A Story of an Old Hotel
In 1954, I turned ten. I had a fifth-grade teacher I loved. I had a new bicycle that I rode every day, and a father who wanted a new job. Or at least, he thought he did! One Thursday night, my father came home with a smile that could have been measured with a yardstick. At dinner that night, Dad asked, “How would you like to go for a ride tomorrow?”
The answer to that question changed our lives. Almost.
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Before the sun came up the next day, Dad and Mom had packed the car, packed a lunch, and packed me into the back seat, and we were on our way to Georgia. There were no Interstate Highways in those days, so the travel was slow and tedious. Needless to say, it was an unremarkable trip.
Dad interviewed for his new job. I never learned why, but we never moved to Georgia.
There was a dreadful silence at dinner that night in a Howard Johnson’s near Warner Robins, Georgia. The only thing I remember was Dad’s announcement that we would not be going straight home. We were going to spend two nights in a classy hotel at the Georgia seashore.
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I never thought to count the number of hotels I have slept in, but it’s a big number. Most have been long forgotten for good reasons, but the memorable ones are places where for other reason, I have formed an attachment that will live with me forever. One such place was the Oglethorpe Hotel in Brunswick, Georgia.
The recently discovered postcard that you see above has caused a flood of memories and also prompted me to search for an explanation and a reason. I found a newspaper article dated July 8, 2017. I will quote (in italics) from the article written by Larry Hobbs, apparently a reporter for The Brunswick News.
Mr. Hobbs, writes, The Oglethorpe Hotel was torn down in 1958.
For a local perspective on the perpetually-restless American spirit, look no further than the vacant lot at the entrance to downtown Brunswick.
Chances are you have driven past it dozens of times, scarcely taking notice of the site that once housed a burgeoning monument to good taste and refinement. Yes, at one time the majestic Oglethorpe Hotel occupied that patch of dirt, grass and weeds.
For 70 years the Oglethorpe presided over downtown Brunswick, three stories high with 267 palatial feet of frontage commanding a view of the East River. Conical towers rose on the horizon of its genteel gothic architecture, which also featured a marble tiled rotunda and circular balcony overlooking a courtyard fountain amid lush gardens and landscaping.
In 1958, its owners tore the Oglethorpe down. In its place rose a boxy Holiday Inn, identical to the thousands of Holiday Inns that were then sprouting across America. That Holiday Inn eventually would suffer the same fate as the Oglethorpe.
Designed by noted architect J. A. Wood of Poughkeepsie, N.Y., the Oglethorpe was once among the largest hotels in the South. This was in keeping with the great expectations surrounding Brunswick during the economic boom experienced here at the end of the 19th Century. After nearly 100 years of bad timing and war-torn setbacks since its founding in 1771, Brunswick finally came into its own as a port city in the decades following the Civil War.
Tall Georgia pine fueled this economic engine. Brunswick emerged as a hub for shipping timber to a westward expanding nation. It also became a global leader in the provision of Naval stores such as turpentine and varnish. City docks were stacked with barrels and barrels of naval stores, which often were bound for Europe and beyond on huge oceangoing vessels.
The pine was felled in central Georgia, lashed together in huge square rafts and floated down the Altamaha River to the coast at Darien. From there, pine was ferried at high tide to Brunswick and St. Simons Island through a natural water artery known as Three Mile Cut.
Railroads such as the Brunswick and Western and the Georgia Coastal further strengthened Brunswick’s overland connections to the outside world. At the start of the Civil War in 1861, Brunswick’s population stood at a modest 1,000 folks. With that brutal war behind them and the bounty of Georgia pines ahead of them, Brunswick had blossomed into a thriving city of 9,000 folks in 1870.
The boom times peaked in 1900, when a record 112 million board feet of Georgia pine was timbered. Poor stewardship caused this natural resource to taper off after the turn of the 20th Century, but the regal Oglethorpe Hotel carried on in downtown Brunswick.
It survived the devastating 1898 hurricane that struck Brunswick head on, and it persevered through the Great Depression that followed the 1929 stock market crash. The Oglethorpe was still there when Brunswick emerged as a major contributor on the home front during World War II, when a shipyard on the Brunswick River produced 99 Liberty Ships toward the war effort.
A native son remembers the Oglethorpe. “It was just a grand hotel. I have fond memories of going to the Oglethorpe to have dinner after church.”
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I hesitate, but have been dared to ask, have you ever heard someone say, “Let’s go to the Holiday Inn for dinner after church?”