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“We were looking for a place like this…”


Our Memorial Day Weekend just ended and it was a good one.  It was good not only because we had lots of folks here, but also because of the quality of those guests.

First, we had a family reunion consisting of old friends and regular guests from Oklahoma enjoying a special time together.  There were other repeat guests here as well, coming for another “Hemlock Experience”.  We love our regulars and are humbled they return to visit so often.  But we also had a fair number of guests who were here for the first time.  We like to spend as much time as we can with every guest, but we are always intrigued by new folks.  We can’t wait to sit down over dinner and get to know them. The group this weekend was especially delightful.

The first that comes to mind was a young couple from London.  They flew into Atlanta late at night for a two week visit to the states.  Hemlock Inn was their first stop.  They loved their stay in our mountains, spending their days hiking in the Smokies and seeing all they could before heading to Nashville, Memphis, and New Orleans.  Someone at their table asked them how they ended up at our small inn in a small town in western North Carolina.  I was not at their table for this conversation, but was told their response was …”We were looking for a place like this…”.  They wanted a place that was small and friendly; that was steeped in the culture of the area and whose food was genuine cuisine of the region.  They were delighted to discover an added bonus with our family style meals and lazy susan tables.  They loved getting to know other guests and sharing experiences.   They were not looking for cookie cutter place and certainly not a chain with everyday meals.  They wanted a unique experience and found it.

First of all, it goes without saying that our guests love visiting the area with its natural beauty and outdoor activities. But that conversation peaked my interest and I started paying more attention than usual as to why our new guests specifically chose our inn when they decided to visit the area.  What I discovered was heartwarming and affirming.   Some were referred by friends telling them if they came to this area, they HAD to stay at Hemlock Inn (there is no greater compliment than to have our guests refer their friends to visit us). Character and real homespun hospitality was very important to others.  It was important to them to find a place that was genuine and exhibited the values they admired.  Most found us on searches using the internet or social media, but all were looking for something different than the routine.  They wanted an experience, not just a room.  None of our new guests this weekend knew anyone else here when they arrived, but they left with hugs and exchanged addresses.

Summer is upon us.  Schools will be letting out for the summer soon and the traditional vacation season will begin.  We encourage you and your family to take trip and experience America.   There are wonderful things to see and do all throughout our country.  And there is no substitute for family time.  If your travels brings you to the Great Smoky Mountains in Western North Carolina, we invite you to try Hemlock Inn.  If you have been here before, you know what to expect.  If you have never visited us, you may find that we were just the place you’ve been looking for….

Hope to see you soon



National Park Centennial

As you are probably aware, 2016 marks the centennial of the National Park Service.  All year long, there will be special programs and information about the wonderful national parks in our country.  I love to watch CBS Sunday Morning News (taped of course.  Sunday mornings are usually a bit busy around here).  Every broadcast this year will include a hike in one of the parks.

This important to us, not only because we appreciate the beauty and majesty of the wonderful national parks  in our country, but also because one of those parks is right in our backyard.  The Great Smoky Mountain National Park straddles the North Carolina/Tennessee border.  One of the side roads into the park is just  one and a half mile from the inn.  The main entrance in Cherokee is just 8 miles from the inn.  While we are familiar with the park and visit it often, we never want to take it for granted.  It is a remarkable natural treasure, and I thought you’d like to know a few facts about it:

      * The Great Smoky Mountain National Park was chartered in 1932 and officially added to the National Park system in 1940        * It consists of 522,419 acres or just over 816 square miles, making it one of the large protected areas in the eastern US               *  Its elevation ranges from 876 ft  to 6,643 feet at Clingman’s Dome                                                                                                            * It has 850 miles of hiking trails including the Appalachian Trail that runs along the crest of the Smokes and the boundary between North Carolina and Tennessee

*  It was designated an International Biosphere Reserve in 1988 and contains:

                       200 species of birds; 66 species of mammals; 50 species of fish; 39 species of reptiles; 43 species of amphibians; 100 species of trees; 4000 species of nonflowering plants; and 1400 species of flowering plants…

It is also the habitat  of @1500 black bear

*The park receives about 55 inches of rain each year and is filled with waterfalls and  streams

The Great Smoky Mountain National Park is by far the most visited park in the system.  It has twice as many visitors each year than any other park in the country.  It is a national treasure, and it is virtually in our backyard and easily accessible to millions of Americans living in the eastern United States, including many of you.

We invite you to celebrate the centennial of our National Park System and come visit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park this summer.  There is a world of beauty and outdoor activities waiting for you. It a land of  adventure.

Hemlock Inn is located next door to the park and is available to help experience the Appalachians. Let us know how we can help.


Beautiful Smoky mountain vista, as photographed here by innkeeper Mort White.

Beautiful Smoky mountain vista,  photographed by Hemlock Inn innkeeper Mort White.






One Week


Hemlock Inn opens for our new season in one week…on Wednesday, April 20.  We have been working very hard for the last month getting ready for you.  For those who have been to the inn, you will immediately notice a few changes.


The most noticeable change will be in the second building.  We have torn off the entire roof, done some repair, and installed a new metal roof.  In keeping with our Appalachian theme, we wanted a barn tin affect.  The new roof is light and a bit shiny for now, but that will be tempered over time.  We also added a split rail fence and some pagoda lights to further enhance the look.


In the first building, we dramatically cut back the large boxwood hedge (don’t worry, there is still some green growth and they will grow back quickly).  It was so large, guests in the building couldn’t look out the widows in their rooms and see the mountains.  We also had to cut down the large silver maple tree.  It has served its time and was dying.  With the boxwoods trimmed and he tree gone, the front yard really opened up and our mountain view became so much more pronounced.  We also added a spilt rail fence along the building.


We also cut down the large pine tree beside the Rondette for safety reason, but in doing so noticed that its removal also opened up a better view towards the Blue Ridge Parkway and Waterrock Knob.


Rooms 10/11 and 18/19 are now permanent two room suites.  We took out the double bed in the back room and put in a new king bed.  So the suites now have two rooms with a king bed in each room, two bathrooms, a sitting area in the larger room with a sleeper sofa.  We hope you like them.


We brought in a number of new mattresses for our beds, did some painting, and rearranged some rooms.  All this is designed to make your stay more pleasant and ever.


We added more shelving in our library so all our books, including the children’s books and Ella Jo’s cookbook collection are together in one location.


We will do more as we can.  But some things will not change.  George and Donna will still be here preparing our wonderful homecooked meals (no shortcuts here).  We will still offer warm southern hospitality.  We will still have wonderful views, peaceful setting, and friendly atmosphere.


It’s election year.  Get away from all the madness and come to the mountains.  We are waiting for you.

Family Time


Family Gathering celebrating our parents 100th birthdays

Winter time is family time for us. The Inn is closed most of January, February, and March. For us, this is the time we use for rest, relaxation, and family.

We went to Florida for some personal time of rest early in the winter, and then took trips to Durham, NC, Wake Forest, NC and Hampton Falls, NH to see all of our boys, their wives, and our two precious granddaughters. Fortunately, we got to spend a good amount of time with each. It was a special and sweet time for us.

But the winter of 2016 was also a time of added significance….. it marked the 100th birthday of my late parents. My mother, Blanche Campbell White was born on February 27, 1916 and my father, Claude Williams White, was born just a few days later on March 4, 1916. So this would have been the centennial birthday year for both. We did the only sensible thing, we threw a 100th birthday party for them here at the inn the weekend of February 26-27. All of my sisters and my brother came as well as most of their children and grandchildren. In all, 28 of us gathered to remember my parents; celebrate their birthdays; study our ancestry; share memories, pictures, memorabilia; and laugh a whole lot. It was a special time and we don’t do it enough.

A couple of weeks later, Lainey and I went to Baltimore for an appointment. Rather than return directly to the inn by way of Interstate 81 in western Virginia, a busy and truck laden road, we decided to come home a different way. We drove down the eastern shore of Maryland and Virginia, across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and Tunnel south to Elizabeth City, NC. This was the birthplace and childhood home of my father. We have never known much about my father’s family. His parents, my grandparents, died in 1932 and 1946. Dad tragically died in 1968. We never had much time to discuss his family. But here I was in Elizabeth City and, thanks to a lot of research done by my sister and brother-in-law, we found the gravesite of the grandparents I never knew. Even more astonishingly, we also found the family burial plot of my great-grandparents located in the back of an old cotton field in a very rural area way out of town. I stayed for quite a while, not wanting to leave.

I am convinced, more than ever, that the family is the backbone of our society. It is what hold us together, gives us continuity, instills our values and beliefs, and provides the love, support, and stability we need to cope in the crazy, stress filled world we live. Outside our faith, I believe family is our most important cornerstone that determines who we are and how we live. Gatherings, like we had in February, are crucial to maintaining that connection. And yes, it goes without saying, the contact we have with family needs to be face to face, with hugs, kisses, and lots of smiles. Sorry, social media just doesn’t cut it.
As my boys have moved away from home, married, started their own families and homes, this task becomes more difficult but none the less important. Lainey’s and my role has changed from rearing and instructing our children to playing with and spoiling our grandchildren. But I want my sons and their families to know their family history and heritage. I want them to know about their grandfather, who quit school in the 10th grade, only later to earn a doctorate degree. I want them to know about their grandmothers on both sides who lived lives of love and caring and compassion. I want them to know why Lainey and I are like we are and in turn why they are like they are. I want them to live for the present, prepare for the future, while being ever cognizant of the stock from which they came. I want them to feel the love of our families, generations of them.

These are turbulent times in which we live. Sadly, campaign years seem especially distressing. I encourage you to turn your attention away from ugly discourse filled with insults and hatred and instead turn your eyes to your faith and your family. And I encourage your to spend time with your family as much as possible. We would love to have you visit Hemlock inn, but if you don’t come here, go somewhere where you can be with those your love.

Our best wishes go with each of you and your families. Thank you for sharing time with us over many years.

We will open April 20th for our new season.


Appalachia is the cultural region stretching from New England all the way down to the southern states of Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi.  It is primarily a mountainous area that is steeped in nature.  It is an area abundant with rivers, streams, waterfalls, and lakes.  It is filled with flora and fauna. Southern Appalachia has been my home since 1967 and it is the home of Hemlock Inn.

There is some stereotyping of southern Appalachia, but I’d like to tell you a little about the area from my perspective.  First a little history.  The area was initially the home of a number of Native American tribes.  They loved the area because it was filled with plentiful game and natural resources.   It was first settled by Scotch Irish who were fiercely independent and wanted a place of solitude away from authority, rules, and sometimes even law. Many came to the mountains to hide and escape.  One example of their independent nature could be seen in their moonshining.  The making of alcohol (moonshine) in these parts was not illegal, but selling it without paying taxes was illegal and local inhabitants hated taxes.  They were also fiercely religious and just like many of the other settlers of the new world, they just wanted to be left alone and allowed to worship as they pleased. Agriculture was big in the area and for a while logging and coal mining was common.

Today, visitors still look to escape to Appalachia.  The area is still a natural paradise.  Much of the forest land is now protected as National Parks (Great Smoky Mountain National Park) and national forest land.  Trees harvested by large logging operations have been replaced by new growth.  The water in the streams and rivers run cold and clear.  Dams have created huge lakes.  There is an abundance of hiking trails, whitewater sports, fly fishing and more.

But there is so much more that attracts folks to the area.  Most of Appalachia is filled with small towns and communities.  There are some larger cities on the periphery such as Asheville, Knoxville, and Chattanooga, but most of the towns are small and filled with local owned businesses.  Yes, you will find some fast food restaurants and chain motels, but you will also find wonderful local eateries, country inns, and bed and breakfasts.  You will also find a folk culture of mountain music and genuine local crafts.

Appalachia is a unique area in our world of large cities, fast paced lives, and stress.  Appalachia offers a change of pace, get away from whatever causes stress, and a remembrance of simpler times and pleasures.

Hemlock Inn is located just outside Bryson City in Western North Carolina… the heart of Appalachia. We are on 57 acres of wooded land with hiking trails and wonderful southern Appalachian home cooked meals.  Most important we offer peace and quiet…and escape.

Experience Appalachia at Hemlock Inn!


Why are we Innkeepers?

Dusk is a beautiful time at the inn.

Hemlock Inn at dusk

As you know, Hemlock Inn closes every winter, except for a few get away weekends and some special events.    Lainey and I use the winter months to rest from the exertion of the season past, and begin preparations and planning for the next season.  However we also use this unique time to reflect on what we do as innkeepers and why we continue to do it, even after 28 years. 

We are often asked how we became innkeepers in the first place.  Lainey’s story is easy.   Her parents, John and Ella Jo Shell, bought the inn when she was just 12 years old.  She grew up in the inn business and did whatever was required from cleaning rooms, to serving tables in the dining room, to occasional duties in the office.  She went with her parents as they bought supplies for the business and to attend inn meetings.   When she graduated from college and was asked if she would ever return to run the family business, she simply said it depended on who she married.  That’s where I come in.

When I am asked how I became an innkeeper, I usually start with a silly comment…”I was destined to be an innkeeper from all my experiences.  I learned compassion from my years working at the American National Red Cross; I learned financial skills from my years in banking; and then I married the owner’s daughter”.  There is some truth in the humor.  I never intended to work in their family business, but the Shell’s asked us to consider coming and help them out, and the time to leave the bank seemed right.  We decided we needed to come and help and see if this was right for us. 

Lainey grew up here and knew what was ahead.  I did not.  I arrived and, quite frankly, did not have a clear understanding of what Hemlock Inn was.  I looked at it through the eyes of a banker.  My early time was spent on budgets, cutting expenses while increasing revenue, increasing productivity.  My goal was to make Hemlock Inn a thriving, successful, prosperous business.  The guests were a means to accomplish that, but I spent most of my time with paper and pencil rather that with them.  Boy was I wrong!  It took me several years to figure out what John told me from the very beginning……”Hemlock Inn is not just a place, it’s a feeling.” 

Our guests are treasures and the reason we are here.  Our goal is to provide them with a place of comfort and peace.  A place that takes them away from whatever gives them stress.  For many, it means simply getting them out of the rat race of large cities to the quiet solitude of nature. For others it is providing them a place to meet and become friends with folks who have no hidden agendas or manipulative plans.  They just want to talk about the hike they took, or the rafting trip they just experienced, or their children or new grandchild.  That usually then leads to discussions of shared values and dreams.  Invariably, it leads to friendship, caring…and sometime even healing.  That gives us great joy because the place becomes a feeling of warmth and safety.

We received an email this winter that tells this story best.  This guest told of their visit last season and of the time this winter when she mentioned to her children the possibility of another trip to the mountains this coming summer. Her son specifically said he would like to go back to Hemlock Inn because he felt closer to God than usual.  She closed her email by saying.  “I’m sure y’all face many challenges in running the inn.  I think you provide a place to be still and know that He is God.  I chose your inn last year because I needed a place to restore my soul.  Be encouraged that your work makes a difference in people’s lives.”    Wow! What encouragement. 

Hemlock Inn is a place.  It is old by today’s standards.  It is rustic, doesn’t have a swimming pool, or flat screen TVs in the rooms.  There is so much we want to do and it has been frustrating, especially in the recent years of this “economic adjustment”.   But Hemlock Inn is also a feeling that transcends the physical.  It is a sincere and honest feeling that can only be described as peace, comfort…and love.

Why are we Innkeepers?  Because even though it is long hours and sometimes challenging, it is also fulfilling and rewarding.  Who could ask for more?



A Good Man

As you probably know, Dean Smith recently passed away.  He was part of my childhood.  Being raised in and around North Carolina in the 60’s & 70’s, I was an avid fan of the UNC Tarheels.  I started following them when Charlie Scott was a player and continued to follow them for many years with many stars.  The stars were fun to watch, but it was the team concept that was most intriguing.  Sometimes, it didn’t seem to matter who was playing, they still won.  Some of my favorite years were those when most of the “good players” left and they were picked to finish way down in the conference.  More often that not, they still won.

I fully realize many of you may be “ABC” fans…Anyone But Carolina…, but it is not my intention to talk Coach Dean Smith. However, I do want to say just a few words about Dean Smith, the man.

Dean Smith’s qualities has been well documented over recent days.  He was a caring man, who had an extraordinary memory for names and faces, who kept up with all his players, not just the stars even after they had graduated.  He was a humble man who left the basketball court quickly on the night he became the all-time leader in wins because he didn’t want the attention.  He was a kind and considerate man who stopped fans behind the goals from screaming and shouting when and opposing player was shooting a foul shot because he considered it unsportsmanlike.  He was a man of equality and justice when he was the first in the entire state to integrate not only his team, but other establishments in the area as well.  In short, he was a man of integrity.  He was not perfect and I don’t agree with all he believed, but I respected him.  You may not like his teams, but in truth, we all had to respect him.

 I read a book this winter that has caused me to reevaluate what should be important in our lives.  In an age of narcissism, chest pumping, selfies, “see what I have done” mentality, this book drew me to a simple verse in Galatians 5:22-23.  “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance…..”  It reminded me that our lives should not be about us and how great we are. In very simple terms it calls us to be a good person.  In our hearts, we all know what that means.

I believe Dean Smith was a good man and that is my goal as well.  Instead of judging others, I need to be loving;    instead of looking for power, I should be seeking gentleness;    instead of worry, I need to show joy;    instead of impatience, I need to be more longsuffering;   Instead of thinking of myself, I just need to be a good man and recognize that means thinking of others first.

I hope this translates into Hemlock Inn as well in the way we welcome and serve our guests.  We want to provide peace and comfort to all who visit here.  It starts with me but it is about how we treat you.

We hope to see you this season.



Dawn of the New Year -2015 


I actually took this picture a few mornings ago just as the sun was coming up over Hemlock Inn, but I think it symbolizes our hopes for 2015. A new year brings new opportunities and horizons.  We start new and fresh with renewed dreams and determination.

2014 was a good year, especially for our family…We enjoyed graduations, a wedding, and the birth of a new granddaughter.  The year at the inn was also encouraging and set the stage for 2015.

Lainey and I will be here for our 28th year as your Innkeepers.  Our goal will be the same as always… to serve you and give you a get away from whatever brings you stress by providing a restful and peaceful setting, home cooked meals and heartfelt hospitality.

We hope to see you this year.  Happy New Year



Christmas 2014

It is the Christmas season, the most joyous time of the year.  A time that we celebrate our Savior’s birth and talk of peace on earth and goodwill towards  men.

But that seems like unrealistic hope these days.  International terrorism is rampant and  innocent victims, both young and old,  are lose their lives daily in the name of a radical faith or for some other agenda.   Here in the states,  recent events has ignited a racial divide  resulting in riots and protests across the country.  Regrettably, retaliation now has occurred.  Life is too precious to be so casually tossed aside.

“Ethics..are nothing but reverence for life.  This is what gives me the fundamental principle of morality, namely, that good consist in maintaining, promoting, and enhancing life, and that destroying, injuring, and limiting life are evil”      Albert Schweitzer       

I’m afraid too many of us are so caught up in our own point of view and “rights” that we cannot even consider the opinion  of others.  Is it my imagination  that the TV commentators and even our elected leaders seem to  argue over everything?  There is definitely  too much blaming and not enough listening.  Perhaps all of us could use a healthy dose of humility to take away some our stubborn pride.

I am certainly not smart enough to have the answers to these issues, but I do know that each of us can only fully control one person…ourself.  Each of us is a full time job.   Perhaps if we individually practice the qualities we extoll at Christmas; love, peace, good will, joy, understanding, empathy, and so much more,  then we can make our little world a much nicer place.   Perhaps we need to be less concerned about our rights and just do what is right. If enough people follow that simple path, imagine how much nicer our world can become.

“Everything you do matters.  Every move you make, every action you take…matters. Not just to you, or your family, or your business or hometown.  Everything you do matters to all of us forever” 

Andy Andrews, The Butterfly Effect

 Rejoice!  It is Christmas.  Share your joy and love to everyone you meet.  Practice good will to ALL men.  Live in peace within your world.  And do it all year long.  Wow! Now that’s what I would call a great Christmas present for all of us.

 Merry Christmas everyone and a Happy New Year too.



Four Seasons

One of the most enjoyable perks of living in Western North Carolina is  getting to enjoy all four seasons.  Our spring this year was as beautiful as ever with emerging “spring green” spreading over the mountains like icing on a hot cake.  The spring flowers captured us all with their majesty.  Summer followed with warmer temperatures which lends itself to numerous outdoor activities such as hiking, whitewater rafting, tubing, zip lining, mountain biking and so much more.  It is a time of pure joy and fun in a magical setting of the Smokies.

We are now beginning to enter our fall season.  In many ways, it is the most glorious as the mountains take on the look of a spilled package of M ‘& Ms.  We are already noticing cooler temps and clearer skies.  The dogwoods and some sourwoods are beginning to show their early color.  Winter will soon follow with cold weather and some snow for sure.  But it is a great time for roaring fires and hot coffee.  Winter hiking is also some of the best.  Since the trees have lost their leaves, some wonderful mountain views become more visible.

Here are some things you need to remember as we approach fall and winter months at Hemlock Inn:

October is prime leaf season.  Color is noticeable all month, but usually at peak later into the month.  It is not unusual to see color even  into early November. While most weekends are very busy, we still have some rooms available during the week and near the end of the month.  If you can only come on a weekend, keep checking with us.  Cancellations and changes happen and we could have some last minute openings

Thanksgiving weekend, November 26-29, is a great time to be at Hemlock Inn.  This is usually a very popular weekend and is highlighted by our “Thanksgiving Feast” on Thursday evening.  Our usual Hemlock meal is replaced by the turkey and dressing, ham, sweet potato casserole, cranberry casserole, and all the other traditional Thanksgiving dishes (that includes pumpkin and pecan pies for dessert).  This is sure to fill up, so call soon.

Polar Express excursion train ride is the most popular event of the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad.  It starts in early November and will run through New Year’s Eve.  This magical ride to the North Pole is loved by kids of all ages and will sell out.  Each year, folks make their reservations earlier and earlier to assure themselves a place on the train.  We encourage you to call and make your reservations as early as you can.  We have packages available including breakfast and dinner or breakfast only.  CALL SOON!

It is impossible to say which season is our favorite, because we love them all! But it is hard to beat the fall colors and the fun of the Polar Express.  We hope your plans this fall and/or winter include a trip to the mountains and Hemlock Inn.

Hope to see you soon.