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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!


Ringing in the New

It has been a while since I have written. We have been very fortunate to have a busy fall and holiday season. We loved seeing many of our regular guests in the beautiful month of October while November and December have been filled with wonderful families in town to ride the Polar Express. 2011 was our best Polar season yet. Thanks to all of you who came and made 2011 a good year for us.

Our family was home for the holidays. Andrew brought his fiance Jeanette Howell (they will be getting married in February in Durham), Steven brought his girlfriend, Sara Loiacono, and John Thomas was home as well. It was a wonderfully full household and we had a great time.

We are now looking forward 2012, hoping, wishing, and praying that it will be an improvement for many of those who have been so severely affected by the economic turmoil of the last few years. I hope your families are well and that you have great plans for the new year that include a trip to Hemlock Inn.

This is another milestone year for us…..2012 is the 60th Anniversary of Hemlock Inn. Seth and Lorraine Haynie opened the inn on July 4, 1952. Raymond and Georgia Johnson bought the inn from the Haynies in 1964 and my inlaws ,John and Ella Shell, from the Johnsons in 1968. Lainey and I have been here since 1988. We have just completed our 23rd year as innkeepers. We are thankful to now have Chad Gilbert, our nephew, here helping us now.

We will be having some special $60 per person per night rates available throughout the year staring with two holiday weekends this winter. We will be open January 13-15 for Martin Luther King holiday and February 17-19 for Presidents Day weekend and will offer the $60 per person rate both weekends. There is room still available for both weekends! Look for this and other specials throughout this special year.

Another important event for us this year will be the reprinting of the Hemlock Inn cookbook, “Recipes from our Front Porch”. The cookbook will be updated, recipes and photos added, as well as with lots of interesting sidebars on the history of the inn and of the various recipes. Much more on this later

Let’s all make 2012 a year of celebration…giving thanks for our families and friends, for the freedoms we share, for the opportunities we have been given, even for 60 years of operation.

We hope you will celebrate with us.

Hemlock Inn Folks

We just finished our biggest season of the year. Each fall, we enjoy seeing so many of our regular friends as well as a good number of new guests who have come to the mountains to see the beautiful fall colors. The colors this year were exceptionally brilliant. They started earlier than usual and lasted throughout all of October. In fact there is still some nice color around. We had a good number of guests all month and enjoyed each one of them.

One of the comments I hear regularly and noticed more that usual during October was “You have the nicest people come here”. We have known that for years and we agree. As much as I love to think that our guests come for my pleasing personality, they really come for the view, the food, and the other guests. In truth, we realize that our guests are our biggest asset. Those who really fit in we tend to call “Hemlock Inn Folks”. They love the inn, love the peaceful atmosphere of our setting, and love being with other people.

How can you identify them? It’s pretty easy. They are usually soft spoken, kind, gentle people who love to share stories of their families and events in their lives. They enjoy simple pleasures like a hot cup of coffee, a roaring fire, family style meals, nature’s beauty, and good conversation. We see them sitting around the fire before breakfast solving the world’s problems, sharing a laugh around the tables at mealtime, and sitting on the porch watching the sunset. They enjoy life and their friends. We are so glad they are our friends as well.

You know Hemlock Inn Folks. If you are reading this, you are probably one of them. Thanks. We can’t wait til your next visit.


PS…. Be sure to check out our winter specials celebrating the 60th Anniversary of the inn….$60 per person per night. The week after Christmas, MLK weekend in January, and Presidents Day weekend (formally known as Mort’s Birthday) in February


Please forgive this very personal blog. And I apologize if my experiences do not match occasions in your life and bring up unpleasant memories for you. I just feel I need to share some events in my life that can be summarized in one word … “Blessed”.

As most of you know, I have three boys who are just great young men. Andrew works for Cru (formally Campus Crusade for Christ) on the UNC campus in Chapel Hill. Steven is in his second year at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Boston. John Thomas is in his second year at the University of Tennessee.

We live in an idyllic setting, running Hemlock Inn in the beautiful mountains of the Great Smokies. All three boys grew up working here. It can be challenging sometimes helping with the family business, working for Dad, and being on call all the time. But they handled it fine.

But we have had our share of challenges too. John Thomas was diagnosed with Patella Malalignment in the 8 th grade, tore up both knees, had surgery on both, and had to give up sports at a young age. In his senior year of high school, Steven was driving to school one morning when a sudden cold snap froze the roads. His car slid off the road, went over a 50 foot embankment, hit a tree while flying through the air, and landed upright just shy of the Tuckaseegie River. He was able to walk away from the accident. Last Thursday, Andrew called at 12:30am to report that he was standing in the parking lot watching his apartment go up in flames. He escaped with very little as the rapidly moving blaze consumed his third floor apartment.

As I have revisited those events and others in my life, I couldn’t help thinking how I have been blessed. I shouldn’t waste my time concentrating on the “what ifs”. John Thomas can walk; Steven and Andrew both survived very scary and potentially dangerous situations.

Times are difficult right now for many folks. Unemployment remains high. Businesses are closing at an alarming rate while others are struggling just to survive. To some extent, Hemlock Inn is in that last category. But it is important for me to remember that the blessings I have received far exceed the hardships I have experienced. I am embarrassed to admit that I do not always remember that. I need to focus more on being thankful and counting my blessings. But I also realize that there is more to it than that. I am also compelled to pass my blessings to others. If I allow myself to concentrate only on the blessings I have received, I am selfish. Many around me need to receive my blessing through simple acts of kindness, generosity, compassion, concern….giving. That is where Hemlock Inn has been so instrumental. It is a tool where we can touch other people’s lives and be a part of their good times as well as the hard times. I hope and pray that I will always take the time and opportunity given to me to pass blessings not only to my family, but also our guests, our staff, and others.

I am blessed and so are you. I just hope I can be a blessing to others…..


A Great Way to Clear and Energize Your Mind

blog50When I am flustered and frustrated, I am not always the best person to be around. I can be moody and sometimes downright grouchy. When that happens, Lainey always knows what to say…”Mort, take a hike”. Literally…She is not giving up on me, just sending me to woods to walk. She knows that when I do, I think more clearly.

That reality was validated recently by a study published in Proceedings, an online medical journal of the National Academy of Sciences. Among other things, it suggests that regular exercise like walking or hiking can improve the brain’s memory function and perhaps even lessen the risk of dementia. Another study from the University of Rochester noted a 20% increase in energy for people who spent a minimum of 20 minutes outdoors as opposed to individuals who exercised indoors.

I know getting out and walking works for me. First, it just calms me down. I blend in with the peaceful setting and enjoy the quiet. Then an interesting thing happens, my mind kicks into gear. My thought process clarifies and I have a better perspective on the tasks and challenges I am facing. I am able to mentally compose letters, plan activities and organize my thoughts.

It happened to me yesterday as I hiked the Loop Trail at Deep Creek. It is so close by that I should do it more often. I walked up Deep Creek trail following the creek, listening to it tumble over the rocks. I could hear the birds singing and even spotted a wild turkey in the brush. As I started up Sunkota Ridge, everything changed. The roar of the creek melted away, the breeze died down and suddenly I was in the most still setting I could remember in a long time. There was not a leaf moving, not a bird fluttering or squirrel scampering anywhere. It was the most peaceful, quiet surrounding imaginable. I was not thinking about anything but the wonder at the beauty of the woods and the stillness all around me. As I topped Sunkota Ridge and started back down, I first heard and then saw the first evidence of a small spring beginning to make its way down to Indian Creek. Some Rhododendron bushes began to rustle and the forest began to come back to life. Shortly, I could hear the roar of Indian Creek heading down to Indian Creek Falls. It was an auditory delight.

When I reached Indian Creek Falls, I was just a mile from the trailhead and my thinking was energized. By the time I was back at the car, I had mentally composed some correspondence I needed to do but had been putting off. That evening it was on paper…completed.

I will be leading hikes the week of September 12. Every morning we will be going out to some of my favorite trails, experiencing some beautiful scenery, having some wonderful conversation, and clearing our minds. Come join us.

— Mort

The Disappearance of Rural America

Did you read the recent article about the disappearance of rural America? It seems that only 16% of the nation’s population now lives in a rural setting… the lowest percentage ever. By contrast, there is a growing number of “megalopolises”. In fact, the boundary lines between many cities is becoming more and more blurred. Moderate size metro areas are blending together to form larger and larger megapolitan areas.

The article went on to point out the many advantages folks see in larger communities from economic opportunities to mass transit systems, to the many conveniences larger cities offer. Anything you want or need can be found just a short distance from home. I remember years ago, when Bryson City finally got a McDonald’s (we still have only one small one). A guest asked how long it would take us to drive to it from the inn. After we told him it would take about 10 minutes, he told us he had 5 within 5 minutes of his home.

But with all its advantages, there is a also a downside to metropolitan living as well. Lainey had a birthday last week and wanted a manicure and pedicure. I offered to drop her by the nail salon while I ran some errands. The nail salon was busier than usual and I ended up having to wait for her for a while. After reading all the People magazines they had (one) and passing on Women’s Wear Daily, I struck up a conversation with another husband. He was visiting the area and when I asked where he was from, he named a North Carolina city which will remain nameless. Then the fun began. He proceeded to tell me everything that was wrong with the city from traffic to crime to schools. If that was not bad enough, a lady, waiting her turn to have her nails done, joined in conversation saying “You think you’ve got it bad, I live in ……..”(another unnamed city in a bordernig state). For the next few minutes, these two adults argued over who lived in the worst city while I sat listening, amazed at what I was witnessing.

blog48Our mountain community does not qualify in any way shape or form as a metro area. We have about 15,000 year round residents. 87% of the land in our county is owned by the government and is very rural…including much of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, Nantahala National Forest land, TVA (Lake Fontana is part of the TVA system). We don’t have many of the conveniences or resources of the larger areas.

My nephew, Chad Gilbert, just moved here from Marietta, Georgia to help us with the inn’s operation. We are delighted to have him here. One of the first things he did was try to get internet service in his home. After two days of discussions with the service provider, he was told that the lines were full at this time and he would not be able to get service until someone moved. Welcome the the mountains Chad.

We are not perfect, we have our share of problems too, but I also believe we have something very special. Peace, quiet, and tranquility. Rather than super highways, we have tree covered trails. Rather than water parks, we have mountain streams Rather than huge shopping centers, we have small towns filled with unique shops of local interest. Rather than big resort facilities, we have quaint country inns and bed and breakfasts. We may have to drive a little ways to find something we need, but the drive is beautiful and pleasant.

In closing, the article said… “Far Flung rural counties boasting vacation and outdoor recreation will continue as popular destination points for young couples, retirees, and empty nesters”. I believe that is true and hope that if you live in a big “megalopolis”, and are looking for a quiet get away, come see us. We’ll be sitting in our rocking chair looking over our mountain valley….waiting for you.


Thunderstorms, Front Porches, and a Little Patience

blog47We have had an adventurous few weeks around here. The first of the month, we hosted the Hester Family reunion and were the venue for Janey and Joel Yarborough’s wedding all the same weekend. Congratulations to them. The following week, we thoroughly enjoyed having the Summer Hostel group from Lipscomb University, followed immediately by more small family reunions for the Calverts, Beasons, and Jones.

But our weeks had challenges as well. After a very warm spell in late May and early June, the weather turned stormy to say the least. We had wave after wave of heavy thunderstorms with high winds and even small hail to accompany the drenching rains.

The most severe storm hit our area just two hours before the arrival of the Lipscomb University group. The event included a severe squall line, wind shear, or even small tornado that successfully took down a number of power poles, including three that served our inn. Fortunately, we have a gas stove and a small generator that provides electricity to our kitchen and dining room, so our meals were served as usual. All the guests were extremely understanding and the power company did their best to restore our electricity as soon as possible under difficult circumstances. We were inconvenienced, but the temperatures were cool and comfortable, the food hot and delicious, and our guests were extraordinarily patient.

Unfortunately, I was not as calm and patient as our guests. I felt it was my task was to make everyone’s stay as perfect as possible and was frustrated that I had no control over this particular situation. Impatience got the better of me. I repeatedly called the power company to remind them we were out of power and to find out how much longer it would be before it was restored. I would even drive my truck throughout the area, looking for the downed lines and the repair trucks. I guess I thought I could hijack one, tell them where the problems were, and convince them to stop whatever they were doing and come to Hemlock Inn.

I didn’t have any luck finding the repairmen, but I did start to notice an interesting phenomenon wherever I drove. In the evening, I would see folks sitting outside their homes on their front porches, stoops, carports, or even in their front yards. It reminded me of my childhood, especially at my grandmothers house, where that was a nightly occurrence. Before the advent of television, computers, and air conditioning, all the neighbors would congregate outside in the evenings and visit.

Unfortunately, most homes today don’t have front porches. It is much more common to find houses with back porches or decks or patios. Author Phillip Gulley wrote about front and back porches in his book For Everything, There is a Season. He felt people with front porches were honest, open and don’t have anything to fear while folks with back porches had something to hide. I don’t know about that, but I do know the folks I saw sitting outside seemed very content and calm, while I was nervously driving around.

Hemlock Inn has a front porch and for almost 60 years, it is where our guests have gathered before and after our meals to share about the events of their day. It is a special time filled with laughter and wild stories. Many of our guests have formed bonds and friendships that have lasted for years while visiting on our porch and around our tables. I would have been far better served if I had just done what I tell our guests so often… sit awhile, relax, enjoy the view and each other. The power came back on, it always does. The blackouts never last very long, but the peaceful time, watching the moon rise, the stars come out and spending time with friends and family are memories that last forever. I will try to remember that next time.

— Mort

Nature’s Theme Park

blog45A few years ago, a local businessman proposed a marketing plan for our region entitled “Nature’s Theme Park”. The premise of his proposal was that all the natural activities in and around the Great Smoky Mountains were as good as those found in any theme park. Personally, I liked the idea, but it never caught on and the idea quietly died.

Don’t get me wrong, my family loves theme parks. As our boys were growing up, we visited several of the large parks and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. We loved all the rides, excitement, and food. But I was also never really interested in going to one in the summer. They were crowded, noisy, and because of all the concrete, very hot.

I would much rather be walking on a nice trail following a mountain stream with a canopy of trees across my path. As for water rides, our area is full of places to tube, whitewater raft, canoe, kayak, or boat. I will guarantee that the water in our streams are cooler than any you will find in a water park.

A local newscaster recently said “…there is one place where we can guarantee it will always be 60 degrees…our creeks, streams, rivers, and lakes.” We have found that to be very true.

In addition, there are numerous other outdoor activities including mountain biking, zip lining, rock climbing, fishing and more. There is so much to fill anyone’s day. If you stay with us at Hemlock Inn, you have the added bonus of our wonderful southern meals. Combine that with our discounts and you have can have a very affordable vacation.

There is another wonderful feature of the mountains. The days may be warm, but our mornings and evenings are cool. After dinner, many of our guests go outside and sit on our deck watching the sunset. Even though our rooms are air conditioned, some of our guest actually turn them off and open the windows to take advantage of the 60 degree nights.

I am a believer that we live in Nature’s Theme Park and I think you will too. Come experience it yourself.