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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.



Ashley’s Big Announcement

Last night, our friend, Ashley Hackshaw, announced on her blog, lil blue boo, that she and her family will be moving to Hemlock Inn this summer.  I encourage all of you to read not only this particular blog, but the others she has written over the past several months that led to this decision.  Here is a link:

Lil Blue Boo at The Hemlock Inn


Our story:

All this transpired over a relatively short period of time.  Last summer, Lainey got an email from our daughter-in-law telling us we needed check out a blog that someone had written about our Hemlock Inn.  We read with fascination about as Ashley recounted her childhood memories of visiting the inn.  Chad told us that Ashley had sent the blog to the inn as well.  Lainey entered a comment introducing herself and Ashley quickly replied.  A connection was born.  A short time later, we were delighted when Ashley called and made reservations to visit the inn with her family in August. 

Ashley tells about some apprehension she was having as she approached the inn.  We were downright nervous because we didn’t want to disappoint her.  I had visited my childhood home several years earlier and found everything so different and small.  But we treated her family as we would any other.  We are who we are.  We want all our guests to enjoy our simple pleasures, genuine southern hospitality, and our homecooked  meals.  But this was special.  Ashley was special.  She was a magnet.  Everyone she met was drawn immediately to her.  Conversations around the table lasted well after dinner was over, she organized games for the kids at night, she would take pictures of everything, and she would write…and write…and write.

When we discovered she was writing a book, we did joke about her coming back to finish it here.  It had happened before. A friend of ours finished his doctorial dissertation here, and Walt Larimore visited here several times as he wrote his trilogy on Bryson City.  But when she left, we never dreamed it would become reality.  At best, we hoped she would write another blog about her visit to the inn…hopefully complimentary.

Over the next few months, we kept in touch and the possibility that she might actually come to the inn became more of a reality.  She told us in late December they had made the decision to move.  It has been a hard secret to keep since then.

So how will this work?  I joked that she will be our “writer in residence”, but that is not far off the truth.  We want her to finish her book, about which she can share with you later.  But, she will also continue to write her highly successful blog..lil blue boo.  Again, please link to this site and read not only about her announcement and other blogs about Hemlock Inn, but also more about Ashley, her father’s death, and her battle with cancer.  It is fascinating story.  Her new blogs will tell a different story.  One about living at Hemlock Inn and in Bryson City.  She will definitely immerse herself our operation and share her experiences with her 1 million plus readers

Now, let’s not forget about two other very important people.  Ashley’s husband is Brett and he is a remarkable person as well. Like his wife, he is a graduate from Wake Forest and a former investment banker.  He is also successful businessman with his own company.  He is an avid outdoorsman and mountain biker, but he will also be of so much help as we deal with the challenges of a 60 year old facility.

Then there is the indomitable Boo, age 7 and aspiring blogger.  I suggested to Ashley that we make her the manager of “play” at Hemlock Inn.  Boo always has something special to share with her booisms and unique perspective on life in general.  She will keep us all on our toes, laughing all the way.

We are so excited to welcome Ashley, Brett, and Boo.  We can’t wait for them to get here. And we look forward to sharing them with you.  It is going to be a special year at Hemlock Inn.

Never Say Never

When Lainey and I were young newlyweds,  we were having dinner with a group of friends.  One of the couples starting sharing about how their child had scratched up the walls in their hallway riding his tricycle.  Lainey and I gave each other “the l0ok” as if to say “Why would they let their child ride a tricycle in the house?” On our ride home, we laughed and agreed…no child of ours would ever be allowed to ride in our house.  Well, you know where this is going.  Not only did our children ride their bikes in the house, they played baseball, breaking a window, practiced their swing, breaking  a ceiling fan, as well as a few other adventures.  Never say never!

Yesterday, I bought an IPhone!  I have to admit this to everyone, because anyone who knows me well, knows that I have often adamantly said I did not want an IPhone and would not use an IPhone.  I believed they were too large to comfortably carry in my pocket (don’t like much in my pockets),  did not feel I would use all or even most of the features (not a web surfer much)and did not want to be drawn into the temptation of concentrating on my phone more than my surroundings.  But,  my beloved flip phone was having issues.  The keys did not work well and texting was a constant lesson in patience.  I knew the time had come to retire it and I fully planned to get another flip phone….But there was this promotion, and I could get this IPhone cheaper and because of our family plan the monthly charge was not much…So I bit the bullet and took the plunge into the 20th century (or is it now the 21st).

Now, just because I got an IPhone, don’t expect me to start tweeting or instagraming, or whatever.  I will never do that…..then again……

I announce this openly because after all my public objections I have made over the years, I fully expect to receive some grief and ribbing.  Go ahead, I deserve it.  Send all your comments to me….I’ll read them on my new phone.



2014 – A Year of Milestones

After the end of our 2013 season, Lainey and I took a little while off to recuperate from another long year.  Now we are back, getting ready for 40 guests coming for President’s Day/Valentine’s Day this weekend. We are also thinking about 2014, our 26th season as the Innkeepers of Hemlock Inn.

2014 is going to be a year of milestones, both personally and for the inn.

First, our family will experience a number of events that are noteworthy: In February, Lainey and I will celebrate our 31st anniversary and I will officially become a senior citizen when I turn 65.  This is retirement age for some, but I plan to be at Hemlock Inn many more years, maybe just moving a bit slower.  In May, we will celebrate two graduations.  Steven, our middle son will graduate with a MDiv from Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary in Boston. and John Thomas, our youngest will earn his BA in History from the University of Tennessee. The trick is they graduate the same weekend, but Lainey has a plan for us to be at both.  In July, Andrew, our oldest, and his wife Jeanette, will return to the states after a year in East Asia.  Then in September, John Thomas will marry Alli Cochran, right here at the inn.  We will have more to report later.

Hemlock Inn will also have significant events throughout the year.  We start our season with our annual Wildflower Walks and Talks with Jim and Eleanor Burbank.  This is be April 28-May 10 and is always a highlight of our spring season.  In late May, we will be the site of the first of four weddings scheduled this year.  Other weddings are scheduled for June, September, and early October.  In August, the Francis Asbury Society will meet here for the 32nd consecutive year.  The second week of September will be the time of our “Innkeeper Hiking Week”  when I will lead all comers on some of my favorite hikes in the national park.  October will be beautiful as always, Thanksgiving Weekend is a popular time and is highlighted by our Thanksgiving feast.  November and December is known for the Polar Express Train Excursion packages which include a stay at the inn and a ride on the magical train ride on the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad to the North Pole.

We will also host a number of family reunions and a few church retreats as well.  I’m sure there will be more to report, so keep in touch.

2014 is going to be a great year and we hope you can come to share some time with us.




Where’s the Love…..

It’s Christmas…when we celebrate peace on earth, good will towards men. It is a time of joy, and love.  But recent events have me wondering “Where is the Love?”.

I normally do not like, or think it is wise, to comment on news events, but I am baffled by two recent stories.  You have seen them…

  First a 6 year old was suspended from school because he kissed his classmate on the cheek.  His parents were told it would go his record as sexual harassment.   Then a few days later, a 17 year old high school senior was suspended FOR THE ENTIRE YEAR  because he gave his teacher a hug.

Admittedly, I may not know the whole background on either story and  no one should ever tolerate any form of sexual harassment;  but does this seem a bit extreme?

Some guests have told us about a new Hallmark movie entitled “Let it Snow”.  It is a warm story about a family owned ski lodge that is being sold to a large conglomerate.  The inn has been run by a family for a long time and has a large number of returning guests each year (sound familiar?).  The guests  have become like family as they share meals together and participate in many activities  with other guests and staff.    It is real homey and our guests tell us it reminds them of Hemlock Inn.

Predictably, the new owners don’t quite know what to think of this folksy feel and…well watch the movie.

All of this ties together in this way.  We strive to be the inn from the movie…family oriented, and filled with joy and happiness.  We want to know our guests and help them have the best vacation possible.  We try to build a personal relationship with them.  We have guests that have been visiting our inn for generations.  They are not like family…they are family.  We rejoice with them in good times, cry with them during sad times.  AND when we greet them it is most likely not with a handshake, but with a hug.  New guests quickly become friends as well and often depart with a hug as well.

We all agree that Christmas should not be the only time we “exhibit good will towards men”.  We believe, like many of you, that it joy, peace, and love should flow everyday.  We invite you to come visit us.  We will do our best to make you feel welcomed and loved.  And if you don’t mind, you might even get a hug.

Blessings to all of you this special season.





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!