Georgia town tries to keep one foot in past, one in present


Hundreds of US towns, cites, counties, lakes, etc. bear the name Washington – most, one would think, in honor of George Washington, although it’s possible baseball vagabond Claudell Washington may have been recognized by a locale or two in recent years.

The first town to name itself for America’s Founding Father was Washington, Ga., which definitely took a leap of faith when it opted to identify itself with the then-commander in chief of patriot forces in January 1780. At that point, the colonies’ hopes for defeating the British in the American Revolution were very much touch and go, and would be for another 18 months.

One imagines that if the war had gone the other way, British and loyalist forces would not have looked kindly on those who opted to name their town for the defeated rebel leader.

Today, Washington is a bucolic community of about 4,000, with a surprising number of antebellum mansions – more than 100 – including that of Confederate Secretary of State and later General Robert Toombs; the residence of planter John Talbot – now called the Griggs Home – where Eli Whitney spent time perfecting his cotton gin; and the Slaton Home, where Sarah Porter Hillhouse, Georgia’s first female newspaper editor, lived more than 200 years ago.

At the heart of the town is the Washington’s court square, which, more accurately, is shaped like a rectangle and is surrounded by one- and two-story brick buildings.
Many date from the late 1890s, having been built after a particularly devastating fire in June 1895 that claimed five stores, an office building, a wagon-and-machine shop and a residence. In addition, the town’s Episcopal church and two other dwellings were seriously damaged.

Window on T.C. Hogue Building, built in 1895 and located in Washington Court Square.

Window on T.C. Hogue Building, built in 1895 and located in Washington Court Square.

Obviously, the conflagration wasn’t on par with the great Chicago Fire of 1871, but in a town that then claimed 2,000 residents, such a blaze could have proved debilitating to business and citizenry alike.

The town’s residents didn’t take long to rebound; several of the structures in the court square bear the date 1895.

Propelled by agriculture and its position on a key rail line, Washington continued to thrive despite the occasional setback.

A short distance from courthouse square sits the old Barrows House Hotel (above), built by Edward F. Barrows, an architect who assisted with construction of the Atlanta Penitentiary.

The Barrows Hotel opened in 1899, and was a two-story, Romanesque Revival-style, brick building that featured a square, two-and-a-half story corner tower, a parapet roof with elaborate cornice, round-arched windows and an arcaded first floor on the front facade.

The hotel sat across from the old Georgia Railroad depot and was built to accommodate “drummers,” or traveling salesmen.

But, like the town, and rural communities across the region, the hotel has fallen on hard times in recent decades.

The train depot was demolished in the 1970s and the hotel itself has been in disrepair for at least that long. Still, despite creeping foliage, scattered debris and the occasional broken window, the structure retains at least a sliver of its past grandeur.

In recent years Washington has embraced efforts to renovate many of its many older structures. Taking on a project the magnitude of the Barrows House Hotel would be no mean feat, but it would be a worthy compliment to the other stunningly restored edifices around the attractive Southern town.

(Top: Barrows House Hotel, located on Depot Street, Washington, Ga.)


13 thoughts on “Georgia town tries to keep one foot in past, one in present

  1. Many a day I have spent in Washington, Georgia, as I grew up in the town next door, Lincolnton. The people there are friendly and the fine old homes hold their own against places like Aiken and Camden. Lots of history to be found there, not the least of which is the Confederate Gold Train robbery. Anyone itching to make a day trip should motor over to Washington, Ga. As Gamecock fans know it is on the way to a place called Athens, Georgia.

    • It is indeed a pretty little town. I stopped in Lincolnton on the way back yesterday; another nice town.

      I’ve read some about the gold train robbery. Another mystery that, I have a feeling, will never be solved.

  2. That building would have had my husband champing at the bit to start the restoration until illness really caught up with him….
    It would be a great project – but I doubt it will qualify as part of Trump’s infrastructure plans…

    Now if Trump were to succeed in providing airports which work for passengers and do something to introduce the idea of manners and helpfulness to airport security staff then we would love to see the – to us – unsuspected parts of the U.S.A. to which your blog has introduced us.
    As it is, when for foreigners the only thing the airport entry to the U.S.A. lacks is a sign saying ‘this way to the showers’ we’ll have to content ourselves with reading about them.

    • If it’s any consolation, US citizens aren’t treated a whole lot better when they fly. I don’t know what business model the airline industry has cooked upin conjunction with the Transportation Security Administration, but where I come from higher prices, long lines, less room while traveling and overall general inconvenience doesn’t seem like a recipie for success.

      • I strongly object to people shouting at me as I queue…..for a start!
        As I am a Scot you can judge my distaste for U.S.A. airports by the fact that I’ll pay more for a ticket that avoids using them.

      • Ha! Whenever I have the misfortune to be herded throug the security check, I always have this dread that one wrong answer, misstep or even an ill-timed glance will end with me forever dispatched to some sort of TSA gulag, where all Constitutional rights are thrown out the window, I will be interrogated until I sign a pre-written confession admitting to any number of crimes against the state and my family will never hear from me again and never learn what happened to me. Some of the people who work for TSA are not to be trifled with – modern version of Brownshirts.

  3. Another excellent blog. I love Georgia’s quaint little towns, especially in the NE quadrant. South Georgia has them, too, but they look more downtrodden.

    I’d like to put in my bid to re-vitalize passenger rail. Not only were the rail lines integral to these early agricultural communities, but passenger trains today make more sense than ever. Reducing carbon footprints, and all that. What a boon for tourism.

    • As someone who loves trains, I wish passenger rail was a viable alternative. Unfortunately, even rail between major metro areas – outside of the Boston-Washington corridor – is a money loser. I know that the federal government subsidizes our highway system and some say they should do the same for rail, but we’re largely a nation of drivers.

      Most people don’t want to be tied to a schedule of when to come and go, and be reliant upon additional forms of transportation such as taxis or buses once they get somewhere by train.

      And convenience isn’t a big thing with Amtrak. An example: If I want to take the train south out of Columbia, it leaves at around 1:30 a.m. The return trip gets in at 4:30 a.m. Going north, I’d leave at 4:30 a.m. and get in at 1:30 a.m. That’s it – there are no other options from the largest city in South Carolina if you want to ride the rails. I understand Amtrak can’t run a wide range of routes through Columbia, but catching a train at 4:30 a.m. isn’t my idea of the start of a fun trip.

      • The biggest difference is that the highway system is owned by the government (local, state, and federal), which are obligated to maintain it. The rail lines are privarely owned by profit-making companies, like Norfolk Southern, CSX, and the like. I believe taxpayers should start a movement to eminent rail lines into the public sector and have them maintained by government, just as it does for highways.

        Trains can carry cars, and Amtrak is a fraud, which I explained in a previous blog and will certainly address again in future ones. We need to think outside the box.

      • The railroads are pretty good at moving freight but passenger service doesn’t pay, which is why every line dropped passenger service between the 1950s and the early 1980s – with most being eliminated in the late ’60s and early ’70s. I’m not sure nationalizing railroads is a good idea, given that railroads are an cost-effienient means to move freight that reduces the wear and tear on our Interstate system.

      • You grew up in a time when there was a major government/Fed/oil/auto manufacturers cartel operating to convert America to the private automobile. The rail system was built bu virtual slave labor (Chinese and Irish) with huge land grants given to corporations. Read “The Robber Barons” by Matthew Josephson, 1932. Great book about how the Wall Street/banker/government game is played. “The Real Lincoln,” by Thomas DiLorenzo says the Great Emancipator wanted a war because the Confederacy did not charge tariffs on English imports or duties on raw goods exports. Slavery was a late issue, when the North was losing. Lincoln was a corporate railroad attorney before his election. He was desperate to protect the Yankee food supply so went beserk getting trains to the mid-West and beyond. Rail is the most efficient system ever devised for moving a lot of people quickly. In places like Europe, rail is a part of cultural life. There’s no reason the US can’t recapture that earth-friendly and people-friendly atmosphere in today’s climate. We have to think outside the box.

        Putting people and cars on trains will also reduce wear and tear on the interstate system, reduce accidents, wear and tear on cars, carbon emissions, and travel fatigue.

      • I’ve read DiLorenzo’s book: There’s no question that economics played a crucial role in the war. Lincoln was an adherent of Henry Clay and believed the state should underwrite major infrastructure projects, to the benefit of major corporations.

        I also know the robber barons were given incredible incentives to build railroads, and most profited immensely.

        I just don’t know if the money or political will is there to upgrade the rail infranstructure necessary to make trains viable. It’s far easier to keep the rails up to snuff in, say, Sweden or France than in the US, which is much larger, much more spread out and where people have for nearly a century telied largely on cars to get around.

      • I posted a blog entitled “Revive Passenger Rail” in November. It was from my website in December, 2005, when Amtrak fired then CEO David Gunn. Americans outside places like New York have forgotten how much fun, inexpensive, and practical trains can be, especially if they can haul private cars, too. The private rail companies have no right to those rail lines. Nor should corporations have exclusive control of other public assets, like utility easements, but that’s another issue in the eminent domain and property rights issue.

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