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The Polar Express

We are close to one of our favorite times of the year!  We love the fall and all its color and cool days.  We love seeing so many of our regular guests who come that time of the year.  But I am also talking about the Polar Express.

For the past 6-7 years, we have stayed open through December specifically for this wonderful event.  Based on the popular movie and book of the same name, the Polar Express is an exceptional experience for families with younger children.    The Great Smoky Mountain Railroad begins making runs to the North Pole on the second weekend of November that continue through and past Christmas.  The ride on the real authentic train lasts about and hour and fifteen minutes.  On the ride out to the North Pole, everyone sings Christmas carols, drinks hot chocolate, and reads the Polar Express story.  They arrive at the North Pole to find Santa Claus waiting for them.  He boards the train and rides back with them, visiting with every child and giving them a bell from his sleigh.

This has become extraordinarily popular and it sells out every year.  We have been fortunate to be a part of this by offering packages that include room, meals and train tickets.  We decorate the inn with live Christmas trees, garlands, wreaths, and candles.  It is a festive time for everyone.  What we love the most is the sheer joy we see in the children and the fun their families have together experiencing this adventure.

If you have never done this before, I encourage you to bring your family.  It is a magical time.  If you have done this, you know how popular it is and how important it is to make your reservations NOW!    Some of the most popular times and train cars are already beginning to fill up.  I cannot emphasize this enough.  It is important to act now to get the reservations you want.  Call us at (828) 488-2885 and we can help.  There are a number of decisions to make, so we cannot do this online.

You will not regret coming to the mountains to ride the Polar Express.  Call soon!  Thanks

Blue Zones

Have you heard about “Blue Zones”?  This is new to me but I recently saw a report and was curious so I did a little checking.  Blue Zones  refer to a few areas of the world where folks have longer life expectancy than most.  Not surprisingly, their extended life is due to their unique lifestyle and environment.  Researcher discovered there are  nine common denominators among the people living in these Blue Zones.  They are:

1 They are active not sedentary.  They are not necessarily  exercise buffs, but they get up and simply move around regularly.  I imagine that includes a lot of walking etc

2 They have a purpose in life.  They know why they wake in the morning

3 They have routines that shed stress.  This can be prayer, mediation, naps etc but they do something regularly to get away from whatever gives them stress.

4 They eat sensibly.  Basically they eat what they need but don’t overeat.

5 Their diet is mostly plant based

6 They drink wine, but just moderately and never excessively.  Interestedly, one of the Blue Zones is Loma Linda, CA, the home of Seventh Day Adventist and they drink no alcohol at all

7 They belong to a faith based community and attend services regularly

8 They put their family first.  They commit to a life partner and their children.  Often their family lives close by.

9 They are social. They connect with others and are a part of a personal social network.  PLEASE NOTE: THIS DOES NOT INCLUDE SOCIAL NETWORKING SUCH AS FACEBOOK ETC.

I think in many ways, this describes the type of guests we attract to  Hemlock Inn.  They come  to get out into the Smokies and enjoy all its wonders, whether it is hiking or rafting etc.  They visit  to get rid of their stressful situations. They are largely people who are faith based, family first, and who know their purpose in life.  Our whole setting epitomizes social interaction where guests eat and share with each other on a daily basis… face to face around the lazy susan tables and on our porches.

OK OK OK.  We fail on the sensible eating, but we do offer a variety of food including fruits and vegetables and and and…..ok we just fail on sensible eating.  But no place is perfect.

Some may think the values and lifestyle we follow here  are old fashioned and archaic.  Sounds to me they are the values and lifestyles people need and seek.  Personally, I like it just fine.  I have found my Blue Zone

If you are looking for such a get away, come visit us. We are waiting for you!






I am certainly no expert, but I imagine we all have childhood memories that brings a smile.  I remember growing up in Charleston, SC, living on Winston Street,  playing backyard baseball with Sammy King and of my friendship with Doug Cone who could play the violin like a virtuoso.  (I tried to emulate him and failed miserably)  I remember fishing off the pier in the Atlantic with my Dad on the coast of NC at Caswell Baptist Retreat Center.  I remember accidentally pushing my sister down the steps at home one day (I hope she doesn’t remember, but I thinks she still holds a grudge), trying to keep up with my brother athletically ( another failure), and thinking my oldest sister was the smartest girl anywhere.

We are in the memory business here at Hemlock Inn.  I don’t think I realized this when I first came here 26 years ago.  I was too busy “learning the ropes” from John Shell and trying to figure out where all the light switches and hot water heaters were located.  But after a while, I started to observe the families visiting us.  The kids were giggling with glee as they ran around the front yard, playing tag or  whiffleball.  I saw them squeal with delight as they slid down our embankment on sleds made of cardboard or even when they rolled the shuffleboard discs down the same embankment into the field below, not  to be found until we cut the grass.  And I observed the parents sitting on the porches laughing with equal glee as their children relished the pure joy of simple fun.  More often than not, they didn’t sit long and were soon up playing with their children and even taking a cardboard ride down the embankment themselves.  No one needed TV or internet access or even their cell phones.  They had each other and were having the times of their lives.  They were building memories.

This still happens.  We have had over 10 family reunions of various sizes visit over the past month.  Each has been accentuated with carefree fun, abundant laughter, and yes, an occasional cardboard ride.

Years ago, we put a blank  “memory book” in our sunroom for our 50th Anniversary and encouraged our guests to share their favorite Hemlock memory. Many wrote of their wonderful visits and all of them were heartwarming. But one comment has stuck with me more than the others. It was from a 12 year old girl who simply wrote in her comments “…my dad finally had time to play a game with me.” She didn’t want things, she wanted time.

All this came to mind as I read a great blog written by one of our guests of many years ago.  Ashley Hackshaw writes a blog entitled “Little Blue Boo” and recently wrote  about her childhood visits to Hemlock Inn.  It is a beautiful and touching  expression of her childhood memories here. I encourage you to click on the link below and read it.

Years from now, when I reflect on my time at Hemlock Inn, I don’t think I will remember the leaky roofs, or stopped up drain lines.  I think I will remember the  delight on children’s faces and the joy they experienced being and playing with their families.  I will certainly remember my own three boys and their adventures here…and I will smile!

Hope you will come soon and start your own memory

Please read Ashley’s blog



Attitude Adjustment

Every now and then, we all need an attitude adjustment and I needed one badly this  week.  This economy thing is just beginning to get the best of me.  I hoped this year would be the start of a slow recovery for businesses like ours.  The election year is over, stock market is climbing, employment improving, and consumer confidence is up.  But our occupancy remains stagnant.  So I have been getting  frustrated trying to determine what we can possibly do the get folks back to the inn.

Lainey picked up on this and showed me the latest post on our Trip Advisor review page.  Since it was publicly posted, I don’t think the author will mind if I share it with you.  It was titled:

An Honest RETREAT From Life

“With all that life hands you…the joys of births and unions, the sorrows of death and loss, add in illness and disease and you have an overwhelming view of every day life. Everyone has their boulder to bear in an uphill struggle to reach the top, but at least there is ONE place and GOOD people I can visit to forget about these woes and sorrows.

Just five minutes to sit and rock on the Hemlock Inn’s porch overlooking the mountains and the beautiful wildlife below gives me a glorious moment to relax and regroup my mind and body. Mort and Lainey have always been there for me whenever I’m in need. I can’t say enough good things about the Hemlock Inn. It is a true retreat from your life, it gives you the opportunity to slow down and only focus on where you are in the present. All I have left to say is, when you stay at Hemlock Inn just remember it’s all about finding yourself and your loved ones; get closer together.”

This is exactly what we hope and strive for Hemlock Inn to be.  Times are admittedly tough and it is easy to get discouraged.  But comments like these keep us going.

Thanks for the adjustment.


The Big Wedding – Behind the Scenes

Last week, I wrote a bit about Steven and Sarah’s big wedding June 1 here at the inn.  In addition to the normal planning and hosting of this big event, we also encountered a few non planned events leading up to the wedding. Thought you might be interested in them

January 1 -The weather – As most of you know who live in the east and southeast, this has been a very wet year.  To date, Bryson City  is almost 20″ above normal in rainfall.  Because this was to be an outdoor wedding and reception, we were paying special attention to the weather and were glued to the Weather Channel looking at long range forecasts. It had not escaped our attention that it has rained every weekend since the beginning of the year with the exception of Memorial Day weekend.  What a helpless feeling.  Many Prayers were being said.

May 2 – The Cooks – When the wedding was first planned, we had a wonderful cook on staff that we loved and trusted. She was known for her prime rib which we normally don’t serve but Sarah and Steven wanted.  We all met with her last year, planned the menus,and made all the arrangements for both the  rehearsal dinner  and large buffet wedding dinner.  All the planning and meals were based on the promises and availability of this cook.  Then, on May 2, she suddenly and unexpectedly quit,  for reasons we still don’t quite understand.

May 10- Graduation – Since our winter can be unpredictable, the date for our local high school graduation is not set until spring.  So in May, they finally announced graduation would be, you guessed it, Saturday morning, June 1. ..the date of the wedding.  At the time, we had four high school students working for us in our dining room…all seniors…all graduating.

-May 1 – The Bear – Early in May, we were surprised to see a large black bear casually walk through our woods towards our garbage can area.  This has happened before and is always intriguing. We took lots of pictures and began to haul off our leftovers every night after the meal hoping to discourage the bear from returning.  However, that did not deter the bear.  He (we think it’s a male) continued to come every evening, sometimes twice an evening, smelling whatever the cooks were preparing and looking for leftovers.  Interestingly, he would come about 4:00pm, the same time the wedding ceremony was to commence just a relatively short distance away. No matter what we tried, we could not keep it away.

May 20 – The Snakebite  – Less than two weeks before the wedding, we were outside working when we noticed Scruffy, our small dog, walk up limping on three legs.  I checked her out thinking she got something caught in her paw.  I couldn’t find anything wrong  and she was still in obvious pain, so I took her to the vet and found she had been snake bit.  Multiple subsequent trips to the vet were necessary, another distraction we did not need.

June 1 – The Snake – The morning of the wedding day, with a full house of guests, Andrew and John Thomas pointed out a small copperhead just outside our house door.  With bravery above and beyond normal men, the brothers and I were able to quietly eliminate the snake without disrupting any of the activities.

The surprises just kept coming… But there was a happy ending

The Weather – The weather Friday and Saturday was perfect; cloudy with a slight breeze.  It was not hot and did not rain a drop, UNTIL after Steven and Sarah were long gone and we had cleared the front yard of all the tables and chairs.  Then it rained all night Saturday and into Sunday.  Well, prayers do work.

The Cooks – We had two of our former cooks, Donna and Wally, and two brand new cooks, Starr and Jay,  and Maggie, Chad’s wife, do a marvelous job preparing our wonderful meals.  They all pitched in working  long hours and without complaint and prepared all the outstanding meals.  We also had a little help from The Well House in Dillsboro, which prepared our Prime Rib.  We cannot thank them enough.

Graduation –Well we couldn’t change graduation, but we did call in help from our friends and former employees.  People like Tim and Sandy and extra work from Christine, Heather, and Loretta plus the hard work of Chad, Maggie, and Gail made sure everything was done just right.  Thanks to all.

The Bear – Our friendly bear just disappeared and did not show its face the entire week of the wedding.  But it did return the week after the wedding and the adventure continues.

The Snakebite – Scruffy has almost completely recovered. She has a shaven leg where she was treated and still favors it some, but is slowly getting back to normal with, we hope,  a little more appreciation for where she ventures into the woods.

The Snake – There have been no more snake spottings anywhere…thankfully


The result was a perfect weekend, a perfect wedding, and a  wonderful time…..but the adventures getting there will long be remembered








Cherish Every Memory…Love Every Moment


This past weekend, our middle son, Steven, and his bride Sarah, were married at the inn.  It was a wonderful ceremony on our front lawn overlooking the beautiful Smoky Mountains.  The spot was then dramatically transformed into an outdoor dining area as our 150 guests were able to enjoy a great buffet dinner still surrounded by our magical mountains. It was perfect in so many ways; a time to cherish and love.  We invite you to check our website and Facebook pages for pictures.

One of the highlights of the weekend was all the family and friends that attended.  We were so fortunate that so many took the time out of their busy schedules to be with Steven and Sarah on their most important day.  It meant so much to them to have everyone here.

I don’t think we can ever underestimate the importance of the time we spend with those closest to us.  Family members, often separated by great distances, or dear friends, missing from our lives for too long, are often reunited on our front porch with hugs, kisses, and often tears.  This followed by long conversations to catch up with each other’s lives around our lazy susan tables.  Before their time together is over, an old bond has been renewed.  With promises to never go as long without seeing each other again, the short time  is over and everyone goes their separate ways again.

Now if we can only keep those promises to reunite soon. I saw a sign for sale in a store yesterday that simply read “Cherish every memory, Love every moment”.  That is a simple yet profound statement.   Time together with family and friends should never be taken for granted.  Instead we should savor each minute and imbed them into our memory.  But it is also important that we get together as often as possible.  Time is a limited commodity, perhaps we should begin to use more of it to be with those we love the most.

Part of the philosophy of Hemlock Inn is to provide a place that allows that to happen.  We were so pleased Sarah and Steven gave us the opportunity to be that place for them.   We were honored they chose us.  We invite you to choose us as well.  Come, cherish and love!


Andy Griffith and Me

If you know me at all, you probably know that I am a huge Andy Griffith fan; more precisely I am a fan of the Andy Griffith show. I grew up watching it, still follow the reruns and usually can identify the episode after only watching a few minutes. The stories of Mayberry, of simpler times, and southern grace just always made me smile, not to mention the memorable characters like Barney, Otis, Floyd, Earnest T, Briscoe Darling and so many more. Like countless others, I was saddened to learn of Andy’s passing this week.

Many folks think we live in a version of Mayberry here in Bryson City. We are a small town that will never get very big because of land constraints. We had a local barber that knew everyone and gave everyone the same haircut (whitewalls and all) no matter what style you requested. We have the local gas station where everyone likes to hang out (for many years including the mayor) sharing news and gossip. We even had a local businessman capture a bank robber on Main Street a few years back (“Citizens arrest; citizens arrest” as Gomer would say). So as not to offend anyone, I won’t comment on the possibility of a Barney Fife in the Police Department.

But it is comfortable in our little town, where most folks know each other and our simple pleasures include going to the ice cream shop, attending Little League games, and having town festivals with craft booths, local music, and lots of food (our Freedom Fest complete with fireworks was this past week). We like the slow pace, not much traffic, and peaceful setting.

I read an article by Ted Anthony entitled “Andy Griffith evoked, stylized small town America”. He quotes a 24 year women who said “It’s kind of like ‘Oh this is how it used to be’ and ‘Why isn’t it this way still?’ Things were so much simpler back then’. His article concludes sadly this way:

“Americans loved, and still love, the notion of the small town as a manageable, nonthreatening, friendly, finite community-an idea all but upended in the 21st century, where the truly isolated town is, for all practical purposes, no more. The black and white world that Andy Griffith shaped so masterfully is there for our perusal from a distance, but it is not coming back-either on television or anywhere else”.

I hope he is wrong. We are seeing trends of folks leaving the rural environment and moving back to urban settings where there are more jobs and opportunities. But I still believe there is a place for the small town and more importantly the small town feeling. For if we loose that feeling, we have really lost the essence of Americana.

For many years now, we have be discussing the future of Hemlock Inn debating how much change we need to make to be attractive to the newer younger traveler. It is a compelling discussion, because there are things that do need to change, but we never want to mess with the underlying character of the inn. This includes a quiet peaceful setting, simple pleasures such as hot coffee around a fireplace and homecooked family meals preceded by a blessing. We believe in family vacations, couple get aways, and a wholesome place where everyone feels comfortable and at ease. We want to embrace many of the values Andy Griffith evoked in mythical Mayberry. We still think that many folks are looking for such a place…maybe even you.

Rest in peace Andy and long live the spirit of Mayberry found in communities like Bryson City and at Hemlock Inn.

— Mort

Personal Retreat

I should have said more about my nephew and his family that moved here last summer to help Lainey and I here at the inn. Some of you have already met Chad Gilbert and his wife, Maggie, and their two young sons, Seamus and Declan. They have already been such a big help.

Recently, they volunteered to take on the task of coordinating our “social media” which includes Facebook, Trip Advisor, and internet (we are not into tweeting yet thank goodness). If you know me very well, you know that is not my strength. I love sitting and talking with our guests, but don’t so much enjoy sitting at the computer doing daily Facebook posts, keeping up with Trip Advisor comments, and keeping our internet pages fresh and current. They have already been successful in raising our Trip Advisor ranking. I will still be writing this blog and making occasional Facebook posts. I can’t keep my hands off it completely.

“Social Networking” is very popular and has become a necessity in today’s business world. It is a way many folks prefer to communicate both professionally and personally. It is fast and constant and we will use it as much as we can to let as many folks as possible learn about and keep up with Hemlock Inn. When they get here though, we will do our best to get them to slow down, turn off, and relax.

We live in a fast paced world and it is not going to change. That is why I am convinced more than ever that we need places like Hemlock Inn. I once asked my sons what one word best defined the inn. Without a blink, one of them said “retreat”. He is right. The very meaning of the word is a place where folks can go to experience peace and quiet and a change of pace from whatever gives them stress. So one phrase we are beginning to use more and more is that we are a place for your “personal retreat”. Up here, our guests enjoy the peaceful setting of the mountains, wonderful company of friends around lazy susan tables full of genuine homecooked southern meals, and simple pleasures such as a steaming cup of coffee each morning while sitting around a roaring fire. If you can stay just a few days, you will feel the stress melt from your body.

In preparation for our new season, Lainey and I went off for a few days this past week. It was a place we go often and is our place of peace and relaxation. I took a lot of work to do and two books. I read the two books and did nothing else. I came back ready to face the new season. You need that too. Let us help you find your peace…and be your “personal retreat”.

Hemlock Inn will open for our 60th year on April 16. Hope to see you this year….

— Mort

Birthdays, Anniversaries, and Weddings

blog52February has always been a special month in our household. In addition to the usual Valentines and Presidents Days hoilidays, Lainey and I also observe our anniversary and my birthday. We were married February 12th (Lincoln’s Birthday) and celebrate our “Anniversitine,” commemorating both our anniversary and Valentine’s Day into one event. My birthday then occurs just a week later on February 22 (George Washington’s birthday). We are partied out by the time the month ends. But, now we have one more time of celebration to add to the list…..

Andrew, our oldest son, was married this past weekend on Saturday, February 18 in Durham, NC. He married the beautiful Jeanette Howell, whom he has known and worked with for several years. It was a beautiful ceremony and fun time all weekend. We love Jeanette and know she is just the right person for Andrew. We couldn’t be happier for them. So we will joyfully add their anniversary as part of our February celebration. See some pictures of the happy couple. We have more posted on Facebook.

Oh wait, I just remembered that we have two nieces with birthdays on February 2, another niece and nephew with February 14th , Roberta Shell, Lainey’s father’s wife’s on February 8, and Maggie Gilbert, Chad’s wife’s on February 28……..

Good Grief…Let’s just celebrate all month long!


New Year’s Resolutions and Winter Views

I am not very good at making New Year’s Resolutions, and worse at keeping them, but I try to make a few every year with varying degrees of success. I won’t bother to reveal what’s on my list this year except for one item. I resolved to get out more and hike the great trails in our area. I have been so consumed with running Hemlock Inn that I have let it run me. I live in one of the most beautiful areas and don’t take advantage of its majesty. In addition, last year we began an “Innkeepers Hiking Week” in September. It was so much fun that we are going to do it again this September and even start a weekly “Innkeeper Hike” this year. I am committing myself to lead a hike one day every week.

So I thought it was necessary that I start now and try to hike some trails. Surprisingly, I have been pretty successful so far and I have enjoyed it more than I ever dreamed. I started with some of the trails I already knew, but have lately begun to hike the areas I have only heard our guests speak of. One thing I have learned is that I should have started this years ago.

Early in the winter, I went up on the mile long trail here on our property. Now, I have lived here for 23 years, but I am still amazed at the simple yet glorious mountain views all around us. This is more evident in the winter. I walked up our trail to the ridge and just stopped and gazed in wonder. All the leaves were off the trees and everywhere I looked, there was a spectacular view of the mountain ranges visible only in the winter. It was just before dusk and I could see the early signs of sunset to my west with brilliant red and orange skies. I would turn to the east and see the glows of purple as the shadows crept across the range. I literally had a mountain view all along the trail except when it took me into the thickets of mountain laurel and rhododendron.

How sad that sometimes we fail to see what is beautiful right where we live. I try not to take it for granted. . I will be leading weekly hikes all year and daily hikes during “Innkeeper Hike” week in September. I want to see more and I want to share it with you.

If you are looking for a short get away and want to see the wonderful winter views, remember that we are open President’s Day Weekend, February 17-19. Hope to see you soon!