Hotel Willard, Circa 1893, Helena

Telfair Hotel Helena GA Endangered Railroad Architecture Photograph Copyright Brian Brown Vanishing South Georgia USA 2014

Truly one of my favorite structures in all of South Georgia, the venerable Hotel Willard with its fanlights and exotic turret is a real architectural gem whose future remains quite uncertain. I know little of its history, but just learned it was known for the longest time as the Hotel Willard, but also was called the Brick Inn and the Telfair Hotel, as well as serving for a time as the VFW Hall and at least one restaurant. The serendipitous discovery of an old postcard on Julian Williams’ popular local history page led to these revisions, as I had always labeled it the Telfair Hotel and assumed its construction date to be somewhere around 1911. Here are some clues shared on Vanishing South Georgia on an earlier post about the property.

Becky: “Read in a reference book in Telfair County Library, that it was built by the railroad. It has been called many names..The Brick Inn, The Willard Hotel, the Telfair Motor Lodge just to name a few. It states that it cost just 2 dollars a day to stay. Doesn’t give date of construction, but the railroad come to Helena in 1870s. Another photo dated 1893 of the wooden depot in Helena shows very tip of the hotel’s steeple in the background.”

Janice Green Scruggs: “Our family history story is that my great-grandfather, William Henry (Bill) Strom was a good stonemason and was brought from Edgefield, South Carolina, to help build the hotel for the railroad. This would have been around the 1880′s as he married my great-grandmother in 1885. There’s no proof this story is true and I”ve had no luck in finding info on when this hotel was built. It seems to me I did find a block on corner of building with a date of 1911…”

JoAnne Baldwin: “I was told the chandelier in the dining room was so large it took a boom from a Georgia Power truck to get it placed and installed. I was also told In the late 40′s the American Legion or VFW leased part of the building and had a bar/restaurant there.”

Laura Finch: “My Uncle operated it the 1950,s. His name was Grady Fincher. I visited here in the summer from Jacksonville, Florida. It was very nice. I remember helping set the table.Wish I could go inside one more time.”

Allen Ryals: “I was in this hotel six or seven years ago. It is structurally unsound to the extreme–almost falling down on the outer wall. If you look carefully at the current photo, you can see one section of the upper right brick wall has been rebuilt to prevent it falling down–and it is a crude, ugly job.. The hotel guest rooms themselves had some beautiful wood trim, floors, and paneling that may be salvaged. It would be a monumental and expensive task to restore this building–probably requiring tearing it down and completely rebuilding it . The building attached to it on the far right was my grandfather Clay Saunder’s garage and gas station in the 40′s. There was a hotel manager’s apartment in the back on the ground floor that had a lovely garden just outside. The manager’s wife was a friend of my mother’s, and I remember going over there to play in the garden as a small child in the late 40′s.”

John Smith: “My Uncle operated the Pure Oil service station that was on the back side of the hotel, facing us 341. The VFW club was located in the building and had a separate entrance. It moved to a location west of McRae and Mr. Finch opened a restaurant where the VFW had been. Eaten there many times as a young boy. The hotel sits about 100 yards south of where the Seaboard RR crossed the Southern RR and where the passenger depot was situated.”

On his excellent local history forum, Old Jacksonvilile, Ga: Where History Lives, Julian Williams shared Danny Harbin’s postcard of the hotel, then known as the Hotel Willard, dated 1910.

Antique Postcard of Hotel Willard Telfair Hotel Helena GA Courtesy and Credit to Danny Harbin via Julian Williams Vanishing South Georgia 2014

Real Photo Postcard by M. L. McGee, McRae, GA

UPDATE: As of July 2017, it appears some sort of work is being done on this property. From what I could see, it looks like floor joists and other framework is being removed. I hope this doesn’t indicate that this property will soon be demolished.

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22 Comments

Filed under --TELFAIR COUNTY GA--, Helena GA

22 responses to “Hotel Willard, Circa 1893, Helena

  1. Laura FinchFacebook

    My Uncle’s Name Was “Fincher’ Not Finch.

  2. Pingback: Helena’s Hotel Willard Will Soon Be Demolished | Vanishing South Georgia Photographs by Brian Brown

  3. I found a letter written by my great-great-grandfather Rev. Joseph Bingham Mack on SAM Hotel stationery from Helena, Georgia. I don’t have a copy handy, but I recall it was written in the 1890s. When I discovered the hotel was still standing I tried to get in touch with the owners to see if maybe the old hotel registers still exist. I went to Mcrae and Helena a few years back, never could catch up with the guy who had a key to the place.

    It is sad that the structure is so far gone. I would love to see it restored, but that doesn’t seem likely.

  4. Carolyn Dobbs Wilson

    Olan Mills would come there to take photographs. I remember in 1953 when my sister was about two, it was hot and crowded, no air conditioning back then. She was crying when It was our turn. Mother had her picture made anyway. It was done annually for about ten years.

  5. Patrick Clark

    Very interesting story. I was in town with two friends for the Peaches to the Beaches yardsale along 341 and we noticed the building and stopped what we were doing to take pictures because we thought it was that cool. Someone should restore this historic building.

  6. jacki

    I was in that building less than 2 years ago, went upstairs too. It was amazing to think of the other people who walked up those same stairs so many years ago. It was so sad too, to see everything in there that has just deteriorated over the years from pure lack of care. Very sad.

  7. Mary Anna Owens

    I remember Mrs. Andrews and her husband, owner and manager of the hotel around 1948 and into the 1950’s. Mrs. Andrews had a granddaughter my age and she invited me to play and have lunch with them when she was
    visiting.
    Her granddaughter ‘s name was Nancy Baker and she was the daughter of Mrs. Andrews son by another marriage. I believe Nancy lived in Texas and visited in the summer. I remember how beautiful the Hotel was then.
    My father owned Fowler’s Grocery across the street.

    Mary Anna Fowler Owens

  8. Becky

    This hotel was opened in February 1891 as “The Hotel Sam”. It was built by the railroad known as the Sam ( Savannah, Americus, Montgomery). Reference: The Macon Telegraph January 21, 1891. Title of the aritcle “Helena Happenings”.
    P.S. This is an addition to my previous post from a few years ago, and a correction railroad came in 1890s not the 1870s.

    • So grateful for this information, Becky! I’ll share.

    • Jeff Anderson

      Becky is correct on the date of it opening in February 1891… Many believed it to be constructed around 1900, but the SAM Railroad constructed this grand structure almost a decade earlier. Becky and I are interested in any info. on the Hotel Sam, later known as Hotel Willard and Telfair County history. The SAM Railroad also named the towns along the route, Rhine, Milan, Lyons… –Jeff Anderson

  9. I would LOVE to see the inside of this great old building. Also, to hear that a group had been formed to restore it so that it could be used again.

  10. Ingersoll, Francis Johnson

    Great information, Brian; thanks.
    ________________________________

  11. Jane Rutherford

    Every time go through Helena I always wonder what this building was used for – now I know. I never guessed a hotel.

  12. John Smith

    My Uncle operated the Pure Oil service station that was on the back side of the hotel, facing us 341. The VFW club was located in the building and had a separate entrance. It moved to a location west of McRae and Mr. Finch opened a restaurant where the VFW had been. Eaten there many times as a young boy. The hotel sits about 100 yards south of where the Seaboard RR crossed the Southern RR and where the passenger depot was situated.

  13. Allen Ryals

    I was in this hotel six or seven years ago. It is structurally unsound to the extreme–almost falling down on the outer wall. If you look carefully at the current photo, you can see one section of the upper right brick wall has been rebuilt to prevent it falling down–and it is a crude, ugly job.. The hotel guest rooms themselves had some beautiful wood trim, floors, paneling etc that may be salvaged. It would be a monumental and expensive task to restore this building–probably requiring tearing it down and completely rebuilding it . The garage building attached to it on the far right was my grandfather Clay Saunder’s garage and gas station in the 40’s. There was a hotel manager’s apartment in the back on the ground floor that had a lovely garden just outside. The manager’s wife was a friend of my mother’s, and I remember going over there to play in the garden as a small child in the late 40’s.

  14. Ljnda Tharpe

    Is this building for sale ?

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