90 YEARS YOUNG
If you have lived in Dublin for any period of time, you know the building. It is the four-story, once 60-room hotel at the apex of the Carnegie Plaza in downtown Dublin at what used to be the eastern terminus of Academy Avenue. You may have asked yourself, "Just who was Fred Roberts and why did someone name a hotel after him?" More than a century before the hotel was built, there was another Fred Roberts in these parts. Frederick Roberts, a veteran of the American Revolution, lived in the southeast quadrant of this city and died there. His remains lie somewhere near the
intersection of South Franklin Street and the Martin Luther King, Jr Bypass. His descendant, Fred Roberts, was a son of David Montgomery Roberts, a Dodge county jurist, lawmaker and native of Laurens County, came to Dublin, leaving behind his automobile business in Eastman for a new one on Jackson Street.
Although Dublin's fortunes began to wane with the coming of the boll weevil and the virtual destruction of the cotton crop, the location of U.S. Highway 80 through the heart of the city gave city
fathers and supporters a promise of prosperity. They felt that the highway, which ran the length of the country from Savannah to San Diego, would rejuvenate the faltering economy in the city, which was once the seat of the state's sixth largest county.
It all began as a project sponsored by the Dublin Chamber of Commerce. Fred Roberts was named chairman of the project. The hotel, originally slated to be built on the northeast corner of West Jackson and North Monroe streets, was situated on the site of the rose and flower gardens of the home place of Dr. Robert H. Hightower, one of Dublin's leading physicians of the late 19th Century. The new hotel was planned to supplement, if not replace, the aging New Dublin Hotel, which occupied a more preferable location, just one block from both of the city's railroad depots. But railway passenger traffic was declining, more and more people were traveling by auto and the project's promoters found a prime spot between the main line of business houses and the rapidly
growing residential neighborhoods to the west, but still within walking distance of the railroad.
business conditions in Dublin." Shortly thereafter, the first customers signed the register and a new
era in hostelries began.
The grand opening was held on February 24, 1927. A reception and open house was held by J.M. Grice, the first lessee and operator, who operated two other hotels in Alabama.
During its first two decades, the Fred Roberts hosted holiday dances with the music of Ed Powel and his orchestra. Jones Barbershop opened a beauty shop in June 1933. In 1936, managers, Mr. and Mrs. G.W. Evans, re-purposed the ladies waiting room into a parlor for small women’s club meetings. Mrs. Bette Green was put in charge of the dining room. The Evanses added the Sunday meal feature to attract townsfolk to the hotel for fine, home-like dining, a rarity in the city during the Great Depression. By the end of the decade, Ernest Hatcher’s Soda Shop opened in the building on the right front, much to the delight of school students and library patrons in the area.
Former Dublin resident Jule Greene had fond memories of the Fred Roberts when he was boy. "It was a great and wonderful place. There were no other hotels anywhere around. It was elegant and they had bell boys." remembered Greene, who also recanted the great meals which came of of the kitchen where his mother Bette Greene worked.
Without a doubt the hotel's most famous guests, or group of guests, checked in the waning days of March in 1933 and 1935. Known as the "Gas House Gang," the 1934 World Champion St. Louis Cardinals stopped in town to play the Oglethorpe University and the University of Georgia on their way back home from spring training in Florida. Among the guests were seven legendary hall of fame players Dizzy Dean, Frankie Frisch, Joe Medwick, Rogers Hornsby, Leo Durocher, Pepper Martin, and Jesse Haines.
In April 1940, Manager Evans opened the hotel’s own coffee and soda shop in the new dining room under the management of Earl Willis. The old dining room was reserved for civic meetings. Just before the beginning of World War II, Mr. and Mrs. L.H. Bower took over the management of the dining room.
During the summer of 1939, Lt. Edgar Evans, son of the hotel’s managers, created a garden in the rear of the hotel in a hard clay spot near Mrs. Hightower’s ancient fig tree. With the war in full swing, Lt. Evan’s plot became just one more victory garden to aid the fight on the home front.
“Now the garden is a refuge of shade, cleverly concealed by a twenty-foot hedge of red bud trees and Ligustrum, mixed with smaller trees of plum and shrubs of cassia, forsythia, and the like. Using the fig tree, which is 48 years old, as a focal point from which to work, he built a lily pool around the trees. The pool is filled with tropical, flowering buds.”
“A carpet of grass floors, the space of the garden and garden chairs and benches are there for rest and comfort, with a bird bath to add additional attraction to the birds who find haven in the quiet, green. Birdhouses are conveniently placed in unseen parts of the surrounding trees.”
“Scaling the walls of the hotel are wisteria, a scarlet trumpet vine and coral vine. Tall magnolias stand guard over the recessed garden of which the passerby is completely unaware,” wrote a Courier Herald reporter in the autumn of 1943.
A decade later, history was made from the front rooms when radio station WMLT, the city's first, went on the air in January 1945. J.P. Peacock and W.J.Folsom took over the management in the Fred Roberts in the late 1940s. During the late 1940s and early 1950s, Dublin’s Chamber of Commerce made its home in the Fred Roberts. When motels along Federal Highways 80 and 441 sprang up in the early 1950s, travelers began to seek the convenience of the new and improved rooms. After three decades, rooms in the hotel, which was once called the Stage Coach Inn, were no longer being rented. Newer and brighter buildings and motels were being constructed near the Interstate highway and the Mall. In 1955, Rubert Hogan and Carl Nelson, Sr. bought the building from W.C. and Bill Jackson. and transformed some of the ground floor into professional offices, a practice which lasted until the early 1990s.
In one of its first major projects, the Dublin Downtown Development Authority, the City of Dublin and Laurens County under the Main Street Program in 1991 sought out and was granted a half-million dollar Community Development Block Grant, which provided the necessary funds to begin the restoration of the hotel toward its original grandeur. The city's new philosophy of restoration of historic buildings for a better future was espoused by the Main Street director, Rev. Joan Kilian, whose efforts led to the project's recognition by the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation with its 1994 Outstanding Rehabilitation Award. The first phase of the construction project included a full restoration under the supervision of architect Bruce Jennings. Garbutt Construction Company of Dublin carefully removed the modern covers which hid the true architectural gems throughout the 8,500 square foot first floor of the building.
The finished photos from the 1994 rehabilitation:
The first floor was designed to house the Senior Citizens Center, which was managed by the Dublin-Laurens Recreation Authority. The facility included a lobby, dining area, kitchen, arts and crafts room, library, and television room, in addition to several office spaces. Hundreds of meals were prepared in and delivered from the facility daily for needy seniors through the Meals On Wheels program.
So here’s to the Fred Roberts Hotel, may you still be going strong 90 years from now.
FOR DELICIOUS REFRESHMENTS IN THE FRED ROBERTS GO TO: