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Decades spent watching Forsyth County grow and change

A long career in one profession in the same general geographic area, and the steady pace at which pages seem to fall from the calendar, have resulted in a bit of a statistical oddity that was hammered home with the coming of the new year.

Accepting the popular notion that Jan. 1, 2020 was the dawn of a 10-year span to be known as the ’20s, that date also means that my affiliation with the Forsyth County News now includes some bits and pieces of six consecutive decades. 

(There is a rational argument to which many adhere that the decade really starts anew in 2021, but math concepts and journalists don’t normally mix well and public perception is good enough for this particular bit of writer’s whimsy.)

When the FCN editor at the time approached me around 1970 about reporting on Forsyth Central sports, I had no idea the conversation would open a door to the world of newspapers as the calling of a lifetime. At the time, Central was the only high school in the county, which only had a population of about 20,000 people.

Except for occasional spurts of excellence in girls basketball, the Central sports teams were generally mediocre at best, but the results of those athletic endeavors needed to be published in the county weekly, and thus for the whopping sum of a single dime for every inch of published copy, a career was born.

Residents of the area now would have a hard time imagining downtown Cumming then, with Jack’s Restaurant for breakfast biscuits, Ramey’s clothing for retail shopping, two downtown hardware stores and Gilbert’s Barbershop next door to the old newspaper office, which was in the block where the county administration building now sits.

Ga. 400 had not found its way beyond the county line and few could imagine the changes it would bring once it did. It was a time of volunteer firemen, dusty slow-pitch softball fields, rural lifestyles and Junior Samples’ BR-549. The newspaper was delivered once a week, and few at the time had any idea what was in store for the county in the years to come.

With school days in the rear view mirror and after newspaper stints in three other Georgia locales, I was back at the FCN again for a two-year stint staring in 1985. The paper was published twice a week at the time, digital web sites for news were still a thing of the future, and the county was for the most part still a sleepy little neighbor tucked away just north of Atlanta.

There were signs of things to come, however, as some nice neighborhoods were being built in the south end of the county, and while the population was still under 40,000, it had doubled since those early ’70s.

Hwy. 400 had brought the potential for jobs, and employers were starting to find their way into Forsyth.

The newspaper would soon move from its ancient office by the barber shop, but just down the street to an old Southern Bell building.

In ’87, the county found itself awash in civil rights controversy that drew international attention and notoriety, with social and political aftershocks of the marching and protests lingering for months after the actual events.

There were some who said the county would be so damaged in the eyes of the world that it would never reach its economic potential and see true progressive success as part of suburban Atlanta.

Boy were they wrong.

Journalistic trade winds took me away to other keyboard banging jobs, but by a series of serendipitous circumstances I again found myself at the FCN in 1998, adding the final couple of years of a third different decade to the resume.

By then, the signs of growth and change were everywhere. The county’s population had grown to some 100,000 people, and the newspaper, now housed in what had once been a hardware store, was published four days a week. Cumming was still the only town in the county and the primary retail center, but south Forsyth was starting to add commercial growth to the residential areas booming there.

From the late ’90s throughout the 2000s, change was constant and rapid. Homes were built. Schools. Government buildings. Roads. Bridges. Manufacturing plants. 

There were well-paying jobs for those who wanted to work in the county rather than commute to the city. The school system became recognized for excellence. The county shed forever its sleepy rural heritage and became a dynamic suburban area with a quality of life that made other communities jealous.

By the mid-2000s I was ensconced in a job in Gainesville, but remained part of the FCN team from a management and operational standpoint. And with time ever marching on, 2020 arrives and a sixth decade of involvement begins.

Today, Forsyth is recognized as the wealthiest county in the state, with a population nearing a quarter-million people. Few communities anywhere in the Southeast can match the amenities it offers. 

That it has changed so much from that sleepy little burg where a high school kid once chronicled the exploits of the local football team for a dime an inch seems almost impossible, and yet the reality is undeniable.

Norman Baggs is the general manager of the Forsyth County News. He can be reached at