The original Chipola Hotel was built in the early 1880’s; probably about the time the rail line was completed from Pensacola to the Apalachicola River around 1883. Since Milton and Marianna were the only two stations on the line originally, there would have been a great deal of traffic from all around this area using the rail service. We should all recall that the roads were still just buggy and wagon trails, and automobiles were still in the planning stage. Getting any type of supplies to and from outside the area was very difficult. Until the rail service was completed, the rivers were used for transferring all kinds of products, livestock, and relocating families with all their “worldly possessions”. Rail service was a badly needed and appreciated addition to the quality of life in this entire region.
The two-story hotel was a very large rectangular wooden building that filled the corner of Caledonia Street and the back side of the large open area known as “The Plaza”. The native stone wall was around the property just as it is today, except where it was removed later for the new building. There was a picket fence that ran the length of the entire block, east to west. For many years there were only wagon tracks running in front of the hotel, mostly a short cut across the area from “down the hill” to the business district of the city. Historians say that the original name of the hotel was the Edwards Hotel but we have no records of the timing of the change in the name.
This late 1800’s photo was the local Hunting Club gathering for a hunt. Obviously, the hotel was a community treasure for Marianna citizens and those in the surrounding areas. The older hotels still surviving in our area, such as in De Funiak Springs, Colquitt, Georgia, and other nearby cities, have a charm that just cannot be duplicated today.
Jerell Shofner tells us in his Jackson County, Florida – A History, that J. C. Corcoran had come from Chicago to make his home in Marianna around 1920, with many fine ideas and a very successful earlier career. Having married a Greenwood girl in 1908, he saw great promise in this area of Florida. He was dubbed “The Flagler of Jackson County”, by Marianna Mayor, Chester Horne, comparing him to the Flaglers, Firestones, Rockefellers and Vanderbilts, among others who had caught the Florida investment fever in the Florida Peninsular in the 20’s. He began to invest heavily in several enterprises. Not only was he financially solvent, but he had other wealthy friends who were interested in investing in Jackson County.
Corcoran saw financial promise in the lime rock industry in Jackson County and his first large undertaking was the Marianna Lime Products Company. The rock was used for building purposes, with a number of new buildings in the area having been built from the rectangular stones which were very strong when dried out. The First Bank building, now owned by the City of Marianna, was one of the most impressive lime stone buildings of that era. Many buildings in Marianna today are built from those blocks which were sawed from the lime deposit lying just below the surface of Jackson County soil, just as it is today. One very old site, on which Corcoran lived for many years, is just north of the city off highway 73, with other areas of the county also very rich in the same product. This site and others are being mined very actively today.
Sub-surfacing of the new roads in the area was becoming a very profitable industry and Corcoran and his friends were in the right place at the right time to furnish the lime rock needed for US 90 which was being paved from Pensacola to Tallahassee. There were also roads being paved from Panama City to Cottondale, and most of the smaller cities in the area were now being served by paved highways.
In the early 20’s, as automobiles made the people of the area more mobile, and as the main roads, such as US 90, were being paved, it became obvious that with few places to stay overnight between Pensacola and Tallahassee, there was a need for a nicer “Inn” in our area.
Corcoran’s next project was the construction of the Chipola Hotel. It was a 5-story, 75 room building which cost about $450,000 to build in 1925. While it replaced the old frame rectangular building, the original building was carefully moved south and east on the same property as is seen within the native stone walls today. It was remodeled over the years and was used as an overflow hotel to the new building. Many locals rented apartments there and the building was used very effectively until about 1950 when it was torn down.
This photo is taken from the area which had been recently cleared of a very large home sometimes used as apartments, and other buildings, readying it for the construction to begin for the new Marianna Post Office, which was completed in 1927. You can notice how prominent the hotel was during all those years. M.L. Dekle’s General Store is seen on the right side of the photo. It is also very obvious in this photograph how “Main Street” (later Lafayette Street) just ran directly into the buildings as it approached Caledonia Street. The Chero-Cola sign was facing Market Street.
The process for moving this very large structure was very interesting. Not only did they have to move the very large building back on the lot, they also needed to move it to the east on the rear of the lot, in the area of the storage buildings and the parking area as are there today.
Cap Pooser relates how his father, Wankard Pooser, told of the big challenge. He told Cap that he and his father, Lucious Bellinger Pooser, preparing to move the building, set their “dead man’s timber” (this was the name for the anchor from which the entire project operated) and prepared the turnstile that would move the round “roller timbers” under the building rolling it back ever so slowly on the lot, making room for the new building being planned.
He tells that his Father told him of how his Grandfather would take a sledge hammer and hit the rolling timbers in just the right place to make them move in the proper direction, both to the south of their previous location, and then to the east. It has been told over and over that one mule was doing the pulling on the turnstile making the logs move exactly as directed. The moving of the huge building was a feat which has been a “marvel” for everyone who has known about the gigantic and difficult task of moving the building so the new Chipola Hotel could occupy the same location as the original. Wankard Pooser was a man who wore many hats. At different times in his life, in addition to being “THE building mover” in the area, he taught school, was a State Legislator for two terms, owned the Times Courier for a time, and published a very interesting spasmodically produced local publication, The Bumblebee, among many other ventures. Wankard’s philosophy for his work and his logo was: “When an Immovable Object Is Met By an Irresistible Force.”
This 1928 photograph is taken from the current Post Office site, showing the Pan-Am Service Station in the location of the Edward Jones Office today. Hershel Malloy, father of Pat Crisp, is shown pumping gas. The right side of the photograph shows the 1921 Confederate Monument is in place, “The Plaza” has been completed with curbing and landscaping, and the new Chipola Hotel is completed. Right behind the Chipola Hotel Sign you can see the original hotel sitting very proudly in its new location, where it would reside for the next 25 years.
To be continued next week with the very interesting story of the new Chipola Hotel, completed in late 1926, and how it became the Chipola Apartments.