From the BlogSubscribe Now

Fifty Years and Counting

2018 was a good year! We met many new wonderful guests, enjoyed so many happy hours with familiar guests, friends, and with family. Sadly, we lost a few also, but smile as we remember the special times we shared with them. We are blessed at Hemlock Inn to have the opportunity to be a part of so many folks’ lives.
As we passed into 2019, we entered a special anniversary year for our family. In early 1969, John and Ella Jo Shell purchased Hemlock Inn from Raymond and Georgia Johnson. For the next 20 or so years, they managed the inn as it grew and attracted more and more guests. In 1989, their daughter/my wife, Lainey and I came on board and eventually took over operation if the inn.

2019 marks the 50th anniversary the inn has been a part of the Shell/White family.

We intend to commemorate this anniversary throughout the year; remembering our history, growth, experiences, and special guests. Ironically, John Shell, who lives with us at the inn, will also celebrate his 90th birthday at the close of this year. He will be around as much as he is able to tell his tales as no one else can. I also plan to host regular “Evenings with the Innkeeper” after dinner to share stories of our history, our guests, the unique life of an innkeeper, and even some amusing events over the years we’ve encountered. Keep following our blog for more details….

I hope you can come join us for this season and help us celebrate Hemlock Inn. We are so grateful to each of you because each of you is a part of our history and story. We hope to see you soon.


PS. Two quick notes:
1 – We will be open President’s Day/Valentine’s Day Weekend February 14, 15,16,17 As usual, we will be having some special chocolates from The Chocolate Shop in Bryson City

2- We are converting our online reservation system over the winter. Our existing system is being merged with a new company. If you have difficulties making an online reservation, please call us at (828) 488-2885 and we can complete your request. Thanks

Dear Hemlock Inn Friends


Several of you have contacted us recently about the effect of the Hurricane Florence on Bryson City and our inn. This has been a very trying and emotional week for all of North and South Carolina. Words cannot begin to express the destruction and pain that storm has brought upon our region.
The very western part of the state, everything west of Asheville, was spared any major impact. The storm, after lingering on the coast for several days and then slowing working its way inland, turned northward up through Asheville and out of the area. Everything east of Asheville experienced mammoth rainfall and winds. Everything west of Asheville was essentially unscathed.

While we are grateful for our good fortune, we cannot celebrate because so many others have and are still suffering. We appreciate your concern and ask you continue to pray for those in the eastern portion of our state and of South Carolina, especially those on the coast. This will be a long recovery for them.

Ironically, we are entering into the most beautiful seasons of the entire year in our mountains. We are already beginning to see of leaf color change in some sourwoods and our dogwoods. With all the rain this year, we expected a beautiful fall. We still have rooms available, especially during the week, and invite you to make a reservation and come see us soon.

We cherish your friendship and pray you are well and happy. We can’t wait to see you.

It Happened Again

Yes, it has happened again.  We had a guest check in with pictures of his family’s visit at our inn in 1967.  He and his wife spent considerable time looking through our old guest’s sign in books, looking at our numerous albums of pictures, and plowing through our inn’s historical books.  They were obviously looking for connection from 50 years ago and they found it.  He gleefully walked into our office announcing “I found it….their actual signature in the register book” .


Sometimes, when we least expect it, we remember good times from our past. Then we begin crave those good times, and ultimately start to search how to reconnect with them. We yearn for simpler times, a slower pace, and a little bit of the peace and quiet of bygone times.


But life often moves so fast that it is all we can do just to keep up with so many deadlines, schedules, obligations, and activities.  We certainly cannot ignore reality and our responsibilities. But maybe, just maybe, we can escape for a while.  Instead of constantly forging ahead at a breakneck speed, perhaps we just need to take a step backwards.


It happened here this week and will likely happen next week and the next….



Communal Vacation

Some time back as I was checking out a guest, he mentioned that this was his family’s first communal vacation.  I will admit that I didn’t know was he was talking about.  He continued with “You know, dining with other folks and getting to know them”.  Since I have been dining that way for the past 30 years at the inn, I had forgotten how unique we are in that regard.



Each vacation spot looks for a way to define itself and for “that something”  that sets them apart from other locations.  It can be luxurious accommodations, fine dining, grand size swimming pool and spa, championship golf course, business center, or any number of other amenities.  For Hemlock Inn, it comes down to a beautiful mountain view, friendly atmosphere, and those meals.


The meals are great (a biased point of view of course) consisting of genuine and plentiful homestyle cooking, but it is the way it is served that is special.  We have five large lazy susan tables that are loaded down every morning and evening.  A bell is rung and everyone descends upon them all together….communally if you will.    A blessing is given and the fun begins.


The tables themselves are a story.  Seth and Lorraine Haynie,  builders of the inn, owned the lazy susan table that sits in the center of our dining room.  They brought the table up with them when they opened the inn simply because they had nothing else to do with it.  They thought most of the guests would sit at other smaller square table they also brought.  They were lab tables from Emory University and were perfect for a couple or four guests and would offer privacy and perhaps even intimacy.  But a strange thing happened.  Most of the guests wanted to sit at the large round table.  The Haynies quickly contracted a craftsman from Maggie Valley to initially build two more large round lazy susan tables, and eventually four.


It is almost magical to watch the dynamics around the tables once the meals begin.  Commonality is discovered, stories are told, laughter begins, and friendships are formed.  It is heartwarming to witness folks in actual conversation with no thought of tweets or instant messaging.  It is face to face sharing and listening to each other that brings the comfort of grandmother’s table.


Many years ago, I was once asked if I would ever have online reservation system.  At the time, I replied I didn’t really want to let someone make a reservation without personally talking with them. I didn’t want anyone showing up and being surprised how we operate and how we dine.  A guest asked me at the time, “What if someone wants to make a reservation, but is uncomfortable talking with anyone?”  I thought for a minute and then replied, “Well I guess they would not be too happy here”.  Of course, I had to eat my words and set up an on-line reservation system. But I am still a little bit nervous when someone I have never spoken to checks in.  I never want to put anyone in a spot where they might be uncomfortable.







A number of years ago, our family went on a cruise.  I was really looking forward to it. Lainey and I warned our boys that we would be having sharing a table at mealtimes with another family as is normal on many cruises.  I told them “This will be great.  We won’t be in charge or feel like we need to guide the conversation.  We can just be laid back and enjoy the experience”.  But my southern roots and innkeeping background got the best of me.  We no sooner got to the table when I stuck out my hand and introduced myself, Lainey and the boys.  Soon I was telling them where we lived, about Hemlock Inn, what we planning to do on the cruise and more.  The other family sat quietly.  They were very nice, but didn’t see the necessity share very much.  At the end of the meal, we parted ways expecting to see them for the next morning at breakfast.  In short, they never showed up again the entire trip.  We ran them off.  I guess not everyone wants a communal vacation.


Communal Vacations may not be for everyone, but they can be wonderful and meaningful experiences. We invite you to Hemlock Inn and our tables.  You may react like my guest who was checking out who had never had a communal vacation.  As he walked out the door, he dimply said “We liked it”


Summer is upon us and it promising to an exciting time in our mountains.


We hope to see you this year and will be waiting for you!






Getting Ready for Opening…Anticipation and Adventures

Our opening day is rapidly approaching…Wednesday, April 18. Our anticipation grows and we look forward to seeing old friends and making new ones. As always, the few weeks before we open are busy days as we spring clean and make repairs. But the days are also invariably filled with unexpected adventures and challenges.

On Monday, the first day of cleaning, we discovered a drainage problem around our laundry area. We actually found this in February and thought we had it repaired. But when we started washing all the blankets, spreads, and shower curtains, the drain started backing up again…big time. An emergency call to a repairman that specializes in drains resulted in a day long search for the problem and suspension of all laundry. By days end, the problem was finally located and a temporary fix was done BUT a larger fix that involved tearing up part of the driveway would be necessary. Oh well, I thought, at least we have a plan. But the fun was just beginning.

For Tuesday, we had arranged for a local plumbing company to install a new chlorinator for our water system and replace some shower valves in a few rooms. The chlorinator installation was quick and easy. The shower valves repair is a pretty straight forward, and the repair in the first room went smoothly. However, in the next room, they would have to cut through a tiled wall to create an access hole big enough to install the value. All went well until they discovered a three inch thick solid concrete wall (the inn was built in the 50’s you know). So the rest of the day was spent cutting and drilling through the concrete and removing the old valve. They ran out of time, so that job was suspended as well until the following week. In the meantime the water had to be cut off. So spring cleaning was not possible in that entire building. Good grief I thought, but it has to be done………..

Wednesday had to be better I thought. We planned to take up and replace some flooring in the kitchen damaged by a leaky dishwashing machine. In the middle of the night, a severe storm hit the area, blew down a tree on our property across the utility lines, knocking out all the power to the inn. The flooring folks showed up on time to a dark kitchen. The housekeepers showed up to dark rooms and no heat. The work for both was suspended for the day and I spent the afternoon cutting up the downed tree and cleaning up brush. Not what I panned for the day.

I welcomed Thursday with some dread. The power was back on, the housekeepers were back cleaning rooms and the flooring folks were able to start their task. The old flooring came up easily as we expected, but underneath we found some old 1950s adhesive that could not be removed. We tried everything imaginable, but nothing was working. As we stood in the kitchen discussing options, my phone rang. The call was from the company that monitors our water system. He was calling to inform me that he had just replaced our chlorinator. Remembering the plumber has just installed one on Tuesday I screamed “Stop, I’ll be right there” and ran out of the room to the puzzled looks of the flooring guys and my wife.

The water chlorinator has been a nagging problem for months. I knew I needed a new one, but had run into problems getting anyone to install one including the plumbing company and our water monitoring company. After months and months, they both came within two days of each other and our water company had just taken out a brand new chlorinator and installed his. What are the odds?

As the week came to a close on Friday, The drain repairman had not come back to permanently fix the laundry drain issue or scheduled a time to do so. We were still waiting for the plumber to return and install the shower valve and turn the water back on. After months of delay, I had two companies install a chlorinator within days of each other and I subsequently discovers that neither of them worked. It had been quite a week. But truthfully, it was not unusual. This is the life of an innkeeper and while it can be irritating and frustrating, it is normal.

I love innkeeping and this is just part of it. But there are also parts that include the bonds we share with our guests who become friends. It is sitting around a lazy susan table and enjoying the laughter and a good home cooked meal. It is giving weary people a place to experience nature at is very best and a quiet peace. It is offering a time to rest, refresh, and renew from the anticipation and adventures our week may have brought us.

I wouldn’t have it any other way and there is no place I’d rather be than Hemlock Inn as your innkeeper.

We will open Wednesday, April 18, and hope you will join us this season. I promise we will be ready!


Kitchen Cabinets, a Leaky Faucets, and a Runaway Truck

The winter months of January, February, and March are important times for us.  The inn is closed and we use that time for rest and renewal before the new season begins in the spring.

But the winter is also the time we use for repair, maintenance and projects.  Last winter, we were able to repair a major water leak under the concrete slab floor in the kitchen, install new mini-split heating and cooling units in seven rooms, and replace carpeting with new hard wood laminate flooring in a few rooms.  There is always a long list of leaks and drips, sticky doors, old door locks that require our attention.  We sleep a little later, but it is not unusual to spend several hours a day just doing odd jobs around our 65 year off facility.

Then there is the unexpected.  These are the events that aren’t planned but come up and require attention.  Sometimes these projects take on a life of their own.  Lainey decided  to paint the kitchen cabinets in our home.  They look great, but it turned into a major reorganization of the entire kitchen.  Some projects uncover more work than planned.  I imagine you may have experienced that for yourself.

But my story here is one I am reluctant to share because it begins with an admission of a careless, stupid act on my part.  So swallowing my pride, here we go…

In December, just as we were closing, I was heading to town for some reason in my 1998 green Ford Ranger pick-up.  You cannot operate and inn without a pickup, so even though it is old and has 130,000 miles of wear and tear, it is a vital part of our operation.  As I was pulling out of the driveway, I remembered our housekeeping staff telling me that a sink valve in the downstairs of Red Cottage was dripping.  All it needed was a washer, but since we were closing for three months, I decided to wait until spring to have a plumber fix a number of jobs we had.  So my plan was to just turn off the supply valve for now.  I pulled up the steep one lane drive to the lower level of the Red Cottage.  Since, I was just going to run in and turn off the valve, I left the engine running, engaged the emergency brake (or so I thought),  left the 5 speed in neutral and hopped out of the cab, leaving the door open.   I took a few steps and reached in my pocket for the door key when I noticed out of the corner of my eye some movement in the truck…..backwards.  The level ground where I had stopped was apparently not so level, and the emergency brake I had set was apparently was just a figment of my imagination.  The truck was picking up speed and heading straight down the steep drive heading toward Galbraith Creek Road and the trees beyond.  My immediate response was to chase the truck, jump in the cab (after all, the door was still open) and stop the runaway vehicle. However, this seemed imprudent as the truck increased speed, veered off the paved driveway, heading through some trees and toward a sharp embankment to the road below.  I stopped and helplessly watched by beloved 1998 truck and hoping there wouldn’t be anyone driving by on the road below.  The truck never made it to the road.  Two trees at the edge of the embankment made sure that wouldn’t happen.  They stopped the truck cold.  I was relieved, but devastated at the same time.  The rear end of the truck was severely damaged.  The rear bumper and the bed was demolished.

Sheepishly, I call Lainey to report that I had just wrecked the truck.  After determining that I was ok and after learning what had happened, her concern turned to laughter.  She was visualizing her 68 year old husband chasing the truck down the drive and couldn’t stop laughing.  Talk about a blow to my ego…

After having the truck towed back up to the drive way, I was surprised to find it was still drivable.  The whole rear of the truck looked just terrible and the truck shimmed a bit as I drove it up the hill to the inn, but there was hope.  Maybe this wasn’t going to be as bad as I thought.  Perhaps, just perhaps I could salvage this calamity.  I parked the truck as far away from sight as I could so I wouldn’t have to answer or explain what happened to anyone still at the inn, especially the employees.  I wasn’t ready for the ribbing that would inevitably occur.  For days I wondered what to do.  My preference was to remove the crushed bed and build a new flatbed.  Even though a friend gave me the basics of what to do, I had never tried anything like that wasn’t sure I possessed the skills to take on such a task.  First move was to take it to a body shop for evaluation.  They told me insurance would probably total it.  They discovered the frame was bent that was causing the shimmy.  But I arranged for them to just remove the old bed and straighten the frame.   I picked up the bedless truck a few weeks later and again parked it away from where anyone could see it.  Looking at it, I realized I had come too far.  I had no choice but to build a flatbed, but I had doubts.

For weeks I studied on how I could do this.  I checked out google and would stare at the truck, talk to some friends and stare at the truck, wake up in the middle of the night thinking about it and then go stare at the truck.  Finally at the end of January, when the weather began to warm, I decided to jump in and start something I knew very little about.  I worked a few hours at a time and slowly it began to come together.  In a week, the bed, with removable side rails was completed.  I had not felt such a feeling of accomplishment in a long time. I didn’t want to hide the tuck any longer.  I wanted to parade it down Main Street with a band playing “They said it couldn’t be done.  They said nobody could do it”. For most men with minimal carpentry skills , this wouldn’t have been a big deal.  But for me, it took me out of my comfort zone and even though I didn’t want to admit it, I was proud.

We sometime say a morning blessing at Hemlock Inn that includes the line “ Lord, help us see that it really doesn’t matter what comes our way today, what matters is what we do with what comes our way”.  I’m sure that refers more to matters of the heart and spirit, but I also believe it is meant to encourage all of us to learn to accept what happens, even the little things,  and then have the will to do something about it. Forget about pride and just jump in.  You may be surprised at what you can accomplish. I was………






Changing of the Seasons

Well, I haven’t written a blog in a while and I apologize for not keeping you informed of everything happening around Hemlock Inn.  But now is a good time to bring you up to date.


We had a good and busy spring and summer.  We were blessed with many happy guests and families, many of them returning friends.  Spring saw our usual hiking groups and a wedding.  This summer, we hosted about 10 family reunions and witnessed the magnificent total solar eclipse with a large crowd of guests.  This was followed by a retreat group that has been meeting here for over 30 years.  It has been a happy and busy spring and summer.


Today is September 1 and the beginning of Labor Day weekend.  For us, it is the unofficial beginning of the fall season.  Schools are back in session, the temps are beginning to cool, and the pace slows for a while…just a while.


Today it is raining, the remnants from Hurricane Harvey.  We are not complaining.  After the devastation in Texas, we have no right to complain.  We feel for the residents of that area and their loss and needs.  But we also marvel at the countless responders and volunteers who immediately jumped in to help.  Despite of much we are told, America is full of good people and this is just another reminder of how caring we can be.  It is just unfortunate we have to have a disaster for this reality to come to light.


We do not complain about the rain for another reason.  This time last year, we were in the beginning stages of a historic draught that resulted in numerous forest fires in October, November, and December.  We had or own disaster and again many many folks who came to our assistance.  We are blessed.


This fall, we have bountiful rain, green grass, full streams and waterfalls.  We are counting on a gorgeous fall color in October and early November.  We already have several groups scheduled to visit in late September and early October.  In October, we will be the place to be to witness nature’s wonder as the green leaves give way to shades of yellow, red, and brown.  It is like our mountains are covered with M & Ms.  We have another wedding scheduled and a big crowd for Thanksgiving week.


Then there is the Polar Express, the magical train ride to the North Pole to see Santa.  We will be filled with happy youngsters and their parents for most weekends in November and December.  It is a time filled with joy and laughter.  Boy, we all enjoy that.





We are blessed to experience all four seasons at Hemlock Inn.  Each offers something unique and special.  This fall promises to be spectacular.  We still have rooms for you, even in October when the fall colors reach their peak and most Polar Express weekends.  If you have not made a reservation yet, give us a call, send us a message, or use our on-line reservation system.  We are eager to serve you and do everything we can to make your visit memorable in our beautiful mountains


We are waiting for you.   Enjoy the season.

The Art of Doing Nothing


This morning, after breakfast and after we had finished cleaning up, I spied a guest sitting on our deck looking out over our view.  This is not unusual.  Our guests often sit out there spending time with their friends or family sharing about events of their day or swapping stories of their lives.  But this morning was different somehow.  All the other guests had left.  Some had checked out and were headed home.  Others had already started their activities for the day.  Even her husband had abandoned her for a quick morning nap.


I had a hammer and needed to fix something that required driving a nail. I apologized for the noise and quickly finished my job.  The guest was not phased and only said, “That’s Ok.  I’m just sitting here doing nothing”.  She went on to recount how busy their lives had been and they came to the mountains just to get away and do nothing.  They had no agenda, or list of activities.  They just wanted to take some naps, spend some quiet time together, and sit on the porch.


This is certainly not a new concept for Hemlock Inn.  We often encourage folks to come relax, refresh and renew. But his morning got me thinking more and more about the Art of Doing Nothing.  Now, this is not a difficult task for us men.  We can easily sit and do or think about absolutely nothing.  Women need to understand that when we say we are not thinking about anything, we really mean it.  Our minds are blank and we are in a zone much like a computer in “sleep mode”.  But I have noticed women are bit different.  Even when relaxing, their mind is going full force, organizing, planning and arranging.


The point is we all need to relax more.  Some relax best by doing new and different things.  That’s ok too and we have plenty to do in these mountains from rafting to hiking to site seeing and much more.  The change of pace and location is all they need to relax.  For others, they require a bit more rest and a bit more time to do absolutely nothing.  Our deck, and view, and rocking chairs are just the quiet place for that to be possible.


When I was thinking about this topic, I checked the good ole internet for some pertinent quotes from famous people on the benefits of “doing nothing”.  Sadly, I had trouble finding any.  I’m sure exist, but my quick check didn’t uncover any.  The only quotes I found where things like this….


“The only man who never makes mistakes in the one who does nothing”

“In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is right thing, the worse you can do is nothing”

“Idleness is fatal only to the mediocre”


We’ll these are all good quotes meant to motivate us and “idleness is the devils workshop” you know. I greatly admire those highly successful individuals who exist on great energy and drive.   But we can’t go nonstop all the time.  We also need time to ramp down.  We are generally more successful when our mind and body has time to renew.


Hemlock Inn is great access point to many mountain activates for those seeking an active getaway.  We also offer a place of peace and quiet and the beauty of nature.  We are a great place to come and do absolutely nothing……ahhhh!

2016 in Review

Happy New Year!

It is common practice and at the end of each year for the media and pundits to review the highs and lows of the preceding year.  2016 was an interesting year to say the least… drought and wildfires for us, hurricanes and floods for others, history making championships in baseball and professional basketball, and there was the election.


It is tempting to moan and groan about all that has happened.  Some have a tendency to watch too many news and editorial programs that paint pictures of a world filled with gloom and doom.  We have all done that at one time or another.  On the other hand, we can just accept what has happened.  Lainey and I were listening to our local radio station one winter. The announcer was going through some cancellations until she realized they were from the day before.  She immediately stopped and said “Oh, that’s already done and been had” .  Translation… let’s move on.


There will be changes in 2017 and there will be challenges as well.  There always is.  We cannot foresee all that is before us.  Some of what we face will be unavoidable.  John Shell, my father-in-law and former innkeeper of Hemlock Inn, used to say a blessing some mornings …”Help us remember that it not so important what comes our way today, what is important is what we do with what comes our way”.  I still say that blessing today because it is still so pertinent.


Part of my goals for the coming year is to pay more attention to what is really important…my family, my faith, my friends.  I want to be less influenced by media and others telling me what I should believe and only concern myself with what is true.  I want to be kind, loving, and humble. And I want Hemlock Inn to exhibit the age old values of hospitality, and genuine service to our guests.  I want Hemlock Inn to be a place to escape and a stabilizing influence in unstable times


In 2017, we invite you to escape the noise and insane discourse that surrounds us and come visit our inn for some peace and quiet….and stability



Another Update from Hemlock Inn

We have been receiving a number of calls regarding the wildfires in our area, especially in Gatlinburg, Tennessee.  Thankfully, we are fine and not affected by any of the fires.  We do ask for your prayers for our friends and colleagues in Gatlinburg.  It is a dangerous situation there and we need to pray for everyone’s safety.

As I mentioned, we are safe and are operating on a normal schedule.  The Polar Express is also fully operational.  The only inconvenience for our guests coming from Tennessee is that Highway 441 from Galinburg/Pigeon Forge through the Great Smoky Mountain National Park is closed.  Folks coming from that area need to use I-40, to Waynesville, NC, then Hwy 74 W to get to Bryson City.

We do not take our blessings for granted.  This situation could easily been reversed and our inn placed in jeopardy.  Thankfully, we received some rainfall last night and more is forecast for tonight and tomorrow.  Every drop is needed for the fires and our ongoing drought.

Count your blessings, pray for Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge.  If you have reservations to be here with us in December, do not change your plans.  We will be here and the train will be running