A female speaker dressed in black and white speaks to a crowd outside with train in background.

Nicole “Cadaver” shares spooky stories rooted in history by the railroad tracks in the Midland district.

A streetlight flickered and freight trains rumbled in the distance as a group of sweater-clad history buffs, hard rock groupies, and Gen Zers from down the street gathered around a Goth-themed barmaid. On the cool spring evening, a mixed assemblage of 20 embarked on a tour down bricked alleys, cracked sidewalks and a graveled railroad yard just off Gainesville’s Midland Greenway. The rhythm of Latin beats from a tiny cantina nearby and the faint strains of country twang from downtown seemed incongruous with tales of woe and mystery held inside timeworn former warehouses and factories just steps from the vibrant Midland pathway.

Such was the scene last month at a Blackstrap Ghost Tour, a sold-out venture into weird tales of strange phenomena reported to have occurred in and around the dead buildings being resurrected in the thriving Midland district. The spooky experience started inside Blackstrap Rock Hall, where tourists sipped to-go beer, wine, and wine slushies surrounded by black walls, black lights and eerie tunes. Tour guide Nicole “Cadaver” downed a beer and led them out with her red glowing lantern.

The bimonthly tours hatched after Blackstrap Rock Hall’s Halloween festival last October drew a crowd to the South Main Street venue. “We started talking about haunted houses. We’d been on ghost tours before” in other cities, said Kyle Sanders, founder of the rock hall and Let There Be Rock School. “We didn’t know how it would go over …. We wanted to join forces with the Longstreet (Piedmont) Hotel,” behind the rock hall. So one day Sanders and wife, Elizabeth, walked in the door of the old hotel to talk to Richard Pilcher, Longstreet Society president and keeper of the historic inn, now a museum.

“We thought he’d either be all in or look at us like we’re crazy,” Kyle Sanders said. The rock star and Longstreet historian shook hands. A few weeks later Nicole and Ryan “Cadaver,” a long-time amateur ghost detective and Gainesville rock band veteran, were leading goosebump-seeking tourists.

A photo at night on a porch of a white house with speaker and guests under outdoor lights.

Longstreet Society President Richard Pilcher, upper left, greets Blackstrap Ghost Tour participants at the historic Piedmont Hotel.

“It’s been interesting, it really has,” said Pilcher, who bemoaned the loss of visitors due to the pandemic. “There were weeks without a single visitor. Now when somebody comes in with 25-30 people in tow, I’m glad to see them.” The torch carrier for the Confederate general who made his home in Gainesville after the Civil War leads the tour through the renovated hotel’s first floor, stuffed with Longstreet photos, documents and relics. That is all that’s left of the original three-story, 45-room  Piedmont Hotel that General Longstreet owned from 1875 until his death in Gainesville in 1904.

During the tour, Nicole cited past hardships that shaped early Gainesville. Like many communities with roots in the early 1800s, the Queen City survived “a fair share of tragedy,” she said. Fires, tornadoes, factory mishaps, and illnesses struck many who frequented the old industrial sector. “These tragedies left scars on this community … potentially resulting in some of the paranormal activity we’ll talk about tonight.”

But first she pointed across the street to Remedy Distillery, a modern Midland establishment housed in an old warehouse. It may not be haunted, she said, but it serves libations that might enhance the ghostly experience or sooth the nerves afterward. She recommended the Peach Remedy, a whiskey that scares up a little more drama in her narrative.

She went on to describe strange incidents in the Blackstrap building, including a visitor wearing “old timey clothes” who inexplicitly entered and exited the green room and a force that seemed to hold the restroom door closed. Next, she led tourists toward the old train station where she told of visions of General Longstreet waving amid locomotive steam after his death. Two freight trains thundered by in opposite directions while listeners waited to hear more tales about a foreboding structure across the tracks.

Nicole gestured toward the “hulking, vacant, creepy building with a large smokestack.” The Gainesville cotton mill “knew hardships, pain and sorrow from the moment the doors opened,” in 1903, she said. A tornado, child labor, and dangerous equipment took a toll inside its walls. “It’s one of the most haunted” in town, she reported.

A short walk back toward the greenway brought tourists to the front steps of the Piedmont Hotel, where Pilcher greeted them from an old rocking chair and welcomed them inside. Squeaky floorboards, old photographs, antique furniture and a toy soldier battle replica backdrop the stories Pilcher shared about Longstreet’s tenure at the hotel and strange happenings reported after he was gone.

The place echoes with past life. “It’s an old building, creaky with loud sounds. I’m suspicious of every noise I’ve heard,” Pilcher said. Visitors sometimes report feeling Longstreet’s presence. Two women even called Pilcher to tell him they felt the General went home with them. “Just tell him to leave,” he responded.

Patrons walk to bar inside Blackstrap Rock Hall.

Blackstrap Ghost Tour guests order to-go drinks and snacks at the rock hall before venturing out.

The tour ended back at the rock hall, where heavy metal band ATL Crue blasted tour goers to the modern era with a set that included “Looks That Kill.” Blackstrap’s Sanders said all the spooky stories are rooted in “some truth, not made up from scratch.” He has not personally witnessed any paranormal activity but has garnered stories from “people being honest about what they have seen.”

Midland newcomer Fredy Fuentes said the tour stirred his curiosity about the block where he now lives. He wondered if the walks would expand to the downtown square, where more potential haunts await.

“Our goal is really to bring more attention to the Midland area which is seeing great growth and really becoming a special place here in Gainesville, but we have definitely discussed expanding the tour to go farther,” Sanders said. “We’ve also tossed ideas around about different forms of transportation to take it a step further than our current walking tour.”

Tourist Amy Hamilton said she bought a tour ticket to explore Midland history and “do something out of the ordinary.” She and a friend expressed intrigue with the “very interesting” original proprietor of the Piedmont Hotel.

“I’ve been at this place for 30 years,” Pilcher said of the Longstreet museum. “I’ve seen prostitutes soliciting and now there’s rock music next door. The neighborhood is being built up. The Midland Greenway has brought a lot to this part of town. It’s all good.”

He pondered whether the General, “a pretty progressive sort of guy,” would have liked rock n’ roll. “He may not have liked it, but he would have been entertained.”


Blackstrap Ghost Tours

  • When: 8 p.m. May 4 & 25, June 15. See website for more dates.
  • Where: Blackstrap Rock Hall, 852 Main St., SW, Gainesville
  • Cost: $20 adults, $10 children ages 6-12, plus tax; includes free concert afterward on Blackstrap performance nights. Tours may sell out.
  • Refreshments: To-go beer, wine, wine slushies, non-alcoholic beverages and snacks.
  • More info: www.blackstraprockhall.com, www.longstreetsociety.org.

Photos: by Jane Harrison