For a romantic getaway, spend a night or two in some of Georgia’s renovated historic hotels to feel the past come to life with a contemporary twist.
Revisionist history can be a precarious place to visit. In the case of Georgia’s historic hotels, however, a trek to revamped days of yore is undoubtedly worth the trip.
From the coast to the mountains, the state’s historic hotels connect the past to the present. Walk their halls to feel history come alive, breathe deep the passage of time, touch relics of yesteryear, and see tradition and progress coexist in artful balance.
History evolves, and that fact is often visible at old hotels. Renovations may be essential to ensure structures remain safe as well as to update the property to suit modern tastes. After all, what might have been considered top-notch centuries ago may not satisfy contemporary travelers. Yet great restorations retain the most appealing assets of any historic hotel – whether its background, architectural details, landmark status, celebrated guests or famous events are most noteworthy.
Each historic hotel boasts an individual story and unique character. Stay in one, and you can reasonably expect an authentic experience that transcends the ordinary. These five havens are gateways to days gone by, with prime locations and luxury amenities to sweeten any stay.
Photo courtesy of The Brice, A Kimpton Hotel
History: The building was a cotton warehouse and livery in the 1860s. In 1902 it became the first Coca-Cola bottling plant outside of Atlanta, and the first to produce the iconic glass bottles. More recently, it housed the Mulberry Inn (circa 1980).Renovations: Purchased by Kimpton Hotels in 2013, the property was completely renovated before reopening as The Brice in May 2014. “Everything changed,” says Marie Dalis-Brown, director of sales and marketing. “But Kimpton does it in a quirky, fun way.” For example, with graffiti-like spontaneity, hallways pop with murals of horses in a tribute to the former stable. Preservations: “The Brice is the young, rebellious Southern belle of Savannah,” says Dalis-Brown. “We’re bringing history back with fun conversation starters throughout the property.” Morning coffees and evening wines are set out on a Coca-Cola table while the on-site Pacci Restaurant features dishes like Coke-braised short ribs. A grandfather clock and gilded mirror salvaged from the Mulberry are refreshed with bright paint.Now: This medley of daring design and Southern tradition is pet friendly, offers complimentary bicycles and sits at the edge of the historic district.
More Info: (912) 238-1200; bricehotel.com
Photo courtesy of Christian Horan Photography
History: Graduate Athens is comprised of several different buildings, some of which date to 1829. Blacksmiths crafted famed works like the University of Georgia Arch and the Double-Barreled Cannon in the iron Foundry building (circa 1850). Most recently, the site was home to the Foundry Park Inn & Spa.
Renovations: New owners AJ Capital Partners kicked off a year of renovations in 2013. Graduate is a new hotel collection opening in college markets across the nation. Graduate Athens’ décor mixes Southern tradition with bright colors, preppy refinement and eccentric creativity as a nod to Athens’ history of innovation in music and art. Modern furnishings and locally sourced vintage and contemporary art contrast with historic elements.
Preservations: The lobby is located in the Foundry building. “The designers did an amazing job of preserving the history of the structure and accentuating different components like the frame beams and other architectural elements,” says Devin Heath, general manager.
Now: The 122-room boutique hotel sits at the edge of downtown, a short walk from the UGA campus. The on-site Foundry Bar & Mill showcases musical performances and local beers.
More Info: (706) 549-7020; graduateathens.com
Photo courtesy of the Jekyll Island Club Hotel
Jekyll Island Club Hotel
History: Built in 1886 as a hunting retreat for America’s wealthy elite – think J.P. Morgan, William Rockefeller, Joseph Pulitzer, the Vanderbilts and Vincent Astor, among others – the Club was the site of the first transcontinental telephone call. In 1947 the state of Georgia bought the island to be a state park.
Renovations: In 1986 several former Club properties, leased from the state, were restored and transformed into the Jekyll Island Club Hotel. Updates were extensive, but as a National Historic Landmark and member of Historic Hotels of America, architectural integrity and original walls were retained.
Preservations: “We do want to keep it historic so when you come here you get that feel from it,” says Amy Wisenbaker, social media and web communications manager. “We try to keep it as close to original as possible, from the furniture styles to paint colors.”
Now: Walk the same halls original members did at the island’s only four-star resort, which sits on manicured grounds at the river’s edge and is the centerpiece of Jekyll Island’s celebrated historic district.
More Info: (855) 787-3857; jekyllclub.com
Photo courtesy of The King and Prince
The King and Prince Beach & Golf Resort
History: First opened as a seaside dance club in 1935, the property was transformed into a hotel in 1941. During World War II, it served as a naval coast-watching and training facility. In 1947 it reopened as a resort.Renovations: The hotel was renovated and expanded in 1972 and again in 1983, when it became a member of Historic Hotels of America. In 2003 the historic main building was renovated, adding 57 new guest rooms. Two years later the resort was named to the National Register of Historic Places. The ground floor entrance, lobby, atrium, conference space, restaurant and bar most recently were renovated from November 2013 to February 2014.
St. Simons Island
Preservations: Nine stained glass windows depicting St. Simons Island locations still hang in the oceanfront Delegal Dining Room. Six are from 1938; three additional windows were discovered during the 1983 hotel renovation.
Now: “The legendary historic hotel with an exquisite brand-new look pairs modern luxury and style with impeccable Southern hospitality,” says Leigh Cort, publicist. The beachfront resort is home to the island’s only oceanfront dining.
More Info: (912) 638-3631; kingandprince.com
Photo courtesy of the Albany CVB
Merry Acres Inn
History: In 1935 Dr. R.L. Grace Sr. purchased a 500-acre property that included an old farmhouse, horse barns, pecan groves and pasture. He later added another 200 acres, and the area eventually would become the site for Merry Acres Hotel and Merry Acres Subdivision. The boutique hotel was built in 1952.
Renovations: The former smokehouse was turned into a two-bedroom suite in 1968 when 30 more units were added along with a pool behind the registration house. More renovations and additions took place in 1975 and 1989. In 2011 new owner Stewbos Group invested $2 million, upgrading all 110 guest rooms with new flooring, fabrics, furniture, granite countertops, mosaic tiles and works by local artists.Preservations: The two-story manor house (circa 1934) serves as the registration office. A rock building, where the original owner made sausage and cooked chitterlings, still stands by the pool area. The original barbecue pits and outdoor fireplace are still in use today.
Now: “There’s nothing like this charming, locally owned property,” says Sandy Gregors, director of sales. Enjoy drinks and light bites on-site at the Manor House Pub or take a complimentary shuttle service from the hotel to any Stewbos Group restaurant.
More Info: (229) 435-7721; merryacres.com
By Hope S. Philbrick