Alan Anderson wrote:

Here's a comprehensive column for our historical hotels that I wrote some years ago:


Now that the holiday season is over and the new year has begun, it occurred to me, gentle reader, that many travelers spent time in transit in hotels. Of course, it is highly unlikely they spent a night in anything approaching the Victorian jewel we call The Windsor. It is, however, not the only hotel before the modern era with a history. Allow me the pleasure of sharing with you some of its beginnings and its predecessors.

On August 22, 1888, a reporter for the Americus Recorder found John Sheffield and Ross Harper measuring off the courthouse square. Upon inquiring as to their purpose, young Sheffield responded, "Because Maj. Speer and Papa told me to."

Realizing he’d best go to the source, the reporter went to the Bank of Southwestern Georgia (now the Thomas Block on the northwest corner of Forsyth and Jackson) to see its president, Maj. Moses Speer. There, Maj. Speer told him, "(T)he hotel will be built and in short order. There is no doubt about that…it will be a building worthy of the city." Two days later, Maj. Speer sent John Sheffield’s map to some undisclosed prospective investors. Such was the Windsor’s genesis, the little acorn from which a mighty oak would grow to dominate the city’s skyline.

Fifteen months later, when the county commissioners were going to sell a portion of the square, a citizens committee chaired by George W.N.B. Glover met to effect a deal with the local government. A second committee, consisting of chairman Moses Speer, and Merrel Callaway, James Fricker, Henry R. Johnson, Dr. Erwin J. Eldridge, John Windsor, and Samuel H. Hawkins, was formed to outline development proposals. Their recommendation was to delay the county’s sale until an improvement company could be formed to finance the $100,000 project.

On February 5, 1890, the principal stockholders of the Americus Manufacturing and Improvement Corporation were announced: Samuel H. Hawkins, Moses Speer, John W. Sheffield, Perry C. Clegg, George W.N.B. Glover & Frank Lanier, Thornton Wheatley, Charles M. Wheatley, John Windsor, Christopher C. Hawkins, and William E. Hawkins. Each contributed $10,000 (Glover and Lanier shared theirs) to produce the necessary capital for construction. A few days later, the county commissioners sold the old courthouse square for $5,000.

Within a month, two Atlanta architects, W.H. Parkins and G.L. Norrman, submitted proposals and the selection committee of S.H. Hawkins, John Windsor and C.M. Wheatley opted for Parkins’ design. It consisted of a four-story, square wooden edifice with 120 rooms, fronting the entire length of Jackson, with an additional two stories on the corner.

Undeterred, G.L. Norrman proffered his design "of a more fanciful character, greatly resembling the Hotel Alcazar at St. Augustine." His brick structure, of three and five stories in height, with 120 rooms and ten stores on the street level, was deemed the most attractive by some members of the AMIC. Consequently, Norrman’s proposal was adopted at an estimated cost of $80,000.

On June 21, the AMIC accepted the bid of James Smith, of Sparta, who had already successfully bid on the city hall and improvements to the former Furlow Masonic Female College on Jackson, the latter then serving as Americus’ public school for whites. Both projects were also designed by G.L. Norrman. By the end of that summer, contractor Smith had secured the use of a brickyard near Magnolia Dell, just beyond the intersection of Church and Spring, which produced the bricks for the hotel’s construction.

The AMIC directors, meanwhile, were searching for a suitable name for the imposing structure. Numerous suggestions appeared in the local papers. A prescient, but anonymous, lady offered the "Windsor" for its "aristocratic sound…suggestive of first-class appointments and high tone."

However, when the directors met at Maj. Speer’s office on May 5, 1891, Col. Eugene A. Hawkins’ "Hotel Alhambra" was unanimously adopted. The name did not strike a popular chord and, because of its association with places of "flash or shady reputations," that name was dropped and new names solicited from the public. On September 3, the AMIC board chose "The Windsor," based in part on its evocative qualities, but also commemorating John Windsor’s contribution as one of the directors.

About noon on October 22, 1891, the last brick was laid. Emphasis then shifted to the interior. The Americus Furniture Co. won the contract, but that job ultimately fell to M. Rich and Bros. of Atlanta. Elevators were installed during the Christmas season. The Windsor was the only hotel in the state to use individualized silverware, which was supplied by local jewelers, James Fricker and Bro. John Windsor, the hotel’s namesake, also donated a silver service for the grand opening.

That happy event transpired on June 16, 1892. Thousands attended the opening, the electric street railway on the hotel’s west side was revived for the summer, over a hundred guests registered the first day, and a grand ball lasted until well after midnight in the fifth-floor ballroom.

As to the Windsor’s antecedents, the following two accounts were supplied by eyewitnesses.

From the Weekly Times-Recorder of March 8, 1907:

"AMERICUS FIRST BIG HOSTELRY. Hill House an Object of Interest in Olden Days.

"Col. Thornton Wheatley was in a reminiscent mood yesterday as he stood in the balmy sunshine watching the workmen on the Allison building.

""Where these two new business buildings are going up" said he, "stood the old Hill’s hotel until probably twenty five or thirty years ago. When I came to Americus in 1855 the old hotel was then an infant institution of the city. It had originally stood at Oglethorpe, where it was quite a noted hostelry of antebellum days.

""Two things conspired to bring about its removal to Americus. One was an epidemic of small pox that swept Oglethorpe, the other was the fact that Americus was rapidly forging to the front and was recognized as the assured metropolis of this section of the State.

""The old hotel was a two story structure of frame, well remembered by our older folks. It was torn down and brought over to Americus and re-erected in substantial shape and then withstood the wear of over thirty years.

""It was a famous rendezvous in my younger days. Americus then had a famous stage coach line to Tallahassee, via Albany and Thomasville. It was a gloriously inspiring sight to see the coach swing around the corners, drawn by four magnificent horses, and up to the hotel front. It was frequently crowded with passengers.

""Americus was a small place in those days, but it was a lively town, nevertheless, a feature that has never been lost. At nights the bar and sitting rooms of the old hotel were often filled with guests a half century ago, and it was the gathering place of the Americus men. There one could meet the traveling public, the business men of the other towns of this State and of Florida, swap hunting yarns, hear the political gossip, and learn the drift of trade in all lines.

""It was a hostelry known to thousands in the old days. It has been but a memory now for years, and soon it will cease to be even that.""

From The South Georgia Progress of January 12, 1912:

"NOTE. - Editor South Georgia Progress: I see in your paper that you are printing some of the early history of Americus. I have been very much interested in them. Those that I have read were practically correct. I have two or three that I want you to print, and if I do say so, every word of them is true so far as I can remember. One of them is like this:

"I was born in Tennessee in 1820 and my father moved to Georgia in 1835; and to Sumter county in 1842. I have chased the deer in the forests of this county many years ago, even running them through your public square. I have seen this town grow from a village to what is it today.

"When we first came here there was but one small hotel and that was located on the corner of Lee and Forsyth streets where the Byne Block is. It was headquarters for the Independent Stage Coach line. Their relay of teams was about four miles south out Lee street.

"On the corner of Jackson and Lamar streets was the hotel of the town owned by the Hill brothers, Bob Hill and his brother, Dave. The hotel was run by Mr. [Newnan] McBain. The Hill brothers owned a stage coach line also that came from Macon with its terminus at Bainbridge. The Independent line came in by the way of Bumphead church, while the Hill line came in on the upper river or the stage [coach] road. The post office was near where it is now [the Municipal Bldg.] and each stage coach brought the mail to town.

"This McBain hotel was as enormous affair. It reached from the corner of the alley on Lamar street [Theo Baldwin Park] west to Holliday’s Book Store corner, thence south to about where the steam laundry is. It was two and a half stories high, with a spacious verandah in front both up stairs and down stairs, with about twenty feet back and about two hundred feet long. It was the shelter for everybody. Nothing like it here now. It was a great big hotel, well ventilated and shaded by beautiful water oaks and locust trees.

"On the south end of this hotel it was two stories high. The upper floor used for bed rooms, the lower floor for the dining room and kitchen. The basement was used for a bar and billiard room. They didn’t know what a pool room was, although they played pin pool, and that’s where you can lose your money, too.

"Just in the rear of this portion of the hotel was the livery stables of the Hill brothers, about in front of the Presbyterian church. They ran a bus to and from the trains besides being a relay for their stage line.

"I have heard that Uncle Jimmie Stewart backed up these people and was the real owner of the hotel and tables. How true that is, I never could learn.

"Now on the west side of Jackson street stood still another hotel not as pretentious as the McBain-Hill-Stewart property, but a little better than the one on the corner of Lee and Forsyth streets.

"This hostelry was owned and run by the Shaw brothers, Harvey and Bill Shaw. It also had a barroom attached.

"One morning a well-dressed, good-looking fellow stopped at the Shaw house. They never had what you call a register in those days, so he just stopped there and was given a room up stairs. Just after dinner he called one of the Shaws to one side and asked him if he could place a sum of money in a safe place and, at the same time stated that he was addicted to drinking and when he drank he wanted to gamble. He told Mr. Shaw if he did get to drinking and called for any amount of his money not to give it to him, as the money was to be paid for a plantation he had purchased in Stewart county, the amount being in the neighborhood of $5,000.00.

"The young man had to wait over for the Macon train which passed Americus about ten o’clock next day. In the afternoon he began drinking and was soon fully under the influence of the poison that had been dealt out to him. He called for some of his money. He got it. The gambling hell was located in the hotel. He lost of course. He called for more and got it. And so on until his last penny had gone across the green cloth.

"He begged for more money. He tried to borrow money to retrieve that which he had lost. But no. He had not a friend on earth. His money gone.

"Soon he retired to his room and called for a basin of water to bathe. It was sent up to his room and the young man soon forgotten. Next morning a servant called to awake him and no answer came. The door was forced open and there on the bed lay the gentleman - cold in death. His spirit had long since winged its flight to the great beyond, alone and unattended.

"After returning to his room and obtaining the basin of water he carefully undressed, placed the basin in a chair by the bedside just low enough to allow his right hand to dangle on the surface of the water and with a pen knife he severed the arteries and veins across his wrist and lay there a silent witness of the flowing of life’s blood that would end his life. How long it took no one knows, but certain it was that in this condition he was found.

"There was great rivalry between the McBain hotel and the Shaw house. It was a morsel that could be rolled under the tongue of the other hotels and right well they used it.

"The Sumter Republican came out on the following Friday with a sensational double head denouncing the Shaw house, no doubt influenced by the McBain contingency. To this the Shaw brothers took exception and a whole big town fight commenced.

"The Shaw brothers jumped on the editor and mauled him almost to a pulp, which the McBains objected to. Pistols and guns were freely used from the little hotel on the corner clean across the courthouse square to the livery stables of the Hill brothers. Fast and furious the fight held out until Mr. Harvey Shaw fell dead in his own doorway pierced through the heart by a cartridge from an unknown source. His wife, who was near him, grabbed his smoking revolver and continued the fight until every man had left the square.

"It was not known for several years who fired the bullet that killed Mr. Shaw. There was a young fellow working in the barroom of the McBain hotel in the basement [who] soon left Americus and went West. After a long time he committed suicide and left a confession stating how he had killed Mr. Shaw and had never seen a moment’s peace since. His confession was accepted as the truth, for it was the only solution of the end of this great pistol duel. I think that this occurred in or about 1857. Col. A.S. Cutts, I believe, was sheriff of the county at this time.

"If you will take the trouble to cast your eyes over this battle field and view the Progress that has been made since that time. See the elegant library building, the handsome Windsor, the new post office, the Allison building, the Byne block, the opera house, the courthouse, the Planters bank building and others.

""Progress is the Word" and Progress it will be."

The man who shot and killed Harvey Shaw was later identified as Tom Durham.

You may be surprised to learn, gentle reader, that there has been a hotel elsewhere that is named in honor of our fair city.

From the Times-Recorder of October 5, 1946:

"Pennsylvania Hotel Is Named After Americus, Ga.

"Mayor H.O. Jones came into The Times-Recorder office this week with a letter on AMERICUS HOTEL, Allentown, Pennsylvania stationery.

"The letter recalled to the mayor that one day several years ago a stranger approached him on the post office steps and asked what town he was in. The mayor replied, "Americus." The man related that he was on his way to Florida.

"It now appears that this same gentleman has erected a two-million dollar hotel in Allentown and has named it after the South Georgia town that impressed him so favorably.

"Another letter this morning from J.H. Free from Webster county also on Americus Hotel paper written from Allentown stated that the beautiful, new hotel was named after Americus after the same visit as described by the mayor. Mr. Free stated that the hotel owner "fell in love with Americus and Cotton Avenue especially."

So, gentle reader, the next time you find yourself on the road in a nondescript motel, consider the possibilities if you had been around in an earlier time period.