New Owners At Our Historic Hotel In Washington

Reprinted from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution article dated September 28, 2002, by Bill Osinski

Washington, Ga. — The orphaned anchor of downtown, the Fitzpatrick Hotel, has a new set of foster parents.

Jim Carter and Mike Todd are the third set of developers in the past four years to try to salvage the 17-room red-brick Victorian architectural gem.

Once the swankiest stopover in northeast Georgia and the heart of Washington’s commercial district, The Fitzpatrick has had only pigeons for guests for the past 50 years or so.

But Carter and Todd, who have ripped out tons of rotten ceilings and floors, will soon start rebuilding the crumbling back wall and plan to have the place ready for visitors by summer of 2004.

“We like to take on the buildings that other people don’t want,” Todd said. “Money’s not the first thing we’re after. Saving the building and bringing it back to life is what we really want.”

Todd is a chemical engineer who has gravitated to restoring private homes in the Athens area; Carter is the director of special education for the Oglethorpe County school system and has a 30-year track record in restorations of historic structures, mostly in Athens.

Unlike some of the other developers, Carter said he and Todd wanted the Fitzgerald to resemble as closely as possible the original 1898 structure.

“We want it to be a living hotel again, one that people can tell has been cherished and maintained,” Carter said.

Despite its stripped-down current status, Carter said, the historic hotel, one of the best hotels in Washington, has retained a surprising number of its original features. The original front lobby desk, the stamped tin ceiling and ornate window frames in the ballroom, interior arches, wrought-iron railings, and the stained glass accent windows of the six street-front suites all have survived.

Besides restoring the hotel’s guest rooms, the developers plan to add a restaurant and courtyard, a conference room and commercial spaces on the street level, Carter said.

Carter estimated the Fitzpatrick could be revived with their $1.4 million investment. He said their costs would be kept down since Todd will serve as the general contractor and he will do much of the interior design work.

Restoring the Fitzpatrick also means keeping its fin de siecle swagger, he said. The Fitzpatrick had “a little bit of brass” in its style, he said.

The interior decor reflected the typical Victorian flair for color, with plenty of reds, golds, and greens, he said. Outside, the tin roof was painted blue.

A mule-drawn trolley was employed to shuttle guests from the railroad depot to the hotel.

The Fitzpatrick boasted central heating, telephones, and call buttons in all the rooms, he said. It was the first large building in the region to have electricity.

That is probably because the brothers who built the hotel, Thomas and John Fitzpatrick, also owned the local telephone company.

The brothers were born in Washington but moved to South Carolina, where they operated a successful mercantile business. After a fire wiped out much of Washington’s town square in 1895, the Fitzpatricks came back to their hometown and built the hotel on part of the burned-out property.

Sandy White, executive director of the Washington Downtown Development Authority, said she hoped the restored hotel would help make Washington a tourist destination.

Washington is a city full of historic homes and plantations and boasts a downtown that is livelier than those of some larger cities.

What it does not have is conference space and a singular attraction to entice people to venture the 25 miles or so off I-20 to get here, she said.

Back in 1898, the Fitzpatrick brothers had pretty much the same obstacle to success.

In a newspaper advertisement for their new hotel and shops, the brothers said, “We were told time and time again that Washington was dead, that we could do no business. Was your prediction correct? No! A thousand times no!”