Irwinville Hotel

irwinville hotel irwin county ga photograph copyright brian brown vanishing south georgia usa 2008

I always heard that this was the Red Chimneys Inn and that it was built in the late 1850s. Though local lore also claims that Confederate President Jefferson Davis had a leisurely visit on the front porch the night before he was captured by Union forces nearby, this is not the case. According to Mrs. Willie Mae Smith, who wrote historical articles, both accurate and nostalgic, for the Ocilla Star in the 1970s and 1980s: “Irwinville Hotel stood across the road west from the courthouse, but as to its age, have found no one who knows. I know it was here in 1907….Professor Royal at one time was manager of this hotel, then, in 1907 W. J. Willingham assumed management. [Rooms were rented at the rate of $1 per day!]…The hotel was run by several different families: Murrays, Walkers, and Whiteheads.

Mrs. Smith also went on to say that the building was of log construction, hidden beneath the boards, and that it was used as a supply station in the Civil War. I believe this to be apocryphal, though I won’t completely rule it out without further investigation. Its most likely date of construction is the 1880s.

UPDATE: As of September 2016, the future of the Irwinville Hotel is uncertain. There is presently an effort to rezone the property and rumor (just that, no confirmation) is that it will be demolished and a Dollar General built on the site. I hope this is not the case.

40 thoughts on “Irwinville Hotel

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  2. Christy Jones

    The hotel is gone, a Dollar General now sits there. It’s so sad to lose a piece of history to so-called progress.

  3. LISA

    My mom, Sandra Godwin Purvis, states she used to go and visit a lady on the top floor, “Ma Shaftner”(sp?), she called her. They lived at the other end of the dirt road beside this building and across the pavement. As kids, they loved when “Ma Shaftner” came to visit them. She was so much fun and could “tear up a piano”! And she told me……she could make the “table talk”. Wish I could find out more about this woman! Mom said she didn’t think she had any family.

    1. Jamie Benson

      Mama Shafer, the lady that Sandra Godwin Purvis was talking about, was my great grandmother. She lived in the old hotel until around 1965. She moved from there to the second big house on Pinetta Road that was then owned by her daughter Sybil Benson. Some of my earliest childhood memories are of sitting in Mama Shafer’s lap while she played the piano.

      Mama Shafer had to move from the hotel because it had been purchased by Artie and Mildred Fletcher who lived there until the mid-80’s I think. The house was left to their son, Artie Ray Fletcher who never lived there that I know of. It sat abandoned for decades.

      1. lisa

        Thanks for that valuable information on my moms past Jamie! I will tell her, cause she didn’t know if Ma Shafer had an family around or not. I will tell her! She talked highly of Ma Shafer! My mom did get to through the abandoned house before it was crumbled to the ground. That meant a lot to her since she is an Irwinvillian and grew up in this town too!

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  5. Teresa miller

    My great grandpa Waller was the blacksmith in Irwinville. The family lived at the hotel. My grandpa grew up there. He lived to be 96 & died in 05. He had many stories to tell of the house. He said he climbed the posts or he said “shinnied ” up them to get upstairs. Unfortunately, that is where he found his father after heard a gunshot, dead. No one knows if it was accident or intentional. He had an eye patch & possibly brain cancer. He had a lot of children , though only 2 male Waller heirs survive now in Atlanta. My uncle Conrad cud tell u more. My great uncle Ike Waller ran a local store aCross from the old school with his wife Ann for all their lives I believe ( no children). It has Ben torn down & some farming biz office put there. They saw fit to dog up the concrete slab of the dog “Shorty’s” grave out front.he was an amazing dog & did all sorts of tricks for the customers, like go get penny, Nickle or dime candy as directed. When asked if he’s rather be Lyndon Johnson one be dead , he’d lay down & put all 4 feet in the air. The Waller’s were a colorful family w/ many a tall tail. I wish I cud find an investor or partner to renovate that place & turn it into a B&B . It is so close to the inrterstate, I bet we wud do well, but I’m a 3 hr. Drive aWay , old & sick now. I wud need a young energetic partner to run it & we wud need to advertise well. I’m always needing. Place to stAy when I come back for family reunions & I know others r 2 & funerals. I visit it every trip& take pictures. I sure wish we cud save it. It’s got to b worthy of the historical register & some funding to restore.

    1. Doug Tatum

      I remember miss Ann Waller. When my youngest sister was born I spent the night with “Miss Ann” They were good folks.

    2. Jamie Benson

      How well I remember Uncle Ike and Aunt Ann. Although we were not related, I loved them like family. It was always a treat to go to Waller’s store and see Shorty. As a teenager, I worked for Aunt Ann keeping the yards up and the store cleaned. I’ve never met another dog as smart as Shorty. I remember his headstone out in the yard.

      when Aunt Ann sold the store, she bought a mobile home and lived in it about 1/4 mile from the store. Where Betty Moore lives now. I bought the trailer from her estate when she passed, moved it down the road and still live in it today.

      1. Teresa Miller

        Oh wow, I wud love 2 talk w/u & share stories. I thought SHORTY was the smartest dog on the world, growing up. When uncle Ike wud send him for penny, nickle, or whatever kind of candy & he’d come back w/it. Also loved his trick of playing dead when Ike wood ask him if he’d rather b LBJ or b dead & he’d lye on his back w/all 4’s straight up in the air. I was devastated 2c new owner had torn down SHORTY’s head stone. I left him a nasty note. So unnecessary! What was it bothering & out meant a lot 2 me 2 go by& visit it each xi went thru Irwinville. If ur on FB OR INSTANT MESSENGER, Plse. Message m if ‘d like 2 talk & share stories. I’m listed as, Teresa Carmichael Miller. Thx.

    1. Trish @theoldpostroad

      And it’s my guess that the big empty lot at the light used to be an old building. (It was the First State Bank trailer location in the 80’s, but prior to that may have been an old building.)

      1. Doug Tatum

        Big empty lot next to the old McDuffie store across the street from the old First state bank trailer. Don’t ever remember anything being next to the old store. The trailer was some other business at one point. I wonder if the old Motel could be saved and moved, someone would surely give a small plot for it to sit….

  6. Lindsay McDonald

    I just learned today that this property has been sold, and the old hotel will be demolished and replaced by a Dollar General. There will be a re-zoning meeting soon. How sad….

    1. Trish @theoldpostroad

      In the middle of highly developed Irwinville in the middle of farmland there isn’t another lot Dollar General can buy?! Seriously!

  7. Doug Tatum

    Everyone has heard the Davis stories. But I remember it being Mr Artie Fletcher’s house. He drove his old Ford truck 25mph everywhere even when he went to Ocilla! For those of us who hung out “at the bank” in Irwinville after cruising Grant Mr Artie would call the sherrif on us if someone spun a tire, and Welsey Florence would ride out and talk to us about waking Mr Artie up “and ya’ll know he’s gonna call me”

  8. jerry ivey

    Me. my grandmother Alva Gibbs Ivey and her mother Jennie Branch Gibbs rode by this motel in Irwinville in the late 1960. My great great grandmother Jennie Branch Gibbs told me her Grandfather William Young built it. He was born in 1827 in Jefferson Co Ga, He was in Irwin County in 1850. He was in the Irwin County Cowboys Co A died at Gettysburg Pa 7/3/1863

    1. Mike Young

      My Young’s are from Irwin Co. and before that Jefferson Co.
      I’d love to compare notes on family history.
      My grandfathers parents moved their household to Florida in the 1930’s but I know many direct kin still live in the area. I’d like to find info on CSA veterans too.
      I can be reached at
      Thanks Roy Michael “Mike” Young Jr

  9. Verne Hoyt

    Ms. Willie Mae Smith lived in Irwinville for almost a hundred years and became know as the unofficial Irwin County historian since she wrote over a hundred articles for the Ocilla Star on the history of the county. She told me that this building was the old Irwinville Hotel. It once faced the side road but was moved by later owners to face the new highway. She was also told as a child that President Jefferson Davis stopped there while in the area. I have a book of the stories she told me that I have never published.

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  11. Adam

    I was always told that Jefferson Davis visited with some of the locals at this old inn the night before his capture. From what I heard from family members was that he rode into town from the campsite and visited before riding back out to the campsite where he was captured early the next morning.

    1. drtrd Post author

      I’ve heard this as well, Adam, and though I worked at Jefferson Davis State Historic Site for several years, I’ve never been sure that it’s anything more than apocryphal. I wish there were a way to validate it.

  12. Trish @TheOldPostRoad

    I am forwarding this to a friend who lives in Irwinville – she may know more about the inn. I remember driving it past it (on the south side of the highway -east of the caution light – right?) but did not know it was once an inn.

    I lived in Ocilla for High School (82-87) and absolutely love your site. What memories! You photographed my mom’s old house (the craftsman in downtown Ocilla). I prefer her old paint colors on that house -btw.

    Thanks for posting all of these beautiful, beautiful pictures of rural Georgia!

  13. drtrd Post author

    Thanks Karen! Did your family live there? I’d love to know more about the place….It’s possibly the most historic building remaining in Irwin County and so few people know ANYTHING about it.

  14. Karen Jackson

    This is a great picture. I remember playing there when my aunt and uncle were still alive.


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