Once a popular stop for travelers, the Riverside Motel located along US-17 near the Georgia-Florida state line opened in 1954. The one-story L-shaped motel had a dozen rooms with an office in the center courtyard. The motel’s sign advertised air conditioned rooms. Some of the doors still had rates visible on the back; $9 daily for one person, $12 daily for two in one bed, $14 for two in two beds, or another $2 for an extra person. The motel owners, Knud Howard Olfort and his wife Nellie Vanzant Olfort, also operated a souvenir shop and liquor store next door called St. Mary’s Liquors.
Before 2011, many counties in Georgia were still dry, meaning it was illegal for residents to purchase alcohol on Sundays. Locals would often cross the state line and buy alcohol from St. Mary’s Liquors. Work began on Interstate 95 in 1959, and by 1960 the first portion through Jacksonville was complete. By the 1970s, the majority of the interstate system was completed which led North to South from South Carolina to Miami. Travelers no longer were forced to use the old highways to travel to Florida and many opted for the new, faster route.
It is believed the completion of I-95 was the demise of the motel, but the business may not of closed due to a lack of traffic. The motel property includes a large amount of acreage behind the business. In 1993, Nellie Olfort went missing. When authorities attempted to search for her, Knud refused to allow anyone onto the property. Without his help, the case soon went cold. Offers to purchase the property arose, but Knud refused to sell. When a movie producer discovered the dilapidated motel and offered to make repairs in exchange for using the property to film, Knud still declined.
Knud Olfort passed away in 1997. Two years later, on September 11, 1999, the Navy was performing diving exercises in the St. Mary’s River and discovered Nellie’s car with her skeletal remains still inside. The discovery was less than a half-mile from the motel. According to local, Knud may of had something to do with Nellie’s disappearance. Nothing is certain, but his unwillingness to cooperate with the search for his wife along with not allowing anyone on the property led many to speculate that he had something to do with her disappearance.
It appears the motel has sat vacant ever since. Curtains hang in most of the windows. Many of the floors are completely rotten and falling through. Some of the rooms have at least a mattress if not more left behind. There are even a few articles of clothing left behind on hangars. In early 2020, the property sold to a new owner who is in the process of clearing the land and demolishing the old motel and stores. Once the land is clear, he plans to resell the property. For more photos from the old Riverside Motel as well as a dozen other abandoned places nearby, check out Abandoned North Florida.