Japheth and Elizabeth Rawls were involved in the early growth and prosperity of Enterprise.
Japheth was the developer of some of the earliest turpentine plants in Coffee County. And in 1903, the couple built a small two-story stucco-faced hotel. The building was first named the McGee Hotel, after the manager, and years later changed to the Rawls Hotel.
Wanting their establishment to boast a unique style of its own, they modeled the outside after a Florida Spanish mission style hotel. Inside, they used rare teak for the doors, cherry for the stairway railing, chestnut for the fluted pillars and pilasters and window facings and mezzanine flooring beneath a skylight.
Japheth Rawls died in 1925 and left the hotel to his nephew Jesse P. Rawls' wife Margaret. The couple took over as the owners and remodeled and enlarged the hotel in 1928 by adding two, three-story wings.
Once the remodeling was complete, the hotel was transformed into an elegant structure with fine chandeliers hanging from the skylight lobby and decorated with ornately carved columns. The tile floored porch with its three arches and the walkway leading from the porch between the wings to the depot made the building particularity impressive to travelers arriving by train.
The hotel was once the only building in town that had heated grates and electric lights, since Jesse Rawls was the founder of the first electrical power system in Enterprise.
The Rawls was the social scene for receptions, teas and scheduled meetings of numerous clubs and organizations. The hey-day of the Rawls extended into the 1940s, when the nation’s railroads were humming with trains carrying supplies and troops to the boot camps and seaports.
The actual “front” of the building faces towards the railroad as the early customers were passengers debarking at the Railroad Station. According to published reports, trains running to Enterprise were timed by the engineers to arrive about noontime so the passengers and crew could have lunch at the Rawls.
The hotel continued to serve as the principal place for business and social gatherings until it ceased operations in the early 1970s and fell into disrepair. By the late-1970s, the hotel was purchased by Hayden Pursley who rescued it and spent three years working to restore it to its former glory.
Hayden was honored during the Rawls Centennial Ball in November 2003 and received a key to the city. He passed away in the spring of 2004. The day after he died, word was received that Hayden had been recognized for his outstanding achievement in historic preservation by the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution.
The Rawls now houses a restaurant, bed and breakfast, and serves as the headquarters for Navigator Development Group Inc.
The Rawls Hotel has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1980.
Information received from several published reports and documents.