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The original item was published from November 13, 2020 11:08 AM to November 13, 2020 11:33 AM
It is easy to be nostalgic about the Sweetwater Park Hotel.
This would have been the 19th century equivalent of a major development project for Douglas County. And not dissimilar to our current times, it came about in an era where people were preoccupied with health and well-being. Though the hotel was lost to fire in 1912, there is much we can still learn from similar developments in the state. The Hotel Era in Lithia Springs mirrored many similar developments statewide at the time.
According to local newspapers, construction began on the Sweetwater Park Hotel in 1886. It opened in July 1888. Capitalizing on its proximity to nearby mineral springs, the area saw a boom in development catering to resort travelers in the late 19th and early 20th century. Very little evidence of this unique trend is left in Lithia Springs, and the State of Georgia. But there are other properties listed on the National Register of Historic Places that give insight into this time period.
Indian Springs State Park in Flovilla, Georgia, is the oldest State Park. Similar to Lithia Springs, this area had Native American settlement that made use of the natural mineral springs. This eventually gave way to communities of European settlements organized around small civic centers and agrarian farming populations. Both Indian Springs and Lithia Springs benefited from the early travel and tourism industry, as individuals sought resorts for health, wellness and relaxation. A description of the area documented in the Indian Springs State Park History by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources could fairly describe Lithia Springs:
"From these early days, the community around Indian Springs grew with the coming of railroad and public access that brought visitors from all over the country. Resort hotels sprang up and from the mid-1800s through the early 1900s a variety of hotels...graced the area...Many of the hotels burned, fell into disuse or were torn down by the 1920s."
Of the several springs-oriented resort hotels in the area, the Indian Springs Hotel and Museum is extant and open seasonally for visitors. The National Register listing for the Glen Ella Springs Hotel (constructed 1870, 1885) in Habersham County underscores the significance of extant buildings from this era, by noting, “…it is a rare surviving example of the once prolific, multi-storied, gable-roofed, springs oriented hotels building during the 19th century in Georgia.”
The other well-documented and well-preserved example of this type of development is the Jekyll Island Club. It was built in 1887, and as such is a relative contemporary of the Sweetwater Park Hotel. The extant cottages and other civic buildings of the Jekyll Island National Historic District offer an intact view of this resort style development at that time in Georgia.
Several other historic resort communities are worth exploring to learn more about the trends of this time period. Warm Springs, Georgia featured its own springs-oriented hotel, the Meriwether Inn (1893), that was later torn down and replaced by the Warm Springs Foundation.
And the Lookout Mountain Hotel in Dade County was built in 1928 in response to the Dixie Highway, Rock City Gardens, and a surge in tourism similar to the springs-oriented hotels.
We can learn a great deal about the Sweetwater Park Hotel era from these other well-documented sites. And we can supplement that information from what is left on the ground from that era. Our next post will look at buildings from that time period that are still extant in the Lithia Springs area.
“Douglas County Georgia from Indian Trail to Interstate 20” by Fannie Mae Davis (1997) was a valuable resource for providing this information, and it is available for purchase at the Douglas County Museum of History and Art. The photos of the Sweetwater Park Hotel and Jekyll Island Club were accessed from the Digital Library of Georgia Vanishing Georgia Collection. The photograph of the Meriwhether Inn was accessed from the Digital Library of Georgia.