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The Chalet Club is Closed for the Winter
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One Family’s Heritage of Hospitality since 1934
By Bob Washburn
Entering the 70th anniversary
year of my Grandfather opening the doors of his chalet to guests inspired me to
recount some of my family’s experiences as innkeepers. In a recently
discovered letter from P.T. Barnum to my great grandfather, his descriptions of
orchestrating a three ring circus seemed very familiar with the juggling act -
or some might suggest the clown act - that we have performed on a daily basis as
innkeepers. Along with all of the
different jobs entailed, the gifts of friendship with those who have crossed the
Chalet’s threshold and the privilege of raising children in this mountain
paradise standout in the snapshot of our family business.
by his love of the German Alps that had surrounded him as he attended medical
school at the turn of the last century, my granddad, James Murray Washburn,
immediately grasped the opportunity to buy a lot from the Morse family’s
Chimney Rock Mountains land development company in 1925. Granddad had journeyed
to the region from his home in Chicago to visit his oldest son, Ned, who was
employed by the Elmore’s textile mill in Spindale. With the assistance of his
architect brother-in-law, Courtland Van Brunt, Granddad developed the plans for
his chalet. On subsequent visits to
the area, he cleared the lot and constructed a tower from which he took
photographs. He then superimposed pictures of the scale model of the chalet,
which he had built from Courtland’s blue prints, to find the perfect
orientation on the lot with its spectacular view of Hickory Nut Gorge. The
timing was perfect – soon after the centerpiece lake of the Morse’s venture
reached full pond, the craftsmen completed construction of the Washburn’s
dream home. The roaring twenties were to bring travelers and summer residents to
this posh new town of Lake Lure that was to be the Hamptons of the Southeast.
The yet to be constructed - horseracing tracks, amphitheaters, arboretums, yacht
clubs and golf courses in almost every cove of the
steep terrain would complete the plans for their resort community, but the
financial chaos of the depression kept some of the Morse’s dreams from
Nevertheless, the lure of Lake Lure and
their wonderful Chalet proved too much to resist. After much deliberation,
Granddad and my Grandmother left their home and his medical practice in Chicago
and became innkeepers - opening “The Chalet” to guests in 1934. In addition
to the caretaker’s cottage (now known as the Honeymoon Cottage), they
constructed two more dwellings – the East and West Cottages in which his
mother and they would reside while guests occupied the Chalet during the season.
Staffed by wonderful folk from the area, (Lester and Laura Belle Logan
and John Bradley representing the core group) the small inn began to establish
itself as a wonderful vacation destination.
Granddad had bought lots on the lake as
well as the one on Pool Creek Mountain where the Chalet was built. Guests would
gravitate to the boathouse to swim or to explore the lake in one of Granddad’s
canoes or his electric boat, “Slip Along”.
Lester and Granddad began a family legacy of digging hiking trails into
the slopes of the mountain. Four
generation of Washburns with the assistance of Chalet staff have – up to this
point – carefully carved seven miles of paths to overlooks on the upper
reaches of the mountain and to the waterfalls at the Bottomless Pools below.
A project requested by my teenage father in the late twenties was the
construction of a tennis court. Given a limited budget of $200 by his father,
Dad contracted with Oscar Robertson (Daisy Nobblet’s father) and a family who
lived in the shadow of Shumont Mountain. Oscar dug the court out of the
mountainside with his mule team and drag-pan. Recollections of seeing Mr.
Robinson’s campfire flicker by his covered wagon during the evenings of the
court’s construction still dance in Dad’s memories of his youth.
Granddad and Gam (Grandmother) decided to
close the Chalet during the Second World War, but continued in their role as
hosts. They regularly entertained troops that were on leave at the Lake Lure
Inn. Presenting his wonderful collection of photographic slides on the screen in
the Chalet’s living room was the evening event for Granddad. The troops
delighted in his sense of humor, as well. In the midst of the show, he would
project a scantily clad blonde bombshell onto the screen and mention that the
picture had been taken while she was sunning on one of the rock overlooks on the
mountain. Needless to say, the hiking trails saw a lot of activity the following
After a whirlwind romance with Dorothy
Hudson, who was vacationing with her family at the Lake Lure Inn in 1938, Dad
proposed to Mom on board “Slip Along”. In 1946, while raising their family
in New York City as Dad worked his way up the ladder with Pan American Airlines,
the same decision was made that his parents had reached… the lure of Lake Lure
and the Chalet were too great. Lester and Dad spent many months renovating the
structures and The Chalet Club was reopened for business in 1947. The “club”
part was added as a means of marketing through word of mouth advertising. John
Bradley continued to prepare wonderful meals and the warm smiles from Lester and
Laura Belle amplified the quality of their service. Clientele were returning
home - singing the praises of their newfound vacation hideaway and introducing
Through the fifties and the sixties
membership in the club slowly grew, and every year, many members returned to
vacation for the same week. Relationships between the Washburns and their guests
became more like that of a family. Profits from the business were reinvested
into improving the offerings along with acquiring neighboring land and cottages.
A swimming pool, motor boats for fishing and water skiing, and air conditioning
the accommodations were some of the improvements of the era.
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