By Stanley Turkel, CMHS
1. Hotel History: The Grove Park Inn Resort & Spa, Asheville, North Carolina
The Grove Park Inn is one of the country’s most celebrated resorts located in the Blue Ridge Mountains in Asheville, North Carolina. It was built by Edwin Wiley Grove (1850-1927), owner of the Paris Medicine Company, manufacturer of Bromo-Quinine and Tasteless Chill Tonic. In the late 1890s, Grove’s Tasteless Chill Tonic sold more bottles than Coca-Cola. Edwin Grove’s doctors sent him to Asheville, North Carolina to determine if the climate would help reduce or cure his bouts with extreme hiccups, which would last several weeks at a time. Grove arrived in Asheville in 1900 and found the mild climate so much to his liking that he purchased a large tract of land on Sunset Mountain. Grove’s idea was for a lodge grand enough to match the grandeur of the surrounding mountains. When Grove could not find a local architect who grasped his concept, he entrusted the project to his son-in-law Fred Loring Seely, who had no formal training in architecture or the building trades. Seely designed a magnificent lodge which was built of native uncut granite boulders quarried from Sunset Mountain. The Inn was furnished by the Roycrofters of East Aurora, New York, one of the most important designers and manufacturers of American Arts and Craft furniture, metal work and other accessories. Some 400 rugs were made in France, and linen curtains and spreads were imported from Ireland. To make the building fireproof, Seely designed a three-foot thick roof composed of cement, steel rods, asphalt and red clay tiles.
Construction was completed in 11 months and 27 days by careful planning and paying high wages to dedicated workers who were housed in circus tents erected on the job site. The golf course at the Grove Park Inn was built in 1899 and redesigned in 1924 by Donald Ross. Now owned by the Grove Park Inn, the par-70 course is a member club open to guests, members and the public.
The Inn was used for some unusual purposes:
• during World War II, it was utilized as an internment center for Axis diplomats
• later in the war, it was used by the U.S. Navy as a rest and rehabilitation center for returning sailors
• in 1944-45, the Inn was an Army Redistribution Station where soldiers rested before being assigned to other duties
• the Philippine Government operated in exile from the Presidential Cottage on the grounds during World War II
According to the Wall Street Journal (May 8, 2013), the U.S. Supreme Court planned to relocate to the Grove Park Inn in the event of a nuclear attack.
The Grove Park Inn has attracted many celebrities in the past 100 years including William Jennings Bryan (who spoke at the hotel's opening), Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone, Elbert Hubbard, Helen Keller, Woodrow Wilson, John D. Rockefeller, General John J. Pershing, Dean Smith, Jerry Seinfeld, David & Amy Sedaris, William Howard Taft, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Herbert Hoover, Dwight Eisenhower, Enrico Caruso, Harry Houdini, Al Jolson, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Bobby Jones, Wiley Post, Will Rogers, Bill Tilden, Billy Graham, Don Cheadle, Barack Obama, and many others. F. Scott Fitzgerald lived at the Inn for about two years in 1935 and 1936 when he was struggling with tuberculosis and alcoholism. His wife, Zelda, was institutionalized with schizophrenia in an Asheville hospital.
Mementoes of the Grove Park Inn's past are found throughout the public areas. Photographs of former notable guests hang in one corridor and empty bottles of Tasteless Chill Tonic and early menus are on display in glass cases. Also in evidence is the eight-foot-tall clock made by the Roycroft Shop for the Inn. With its hand-hammered face and oversized hardware, the clock may well be the most important object to come out of the Roycroft Shops. The Grove Park Inn provides great activities including horse-drawn carriage rides, an 18-hole golf course, nine tennis courts and a fully equipped sports center as well as a nightclub and eight gift shops. The most appealing guest activities at the Grove Park Inn may be the simplest ones, a meditation before a blazing fire or a post-dinner conversation in a mission rocker on the porch.
From 1955 to 2012, the Inn was owned and operated by Sammons Enterprises until 2012 when KSL Resorts acquired it. The Inn features a 43,000 square-foot modern subterranean spa which was ranked #5 in the U.S. by Travel & Leisure. KSL sold the Inn to Omni Hotels in 2013 who renamed it the Omni Grove Park Inn.
Grove Park Inn has been a AAA Four Diamond Hotel since 2001 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
*excerpted from my book “Built to Last: 100+Year-Old Hotels East of the Mississippi” (AuthorHouse 2013)
2. The Biltmore Estate, Asheville, North Carolina
The Biltmore Estate is a large private estate and tourist attraction in Asheville, North Carolina. Biltmore House, the main house on the estate, is a Châteauesque-styled mansion built by George Washington Vanderbilt II between 1889 and 1895 and is the largest privately-owned house in the United States, at 178,926 square feet of floor space and 135,280 square feet of living area. Still owned by one of Vanderbilt’s descendants, it stands today as one of the most prominent remaining examples of the Gilded Age. In 2007, it was ranked eighth in America’s Favorite Architecture by the American Institute of Architects.
In 1917, just four years after the completion of the construction of the Grove Park Inn, Fred Seely purchased Biltmore Estate Industries from Edith Vanderbilt, wife of George Washington Vanderbilt II, the owner of the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina. This new venture came in addition to his responsibilities as the manager of the Grove Park Inn. E.W. Grove, his father-in-law and owner of the Grove Park Inn had refused to sell the hotel to Seely though he had selected him to design and to construct the building. He instead leased the hotel to Seely until 1927, the year of Grove’s death and the year Seely lost his legal bid to own the hotel. Grove left the hotel to his wife and son and daughter.