrs. Fouts at a cost of one penny per gallon of gas they sold per month.  Later in the 1930’s, the two brothers purchased the service station from Mrs. Fouts, and along with their other brother, R.E. “Pete” Harben, operated the station for the next 10 years. 


During their ownership, the station sold Woco Pep gasoline, a division of the Pure Oil Company.  A gallon of regular gasoline cost a whopping $0.14, while high-test gasoline cost $0.16 cents per gallon.  The station also boasted a hot plate so that weary travelers just passing through, or many old-timers just out for some conversation, could pull up a seat at the bar and eat a bite.  It’s menu consisted of hamburgers - $0.10, hot dogs - $0.05, egg sandwiches - $0.05, ham sandwiches - $0.10, cheese sandwiches - $0.10, and of course, Coca-Cola for a nickel. 

The service station was one of the only 24-hour stations in the region.  This was unheard of during the Depression and Prohibition eras.  The Harben’s saw a potential for great profits during this time, however.   It was during this time that the business of “moonshining” was extremely popular and profitable for the residents of the Northeast Georgia region.  Moonshiners would produce the liquor and make runs to Atlanta to sell it in the underground market.  Most of their runs were made at night and the Harben brothers knew these men would need gasoline to fuel their cars and make their runs.  So they began staying open 24 hours a day.



Among other attendants that the Harben brothers hired to work the gas pumps, as well as the deli and store inside, was Howard Taft Fouts (b.1917, d.2003).  Taft was the youngest son of Mrs. Ida Fouts, the station’s builder.  As a teenager, Taft worked after school and into the evening for the Harben’s.  Upon graduating from school, he became the attendant working the night shift for several years during the height of Dawsonville’s moonshining days. Taft was quite a prankster and loved practical jokes.  He decided that the deli counter in the station could be a source of many laughs for he and his patrons.  Taft ran a wire along the front side of the counter and hooked the wire to an automobile battery attached to a Model T Ford coil.  If a customer got too close to the counter, at the flip of a switch, the customer was given a quick shock by a small volt of electricity.  It was not dangerous, but it did sting a bit.  One afternoon, a bus from North Georgia College, now known as North Georgia College and State University, stopped by for some gas.  On the bus were a professor/coach and his baseball team.  The professor went in alone to enjoy a sandwich while the bus was being serviced, and Taft gave him a shock to remember.  This professor was so intrigued with the contraption, he had every member of the baseball team come into the station one by one to be shocked before leaving Dawsonville.

      

Moonshine “trippers” stopped at the station at all hours to buy gas for their nightly run.  According to Taft, the trippers always bought the high-test gasoline for that extra “oomph” that they needed to outrun the revenue agents, known as revenuers.  Taft also recalled that one whiskey runner filled his car three times in one night.  He would laugh when he recalled that on many nights the moonshine trippers would rent a room in his mother, Ida’s, hotel next door to the station and the revenuers would come in later in the night and rent the room next door.  It was Ida’s policy that each traveler simply leaves the money for their night’s rental on the dresser as they left the next morning.  Taft said that to his knowledge, she was never taken advantage of and everyone paid what he or she owed. 

In about 1940, the Bell Telephone Company installed the first pay telephone in Dawsonville inside the service station.  Thirty people in the city signed a contract agreeing to pay $1.00 (one dollar) a month to Bell Telephone Co. if enough phone calls were not made by the public to ensure that the Harben’s could pay the phone bill.  Those thirty people were never called on to pay the dollar.  The telephone was enclosed in an old fashioned booth located just inside the front door of the station.  Taft Fouts received the first phone call from the Dr. Pirkle family in Silver City, Georgia, a small community several miles south of Dawsonville.  The call was a trial run before Bell Telephone approved the phone as usable by the public.  During World War II, the Harben’s and their employees also served as the area receptionists, taking phone calls from our fighting soldiers from all over the country and delivering their messages to loved ones in the county and surrounding areas.  At the time, the station received $0.10 per call from the family to whom a message was delivered.



In the late 1940’s, the Harben brothers sold the station back to the Fouts family, Taft Fouts, in particular.  The Harben’s went on to pioneer other business in the Dawsonville area.  John Silvey Harben, Sr. became a rural mail carrier.  Pete owned and operated a successful auto parts supply store, and Sherman L. Harben opened a grocery store in the bottom floor of the old hotel, first owned by Ida Fouts.  He married and fathered five children and raised them in Dawsonville.  As the youngest daughter, Cecile Flara Harben finally married a young ex-employee, Taft Fouts, Sherman and his wife moved to Athens, Georgia where they continued their self-employment aspirations and opened a frozen ice cream and custard shop named The Arctic Girl.  In true Harben fashion, that small frozen novelty shop became a staple to many students enrolled at the University of Georgia during the middle of the 20th century.



Taft Fouts was the owner of the building until his death on December 31, 2003.  At the time of his death, this station, in its decline, and several other commercial sites in the city of Dawsonville, were passed on to his daughter, Cheryl Fouts Hammond and her two children Kevin James Hammond and Angie Hammond Smith.  They were faced with the daunting task of recreating a memory for many citizens of this community by restoring the Harben Bros. Service Station to its original glory.  Since the end of Prohibition and the Depression, this service station has seen many operators and Mr. Fouts has rented to many aspiring entrepreneurs, but this era of the early 20th century certainly gave Dawsonville and the Harben Brothers Service Station it’s most colorful existence.  It also gave Mr. Fouts many, many wonderful stories to share with his grandchildren.




Heritage Square

 

 

 


    

 




Lake House

(Old cabin torn down for new house)
 



(New House at same location)