You know, gang, we’ve been flirted with so many times on the Granite Hotel, it would be funny if it weren’t so sad. Developers and investors have been painted as the hotel’s messiah only to have them retreat in defeat when the dollars just plain didn’t materialize. When I heard late last week that yet another developer would be trotting out a new plan for the Granite Hotel, I was like many of you: skeptical. Over the weekend, I checked out Landmark Development of Winston-Salem, NC, fully prepared to discover yet another preservation imposter: someone who wouldn’t know an arch from a lintel, but will swear on a stack of AIA journals that they’ve had great success restoring historic buildings. What I found was a complete surprise!

Landmark Development is a consortium of developers, contractors, community planners and economic development types combining their talents and skills in a critically needed specialty: restoring historic buildings and offering them new life as an adaptive re-use. Schools become arts centers, former mills become low ($25,000 - $50,000) income residential property, and so on. Because these buildings are usually located in and near downtown areas in need of a boost, the introduction of residents creates a neighborhood where once was a brownfield. As a result, new retail in the form of neighborhood markets, bistros, and shops migrate into a downtown with a built-in clientele. Since people draw people, other locals begin to populate downtown and, soon, visitors to the area come to see what all the buzz is about – and they bring their wallets with them.

So what’s special about the Granite Hotel anyway? What is all the hoopla over this pile of rocks on the corner of Broad and Athens in Downtown Winder?

Over the past few weeks, Barrow Preservation Society, Inc. has been working with the Winder DDA, owners of the Granite Hotel, to research possible public and private grants. Patricia Stallings and I pooled our researching resources to learn all we can about the Granite Hotel so we can write the historical information needed to confirm the contribution of the property and we’ve found out some pretty cool stuff:

The Granite Hotel was built in 1899 on the site of the original Jug Tavern, a double log cabin alongside the road from Augusta and Savannah to Gainesville and the cooling mountains of North Georgia. According to an 1880 newspaper story about the Jug Tavern, travelers were typically welcomed to roadside inns by libations presented atop a sideboard from which they could help themselves to the fare for the day. The more sophisticated coastal travelers were accustomed to their liquid refreshment being offered in crystal decanters, but in Smith and Blakey’s Jug Tavern, corn whiskey served in brown fired jugs were slung over one’s shoulder while one twisted his or her mouth to receive the liquid refreshment.

Town founder Wiley Harrison Bush owned the quarry located southeast of the recycling plant on Georgia 81 south and it was from this quarry that the granite for the hotel was extracted. C.M. Ferguson was a granite mason and it is believed he was the builder of the hotel. As an aside, Mr. Ferguson was the son-in-law of Wiley H. Bush and his wife Laura. Mr. Ferguson and his wife were the parents of local music institution Beulah F. Robinson.

One of the stories Patricia found was this from the December 22, 1901 edition of The Atlanta Constitution:

One of the leading society events of this season was the beautiful wedding of Miss Elizabeth Young and Mr. Fred E. Durst, of Indiana, which took place in on the afternoon of the 19th instant at 2 o’clock in the parlors of the Granite Hotel. The impressive ceremony was performed by Rev. J.R. Speck in the presence of a select circle of relatives and friends. At the conclusion of the ceremony, there was an informal reception and an elegant dinner was served. The parlors were beautifully decorated with La France roses, narcissus, hyacinths and holly… The bride…is the oldest daughter of W. V. Young, proprietor of Granite hotel, one of Winder’s prominent citizens.

The Granite Hotel deserves better than it’s gotten the last fifty years. It served Winder well as the social hub for the burgeoning community described in numerous news stories as on a par with Atlanta as a center of industry, banking and hospitality. You’ll be able to tell your grandkids you were there when the Granite Hotel brought Winder back to life.

Helen Person is a columnist for the Barrow Journal. E-mail comments about this column to helenperson@windstream.net.

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