Sweetwater Park Hotel: A year in the life

Special June 4, 1894 is an important day in the history of the Sweetwater Park Hotel as well as the history of Douglas County. That's the day the phone lines were open between the hotel and Atlanta - the first telephone in Douglas County.

At the end of November 1893 there was a meeting in the Atlanta offices of E.W. Marsh, the owner of the Sweet-water Park Hotel. Across the desk from Marsh sat H.T. Blake, a man well known in the hotel management business. That day the men would finalize a deal where Blake would take over the day-to-day operations of the hotel on Dec. 1.

Blake announced big plans for the hotel, and they were needed because by 1893 the last thing many had on their minds was spending money for travel to Lithia Springs for an extended stay or just for the day. This was due to a national economic downturn remembered as the Panic of 1893 that was so extensive it lasted until 1897.

Blake would need to be creative with his plans to market the hotel and make it a tourist magnet. There were rumors his salary was based on a percentage of the business, so it makes sense Blake's number one goal was to increase bookings at the hotel. He planned to continue the practice of advertising in northern newspapers -- Chicago, Boston, New York, and Philadelphia -- in order to entice the "snowbirds" who regularly came south during the winter months. The Sweetwater Park Hotel would be the perfect place to break the monotony of the long trip to and from Florida. Blake also wanted to increase the number of visitors from Atlanta by advertising weekly dances called "Hops" and lowering rates.

As Blake took over the hotel there were still a few guests from the winter season. They had enjoyed the newly installed glass panels along the many verandahs, so guests could obtain their sun baths while protected from the cold.

As the summer season opened lower rates were advertised stating the hotel recognized hard times were going to keep a great many people from the resort, so rates of $8-$15 a week were given. What a bargain!

Atlanta's Nine O'clock German Club would invade the hotel on June 1st for an elaborate dinner in the dining room followed by a dance in the ballroom. This group consisted of Atlanta's most well connected bachelors. The club was formed as early as 1883 and is still going strong today, though the name has been shortened to the Nine O'clocks, and today, their events are generally held at the Piedmont Driving Club. Don't misunderstand the word "German" in the group's original name. They weren't German in ethnicity, and speaking German was not a requirement to join. In the case of this club, the term "German" refers to an elaborate social dance resembling a cotillion. The Nine O'clock members were known then and now for their formal events including a costume ball every New Year's Eve.

June 4, 1894 is an important day in the history of the hotel as well as the history of Douglas County. That's the day the phone lines were open between the hotel and Atlanta - the first telephone in Douglas County. It was reported the first words spoken were, "This is H.T. Blake of the Sweetwater Park Hotel at Lithia Springs. We are simply testing our new telephone line to see how it works." The phone line worked like a charm, and was a draw for those businessmen who wanted to stay connected to their offices.

Popular Atlanta bands were secured to provide entertainment at the hotel including the Lily Band. They would provide "park concerts" in the grove in front of the hotel as well as in the ballroom. The Magbee Band would perform in the ballroom for the weekly Hops. Not only did many young people take the train from Atlanta specifically to attend the Hops, many of the people staying at the hotels in Austell swelled the numbers as well.

The hotel was operating at full blast by the Fourth of July with huge crowds taking advantage of round trip train fares amounting to just 50 cents. By this time the hotel had become the evening mecca of a large number of Atlanta business and professional men who would join their families each evening at the hotel and be back in the city by nine the next morning for work. It didn't hurt that the hotel established an Atlanta office just opposite Hotel Aragon (southeast corner of Peachtree and Ellis) to entice this type of "work" vacation.

July also saw the wedding of Lise Randolph and J.H. Slaughter of Baton Rouge. Lise had visited the hotel often and knew it was the place she wanted her marriage ceremony performed. A guest of the hotel, Bishop Quintard of Tennessee was recruited to marry the lovebirds.

By August, the wife of E.W. Marsh, the owner of the hotel was holding court every afternoon and evening. One of the standout events was Mrs. Marsh's Progressive Euchre party. Euchre was a very popular card game at the time. It was invented in 1860 and is the reason why the Joker card was added to a standard deck of cards. The progressive version of the game was perfect for large social events. Several card tables were put up in the hotel's ballroom for the tournament. Mrs. E.G. McCape of Atlanta carried off the ladies first prize and R.C. Shepherd, an attorney from Yazoo City Mississippi, won the gentleman's prize.

As the year wound down a few guests hung on at the resort. Renovations for the next season would begin. In November 1894 a poem written by H.T. Blake's wife appeared in several newspapers in and out of state. It was an ode to the mill ruins along Sweetwater Creek, and even then served as a huge tourist draw. The hope was the poem would lure visitors to the hotel as 1894 became 1895.

Lisa Cooper writes the amazing stories of Douglas County each Sunday. You can find her new book "Every Now and Then: The Amazing Stories of Douglas County" online at Amazon, print and Kindle versions. Locally, her books can be found at the Douglas County Museum of History and Art, The Farmer's Table and Lithia Springs Pharmacy.

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