My husband and I love to travel. Soaking in the local color and mentally cataloguing our favorite facets of the character of our destinations has become a treasured pastime. We experience the sights and sounds, the colors and textures of a destination that can, at once, be exciting and relaxing, a sensory smorgasbord seared in my memory so the mere recollection is like making the trip all over again.
Haven’t had the pleasure of that experience? Come join me whilst I share one with you:
We drive into town on a beautiful sun-drenched North Georgia spring evening. If not for the late model cars parked along the street, one would think we had stepped back in time to the dawn of the 20th Century. Two-and-three story brick buildings line the streets, their corbelled cornices and irregularly placed entries inviting the passerby to come sample their wares. We comment on the plate glass windows giving us a peek into the old-fashioned apothecary with elaborately carved soda fountain and, across the street, the general store brimming with jar candies, vintage toys, antiques, and brand names we haven’t seen since we were children. Art galleries, glass works and pottery studios beckon to pedestrians browsing the windows while delectable dinner time aromas remind us that it soon will be time for the evening meal.
We notice the town has a wonderful mix of dining establishments: sandwich shops and barbecue for the casual diner, a steak house and microbrewery, Cajun seafood, good ol’ American burgers at the local pub, gourmet pizza and northern Italian cuisine – just too many to choose for only one night out. At the end of one block, the local hotel has been restored to 1899 and we notice that it is the center of activity on the street. This is what we’ve come to see, so we park the car at the historic courthouse and cross the street to take a look.
Passing through the brass-trimmed heavy wood and glass entry doors, we immediately see local residents with dinner reservations meeting friends in the lobby bar for a drink and appetizer. They pass the red oak reception desk greeting guests to the hotel with the warmth of wood accompanied by the elegance of cast iron accoutrements allowing the observer a glimpse of the grand staircase.
Pine-framed plate glass windows bring the outside landscape in providing interest for the lobby visitor lounging in comfortable overstuffed chairs, wide plank flooring and exposed beam ceilings with gasolier-style illumination and vintage ceiling fans.
From the dining room, the sounds of glasses tinkling and occasional laughter and voices beckon to the waiting diner whose senses are piqued by the unmistakable scent of sizzling steaks mingling with the trademark of garlic-laden Italian fare and some great cooking that rivals Mama’s with delectable desserts peeking from the dessert cart. Soft music reflecting the season helps set the tone contributing to the ambiance of the renewed life for the grand ol’ lady encased in granite quarried south of our hometown of Winder.
Overnight guests to the hotel are welcomed by the founding families of Winder. Sleeping rooms with sitting areas are appointed with furniture selected by sponsoring families whose pedigree traces back to the early days of Winder, Jug Tavern and Barrow County. Late 19th century family photos adorn the walls with comfortable beds providing the quality night of sleep that will call the guest back time and time again. The hotel register boasts many return visitors to the bed-and-breakfast style boutique hotel – a destination in itself.
It’s the year 2015 and The Granite Hotel is the anchor for a renewed Downtown Winder back from the brink. Hospitality-related restaurants and coffee shops interspersed with art galleries and associated retail weave Winder’s heritage throughout the historic fabric of this 1893 north Georgia town. A neighborhood theater, jazz club, and other intimate entertainment venues entice the sidewalk shopper looking for something fun to do before wandering back to their condo overlooking Downtown Winder and its revitalized economic landscape.
“Sustainability” is personified in Downtown Winder as the economic redevelopment efforts are contributing to the city and county coffers through hotel/motel and sales tax. The contribution to environmental sustainability is evident in the green roof and solar energy system powering the hotel while the town personifies environmentally friendly rehabilitation.
Sound intriguing? Want to be a part of the rejuvenation of Downtown Winder? Be a part of the excitement: Barrow Preservation Society’s quarterly meeting, Tuesday, April 20th, 7:00 – 8:30 PM, 2nd floor courtroom, Historic Barrow County Courthouse, 45 N. Broad Street, Downtown Winder. We’re bringing memories to life!
Helen Person is a columnist for the Barrow Journal. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.