Hotel in downtown Winder to undergo restoration

WINDER - Major renovations will begin this spring on the Barrow Hotel building at the intersection of Athens and Broad Streets.

City Council Members are scheduled to read construction bids in January. The restoration, estimated at $1 million, will be completed in two phases.

"Back in 1895 it probably cost $10,000 to $12,000 to build," said Ben Carter, architect who also refurbished People's Bank on Broad Street. "To rebuild it today would be at least $3 million."

City officials are applying for grants to complete the project, which will determine the completion date.

Winder's general fund provides $300,000 to begin renovations. Working in two phases, craftsmen will stabilize the exterior walls, gut the interior, remove any asbestos and lead paint, construct a new roof, then build a steel frame inside and attach it to the original walls for added strength. The white paint will be stripped, exposing the natural granite walls.

"It will change the appearance of downtown Winder," said Bob Beck, city manager.

The boarded-up, two-story, white structure, that most recently hosted homeless people, is a fixture nearly as old as the town of Winder.

Formerly an Indian trading post, Jug Tavern was renamed Winder in 1893 for John Winder, general manager of the Seaboard Railroad, according to the book "Beadland to Barrow" by Fred Ingram. The hotel was built around 1895 of solid, load-bearing granite near the cotton warehouse, still standing by the railroad tracks. The Barrow Hotel was the hub of Winder's business and entertainment. Located next to the courthouse, it served the merchants who came to town on the approximately six passenger and eight freight trains that passed through each day.

At 19,800 square feet it remains the largest, standing solid granite building in Georgia from that era, Beck said.

In December 2004, Winder officials paid $200,000 for the building, intending to demolish it and build a parking garage on the space.

"Once we put it out for demolition bids, people started coming out of the woodwork," Beck said. "The Department of Community Affairs wrote us a letter. We decided to look for an investor or advertise it for sale. So far, we've had no takers."

The hotel's restoration ties in with Winder's streetscape program intended to preserve and revitalize the town's historic beauty. In the 1980s, businesses and customers across the nation began leaving many charming downtown areas for major malls and strip centers. Winder, however, never quite lost its walker-friendly, energetic, downtown commercial center. Residents can see new trees, landscaping and seating appear along Winder's sidewalks, as well as the rehabilitation of gracious historic buildings, like People's Bank.

"The hotel had 20 rooms upstairs, a large dining room downstairs, cloth awnings on the windows and a balcony overlooking Broad Street," Carter said. "The lower portion of the grand staircase is still there, as well as remnants of the decorative wainscotting and chair rail. The architecture tells me it was made almost like a country inn, a wilderness stop by the railroad, as opposed to a high style, white linen establishment."

So far, no grant money has come in to help with restorations. City officials continue to look for a buyer or investor to finish the building for residential, retail or a mix of both.

"We don't want to be in the real estate business," Beck said. "We would be willing to partner with an investor so we jointly share the risk of profit or loss."