One hundred and twenty-eight years ago this very summer excitement was at frenzy level as the Sweetwater Park Hotel was going to open.
For months the building’s progress was given in the Atlanta papers. Reporters likened the construction to the magic of the Genie from Arabian Nights who “in a twinkling built palaces in the deserts and made grand courts in mere wastelands.”
What was described as magic actually took 200 men (by some accounts) to erect the huge hotel on the property located on the western corner of Veterans Memorial Highway (Bankhead) and S. Sweetwater Road.
Just a few weeks ago I shared some information about Edwin W. Marsh and Samuel M. Inman who were wealthy Atlanta businessmen. They were the primary investors with the hotel project along with James A. Watson who had ties to Douglasville.
The hotel would open in the summer of 1887 boasting 250 rooms besides parlors, offices and billiard rooms. Piazzas stretching for 700 feet with widths of 14-to-28-feet surrounded the hotel with wide halls dividing the rooms. One description states, “It [was] built with wings of open courts of wood and grass enclosed, so that there [was] not an inside room in the house.”
The third story contained open balconies 40 feet square, handsomely finished from which guests could look towards Marietta on one side and Atlanta on the other with the Blue Ridge Mountains in full view.
On top of the main building was a handsome covered court for observation. There were reading rooms for gentlemen, and parlors, billiard rooms and every possible convenience of the best hotels.
The building had electricity and the halls were heated by steam though most of the rooms also had open fireplaces. There were electric call bells in every room and most had private balconies. Bathrooms had hot and cold water as well as shower baths.
The baths were supplied with salt water from the springs, of course.
The dining room was 50-by-86-feet finished with enormous plate-glass windows and was decorated inside with eight huge mirrors of the finest French glass.
E.W. Marsh and James A. Watson wanted the best man possible to run the hotel. They traveled to Traverse City, Michigan to observe John B. Billings, the manager of a large hotel there. After two or three days they were satisfied enough and made Mr. Billings an offer. However, Billings refused until he could travel to the Sweetwater Park Hotel and take a look around.
The hotel must have met his approval because not only did he accept their offer to run the hotel, he set out on a trip to New York with them to buy furniture and other appointments.
They purchased the finest pianos that could be bought, plush Brussels carpet and the same furniture that could be found in Fifth Avenue hotels.
Silverware was purchased from Rogers & Sons, a company which eventually became known as International Silver, and the crockery was made especially for the hotel by the Dobbs & Wey Company.
The bathhouse was constructed of brick with a tower of ornamental design. A parlor was on the right with ladies' bathing parlors and the left side was for the gentlemen. The building was decorated with fine engravings, sofas, and “every convenience and comfort.”
The workmen were working around the clock down at the springs, too. A pavilion was being built over the springs and was “ornamental to the highest degree … with an arched roof that was finished in exquisite taste.” The pavilion floor was a sheet of solid marble that measured 65-by-50 feet. Today, a piece of that very floor is on display at the Douglas County Museum of History and Art.
Tragically, the Sweetwater Park Hotel burned to the ground in 1912.
It came “as if by magic” and left us in much the same way. Today, there is little evidence it ever existed, and though there was no loss of life, I consider its loss to be one of Douglas County’s greatest tragedies.
Lisa Cooper writes the amazing stories of Douglas County each Sunday. You can also find her Facebook page for Douglas County history under the name “Every Now and Then,” and visit her website at lisalandcooper.com for even more stories.