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Appalachia is the cultural region stretching from New England all the way down to the southern states of Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi.  It is primarily a mountainous area that is steeped in nature.  It is an area abundant with rivers, streams, waterfalls, and lakes.  It is filled with flora and fauna. Southern Appalachia has been my home since 1967 and it is the home of Hemlock Inn.

There is some stereotyping of southern Appalachia, but I’d like to tell you a little about the area from my perspective.  First a little history.  The area was initially the home of a number of Native American tribes.  They loved the area because it was filled with plentiful game and natural resources.   It was first settled by Scotch Irish who were fiercely independent and wanted a place of solitude away from authority, rules, and sometimes even law. Many came to the mountains to hide and escape.  One example of their independent nature could be seen in their moonshining.  The making of alcohol (moonshine) in these parts was not illegal, but selling it without paying taxes was illegal and local inhabitants hated taxes.  They were also fiercely religious and just like many of the other settlers of the new world, they just wanted to be left alone and allowed to worship as they pleased. Agriculture was big in the area and for a while logging and coal mining was common.

Today, visitors still look to escape to Appalachia.  The area is still a natural paradise.  Much of the forest land is now protected as National Parks (Great Smoky Mountain National Park) and national forest land.  Trees harvested by large logging operations have been replaced by new growth.  The water in the streams and rivers run cold and clear.  Dams have created huge lakes.  There is an abundance of hiking trails, whitewater sports, fly fishing and more.

But there is so much more that attracts folks to the area.  Most of Appalachia is filled with small towns and communities.  There are some larger cities on the periphery such as Asheville, Knoxville, and Chattanooga, but most of the towns are small and filled with local owned businesses.  Yes, you will find some fast food restaurants and chain motels, but you will also find wonderful local eateries, country inns, and bed and breakfasts.  You will also find a folk culture of mountain music and genuine local crafts.

Appalachia is a unique area in our world of large cities, fast paced lives, and stress.  Appalachia offers a change of pace, get away from whatever causes stress, and a remembrance of simpler times and pleasures.

Hemlock Inn is located just outside Bryson City in Western North Carolina… the heart of Appalachia. We are on 57 acres of wooded land with hiking trails and wonderful southern Appalachian home cooked meals.  Most important we offer peace and quiet…and escape.

Experience Appalachia at Hemlock Inn!


Why are we Innkeepers?

Dusk is a beautiful time at the inn.

Hemlock Inn at dusk

As you know, Hemlock Inn closes every winter, except for a few get away weekends and some special events.    Lainey and I use the winter months to rest from the exertion of the season past, and begin preparations and planning for the next season.  However we also use this unique time to reflect on what we do as innkeepers and why we continue to do it, even after 28 years. 

We are often asked how we became innkeepers in the first place.  Lainey’s story is easy.   Her parents, John and Ella Jo Shell, bought the inn when she was just 12 years old.  She grew up in the inn business and did whatever was required from cleaning rooms, to serving tables in the dining room, to occasional duties in the office.  She went with her parents as they bought supplies for the business and to attend inn meetings.   When she graduated from college and was asked if she would ever return to run the family business, she simply said it depended on who she married.  That’s where I come in.

When I am asked how I became an innkeeper, I usually start with a silly comment…”I was destined to be an innkeeper from all my experiences.  I learned compassion from my years working at the American National Red Cross; I learned financial skills from my years in banking; and then I married the owner’s daughter”.  There is some truth in the humor.  I never intended to work in their family business, but the Shell’s asked us to consider coming and help them out, and the time to leave the bank seemed right.  We decided we needed to come and help and see if this was right for us. 

Lainey grew up here and knew what was ahead.  I did not.  I arrived and, quite frankly, did not have a clear understanding of what Hemlock Inn was.  I looked at it through the eyes of a banker.  My early time was spent on budgets, cutting expenses while increasing revenue, increasing productivity.  My goal was to make Hemlock Inn a thriving, successful, prosperous business.  The guests were a means to accomplish that, but I spent most of my time with paper and pencil rather that with them.  Boy was I wrong!  It took me several years to figure out what John told me from the very beginning……”Hemlock Inn is not just a place, it’s a feeling.” 

Our guests are treasures and the reason we are here.  Our goal is to provide them with a place of comfort and peace.  A place that takes them away from whatever gives them stress.  For many, it means simply getting them out of the rat race of large cities to the quiet solitude of nature. For others it is providing them a place to meet and become friends with folks who have no hidden agendas or manipulative plans.  They just want to talk about the hike they took, or the rafting trip they just experienced, or their children or new grandchild.  That usually then leads to discussions of shared values and dreams.  Invariably, it leads to friendship, caring…and sometime even healing.  That gives us great joy because the place becomes a feeling of warmth and safety.

We received an email this winter that tells this story best.  This guest told of their visit last season and of the time this winter when she mentioned to her children the possibility of another trip to the mountains this coming summer. Her son specifically said he would like to go back to Hemlock Inn because he felt closer to God than usual.  She closed her email by saying.  “I’m sure y’all face many challenges in running the inn.  I think you provide a place to be still and know that He is God.  I chose your inn last year because I needed a place to restore my soul.  Be encouraged that your work makes a difference in people’s lives.”    Wow! What encouragement. 

Hemlock Inn is a place.  It is old by today’s standards.  It is rustic, doesn’t have a swimming pool, or flat screen TVs in the rooms.  There is so much we want to do and it has been frustrating, especially in the recent years of this “economic adjustment”.   But Hemlock Inn is also a feeling that transcends the physical.  It is a sincere and honest feeling that can only be described as peace, comfort…and love.

Why are we Innkeepers?  Because even though it is long hours and sometimes challenging, it is also fulfilling and rewarding.  Who could ask for more?



A Good Man

As you probably know, Dean Smith recently passed away.  He was part of my childhood.  Being raised in and around North Carolina in the 60’s & 70’s, I was an avid fan of the UNC Tarheels.  I started following them when Charlie Scott was a player and continued to follow them for many years with many stars.  The stars were fun to watch, but it was the team concept that was most intriguing.  Sometimes, it didn’t seem to matter who was playing, they still won.  Some of my favorite years were those when most of the “good players” left and they were picked to finish way down in the conference.  More often that not, they still won.

I fully realize many of you may be “ABC” fans…Anyone But Carolina…, but it is not my intention to talk Coach Dean Smith. However, I do want to say just a few words about Dean Smith, the man.

Dean Smith’s qualities has been well documented over recent days.  He was a caring man, who had an extraordinary memory for names and faces, who kept up with all his players, not just the stars even after they had graduated.  He was a humble man who left the basketball court quickly on the night he became the all-time leader in wins because he didn’t want the attention.  He was a kind and considerate man who stopped fans behind the goals from screaming and shouting when and opposing player was shooting a foul shot because he considered it unsportsmanlike.  He was a man of equality and justice when he was the first in the entire state to integrate not only his team, but other establishments in the area as well.  In short, he was a man of integrity.  He was not perfect and I don’t agree with all he believed, but I respected him.  You may not like his teams, but in truth, we all had to respect him.

 I read a book this winter that has caused me to reevaluate what should be important in our lives.  In an age of narcissism, chest pumping, selfies, “see what I have done” mentality, this book drew me to a simple verse in Galatians 5:22-23.  “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance…..”  It reminded me that our lives should not be about us and how great we are. In very simple terms it calls us to be a good person.  In our hearts, we all know what that means.

I believe Dean Smith was a good man and that is my goal as well.  Instead of judging others, I need to be loving;    instead of looking for power, I should be seeking gentleness;    instead of worry, I need to show joy;    instead of impatience, I need to be more longsuffering;   Instead of thinking of myself, I just need to be a good man and recognize that means thinking of others first.

I hope this translates into Hemlock Inn as well in the way we welcome and serve our guests.  We want to provide peace and comfort to all who visit here.  It starts with me but it is about how we treat you.

We hope to see you this season.



Dawn of the New Year -2015 


I actually took this picture a few mornings ago just as the sun was coming up over Hemlock Inn, but I think it symbolizes our hopes for 2015. A new year brings new opportunities and horizons.  We start new and fresh with renewed dreams and determination.

2014 was a good year, especially for our family…We enjoyed graduations, a wedding, and the birth of a new granddaughter.  The year at the inn was also encouraging and set the stage for 2015.

Lainey and I will be here for our 28th year as your Innkeepers.  Our goal will be the same as always… to serve you and give you a get away from whatever brings you stress by providing a restful and peaceful setting, home cooked meals and heartfelt hospitality.

We hope to see you this year.  Happy New Year



Christmas 2014

It is the Christmas season, the most joyous time of the year.  A time that we celebrate our Savior’s birth and talk of peace on earth and goodwill towards  men.

But that seems like unrealistic hope these days.  International terrorism is rampant and  innocent victims, both young and old,  are lose their lives daily in the name of a radical faith or for some other agenda.   Here in the states,  recent events has ignited a racial divide  resulting in riots and protests across the country.  Regrettably, retaliation now has occurred.  Life is too precious to be so casually tossed aside.

“Ethics..are nothing but reverence for life.  This is what gives me the fundamental principle of morality, namely, that good consist in maintaining, promoting, and enhancing life, and that destroying, injuring, and limiting life are evil”      Albert Schweitzer       

I’m afraid too many of us are so caught up in our own point of view and “rights” that we cannot even consider the opinion  of others.  Is it my imagination  that the TV commentators and even our elected leaders seem to  argue over everything?  There is definitely  too much blaming and not enough listening.  Perhaps all of us could use a healthy dose of humility to take away some our stubborn pride.

I am certainly not smart enough to have the answers to these issues, but I do know that each of us can only fully control one person…ourself.  Each of us is a full time job.   Perhaps if we individually practice the qualities we extoll at Christmas; love, peace, good will, joy, understanding, empathy, and so much more,  then we can make our little world a much nicer place.   Perhaps we need to be less concerned about our rights and just do what is right. If enough people follow that simple path, imagine how much nicer our world can become.

“Everything you do matters.  Every move you make, every action you take…matters. Not just to you, or your family, or your business or hometown.  Everything you do matters to all of us forever” 

Andy Andrews, The Butterfly Effect

 Rejoice!  It is Christmas.  Share your joy and love to everyone you meet.  Practice good will to ALL men.  Live in peace within your world.  And do it all year long.  Wow! Now that’s what I would call a great Christmas present for all of us.

 Merry Christmas everyone and a Happy New Year too.



Four Seasons

One of the most enjoyable perks of living in Western North Carolina is  getting to enjoy all four seasons.  Our spring this year was as beautiful as ever with emerging “spring green” spreading over the mountains like icing on a hot cake.  The spring flowers captured us all with their majesty.  Summer followed with warmer temperatures which lends itself to numerous outdoor activities such as hiking, whitewater rafting, tubing, zip lining, mountain biking and so much more.  It is a time of pure joy and fun in a magical setting of the Smokies.

We are now beginning to enter our fall season.  In many ways, it is the most glorious as the mountains take on the look of a spilled package of M ‘& Ms.  We are already noticing cooler temps and clearer skies.  The dogwoods and some sourwoods are beginning to show their early color.  Winter will soon follow with cold weather and some snow for sure.  But it is a great time for roaring fires and hot coffee.  Winter hiking is also some of the best.  Since the trees have lost their leaves, some wonderful mountain views become more visible.

Here are some things you need to remember as we approach fall and winter months at Hemlock Inn:

October is prime leaf season.  Color is noticeable all month, but usually at peak later into the month.  It is not unusual to see color even  into early November. While most weekends are very busy, we still have some rooms available during the week and near the end of the month.  If you can only come on a weekend, keep checking with us.  Cancellations and changes happen and we could have some last minute openings

Thanksgiving weekend, November 26-29, is a great time to be at Hemlock Inn.  This is usually a very popular weekend and is highlighted by our “Thanksgiving Feast” on Thursday evening.  Our usual Hemlock meal is replaced by the turkey and dressing, ham, sweet potato casserole, cranberry casserole, and all the other traditional Thanksgiving dishes (that includes pumpkin and pecan pies for dessert).  This is sure to fill up, so call soon.

Polar Express excursion train ride is the most popular event of the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad.  It starts in early November and will run through New Year’s Eve.  This magical ride to the North Pole is loved by kids of all ages and will sell out.  Each year, folks make their reservations earlier and earlier to assure themselves a place on the train.  We encourage you to call and make your reservations as early as you can.  We have packages available including breakfast and dinner or breakfast only.  CALL SOON!

It is impossible to say which season is our favorite, because we love them all! But it is hard to beat the fall colors and the fun of the Polar Express.  We hope your plans this fall and/or winter include a trip to the mountains and Hemlock Inn.

Hope to see you soon.



Through Children’s Eyes

It is July, near the middle of our season, and it has been an interesting year already.


Harper Davison is our summer intern from Arkansas Tech and she has been learning all the adventures and challenges of a family business and inn.  She has spring cleaned rooms, waited tables, washed dishes, worked in our office, and helped with two weddings at the inn.  She is seeing it all.  Who knows, she may still end up in the kitchen some time.


Ashley Hackshaw, along with her husband Brett and daughter Sienna, arrived a month ago.  We have enjoyed watching them adapt to a whole new environment.  We hope you have been following them on Ashley’s blogs; www.yearatthehemlock or as they find their way around town and the area, discover their favorite places for lunch, take beautiful hikes, all the while fixing up their cottage.  Ashley’s passion is writing and she is now able to do just that more and more everyday; not only on her blogs, but also on a book she is authoring.  Brett has taken up mountain biking with a vengeance.  He rides whenever he can and can be often found down at the Bike Shop in Bryson City or at the Tsali Campground, where there are wonderful mountain bike trails.  Then there’s Sienna, some of us call her Boo.   She is full of enthusiasm and just loves being at Hemlock Inn, exploring and playing, meeting new friends, playing board games with Miss Lainey, and just generally having fun.  She even likes to help setting and clearing the tables.


And that brings us to the point of this post. Children, like Boo, have the unique ability to see things that we as adults sometimes miss.  It is pure exuberance for life and simple pleasures.  Those of us who are parents remember the time in our children’s early lives when everything was a wonder.  They would walk (and run) around with wide eyes exploring all that was around them.  A bug could fascinate them for an hour.  They took nothing for granted.  That is why we love this time of the year at Hemlock Inn.  We enjoy watching the children and the sheer joy they have exploring and playing outside, meeting new friends.


There have been times when parents expressed concern about what their children would do here.  After all, we have no TV in the rooms, no swimming pool, and just a limited area for WiFi.  They are nervous their kids will be bored and their vacation ruined.  Several years ago, we had such a set of concerned parents. Upon finding out there was no TV, they immediately began calling around to locate local movie theaters.  When they found a movie of interest, they went looking for their teenage boys who had made their way to our patio, met some other kids, and were involved in a hot game of ping pong.  When they announced they were leaving to go to the movies, the boys said they didn’t want to go.  They were having too much fun right here.


We regularly ask our guests what attracted them to Hemlock Inn.  For returning families, the answer is very often that the children wanted to come back.  We believe that “….children bring the parents back” and it is so true.


Sometimes, I wish all of us adults could just sit back and look through the eyes of our children at all the wonder around us…the simple joys, the delight at little things, no agenda or worries, just plain fun.  Life is real, often complicated and filled with obstacles.  We cannot avoid that reality but it is nice to escape it just for a little while, look at things differently, and spend our time on what and who is really important.


When that happens,  it is an added bonus because families will spend more time together and that is really what the kids really want.   We often quote a note written by a nine year old girl a few years ago.  She and her family were here to ride the Polar Express Train.  While that was great fun, what was really important to her was that  “…my dad finally had time to play a game with me”



Summer is here.  It is a chance to get away from whatever consumes us.  May we suggest that this summer you consider what is really is important.  Rather than look for a place that will entertain your children, find a place without distraction so you can interact with them.


We have the place for you.  Boo will be waiting.


                 Someone recently asked me if I had given much thought of my legacy at Hemlock Inn.  Lainey and I are second generation innkeepers.  We have run this family owned inn for 27 years, an usually long time as innkeeping goes.  And we plan to be here for the foreseeable future, simply because we love it.  We love the heritage it has, and the values it shares, and the focus it embodies.  Hemlock Inn is a good, old fashioned get-away…genuine…unpretentious…full of simple pleasures, homecooked meals, and real southern hospitality.  We are nothing like many of today’s high paced, high speed, glitzy, amenity filled locations.  Conversely, we are slow paced, interested in personal attention, beautiful scenery, soft breezes, and warm conversation.  Out of date?  I guess so, but that is the way we like it.

            But I have never thought of my years here in terms of my personal legacy.  There are several definitions of the word, but I like to think of it as “what defines you”.  I am proud of what we have done over the years here, but it is not necessarily how I want to be remembered.

            Interestingly, I did have the opportunity to give some thought to this subject a couple of years ago.  Lainey and I were in Boston to visit Steven, and I woke up  early one morning and couldn’t go back to sleep.  I got up, took a walk, and came upon one of the many old cemeteries in the area.  As I walked through the sacred ground, I started reading the markers.  It gave me a glimpse into the lives of those who rested there.  In just a few words, the markers revealed what was really important to them…“what defined them” .  Many were veterans of the many wars from 1812 through the present.  Their rank and perhaps their regiment were listed.  Too many had given their lives to the cause of this country and that was important for everyone to remember.  Other markers defined some in other ways; as a minister, mayor, doctor, or industrialist.  As you can guess, most were defined in one other way…their family.  Beloved wife or husband, mother or father.

            In reality, is there any other better way to be remembered?  I can list all the accomplishments of my life.  You may be impressed or you may yawn (which is more likely).  It doesn’t really matter, because what is really important to me is less about what I have done, and more about what I am leaving behind…my legacy for future generations.   For me that is easy to define… it is three outstanding men.  If you know me well, you know them too…Andrew, Steven, John Thomas. 

            This weekend is Father’s Day.  I can think of no better time to acknowledge them.  I have been proud of them from day one.  This has been reinforced over and over by the caliber of men they have become and the choices they have made.  This includes their choice of spouses.  Like me, they have chosen well, so special recognition is also given to Jeanette, Sarah, and Alli.  And now, I have a grandchild on the way, the first of many I trust.  So my legacy continues and my sons’ begins.

            HAPPY FATHER’S DAY! 


News From the White House…and some from the Inn

Thought the headline might capture your attention, but I wanted to take the liberty of sharing the latest news from our house…the White’s house.

This is a big weekend for Lainey and me because we get to celebrate two graduations.

First we go to Knoxville to be with John Thomas as he gradates from UT.  There seems to be extra emotions involved when your youngest graduates from college.  As you probably already know, he is getting married in September to Alli Cochran here at the inn and they plan to live in Knoxville for the immediate future.

After JTs ceremony, we fly immediately to Boston to participate in Steven’s graduation from Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary.  Steven and his wife, Sarah, leave for Germany in August where he will teach at the Black Forest Academy for the next two years.  Did I tell you that Steven was selected by the faculty of Gordon Conwell to speak at the Baccalaureate service?  What an honor.

There is big news from East Asia too!  Andrew and his wife Jeanette will return to the states in July and...are expecting their first child in October….We are thrilled.  They will live in the Chapel Hill/ Durham area and resume their ministry on the UNC campus.


OK, news from the inn…..Harper Davison is our intern from Arkansas Tech University and is proving to be at big help.   She is full of energy and always has the biggest smile on her face.  You will absolutely love her.

Ashley Hackshaw and her family will arrive at Hemlock Inn in early June.  They are closing their house in California soon and making their way here.  You may remember they will be living at the inn for at least a full year and Ashley will be writing at blog based on her experiences here.  She has already set up a website with the blogs she has already written about her earlier visits and her decision to move here.  This is going to be such a wonderful experience and we cannot tell you how excited we are.

This is going to be a great year both personally and at the inn.  Thank all of you who have been such an important part of our lives.  We look forward to sharing all this adventure with you!





There is nothing like the Great Smoky Mountains!


Now that spring is upon us, I have had the opportunity to do get out and do a little hiking.   Over the last two weeks, I have been to the far western and far eastern parts of the park.  Last weekend, I hiked the seven mile Twenty Mile Loop.  This is located about 20 minutes west of Fontana Dam.  It was a wonderful trail with early spring trilliums everywhere and one of the most beautiful cascades I have seen.  I didn’t take my camera, but I will return there later this spring to take some pictures when it has fully “greened up”.  Yesterday, I went to the other extreme section of the park to Cataloochee Valley.  I intended to walk another loop trial up Caldwell Fork Trail and around Boogerman Trail.  Unfortunately, the foot bridge at the start of the trail was washed out and the stream was running too full and rapid to ford.  So I spent the next few hours just exploring Cataloochee.  I toured some of the turn of the century homes, walked a few miles up the Rough Fork Trail and Pretty Hollow Gap Trail, and saw a bunch of elk.  It was a great afternoon.

I was not surprised!  I have had the great opportunity to walk many of the trails primarily in the NC section of the park.  All of them are wonderful.  There is something about getting away from whatever consumes your time, and escape for a while in the beauty of the Smokies.  Some of them have breathtaking views, many of them follow captivating creeks, all of them offer a solitude and peace that is hard to find.  As I walk, I find that tensions decrease and stress melts away.

Many of our guests at Hemlock Inn come to experience the joy of hiking in this spectacular paradise.  Hiking not your thing, there are scenic drives that are unequaled anywhere.  The drive through the park on Hwy441 is just one; there is also the Blue Ridge Parkway that starts in Cherokee and the Cherohala Skyway that goes from the Fontana Dam area to Telico Plains, TN.  There is also the popular excursion train ride on the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad.  Not adventurous enough? Try white water rafting, mountain biking, or zip lining.  Like to fish?  There is wonderful flyfishing available everywhere you look.

Too much to do, too little time………..

At Hemlock Inn, we offer one other activity…NOTHING.  Rocking chairs are available to just sit and relax and take in our view; followed by our delicious home cooked meals.  Sit around our lazy susan tables with your family, both old and new friends.  Meet Ashley and her family.  Take in the peace and comfort of old style southern hospitality.

There is nothing like the Great Smoky Mountains…and no place quite like Hemlock Inn.  We open for the new season in just three weeks…April 23.

Hope to see you.