Category Archives: Helena GA

Restoration of the Hotel Willard, Helena

Nearly three years ago, I reported that I had learned that this landmark, the most important surviving commercial structure in all of Telfair County, was being threatened with demolition. Soon thereafter, I learned that a local gentleman had stepped up and taken on its restoration. I’m glad to report that he has made a lot of progress, stripping paint off the brick and replacing windows. He has also done work on the interior, but it’s a slow process. I know there’s a long way to go, but how wonderful that someone chose to save this wonderful old hotel.



Helena’s Hotel Willard Will Soon Be Demolished

I recently updated my original post about the Hotel Willard, noting that it appeared work was being done on the property. When I shared this on social media, it was confirmed that it’s being prepared for demolition. I’m not using this space to criticize the decision but rather to share some last photographs of this landmark.

It amazes me that communities can’t see the value in such properties, but owners are often reluctant to pour money into them and as a result they deteriorate over time to the point that repair is not feasible. We say we love our heritage but we have a really bad track record of saving it.

I understand that many of the architectural features of the hotel are being salvaged. I hope this cast iron door frame is among them.

Unfortunately, the most important features, such as the brickwork around the entrance and the fanlights will be lost forever.

UPDATE: On 29 December 2017, we got the best possible news about the future of the hotel. Michelle Lowery writes that the owners have now decided to renovate it.




Seaboard Air Line Railway Freight Depot, Helena

Helena’s restored Seaboard freight depot is now home to the Telfair Museum of History.

Fire Station, Helena

Hotel Willard, Circa 1893, Helena

Telfair Hotel Helena GA Endangered Railroad Architecture Photograph Copyright Brian Brown Vanishing South Georgia USA 2014

Truly one of my favorite structures in all of South Georgia, the venerable Hotel Willard with its fanlights and exotic turret is a real architectural gem whose future remains quite uncertain. I know little of its history, but just learned it was known for the longest time as the Hotel Willard, but also was called the Brick Inn and the Telfair Hotel, as well as serving for a time as the VFW Hall and at least one restaurant. The serendipitous discovery of an old postcard on Julian Williams’ popular local history page led to these revisions, as I had always labeled it the Telfair Hotel and assumed its construction date to be somewhere around 1911. Here are some clues shared on Vanishing South Georgia on an earlier post about the property.

Becky: “Read in a reference book in Telfair County Library, that it was built by the railroad. It has been called many names..The Brick Inn, The Willard Hotel, the Telfair Motor Lodge just to name a few. It states that it cost just 2 dollars a day to stay. Doesn’t give date of construction, but the railroad come to Helena in 1870s. Another photo dated 1893 of the wooden depot in Helena shows very tip of the hotel’s steeple in the background.”

Janice Green Scruggs: “Our family history story is that my great-grandfather, William Henry (Bill) Strom was a good stonemason and was brought from Edgefield, South Carolina, to help build the hotel for the railroad. This would have been around the 1880′s as he married my great-grandmother in 1885. There’s no proof this story is true and I”ve had no luck in finding info on when this hotel was built. It seems to me I did find a block on corner of building with a date of 1911…”

JoAnne Baldwin: “I was told the chandelier in the dining room was so large it took a boom from a Georgia Power truck to get it placed and installed. I was also told In the late 40′s the American Legion or VFW leased part of the building and had a bar/restaurant there.”

Laura Finch: “My Uncle operated it the 1950,s. His name was Grady Fincher. I visited here in the summer from Jacksonville, Florida. It was very nice. I remember helping set the table.Wish I could go inside one more time.”

Allen Ryals: “I was in this hotel six or seven years ago. It is structurally unsound to the extreme–almost falling down on the outer wall. If you look carefully at the current photo, you can see one section of the upper right brick wall has been rebuilt to prevent it falling down–and it is a crude, ugly job.. The hotel guest rooms themselves had some beautiful wood trim, floors, and paneling that may be salvaged. It would be a monumental and expensive task to restore this building–probably requiring tearing it down and completely rebuilding it . The building attached to it on the far right was my grandfather Clay Saunder’s garage and gas station in the 40′s. There was a hotel manager’s apartment in the back on the ground floor that had a lovely garden just outside. The manager’s wife was a friend of my mother’s, and I remember going over there to play in the garden as a small child in the late 40′s.”

John Smith: “My Uncle operated the Pure Oil service station that was on the back side of the hotel, facing us 341. The VFW club was located in the building and had a separate entrance. It moved to a location west of McRae and Mr. Finch opened a restaurant where the VFW had been. Eaten there many times as a young boy. The hotel sits about 100 yards south of where the Seaboard RR crossed the Southern RR and where the passenger depot was situated.”

On his excellent local history forum, Old Jacksonvilile, Ga: Where History Lives, Julian Williams shared Danny Harbin’s postcard of the hotel, then known as the Hotel Willard, dated 1910.

Antique Postcard of Hotel Willard Telfair Hotel Helena GA Courtesy and Credit to Danny Harbin via Julian Williams Vanishing South Georgia 2014

Real Photo Postcard by M. L. McGee, McRae, GA

UPDATE: As of July 2017, it appears some sort of work is being done on this property. From what I could see, it looks like floor joists and other framework is being removed. I hope this doesn’t indicate that this property will soon be demolished.

Walton-Dennis House, 1907, Helena

helena ga historic walton dennis house photograph copyright brian brown vanishing south georgia usa 2009

I always loved seeing this house as I passed through Helena on Highway 341. It was so inspiring to hear from those who lived and had wonderful memories here.

Mary Matson: I have just discovered this image of my grandmother’s house. She was Mildred Walton Pittman and her father built this house and according to my grandmother, they moved in the house in 1907. I have a photograph of the house just after it was built. I also have a photo of my grandmother and Rexie sitting on the front porch that was taken in the 1980′s. Rexie was Rachel Brook’s sister. Rachel was a dear friend of my grandmother and her family.

Jack Dennis, Jr.: I, along with my sister and brother were raised in this wonderful house. My mother purchased the house during WW2 while my father was in the army. The Walton family built the house around the turn of the century. It originally had no electricity as the wiring was exposed on the walls. It was built from heart pine wood that was as hard as stone. It also had a magnificent 200 year old oak in the front yard that grew over the highway until the idiots from DOT cut it down. I think my mother paid $2500. for the house and half the city block.

Michaela Dennis Hadlow: This house belonged to my Mother and Daddy, Jack and Rexie Dennis. They had 3 children who grew up in this home: Jack, Jr., Rex, and me (Michaela). My Daddy died in 1954, and my Mother lived in this home until she had a debilitating stroke in 1999. We maintained the home while she lived near my family in Florida until she passed away in 2003. A man who also lived in Helena as a young boy, Billy Routh, (now a realtor) purchased the house from us. I am saddened each time I see it now, because the yards have not been maintained….and it is an eyesore!

As of 2011, the house was dismantled.

helena ga walton dennis house photograph copyright brian brown vanishing south georgia usa 2009

Railway Express Agency Truck, Helena

helena ga railway express agency truck photograph copyright brian brown vanishing south georgia usa 2009