What’s in a name?
Originally, the founders had decided on "The Alhambra," as a name that would lend an international flavor to the resort. However, this struck a discordant note in the community. Consequently, the hotel was named for John Windsor. As one of the leading capitalists in Americus and one of the ten incorporates of the new resort hotel, it seemed fitting to use the Windsor name. The community agreed that "The Windsor" was more suggestive of those aristocratic qualities to which Americus aspired.
John T. Windsor, 1847-1930
John T. Windsor was born April 24, 1847, on a farm in Webster county, one of 13 children to Alexander and Harriet Terry Windsor. He later attributed growing up in such an environment to developing the habits of industry and economy that made him a successful capitalist.
The road from farm boy to financier was a fairly smooth one. As a 17-year-old Webster Countian, John Windsor joined the Confederate army as a private in Company F, Third Georgia Reserves, was quickly promoted to commisionary sergeant and served in that capacity until the end of the war.
In the summer of 1866 he moved to Americus and joined the Bethel Baptist Church (now First Baptist Church) on August 31st of that year. He would remain a valued member of that congregation for more than four decades.
John T. Windsor’s business career began as a clerk in the dry goods store of Jowers and Usry. Then, in the late 1860s, he and Robert T. Byrd, under the firm name Byrd and Windsor, briefly ran a dry goods emporium in the building constructed by the former partner in 1867 and still standing at the northwest corner of Jackson and Lamar streets. By 1870, he had joined Harold, Johnson and Company, the largest mercantile establishment in Americus as their field agent for the surrounding counties.
On April 24, 1870, John Windsor married Emily Amelia Lester, daughter of Alfred J. and Amelia Barlow Lester. The entire family resided on a farm located on the southeast corner of Rees Park. The home became the younger couple’s inheritance upon the death of A.J. Lester in 1874 and survives to this day as Aldridge Funeral Services.
Within three years he acquired control of Dr. William W. Barlow’s considerable estate, as the nephew by marriage. In 1880, John Windsor was elected cashier of the Bank of Americus and held that position for six years, steadily building his reputation for financial acumen. He then parlayed that reputation into the presidency of the new Peoples National Bank midway between Jackson and Forrest Streets. After a year, he resigned to accept the position of cashier, so as to be in more active control of its business. Under his leadership it was regarded as one of the soundest financial institutions in Georgia. It was remarked that at no time in his life had he owed an amount he could not cash.
Whatever happened to John T. Windsor? During the first decade of the twentieth century, the Windsors left Americus to move to Havana, Cuba. Eventually they settled in Winter Haven, Florida, where John Windsor died and was buried on April 20, 1930, several months after his beloved Amelia had passed away.
Resetting the Jewel
Sumter County had lost its biggest industry. Downtown Americus was dying. The Windsor Hotel, once the crown jewel of South Georgia, had only pigeons for guests. With its broken gutters, peeling paint, and falling plaster, this grand hotel had become downtown’s "white elephant."
The Windsor Hotel was donated to the City of Americus in 1978 by the Howard Dayton family. The challenge facing in-coming Mayor Russell Thomas, Jr. in 1980 was two-fold: either demolish the hotel and use the lot for parking or restore the building. The community was overwhelmingly in favor of restoring the hotel, making it the centerpiece for downtown revitalization.
Mayor Thomas hired Jo Childers, to spearhead the revitalization of downtown Americus, soon after he became mayor. The Georgia Department of Community Affairs (DCA) certified the Americus Main Street Program the next year, and Mrs. Childers became its project manager.
Because it was such a big project, downtown merchants were urged to begin the revitalization effort by rehabilitating their own storefronts. This, they did. Meanwhile Mayor Thomas began to explore ways to organize a public-private partnership for the management of the hotel building restoration project.
Main Street Managers Meet
In 1982, Mrs. Childers had vowed not to host a meeting of the Georgia Main Street Managers until the meeting could be held at the Windsor. Nine years later, the new Windsor Hotel was unveiled in September, 1991. A few months after the grand re-opening, the spring meeting of the Georgia Main Street Managers was held in the hotel. During the meeting, Mrs. Childers introduced Mayor Thomas, who recounted the Windsor story. Beginning with a brief recapitulation of the $5.8 million preservation undertaking.
Public Contributions: In 1978, Mayor Thomas’ predecessor had received a $31,537 grant from the US Department of Interior through the Georgia Department of Natural Resources Office of Historic Preservation. Those funds were used for preservation planning. In 1979, another grant for $81,350 was secured for the stabilization of the building and masonry work.
In 1980, the first year Thomas served as mayor, the APDC (now the Regional Development Center) completed a $75,000 preservation study. Three years later, the city of Americus received a $12,412 federal grant for roof repairs. Stabilizing the building and stopping roof leaks effectively put the building in moth balls until the construction could begin.
Because the City of Americus owned the building, inmate labor could be used in its renovation. An estimated $400,000 was saved because inmate labor did extensive demolition work and removed most of the old plaster from interior walls. Sumter County volunteered its trucks for some of the hauling. In 1984, the City of Americus appropriated $107,000 from its general fund for masonry repair and painting.
In 1987, Americus received a $400,000 Community Development Block Grant through the Georgia Department of Community Affairs. These funds were used for the replacement of the Windsor roof and renovation of areas of the building for a senior citizen center.
The Private Sector: In 1986, twenty-three private citizens, who were committed to the hotel restoration, pledged $5,000 each to the Windsor Development Corporation. This newly-created corporation in turn negotiated an option with the City of Americus for certain property rights in the hotel building. The Windsor Development Corporation paid many of the professional fees for work by architects, engineers, lawyers, and accountants.
Three years later the Windsor Hotel Limited Partnership was formed. With a minimum investment of $1,000, some 160 Americus citizens raised $1.8 million for equity capital. Next they negotiated a long-term lease of the hotel property with the City of Americus. Then they borrowed a total of $2.3 million from three local banks. Finally, the partnership secured a $500,000 second mortgage from the City of Americus, which came from a special one mil property tax that was earmarked for the Windsor Hotel.
Local merchants and other friends of downtown joined the Main Street Managers to hear Thomas speak. Thomas ended by saying that this restoration project has pulled our town together. "People now have a tremendous sense of pride brought about by this great accomplishment".
Guided Tour: Following the talk, Mayor Thomas led the visitors on a tour of the hotel. The group learned that the original architect, Gottfried L. Norrman, had blended different styles in designing the interior of the building, notably in the Romanesque tower and in the Flemish stepped roof. Anders Kaufman, of Columbia, SC, an architect for the historic preservation trust, and Design Directions, an interior design firm in Atlanta, were responsible for the design of the building’s interior during restoration.
After leading the tour through the Windsor’s Grand Dining Room, the guide paused at the Lindbergh Private Dining Room long enough to tell an interesting story. Charles A. Lindbergh came to Americus in 1923 to buy a World War I airplane from a local war surplus center. He took some flying lessons here prior to his first solo flight. A plaque at Southerfield Airport quotes Lindbergh: "I had not soloed up to the time I bought my Jenny at Americus, Georgia." Some people still remember him playing pool across the street in the Allison Building.
Inside the round tower are the three special units; the Bridal Suite, the James Earl Carter Presidential Suite and the President Roosevelt Board Room. When Franklin D. Roosevelt was Governor of New York, he spoke from the verandah adjacent to the tower.
The influence of John Windsor, who promoted the original hotel a century ago, can be seen in the interior design. The three-story atrium lobby is Moorish. Distinctive features include the arches, wrought-iron opera box railings, geometric patterns in the oak flooring, and hand-carved floral patterns in the balusters. Off the interior balcony are the Ladies Tea Parlor, the Dayton Room and Floyd’s Bar.
As the tour ended, it was explained that, further exposure comes from its listing in the Membership Directory of Historic Hotels of America. Published by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, it also operates a reservation service for the historic hotels listed.
1986: A New Beginning
As mentioned earlier the Windsor Development Corporation was formed in 1986 by present day local visionaries and nearly $6 million dollars was spent to restore the original Victorian features of the hotel and add all the modern conveniences. The process of major restoration began in October of 1990 and the hotel reopened on September 20, 1991.
All the wood in the lobby is golden oak which had darkened considerably over a 99-year period. To restore the original color, the wood was cleaned with acetone and rubbed with tung oil. The two chandeliers are not original but are circa 1890. The rug was handmade in Thailand. The design of the rug was computer-generated and inspired by an original 1890s ceiling paper. The mirror on the back wall of the lobby dates back to before the Civil War, and was donated by Harriet Rylander Ansley. The marble on the lobby floor is the original and was removed during restoration, cleaned, and then replaced piece by piece. During restoration the ceiling medallion, located in the lobby, crashed into the basement and a new one was constructed from fiberglass. The framed photo of John and Amelia Windsor just outside the front desk was a gift from Bob Windsor, a descendent of the hotel’s namesake. The mahogany phone booth, original to the Windsor, was donated by Mrs. Bessie Mae Carter in memory of her husband.
The clock on the second-floor lobby is the only original furnishing. It came from the Windsor jewelry shop. It has been restored, and is on permanent loan. The Roosevelt Boardroom is also called the "Lucky Room" because it was the headquarters for many successful local political campaigns. Franklin D. Roosevelt made a speech to the Chamber of Commerce from the adjoining balcony when he was Governor of New York in February 1928. It has also been used for sequestered juries and ball teams too, such as the old Georgia/Florida baseball league. The boardroom table is made of solid oak and was custom designed and constructed on site by local craftsman David Becton.
In olden days, after dinner, the ladies would adjourn to the Ladies Tea Parlor. Originally decorated in pink, blue, and gold, with a statue of Amerigo Vespucci on the Grand Piano as a focal point of the room. It is believed that Americus was named for Amerigo Vespucci or "A-Merry-Cuss," the term used for those with a high-spirited zest for life.
Floyd’s Bar is named for Floyd Lowery, who worked at the Windsor for 40 years as the elevator operator and bellman. Many people still remember Floyd when the Windsor operated as a hotel as being a man who never took a drink. It is therefore ironic that it is the Windsor pub that bares his name. Guests not only relax at Floyd’s Bar, but also relax on the adjacent verandah sitting in the wicker rockers sipping their drinks.
The tile floor in The Grand Dining Room is original. The furnishings are reproductions (including the wrought-iron footed tables), reflecting the style of the Victorian period.
There are 53 unique period-style rooms and suites, all with twelve foot ceilings and ceiling fans. The guest room doors were milled from the original floor joists removed from the shops during restoration. Each room has modern individually controlled heating and air conditioning, and high speed Internet Service. The entire building is equipped with sprinklers and state-of-the-art fire safety equipment.
The Executive Suites are two-room suites, featuring a sitting room and king bedroom. The third floor Executive Suite was named for Jessica Tandy, with the connecting room named for Hume Cronin. The renaming of these rooms took place in 1993 after the actors were guests of the hotel for several weeks during the making of the Hallmark Hall of Fame film, "To Dance with the White Dog."
The Presidential Suite was named in honor of President Jimmy Carter, 39th President of the United States and Sumter County native. To make it the official Carter Presidential Suite, President Carter and First Lady Rosalynn stayed in this suite in November of 2002. They also had dinner in the Grand Dining Room on that same night. Inside the Carter Presidential Suite there is a picture of Jimmy and Rosalynn, with the owners of the Windsor, Mr. and Mrs. Sharad Patel. President Carter has also celebrated his 75th birthday at the Windsor and at the Rylander Theatre in 1999. Many celebrities joined the big celebration, such as Pat Boone, Rosie Greer and the McGuire Sisters. Mr. and Mrs. Jimmy Carter and several of their relatives also attended the Windsor New Years Eve party in 2005. The Carters are frequent visitors and great supporters of the Windsor.
A private staircase leads to the Bridal Suite, which features a custom made demi-canopied king bed. Special touches for honeymooners spending the night in the Bridal Suite include roses, goblets and a bottle of champagne. The suite has accommodated various famous and infamous guests. It is rumored that John Dillinger or Al Capone spent the night in the Suite with an armed bodyguard posted at the foot of the stairs.
The Windsor Today
The Windsor Hotel is located 38 miles north of Albany, 60 miles southeast of Columbus, and 130 miles south of Atlanta. Plains, Georgia, home of President Jimmy Carter is nine miles from Americus, and Andersonville National Historic Site is only a fifteen minute drive.
Amenities: Enjoy remote control television, in-room coffee makers, and a daily newspaper is complimentary at the front desk. All rooms have high speed Internet service. Spa and beauty salon are on the hotel property. Room service is available.
Rosemary & Thyme Restaurant: Savor a sophisticated yet unpretentious dining experience in our traditional southern surroundings. Our Chef’s cuisine reflects specialties from around the country, as well as favorites from our region. We serve breakfast everyday, and dinner nightly except Sundays. Dinner reservations are recommended.
Floyd’s Pub: A quaint neighborhood pub overlooking Victorian downtown Americus and reflecting parts of her past. Sip a favorite beverage while rocking peacefully on the famous front verandah, or just sit and observe the goings on from around the nations oldest hotel atrium lobby. Fine times and friendship await you. Closed Sundays.
Packages: The Windsor offers several overnight packages, from the Romantic Getaway Package. We also offer a Murder Mystery Packages in February, Madrigal Dinner packages in November and New Year’s Eve Package in December. Seasonal packages, including a Valentines Package and holiday specials are also available.
Banquet Facilities: Some rooms and suites of the hotel recall famous names in the Windsor’s colorful history. Banquet rooms are listed below with the available capacity and square footage for various functions.
Roosevelt Boardroom: This room has 391 square feet and seats twelve as a board/meeting room.
Lindbergh Private Dining Room: This room is located off Rosemary & Thyme Restuarant and has 259 square feet. It seats twelve as a private dining room or meeting room, or fifteen as a small reception.
Dayton Room: Dayton Room: The Dayton room has 748 square feet of space, and can accommodate from 40 to 75 people.
Ladies Tea Parlor: This room has 661 square feet and can accommodate from 30 to 60 people.
Verandah: The second floor verandah outside Floyd’s Pub can accommodate from 40 to 75 people for a banquet or reception.
Americus-Sumter Room: Americus-Sumter Room: This is our largest banquet room with 1694 square feet of space. The Americus-Sumter Room is used for many different types of functions and can accommodate from 80 - 120 people.