The Big House, Hazlehurst

The Big House Hazlehurst GA Jeff Davis County Landmark Photograph Copyright Brian Brown Vanishing South Georgia USA 2014

From the history brochure, distributed by the Hazlehurst-Jeff Davis County Board of Tourism: The Big House is an antebellum-style home that overlooks the town like a grand old dame. The beautiful Edwardian mansion was built during the early days of the 1900s.  Legend holds that it was built for Minnie Sweat, the wealthy widow of a local lumber baron who had been tragically killed in a train accident.  “Miss Minnie” was the former Minnie Lott of Douglas.  She remarried J.H. Moore soon after her husband’s death and the two built the home designed by Memphis, Tennessee based architects George Mahan, Jr. and J.I. Broadwell. When the house was completed, the Moores traveled to Europe to buy the furnishings.  The home cost about $50,000 to build. A water tower accompanying the mansion cost around $12,000.  Each chimney contained a full freight car of brick.  The chandeliers in the foyer and parlor are part of the original fixtures, as is the foot tub repurposed into a sink in the upstairs bride’s room.  The house was originally was located near what is now Highway 341, about 350 feet south of its present site.

The Moores occupied the home until 1923 when they sold it to W.E. Pierce. Pierce lived in the house with his first wife and daughter, Louise.  Pierce married his second wife, Maureen, in 1932 and their son, Eddie, was born in the house.  In 1937, Pierce sold the mansion to W. Grady Floyd.  Floyd; his wife, the former Grace Weatherly; and their two daughters, Catherine and Anne, moved in.  The Floyds’ only son, W. Grady Jr., was born in the home in 1939.  About five years later, Henry and Marguerite Duncan Dearing bought the house.  The Dearings used the east “parlor” for a floral shop and catered wedding receptions in the foyer, main dining room, and parlor.  They added a brick wing of sleeping rooms on the east side of the home, and from those rooms operated a boarding house.

In the late 1960s, E.A. and Mary Hinely purchased the “Big House” for use as a hotel.  They planned to preserve the house as it stood, but could not gain proper access to the property with the house and brick wing situated at the front.  As a result, they moved the entire structure.  The movers, who estimated the weight as two hundred tons, used iron rails, rollers, trucks, and tractors to roll the house about 350 feet to its present location.  The Village Inn Restaurant, known locally as the “Big House,” opened in 1970.  After the Hinelys passed away, the building and adjoining motel once again changed hands.  The restaurant was closed and grand home fell into disrepair from lack of use.  The community did not want to see the grand mansion fade away.  Citizens and community leaders began a campaign known as “Save the Big House”. Spear-headed by the Board of Tourism and funded by grants and private donations, the building was purchased from the hotel owners.  After months of restoration and renovation, the home was once again grand.

Today, the county government maintains ownership of the building, while the Board of Tourism oversees the facility.  Coastal Pines Technical College operates a culinary school within the Big House. The beautifully restored mansion is source of pride for the community who worked so diligently to save her and is the center of community activities hosting weddings, reunions, festivals and much more. 

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1 Comment

Filed under --JEFF DAVIS COUNTY GA--, Hazlehurst GA

One response to “The Big House, Hazlehurst

  1. John Clark

    Brian, thanks for this one. I’m not sure about the time line, but will accept your version. My mother, Mrs. Minnie Bell Griffin Clark told a little different version. Although she didn’t (sometimes) let facts get in the way of a good yarn, I was always told that Aunt Minnie, Minnie Lee Lott Sweat More, and Frank Sweat (as small railroad owners), made a trip to the White House to share ideas and needs, after reconstruction of the South was underway. Aunt Minnie was taken by the furnishings in the “Gold Room” of the presidential mansion, and wanted a magnificent home to showcase her intended furnishings. I understand that uncle Frank built the home for her, and they, indeed, did travel to Europe to get the furnishings duplicated. I inherited from my mother some of the “Gold Room” furniture copies. Aunt Minnie married John Moore, a travelling “lightning rod” salesman after Uncle Frank was killed by one of his own trains at a crossing a little north of Hazlehurst. There is still a descendant living (or has an antiques business) next door, a Mr. Chapman. My mother and Grandmother were named “Minnie” in Aunt Minnie’s honor. Minnie and John Moore moved to Brunswick prior to WWII to a grand home on Norwich street, and proceeded to spend Frank Sweat’s inheritance. Not the least of expenditures was their furnishing of this home with antiques from the Manchu Dynasty. Minnie and Frank are buried in my hometown of Douglas at the City Cemetery. The home on Norwich street has been demolished for many years. I love the site. don’t ever quit!!! John Clark, Jonesboro, GA

    Date: Fri, 5 Sep 2014 13:24:19 +0000 To: johnclark90@hotmail.com

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