Albany has been a commercial hub of Southwest Georgia since its founding on the banks of the Flint River in 1836. As a marketing center for the region's cotton growers during the height of King Cotton, it was also a railroad axis which transported cotton and later diversified crops such as peanuts and pecans to other regions and vital ports of the U.S.
Approximately a century later, in 1935, the late Dr. Russell L. Grace, Sr. purchased a 500-acre property which included an old farm house, horse barns, pecan groves and pasture. Subsequently adding another 200 acres, this area would eventually become the site for Merry Acres Hotel and Merry Acres Subdivision.
Mrs. Grace astutely landscaped the property surrounding their 1934 manor house, planting pine trees, azaleas, and camellias. Pleased with her embellishments, she named the home "Merry Acres" and also had a rock building constructed, called the Dutch Oven, where she made sausage and cooked chitterlings. This building still stands by the pool area, and the original barbeque pits and outdoor fireplace are still in use today.
The property eventually passed on to the Graces' daughter and son-in-law, Jean and G.G. "Spec" Dozier, who had been married in the garden. Spec had been in professional baseball but made the venture to establish Albany's first motel on this very same property. The 22-unit motel centered on the former manor house (which became the registration area) and included guest cottages and a swimming pool.
The rock building and former smokehouse was turned into a two-bedroom suite in 1968 when 30 more unites were added and a pool placed at a new site just behind the registration house.
More renovations and/or additions took place in 1975 and 1989, and by that time ownership and management had passed from "Spec" to his children Gerry Dozier and Gail Stanfill. Gail's husband, Bill Stanfill, a UGA all-American and former Miami Dolphin Superbowl champion, operated the very successful Merry Acres Restaurant for years.
Merry Acres was named by its hotel system as Inn of the Year six times during 1989 and 2009; for the 2009 accolade, it had been selected out of 1,260 other hotels within its franchise brand.
Also, Merry Acres has received 16 consecutive Gold Hospitality Awards as well as 4 consecutive Platinum awards from 2006 to 2009.
An element of that success hails from having loyal, exemplary, and attentive staff, many of whom have served at Merry Acres for decades and will continue to serve.
In keeping with that tradition and to ensure further continuity, Henry and Campbell purposely kept on staff the General Manager of 14 years, Cathy Odell, and the Director of Operations for 17 years, Rhonda Tedder.
This unsurpassed level of commitment, along with a family-imbibed history, appealed to Henry and Campbell.
"The Dozier-Stanfill families are friends of ours, and we have overwhelming admiration for them and what they've accomplished through Merry Acres," cites Henry.
"We're extremely excited about this new enterprise and having the honor of being able to continue the Merry Acres legacy."
2011 is a landmark year for Merry Acres Inn. That's because this traditional, Southern gem of a hotel - located in Albany, Georgia - has gained new owners who are embarking on a significant renovation of the hotel and its campus. It will now operate independently as a boutique style inn with the amenities and flair which sophisticated travelers have come to expect.
Such a natural progression is the vision of local entrepreneurial duo Bo Henry and Stewart Campbell. Both Albany natives, their own success is tied to that of Merry Acres as well as Albany.
"This is our hometown; we're from here and are going to continue to live here, and we agree that it's important to grow our businesses here," explains Henry.
Henry and Campbell have a family connection themselves. Both married to sisters, they joined forces in 2006 and now own and manage three local Albany restaurants and a catering business under the umbrella of the Stewbo's consortium.
"Our endeavor with Merry Acres Inn fits nicely with what we're already doing in regards to service, events, and hospitality, yet it also provides someone a superb place to stay," cites Campbell.
The central hub of Merry Acres Inn will remain the original 1934 manor house/ country home, which has served as the registration office for decades. One of the sitting areas there will be expanded and transformed into a cozy and welcoming bistro and lounge.
Here, guests can gather to enjoy drinks, refreshments, and 'lite bites' such as small chicken salad, tuna salad, and pimiento cheese sandwiches. Also, the beer, wine, and cheese receptions which are currently held in the gazebo will take place here.
The guest rooms themselves are being completely and tastefully upgraded by a design firm which specializes exclusively in conceptualizing and implementing interior design solutions for the hospitality industry.
Collaborating with local artists, photographers, and decorators, the design firm will imbibe Merry Acres Inn with a sumptuous, upscale, and comfortable ambiance. In addition to adding new carpets, plush bedding, luxurious window treatments and upholstery, there will also be granite counter tops and coordinating mosaic tiles for vanity mirrors.
The overall design theme will be Southern traditional yet will allow for contemporary necessities such as flat screen televisions and wireless internet service. All fabrics, linens, and furniture will coordinate throughout the guest rooms, registration office, and event rooms.
All guests of Merry Acres Inn will have complimentary shuttle service to and from Southwest Georgia Regional Airport. And, guests will also have free shuttle service to and from the three signature restaurants of Stewbo's Restaurant Group*. With three distinct cuisines to choose from, these restaurants have something for everyone in Albany, Georgia. Guests can enjoy lunch or nightlife at Harvest Moon Pizza with Bo Henry Band; seafood at its best at The Catch Seafood & Oyster Bar; and fine dining and epicurean delights at Henry Campbell's Steakhouse.(* For specific menus and details, see www.stewbos.com).
Merry Acres Inn also features an event center and restaurant which have for decades been favored sites for wedding receptions, rehearsal dinners, banquets, corporate seminars and retreats, class and family reunions, showers, birthday parties, and fundraisers. That list will grow to include private parties, cocktail parties, and wine tastings.
Through the remainder of 2011 and early 2012, much of the Merry Acres campus will be under renovation and upgrades. This will be done in phases so that room and event bookings are still available and so that guests are undisturbed.
"The Dozier-Stanfill family built such a great name with Merry Acres, and it's our primary goal to keep Merry Acres at the level at which it has always been viewed."
Henry and Campbell will draw upon their own histories and experiences growing up in this tight-knit South Georgia community. And, Merry Acres will continue to be an esteemed destination for lodging and events as well as exemplify the charm and hospitality for which South Georgia is known.