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March 8, 2014

Reserving memories

THOMASVILLE — EDITOR’S NOTE: As part of a celebration of the Times-Enterprise’s 125th year, this is the fifth in a year-long series of Sunday stories about important people, places and things in the area. The next one will be published March 23.

 Remnants of a dearly departed part of Thomasville can still be found on Gordon Avenue and even scattered throughout parts of the country. Memories of one of Thomasville’s most well-known inns, consumed by fire in 1969, are so vivid that some out-of-towners still call to book a room.

Three Toms Inn — or as it was called at the time of its conception, Three Toms Tavern — was built in 1924 with funds provided primarily by local investors. The construction of the luxury resort was seen by many as an attempt to make Thomasville the winter tourist attraction it was the Piney Woods Hotel burned in 1906. It must be noted that Three Toms Inn burned in October 1926 but was rebuilt in a matter of three months to prepare for winter occupants. It was described as a Wachendorff design.

It is believed the inn was named after the three original settlers of this section of the South — Thomas Wyche (Adams), Thomas Dekle (Jones) and Thomas Mitchell (Johnson). A 1960 Three Toms Inn brochure proved this was the general belief of the origin of the name.

It was a three-story building with 116 guest rooms spread out over 14-acres of bird sanctuaries and landscaped gardens that saw uncountable amounts of guests and parties during its time on Gordon Avenue and at the Millpond Road turn.

In 1934, a hotel entrepreneur named George C. Krewson Jr. bought and managed Three Toms Inn. Previously, a lady by the name of Katherine M. Pinckney managed it.

In January 1927, Pinckney sent out an invitation to guests announcing the opening of the third season under her management.

Under Krewson’s management, the inn seemed destined to become a winter resort for people all over the country. He was not a newcomer to managing hotel resorts and ensuring their successes.

Krewson also was the owner and manager of the Oceanside Hotel, a summer resort in Magnolia, Mass., that had established a large clientele of customers, including Howard Hanna, J.H. Wade, J.F. Archbold, Perry W. Harvey, J. McGregor, W.W. Willits and other plantation owners and winter residents of the Thomasville area during that era.

It was under Hanna’s persuasion Krewson acquired the Three Toms Inn property. Almost immediately, the inn began to attract influential and wealthy guests.

Famous people who were attracted to Three Toms Inn during Krewson’s management included golfing greats Sam Snead, Gene Sarazen, Byron Nelson and Ben Hogan; and baseball home run giant Babe Ruth. News articles and memoirs of Three Toms Inn stated that Ruth gave Krewson’s son, George III, a handshake and awarded him a personal autograph.

Three Toms was known for its food. Breakfast was served daily to rooms for 25 cents a tray. Other amenities included access to Glen Arven County Club, carriage and automobile rides through the adjoining plantations, tennis courts, croquet grounds and even a library.

Also, concerts were given daily after lunch and dinner by the Three Toms concert ensemble. A full stable of horses was maintained at the inn for guests to ride the nearly 200 miles of trials available in the piney woods forest surrounding the property.

The circular drive facing Gordon Avenue, with well-landscaped grounds, greeted guests as they traveled down a tree-lined entrance to the front doors of the hotel.

Up until the time of World War II, the inn did well. Travel and tourism drastically took a downward spiral at the time of the war, however. The army acquired the property to house officers stationed at Finney General Hospital, located at the site of Georgia Southwestern Hospital. Lilly May Montgomery ran it for the government until 1945.

When the war ended, Krewson returned as the property owner. By that time, however, Florida had become the destination of choice for travelers and Three Toms Inn never quite recovered from the blow of World War II.

The name of the inn was changed to “The Thomas Hotel” in 1945. According to a 1948 article, many people were upset by the change.

It stated, “There have been quite a few citizens who have been openly critical of the change of the Three Toms Inn merely to the Thomas Hotel. They are not nasty about it, but regret the loss of this unusual name, which was suggested through Mrs. Pinckney, who first managed it and after consolation with many people here.”

Krewson decided to sell the inn. He died in September 1991 in Venice, Fla. It was passed on to be managed by a lady named Miss Hastings, according to a 1985 interview with Elbert H. “El” Krewson, Krewson’s brother. Then it was sold to the late T.R. Sample of Missouri, who ran the inn for about 10 years.

The article told about one of El Krewson’s memories of Three Toms Inn. He stated, “It wasn’t unusual for a couple of guests to arrive at the inn at 4 a.m. with four automobiles and 54 pieces of luggage. We had to wake the bellman to take the luggage to their room. Many of the guests stayed all winter.”

There are still people who live in Thomasville who have many memories revolving around Three Toms Inn. Theresa Brown remembers it primarily because two major life events happened to her there.

When Brown turned 16 in 1955, her parents gave her a Sweet 16 dance to commemorate the event. According to here, there were few options in Thomasville as to where an event could be held. It was either at the country club or Three Toms Inn.

Brown said, “When you had occasions at the inn,  there was Raymond Hughes, who had a band that would play out there. I remember it being really nice there during the winter with the fireplace.”

In December 1958, Joe and Theresa Brown had their wedding reception at the inn.

“It was just the place to have something like a reception,” Theresa Brown said.

The Brown family’s house sits where the Three Toms Inn garden would have been if the building still existed today. A palm tree at the corner of the Browns’ backyard was  depicted in various brochures and postcards of Three Toms Inn.

Carolyn Sample Wight, the daughter of owner T.R. Sample, remembered famous people coming to stay at the inn, the elaborate parties, receptions and the extended stays of the guests during the winter.

According to Wight, her father bought the resort in 1948 when she was only four years old and operated it until 1952 when he leased the inn to Zack Hayman for 10 years.

She and her family lived in a cottage near the inn for four years.

Wight and her family returned to Missouri because her father did not want her to grow up at the inn. Today, Wight lives in Thomasville and still has many antiques related to Three Toms Inn.

Occasionally, a Three Toms Inn postcard or plate from various parts of the country has shown up on Ebay. The postcards generally have letters written on them about the senders’ winter experiences at inn.

During the 10 years of Hayman managing the inn, the property began to deteriorate and needed extensive repairs.

When she was a freshmen in college, Wight received a phone call that the inn had burned down. A fire consumed part of the building and caused extensive, irreparable  damage while undergoing renovations.

“During this time, my father had a series of strokes and the zoning for the property expired,” said Wight.

The property was then sold to developers who cleared the land and sold it for residential lots.

Today, all that remains of the Three Toms Inn is a pile of bricks.

According to Thomas County History Museum Curator Ephraim Rotter, people still call about Three Toms Inn reservations.

He said, “I’ve received maybe two or three calls asking for a phone number to the Three Toms and how to book reservations there. Folks who obviously had not visited Thomasville in manya  year but had very good memories of the place assumed it was still open. They were all quite disappointed to find out it burned down 45 years ago.”

 EDITOR’S NOTE: Information was provided for by the Thomas County Historical Society.

Susanne Reynolds can be reached at (229) 226-2400, ext. 1826.

 

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