Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Remembrance of Things Past: Gatlinburg #9

Gatlinburg. circa 1930s.

Open fields cleared by hand bordering the Little Pigeon River. You could throw a rock and not hit a thing. The terrain was more or less flat compared to the aged mountains that towered over it. That's all it was for a time, the original name of the little town was White Oak Flats and it fit it like a pair of old shoes

The hamlet had just a few roads leading in from the communities of Greenbrier, Sugarlands and Sevierville and muddy ruts down from the mountainside along Bearskins (today Baskins) and Mill (today LeConte) Creeks. And there in the center was the hub, the Ogle Brother's Store, plus a few other businesses, a church, the settlement school and a few dozen homes.

It wasn't all that much just open space for decades with 6,594-foot tall Mt. LeConte, the mountain with four peaks—Myrtle Point, High Point, Cliff Top and Bullhead—overlooking it like Zeus from Mount Olympus. And if the sky and thunder deity did happen to look down, he probably was generally bored. But who am I to speak for an omnipotent Greek?  

The late 1930s saw the beginning of a renaissance in Gatlinburg. With the coming of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 1934 and the establishing of the Sugarlands as the new park's headquarters, Gatlinburg took on a new role. In today's terms it was rebranded, going from a languid timber town to bustling resort town, the gateway to the new national park. And the resourceful mountain families who providence had placed there were more than ready to adopt their new roles as hosts to the Great Smokies. They put out the welcome mat and said, "Come on in. Take a load off."

The Great Depression was coming to a close and many people were starting to feel good again and go on vacation, not by train but in the family automobile and they wanted to see the newest national park. The Mountain View Hotel founded by Andy Huff in 1916 for the lodging of lumbermen buying timber was expanded for the fledgling tourist trade. 

But the Mountain View simply wasn't enough to accommodate all the new visitors. If you owned a piece of open land, you could start a business. And in the 1930s, most of Gatlinburg was open. Within a time frame of only a few years several more accommodations were added to the AAA travel guide.

The Gatlinburg Inn was built by R.L. Maples in 1937 and Dick Whaley enlarged the 20-room 1925 boarding house built by his father Stephen and rechristened it the New Riverside Hotel the same year. He also changed the front entrance that faced River Road to the new main road, the Parkway, in the back. 

In 1939, Andy Huff bought the small, eight room wonderfully named Rocky Waters Inn in lower Gatlinburg, demolished it, rebuilt it with 16 units and then resold the new Rocky Waters Court to Ralph and Mattie (Andy's daughter) Lawson in 1943. An early post card boasts of steam heat, a dining room, although three units had kitchenettes, and porches over the Little Pigeon River, its hallmark ever since. Listening to flowing water has appealed to its guests for decades. Interested? Their early phone number was 44. 

Later Dick Whaley built the Hotel Greystone in 1941. A postcard from the time reads, "Hotel Greystone was designed and built to serve the more discriminating visitors to the Great Smokies. It is one of the South's truly beautiful hotels. A spacious dining room offers plenty of food and an appetizing variety of menus - Home cooked southern style. The large cozy veranda overlooks a beautiful lawn, and faces directly toward majestic Mt. LeConte, the Grandstand of the Great Smokies."

Clearly a renaissance was underway. Visitors could even play croquet on the lawn at the Mountain View.

Today, Ripley's Aquarium now sits on the site of the old Hotel Greystone and as fate would have it, on Monday, November 28, my sisiter and I watched the firestorm embers blow into Gatlinburg live from a remote WATE-6 weather camera atop the aquarium pointed at Pi Beta Phi. Meteorologist Matt Hinkin described what he saw. In disbelief, we watched it too but little did we know how much of our hometown, Vintage Gatlinburg, would burn to the ground in the space of one or two hours, probably much less.

© 2016 From the upcoming book, 
"Vintage Gatlinburg: 
The Transformation of a Small Timber Town to a Mountain Resort
 Family Remembrances 1899-1974" 
by University of Tennessee Press author and native son  
Stephen Lyn Bales

The New Riverside Hotel expanded in 1937
Croquet on the lawn at the Mountain View Hotel

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