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Are you watching it?

blog11PBS is showing a Ken Burns series on the National Parks. As with all of his work, this is very well done and tells the story of the formation of all the National Parks in our land. Of course, our special interest will be the feature on the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Coincidentally, the Smokies are celebrating their 75th Anniversary this year. I encourage you to watch this series if at all possible.

Then, I hope you will take the next step and come visit the park. There is no better time to visit than right now. October is the best month to see the Smokies. The air is cool, the mountains are crisp, and the colors are unimaginably beautiful. I was down in Deep Creek just the other day and took some pictures of Tom’s Branch Falls. It is one of our favorite spots and we never tire of it.

Fall is definitely here. The nights are cool (we had a fire in the fireplace last night and this morning too), the leaves are beginning to turn, a gentle breeze rustles the leaves. We are breaking out our sweaters and sweatshirts. We finished our Apple Chips in September and are now starting our Pumpkin Chips. Our supply is just about gone.

You need to come to the mountains. Our weekends are pretty busy, but there is a little bit of room here and there. There is more room available on weekdays. Don’t forget about early November. Often the colors last into the first or second week.

Coming up is Thanksgiving and Polar Express. Both are very popular. Reserve now. The National Parks are a treasure and I hope you can come enjoy them soon.

– Mort

We can feel a change in the weather in the Smokies

applesWe can feel a change in the weather in the Smokies. Not only have we had a fair amount of rain this fall (especially lately), but the temperatures are cooling off. We are experiencing temps in the 50′s at night and 70′s during the day. Some of the dogwoods are already beginning to show a change in leaf color.

Yes, the fall season is upon us.

There is absolutely no time better in the mountains than Autumn. The mountains become ablaze with color, temperatures are cool and comfortable, we keep a fire going in the fireplace, and there is nothing better than a hot cup of coffee in the early morning as the early morning fog lifts revealing the beautiful colors of fall. A roommate of my sister’s once said the mountains in fall looked like a huge bag of M&Ms with the assortment of red, orange, yellow, green, and brown. I can think of no better example.

Even though we are busier in the fall than most any other time, THERE IS STILL SOME ROOM AVAILABLE. Don’t hesitate to contact us if you want to come, even at the last minute. We have changes and some cancellations and may have room for you. Often the color last well into early November as well, so that is another option for you if October is not convenient.

The other event of fall here at Hemlock Inn is the making of our Apple and Pumpkin Chips. This special recipe is the only one we don’t divulge. They are the creation of Lorraine Haney, the original owner of the inn. They are served on our tables every night and are very tasty and popular. We make our Apple Chip supply in September and our Pumpkin supply in October. We make enough to serve and sell. We just finished our Apple Chips and are in the process of getting our supply of pumpkins to start the Pumpkin Chips soon.

If you like to plan ahead, we are open for Thanksgiving and still have rooms available. We are already taking reservations for the Polar Express for November and December. I will give more information on that soon. But it is not too early to make your plans. Many nights and train excursions are already filling up.

We always look forward to seeing you. It is going to be a great and colorful fall. Make plans to enjoy it.

– Mort

The Light of Hospitality

blog9From the very beginning, the lantern has been the symbol of innkeeping. Visualize the innkeeper standing outside his inn with the lantern, welcoming weary guests to his establishment. Outside Hemlock Inn, there is a lamppost and lantern near the parking lot and right next to the “New Guests Park Here” sign. It has been our welcome to tired travelers of today.

None of us here know when the lamppost was installed. Maybe it was around when the inn was built in 1952. We found some pictures of it in the 60′s. We think the Haneys, the folks who built the inn and managed it for the first dozen years, may have found it at an auction or antique store. No one really knows the age of it …we just know it is old. Earlier this year, it began to malfunction. The lantern was showing some rust and the post was rotting. We thought maybe it was time to replace the whole assembly…new post and new lantern too.

Charles and Mary K Turkington had scheduled a family reunion at the inn for late June. As it turned out, several of the men in the family, including Will and Tim Turkington and Jack Ewing, loved to do handiwork and asked for a chore to do while they were here. I told them about our plans for the lamppost and they agreed to take on that task. But our plans to install a new lantern abruptly changed once they began to take the old one down. A quick examination revealed it was much older than we expected. First of all, it was very heavy. The top of the lantern was vented and the bottom was designed for a removable plate. It was quickly determined that this was a lantern designed for candles. The glass was very thick and some of the fittings were brass. This was a valuable and old treasure. We decided then and there that we needed to restore the old lantern and Charles Turkington, patriarch of the family, agreed to take on that job.

In Mid August, the Turkingtons returned with the refurbished lantern and it was installed in its original site. As I look at the lantern today, I think of how many guests it has welcomed over our 57 years of operation. I also think of the many the life long friends we have made here and how our lives have been touched by them. We hope our simple inn has touched them as well in some small way.

We often wonder if our inn is getting too old. We know much of the traveling public today want new buildings and modern amenities. Then I look at the lantern and remember that Hemlock Inn is also a valuable treasure offering a break from the stresses that seem to over take so many folks. You simply cannot find many places around any more that offer peace and tranquility in a wonderful natural setting, genuine southern hospitality, and delicious homecooked meals served family style.

Thank you Charles, Will, Jack and Tim. The new, refurbished lamppost and lantern is wonderful and has reminded us of our heritage May our lamppost continue to be the light of hospitality for many more years for folks looking for a special place to rest, relax, and renew.

Come enjoy the peace

– Mort White

Hemlock Inn and the electronic media

Anyone who knows me well knows that I am a bit of a throw back when it comes to electronic media. I would still rather go inside a fast food restaurant (when I have to eat fast food) or into the bank than use the drive through. I just like to see who I am dealing with. I can remember many years ago sitting with some guests at one of our dining room tables talking about the new fangled product called email. I emphatically told everyone that I preferred to use the telephone to speak personally with guests and prospective guests to answer questions, check availability, describe our unique inn, and make room reservations. Much later, after it became apparent email was a necessity, I had similar hesitations about on-line reservation systems.

I didn’t want to give up the personal contact.

Today, of course, we have a Hemlock Inn website(www.hemlockinn.com), Hemlock Inn email (hemlock@dnet.net), Requests for Reservations on our website, and even on-line reservations available through Webervations (www.webervations.com). We also have a Hemlock Inn Facebook page (become a fan now), an Innkeeper’s Blog, and high speed internet service for our guests. It is all necessary I know. Many folks now want to do everything by computer and we want to accommodate them the best we can and make it as easy as possible for them. But it is also frustrating at times. We exchange emails back and forth when one simple phone call would answer all questions quicker and easier. Some emails are returned as undeliverable, others not accepted because Hemlock Inn in not on their approved listed. Folks are trying to keep down the spam you know. We still try to call folks who have sent us messages or reservation requests, but many times they don’t answer our call. They don’t recognize our number on caller ID. It is all part of the new way we communicate these days and we’d all better get used to it. I still prefer the phone…I like to hear their voice and find out their needs.

I want to tell them all about Hemlock Inn and make sure we do everything to make their visit pleasant.

There are still a few things I don’t have. I have no plans to twitter, I don’t have a Blackberry, and I don’t have a GPS system in my car.

Call me old fashioned I guess. But Hemlock Inn is all about escaping to a place where you can relax, refresh, and renew. It’s about meeting wonderful folks around a big dinner table and sharing the events of the day….personally…one on one. That’s still a great way to communicate. I think it is the best.

Fall is coming with beautiful foliage in October and parts of November.

Looking for a bargain?…September is your time to come to the mountains. Thanksgiving is always a special occasion at Hemlock Inn.

November and December is the time for “Polar Express.” It always sells out. Reserve early.

Get in touch with us soon and make your reservation. We have lots of ways to communicate with you…and we’d love to hear from you..

–Mort

Simple Pleasures

blog7We often speak of “simple pleasures” at our inn. That is partly because we are an older rustic inn and do not offer some common amenities such as a pool or hot tub. Goodness, we don’t even have televisions. We honestly feel folks sometimes need to get away from those things and escape to a simpler time.

Sometimes that is a bit scary for parents. What in the world will their kids do without television or pool etc? In reality, they don’t need to worry. This past week, we had several families with children of various ages. They did the usual things available in our area, tubing, hiking, riding the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad, but they also occupied their time at the inn playing ping-pong and shuffleboard, chasing and capturing fireflies at night, and playing waffle ball in our front yard. But, by far the most popular activity was sliding down our hill on cardboard boxes. This entertained them, and all the parents watching, for hours.

We have a memory book in our sunroom. Some time back, a 12 year old girl wrote about staying at Hemlock Inn. “My Dad finally had time to play a game with me”, she said. Perhaps we parents work too hard to find things for our kids to do when all we need to do is spend some time with them let them use their imagination to create fun. It is the kids that often bring their parents back to Hemlock Inn.

Simple pleasures for the adults? That is easy….a hot cup of coffee early in the morning while looking over the mountains. Reading a good book while rocking on the front porch. Eating wonderful homecooked meals without having to cook them or clean up afterwards. The absence of constant phone calls and deadlines.

Interested in some simple pleasures? Come see us …..

– Mort White

What do you look for on vacation?

meadow titled printWe try not to take our good fortune for granted. We live in a beautiful and restful setting, but sometimes we just forget how lucky we really are. This past weekend, I was quickly reminded.

My family decided to take a short weekend trip to the greater Atlanta area. This was to be a combination trip to celebrate my son Steven’s return from Africa (he was there six weeks on a Campus Crusade Summer Project), also to celebrate his 21st birthday, and to attend the wedding of the oldest son of some dear friends. We made reservations at a fine four star establishment, planned to play a little golf on Saturday morning, attend the wedding late Saturday afternoon and return home Sunday morning. We left late Friday afternoon with great anticipation.

I forgot about traffic on Friday evenings on I-985 and I-85. We got a little behind in our schedule and decided to stop and eat a good dinner before checking in. We exited off at a busy intersection with many restaurants to choose from. As it turned out, we were fortunate there were many to choose from because most all had a waiting list of at least an hour. It was already 8:00pm and I was hungry. After all, I was used to our regular 6:30 dinner time at the inn.

After a late dinner, we finally arrived at our destination and it was beautiful…but it also was hosting three weddings. We were happy to finally hit the bed since we had an early tee time. But the fun was just beginning for others. We began to hear loud and persistent noises. Doors were slamming over and over and there was commotion and loud voices filling the hallway. I finally got up and went to the front desk to ask for help. On my way there, I passed the lounge and discovered that inebriation was the word of the night. I guess the bachelor parties were in full swing and they were spilling into the hallways. Security was helpful and finally, after 2 hours, we were able to sleep.

We awoke groggy eyed, played our game of golf, fought the traffic to the nearby town where the wedding was held (which was wonderful) returned to the inn somewhat fearful of a repeat of the night before.

As we drove back to the mountains Sunday, I was reminded why folks come to Hemlock Inn. The area is beautiful, we offer wonderful home cooked meals on time without waiting, the setting is peaceful and the traffic is usually not a problem. There is plenty to do in the area for those who want to stay active, but there is also peace and quiet for those who just want to relax. Folks hopefully return home rested and refreshed.

What are you looking for for your vacation this summer? There is still time to plan a fun family get away or couple retreat. We have some great deals and can help you plan the activities your desire. Come visit the mountains, get away from traffic, long lines, and the noise.

Come enjoy pure, simple, ….. peace………

–Mort

Small Towns, Big Doings

As most of you know, Hemlock Inn is located just 4 miles outside Bryson City. Our town has a booming year round population of 1500 and surrounding Swain County has about 14,000 full time residents. When I first moved here 21 years ago, it took me a while to adjust to living in such a small community. There were fewer stores and shops, no movie theater, everything closed up early in the evening, and I couldn’t find a radio station to my liking.

But small towns have their advantages also. Everyone calls you by your name, ask how you are and means it. You get to know the postman, your kid’s teachers, the folks who repair your car, and most importantly the hair dressers and barbers.

I believe there is an old saying something like this…”The best thing about living in a small town is everyone knows you and knows what you are doing and the worst thing about living in a small town is everyone knows you and knows what you are doing.” But there is one more advantage…

In Bryson City, every holiday is celebrated by a festival. That is what is happening this weekend for Fourth of July. Freedom Fest will go on all day Saturday with food, games, and music. The highlight may be the goat patty bingo and watermelon eating contest. All this is caped off by “the biggest firework display in Western North Carolina”. A great time is had by all.

We still have rooms available for the July 4th weekend. Come visit us and enjoy the fun. We look forward to seeing you.

–Mort

It’s all about our guests!

It’s all about our guests! I know every business like ours realizes that guests come first and that everything we do should center around their desires and needs. We constantly strive to give our guest a change of pace, a change of scenery, great home cooking, and simple southern hospitality. However, there are times our guests give back to us in so many ways. That has been the case over the past few weeks here at Hemlock Inn.

Our season started fairly strong with our regular hiking groups coming in the spring to see all the new growth and especially the spring wildflowers. However, starting in mid May, the numbers began to dwindle. We always compete with graduations and weddings that are so prevalent during this season, but this year seemed to be quieter than usual. We know it is the uncertainty of the times, but we hoped the recent encouraging economic news would result in more folks beginning to make vacation and get away plans.

It has been during this time that some our regular guests came to visit and each gave us an uplifting perspective. The Baker family, along with the Blackburns, having been coming to Hemlock Inn for 4 generations.

They come every year for a week and are sometimes even able to come a second time in the fall as well. This family clearly loves the mountains and fill their days with a wide variety of activities from fishing to rafting, to shopping and much more. Even after all the years, they are never bored. The highlight of our day is to sit with them a dinner and catch up on their day’s activities and family news. They are always so refreshing and encouraging and love Hemlock Inn. I have a promise from their daughter that a fifth generation will be coming…..eventually.

Roberto and Magali Diaz live in south Florida, and will make a two day journey several times a year to visit us. They enjoy their days sitting on our porches, reading a good book and taking in the beautiful mountain view. After their last visit, they sent us an email and, with their permission, here is some of what they wrote:

“…Thank you for the beautiful days and the peaceful evenings. Being at Hemlock Inn makes it possible to recharge our internal batteries and enjoy time without counting the hours or the minutes…Just enjoying the sunsets and sunrises….The Hemlock Inn family helps nature in making the guests feel great inside and outside too….The food is ….spectacular….”

My most favorite memory of Magali is watching her walk out to our deck one last time before leaving and gazing at our view…saying goodbye to the mountains. Thank you Roberto and Magali. We look forward to seeing you in October…if not sooner.

Don and Pam Malone just left a few days ago. They always come twice a year. Don loves to fish..Pam loves to read and shop. But we weren’t sure they would be able to come this spring. Don just completed his second bone marrow transplant over the winter. They were here last fall and told us of the re-occurance of his leukemia, after 17 years. What a shock. They were able to return this spring after doctors gave him the OK to start getting out a little. Hemlock Inn was the first place they wanted to come. The amazing story of this couple to me is their overwhelming faith and positive attitude. Don shared about the trials of the transplant, subsequent treatment, and the ongoing recovery process, but most of his story was about his friends and the wonderful events that have surrounded him. Rather than being depressed and gloomy, he felt blessed. What a lesson he was teaching all of us at Hemlock Inn.

People come to Hemlock Inn for various reasons. We hope you will come also. I know there continues to be uncertainty, but I also believe things are already getting better. We will help you as much as we can with various discounts and packages. We invite you to enjoy the peace of our mountains, our delicious home cooked meals, and cool quiet evenings.

–Mort

Mom would be so disappointed in me.

blog5Mom would be so disappointed in me. In my last blog, I was so excited over the achievements of my sons that I failed to recognize someone very important to Hemlock Inn. For many years, Jim and Eleanor Burbank have come to the inn in the springtime to lead our wildflower walks and give evening illustrated talks. Jimn is retired from TVA and, along with his wife Eleanor, is a former innkeeper as well. He is a wonderful naturalist and strong advocate of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. All those who have been here and been on his walks know how knowledgeable and interesting both Jim and Eleanor are. Eleanor couldn’t come this year due to an unfortunate leg injury and we missed her tremendously. But Jim was here from April 27-May 9 and I failed to recognize him and tell him how much we appreciate him coming every year. Many of our regular spring guests come to visit while Jim and Eleanor are here and, as always, they had a great time. Thanks Jim so much for all you do. Eleanor, we missed you. Both promise to be back next year, April 27-May 8…..

The big news here continues to be the weather. After two years of drought conditions, we have been blessed with lots of rain. We are not complaining. The rain has been regular, but not constant. There is still plenty of time to get outside to hike or raft or just sight see.

But the rain has filled the rivers and streams (even Lake Fontana), kept the air clear and cool, and the mountains are a deep dark green that just takes your breath away. I don’t remember so many days of just crystal clear views. The overlooks in the park, around Clingman’s Dome, Charlies Bunion, and the Chimney Tops has been nothing short of spectacular. It seems you can see forever. Check out the view from our front porch that I took today. The flowers also continue to be brilliant such as the Flame Azalea pictured. It is a great time to be in the mountains.

The other item I have noticed recently has been the birds. We can sit on our porches and hear them sing all day long more distinctly than usual. It is so peaceful.

Unfortunately, it has been much quieter than usual. There are noticeably fewer travelers than years past. I just regret that so many are missing such a beautiful time in the mountains. I hope you plan a trip soon and hope the economy is not keeping you from getting a much needed break from whatever gives you stress. I just read this morning that consumer confidence is on the rise. Things are getting better.

All will be well. Breathe deeply, smile more and enjoy your family.

Come see us when you can. We continue to offer several discounts.

– Mort

Location, Location, Location

dining2009Many business people have said that location is one of the most important factors in determining the success of a business. If the business was visible and near high traffic areas, it had a better chance to attract customers. Hemlock Inn is neither easily visible or near any traffic. In fact, you have to look for us pretty hard….off the main highway, up a side road to our mountain top. But the search is worth it. Our view and seclusion is what makes Hemlock Inn special. But our location does have its drawbacks and we certainly don’t get much drop by business. That is the price we pay.

This fact was bought home to me very vividly yesterday as a spent the day in Asheville. As I waited to have my car serviced, I decided to walk across the road to a pretty well known restaurant, which will remain nameless. I had never been there, but seen and advertisements offering homecooked southern style meals. “This ought to be good” I thought. Upon entering, I was immediately struck by all the plaques and certificates. The Asheville newspaper had declared this restaurant the “best southern cooking in Western North Carolina” for several years running Southern Living had even done a write-up praising the food.

The place was packed.

I knew I would be having a big meal back at the inn that evening so I only ordered a chicken sandwich and a glass of their “famous” sweet iced tea. I had high expectations. Much to my surprise, they brought me the tea in a mason jar and shortly thereafter my sandwich arrived in a plastic basket. My french fries were an odd combination of overcooked and limp. Don’t get me wrong, the food wasn’t bad…it was just ordinary. I pictured the chicken and fries right out of a frozen bag and quickly deep fried. It tasted like a chicken sandwich I could get anywhere.

As I looked around the restaurant at all those dining there, I thought to myself, “These people don’t really know what southern cooking really is”. I already knew that when I returned back to Hemlock Inn that evening, I would be having Fried Chicken (fried in a black iron skillet over a gas stove), homemade meat loaf, apricot casserole, green peas, carrot custard, broccoli salad, homemade yeast rolls, sweet tea in a real glass, and chocolate eclair squares for desert. Now, that is what I call genuine southern cooking.

Hemlock Inn is not located on a main road in a large town and has not reviewed by the Asheville Citizen or Southern Living. I doubt they know we are even here. But I will stack our southern style meals up against anyone.

Hope you will come visit us and enjoy our meals. We have plenty of room most all season and the country ham, chicken and dumplins, roast beef, and fried chicken await you.

–Mort White