reprinted from The Oglethorpe Echo – March 2003 article by JS Yearwood

The Dream of Two Centuries

The Fitzpatrick brothers made their dream come true one hundred years ago: they built a beautiful, state-of-the-art hotel in downtown Washington, Georgia. Now, almost exactly 100 years after its first opening, their dream has been reborn. Jim Carter of Philomath and his partners Mike and Christy Todd of Athens, and Amit Mehta (Christy’s father) have brought this Queen Anne Style hotel back to life with years of work, sweat, and dedication.

After a year of intense renovations, these determined individuals are preparing to re-open this vintage establishment to the public once again. The goal is to be open for business in summer 2004. This Saturday, April 5, from 10-5, though, the public will have a chance to view the renovations in progress as Carter, the Todds, and Mr. Mehta strive to recreate the original ambiance, beauty, and function of this historical building.

A Little History

In 1898, J.H. and T.M. Fitzpatrick completed the construction of the original Fitzpatrick Hotel. According to Jim Carter, the brothers spared no expense, and it is to their credit that the historic hotel has withstood the ravages of time as well as it has. Later on, the brothers sold the hotel to Mr. Johnson, who renamed it the Columbus Inn before it was known at the Washington Inn. For a half a century, the hotel maintained its integrity as a top-of-the-line establishment until it closed in 1952.

What was it like to stay there in its early days? Carter and the Todds are still trying to find out. Carter has spoken with at least one person who remembers living there in 1949. Anyone who has been there or has memorabilia from this early era is encouraged to contact them at (706) 742-7264. Carter has located one early photograph which depicts this regal structure as it was in 1918. A barber is caring for his customers on the deeply tree-shaded sidewalk. A shop owner has displayed the latest in women’s fashion outside the store and a row of neatly spaced, vintage automobiles share the curbside with a bicycle.

The downstairs floor of the original hotel housed several commercial spaces including a barber shop, grocery, hardware store, and a restaurant. The original clientele ranged from school teachers who needed a place to live, to salesmen and travelers who simply needed overnight accommodations. The restaurant was known for its fine food. People would travel from throughout middle Georgia to the hotel for a family outing and delicious Sunday meal. One could even disembark at the train station in Washington and arrive at the hotel doorstep via a mule-drawn trolley.

Prior Planning… Group Effort… Experience

Since 1951, the building has remained empty. A few other individuals have had similar visions to resurrect this historic hotel, but were unable to complete the project. It is reasonable to ask why Carter and the Todds have succeeded because it took more than just having a dream. It took more than just finding funding. It took more than just trying to figure out how to remove a cottonwood tree which had grown through the back wall and two stories up into the building. It took more than the ability to correct 50 years of structural neglect and water damage.

It took careful planning, research, back-breaking work, and vision. “We made a plan from the very beginning,” stated Christy Todd. There were three months of intense planning and scheduling completed before the first brick was even touched. They also had to ask lots of questions. There were issues concerning funding, grants, loans and how to hire high-level experts to deal with special problems.

Experience and a careful division of labor was also the key to success. Carter has not only renovated his own 1840’s home, but was instrumental in renovating other projects such as the Lyndon House in Athens. Mike Todd is an engineer with years of experience in renovation work. He met Jim Carter while working on an 1830’s renovation project, in Athens. Mike’s wife, Christy has been instrumental in navigating and completing the reams of paperwork required for writing the grant. She is currently focused on the public relations aspects of this project. Mr. Mehta is an experienced financial manager and fulfills his portion of the partnership by diligently attending to the management of funds. All four partners began this project by injecting their own savings into the original purchase of the hotel. Their current personal funds are low, but with the infusion of grant money and loans, they have been able to persevere.

While additional funding has been both essential and available due to government loans and grants, a person has to be both knowledgeable and resourceful in order to take advantage of them. This is another strength of the partnership. Also, the town of Washington has been supportive. Todd said the mayor has even personally carried paperwork to Atlanta himself in an effort to secure funding. A Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) for $250,000 has been awarded to the City of Washington who in turn is providing a low-interest loan for the hotel renovation.

Perseverance & Detective work

When you step into the lobby, Carter hopes that you will think you have gone back in time. Their main goal during this project, he said, has been to restore this hotel to its original state. Cabinet makers are reconstructing all the woodwork. Stained glass windows are being custom made to replace the ones which are now gone. Every light fixture, chandelier, doorknob, and window treatment is being selected with extreme attention to historical accuracy and detail.

The project has required a lot of detective work and creative problem-solving. During the process of renovating, old doorways have been found hidden in walls. Postcards to (or from) past visitors have been found wedged behind mantelpieces. Small antique tonic bottles and other treasures have been unearthed as their work has progressed.

The most daunting part of the renovation was trying to figure out how to remove an old cottonwood tree which had grown through the back wall of the hotel, up into the building and back out a window, back into the building and back out a second-floor window. To remove it, they had to disassemble the entire back wall of the building brick by brick and then rebuild it again. This was only the first task they faced. Repairs had to be made to water damaged areas, plus they had to reinforce and add structures to facilitate the inclusion of modern utilities.

Today’s visitors will have some special advantages over those from 100 years ago. Not only will they get to experience the past, but they will be able to benefit from modern technology at the same time. The renovated hotel will feature seventeen rooms, including at least two with handicap access features, a huge ballroom, a conference room, and a kitchen. Carter emphasizes that each room will be uniquely furnished in period decor. Almost all of the original furniture was lost or sold he said, so they have been slowly accumulating vintage pieces to replace them. Each room will have either an operational open fireplace, a coal stove, or a gas stove. This century’s visitor will also have the benefit of air conditioning, and if during your stay in the new Fitzpatrick you need to email a friend or conduct business online, you will be able to do so in your room, or choose from several office areas all wired for Internet access.

The commercial spaces on the ground floor are currently being filled. It is speculated that there will be a demand for the conference room (on the ground floor), and the ballroom (first floor) for those who wish to conduct business meetings, seminars, classes or special social events.

It is hoped that you will venture down Interstate 78 to Washington this weekend (or next year) to view the progress of this beautiful project. You may not be met with a mule-drawn trolley, but you can still taste the flavor of the past. You can admire what our present technology can do to preserve our past. You can appreciate the efforts of those who care about both and can give us a way to share it with them.

Anyone who wishes to learn more about this project can visit our website. Those with any questions, memories or information are encouraged to contact the partners at 706-742-7264. The public is invited to attend tours this weekend, Saturday April 5, from 10-5. There is no cost. It will also be open for visits in the first weekend of May. According to Carter, this is an ideal time to view the progress: rooms and baths have been framed, but some walls are still open so that one can see and appreciate the structural details.