Logging, Tourism, and the Blue Ridge Parkway in Linville, North Carolina
By Samantha Leonard with Ben Beidler and Morgan E. Jones
Edited by David Whisnant
Sign to Linville at milepost 305 on the Blue Ridge Parkway, February 7, 1957. Photograph taken by Weems and Strickland. National Park Service photograph.
Creation of Linville and the Beginning of Logging in the Area
Many communities and towns, as well as planners and engineers, played an important part in the development of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Linville, North Carolina is one of those towns. Already nearly fifty years old by the time Parkway planning and construction began, Linville was a popular tourist town known for quaint architecture and golf. Situated near what later became Parkway milepost 305 and the Linn Cove Viaduct, the town became a fashionable stop along the Parkway.
Many actors also shaped the history of Linville itself: private logging companies, wealthy landowners and developers, workmen and loggers, tourists and tourist entrepreneurs, the government, and local inhabitants. Within that history, logging, profit, nature and tourism intertwined in a complex and dynamic way.
North Carolina Collection, Wilson Library, UNC Chapel Hill
The history of Linville starts in 1887-1888, when Donald MacRae and his son Hugh, of the wealthy Wilmington shipping family, purchased 16,000 acres in western North Carolina including Grandfather Mountain in what are now Watauga, Avery, and Caldwell Counties. With a group of capitalists from New York, Boston, Philadelphia, North and South Carolina, Missouri and Kansas, the MacRaes incorporated the Linville Land, Manufacturing and Mining Company (later known as the Linville Improvement Company) in 1888. In the 1890s, the Linville Improvement Company (LIC) began to develop part of its mountainous lands along the Linville River. Soon the town of Linville emerged with houses, industries and town services.
Around 1891, Hugh MacRae partnered with Samuel T. Kelsey to develop a large hotel (after 1892 known as Eseeola Lodge) to bring in upper class tourists, making Linville into “a playground for wealthy Northeasterners." In an early Linville advertising pamphlet (1888) designed to attract prosperous landowners and developers to the area, the Company promised to “aid liberally in the establishment of first-class institutions of learning, libraries, museums, and whatever else is practicable and desirable for the welfare of the community." The implied promise of profit and comfortable living proved attractive, and the town grew quickly.
To build the town and provide promised amenities, many workmen were needed, and they flocked in from all over North Carolina. Hampered by the delay in railroad connections to Linville to bring in building materials, tourists, and interested landowners, the LIC paid for – and local workmen built – the Yonahlossee Road from Linville to Blowing Rock for $18,000. Worker Joe Hartley recalled that “It was really something to build. Through as rough and rugged a country as you’ll find in any place. All hand work."
Stumps from logging near milepost 316.6, section 2J, and station 617 on the Blue Ridge Parkway. National Park Service photograph.
While the LIC established and constructed the town of Linville, they also logged the land for the growing regional timbering industry, working with Boone Fork Lumber Company, which employed around 300 local loggers and shipped timber on the East Tennessee Railway and the Western North Carolina Railroad. Champion Paper and Fiber opened a large paper mill in 1908 in Canton, North Carolina, boosting the market for local pulpwood. Numbers vary depending on the source, but according to the compendium of the North Carolina census around 1920, approximately 30,590 North Carolinians worked in the “lumber and timber products” industry. The only industry that employed more people in 1920 was textiles, with 53,703 people working in cotton mills.
Linville soon became known locally as “Stump Town” because the remaining tree stumps were so close together “that a man could walk the length of the cut-over area without touching the ground." Excessive logging also caused wildfires that destroyed mountain slopes, making flooding a common problem. Since there was so much money to be made, however, the disastrous environmental effects of timbering were ignored.
Tourism and Linville
Linville developers Hugh MacRae, Samuel Kelsey, and local hotel owner and writer Shepherd Dugger masked the destruction in "Stump Town" by promoting the beauty of the mountainous area to rich tourists. As MacRae wrote, "I think our way to success lies in making Linville a place of beauty and a popular resort for health and pleasure for the best class of cultivated people possessed of means to aid in adorning and beautifying the valley." The World War I timber and iron ore boom led to an extension of the East Tennessee and Western North Carolina's "Tweetsie" Railroad. Because of the convenient access the East Tennessee and Western North Carolina Railroad created, more and more wealthy tourists began frequenting the resorts of Linville.
Yonahlosse Road near section 2H, milepost 292 of the Blue Ridge Parkway. National Park Service photograph.
Shepherd Dugger built resorts such as the Grandfather Hotel in Avery County starting as early as 1885. He promoted the hotel, the "vacationland" of Linville, and the beauty of the region through his books The Balsam Groves of the Grandfather Mountain: a Tale of the Western North Carolina Mountains (1892) and The War Trails of the Blue Ridge (1932). In The Balsam Groves of the Grandfather Mountain (1892), Dugger praised the natural environment of Linville, while looking down on the "rustic simplicity of the locals."
Samuel T. Kelsey, the general manager of the LIC in the 1890s and co-creator of the Eseeola Lodge, also melded beauty and profit in Linville. Dugger praised Kelsey for the beautiful roads he built in western North Carolina, especially the one that went from Cranberry to Linville. This “civilized” road, Dugger said, makes other roads look like “the deserted trail of a savage tribe that had fled before civilization to an unmolested hunting-ground.” Kelsey also established commercial nurseries, surprising "the mountain people . . . [that] a business could be made out of what they had had to fight all their lives with mattock, axe, and fire to clear [from] fields for farm and garden."
A major attraction at Linville was Eseeola Inn, built in 1891. The Inn was well furnished, had bountiful gardens, and housed a Western Union Telegraph office. A covered gallery connected the Inn to an annex that featured luxurious suites with private baths and hot water. The Inn also promoted activities combined with local culture, such as dramatic plays performed by Linville natives and hog races. Hugh MacRae’s son Nelson MacRae took over the Inn while working at the LIC and turned it into a very profitable enterprise in the 1920s and 1930s, adding new stables and riding ranges. After 1936, the Eseeola Inn attracted even more tourists when the State Highway Commission paved the Yonahlossee Road.
Environmental sign on a trail, milepost 305.1, August 1971. National Park Service photograph.
Kelsey was not the only designer who influenced Linville. Using the LIC's chestnut shingles and siding, architect Henry Bacon built rustic cottages that influenced the design of many other Linville buildings. The most famous of them is All Saints Episcopal Church, covered inside and out with bark shingles. Bacon went on to win many architectural awards for his cottage designs, including the expansions to the Eseeola Inn.
Everyday citizens – as well as wealthy landowners, resort owners, and designers – also profited from tourism in Linville. Linville grew quickly, with the population of Linville increasing from 1,410 in 1890 to 2,504 people in 1910. Most other North Carolina towns grew by only around 100 people a decade. Tourism created jobs for launderers, cooks and waiters, housekeepers, gardeners, farmers, and plumbers. Joseph (Joe) Hartley, for instance, was born and raised in Avery County and helped build the Yonahlossee Road. Hartley's work and dedication to construction projects led the MacRaes and the LIC to hire him for a variety of positions, including year-round timber warden. "[N]o man ever saw more of Avery County than Joe Hartley,” people said of him: “[He] walked everywhere he went." Hartley made a living by cutting down trees to build trails, but he also promoted the natural beauty of western North Carolina in a 1961 book Walking for Health and Traveling to Eternity.
The Emergence of a Conservation Ethic
Contrast between cleared and un-cleared land, milepost 314, Spring of 1944. National Park Service photograph.
Landowners, private logging companies, resort owners, architects, and everyday inhabitants of Linville all manipulated nature for tourism and profit while largely ignoring environmental damage. By the time the Blue Ridge Parkway was under construction in the 1930s, however, the undeniable incompatibility between timbering, tourism, and preservation of the natural environment produced open conflict.
Construction of the Parkway started in 1935, but federal involvement in North Carolina land management had begun much earlier, with the establishment of national forests. The first eastern American national forest, Pisgah National Forest, established in 1916, bordered Linville. Federal condemnation and purchase of more and more remote farms and homesteads for national forests alarmed some North Carolinians.
Even though loggers and timber companies felt threatened by the federal purchase of lands in western North Carolina, logging around Linville continued thereafter. In 1918 alone, the Boone Fork Lumber Company logged 1,436 acres in the area. Due to financial troubles in Linville, a timbering revival occurred in the 1930s when the LIC sold logging rights to the Champion Paper and Fibre Company. Champion, the Linville Improvement Company, and Boone Fork Lumber Company continued to log land near Linville, including neighboring Grandfather Mountain, throughout the 1930s.
Timber cutting along the Yonahlossee Trail, mileposts 299.5-304, August 7, 1937. National Park Service photograph.
At the same time, some members of the nearby Lenoir, North Carolina, community began to look to the federal government for preservation of the environment. Disturbed by the logging near Linville in the 1930s, Lenoir resident R. L. Gwyn hoped the land could be saved by the federal purchase of property for the construction of the Blue Ridge Parkway. He wrote to Congressman Robert L. Doughton that "this forest [in the area between Lenoir and Grandfather Mountain] is in private ownership and I consider it almost necessary for the Parkway, and we know from past experience that it may be sold to some lumberman any day."
Gwyn's rhododendrons and smaller falls, milepost 292-299. National Park Service photograph.
Members of women’s clubs around Lenoir agreed and began calling for federal protection and acquisition of the land surrounding Grandfather Mountain. The citizens’ anger spurred the state of North Carolina to speed along the Parkway land acquisition process. In 1936, North Carolina officials seized the first section of land from the LIC on what would become Parkway section 2-H.
But the letters were too late to save most of Grandfather Mountain’s trees. By the end of the 1930s, most of the timber resources in western North Carolina were gone. The LIC and Champion Paper harvested nearly every tree they owned, leaving only $400,000 worth of harvestable timber standing. By 1940, the LIC’s major logging operations in Linville and Grandfather Mountain ended. Logging operations wound down, and local loggers began to look for jobs in coal mining or textiles. That same year, an economically disastrous flood in North Carolina sparked new concerns because it washed out the railroad connections to Boone needed for timbering and trade operations, leaving the LIC and other businesses in Linville nearly bankrupt.
After the 1940 flood, many people believed that federal or state protection was the only thing that could save the environment from further damage. In the 1940s, federal officials moved toward purchasing additional land at Grandfather Mountain itself from the MacRae family and the LIC for the Blue Ridge Parkway. At the same time, Hugh MacRae threatened to increase logging and expand the road system to make more money. After tense negotiations, the LIC offered to sell their land to federal representatives who envisioned transforming Grandfather Mountain into a natural recreation area. But North Carolina citizens, including Samuel Kelsey’s son Harlan P. Kelsey, could not raise sufficient funds to complete the purchase, and by the late 1940s, the MacRae family declared that the mountain was no longer for sale.
Ranger spotting forest fire in the distance at milepost 328 on the Blue Ridge Parkway, taken May 1, 1974. National Park Service photograph.
Grandfather Mountain therefore continued to be controlled by entrepreneurial private landowners. In 1952, Hugh MacRae’s grandson Hugh Morton inherited the mountain and ushered in a new era of profitable tourism there. Post-World War II growth had revived North Carolina’s tourist industry. Seeing the possibility for new profits, Morton soon began building a tourist attraction on top of the mountain, including the later iconic “Mile High” swinging bridge. Morton also claimed he would not continue logging operations.
While some local tourism entrepreneurs expected that the coming of the Parkway would benefit their businesses, Morton feared that it would compete with his newly developed mountaintop tourist attraction. Starting in the late 1940s, he and the National Park Service entered into a prolonged battle over the location of the Blue Ridge Parkway near Grandfather Mountain (see A View to Hugh blog essay Roads Taken and Not Taken: Images and the Story of the Blue Ridge Parkway “Missing Link” by Anne Mitchell Whisnant). This conflict, though later often recounted as a simple tale of an environmentalist landowner’s resistance to the environmental costs of building a scenic road, in fact revolved around different visions of tourism for the region. Yet debates about Parkway construction through the area -- which was not complete until 1987 -- continued to raise questions of how best to protect and conserve the area’s natural beauty.
Meanwhile, logging has remained controversial in and around Linville. As late as 2005, the U.S. Forest Service announced plans to sell logging rights within Globe Forest (located South of Blowing Rock and near Linville). The plan met large-scale opposition from many different groups concerned about the destruction of old-growth timber. After widespread protests, letters, and media campaigns, the U.S. Forest Service announced that they would preserve the land in the old-growth section of the Globe Forest but would continue with the rest of their logging plan.
Profile of Grandfather Mountain from Mayview Manor, August 1955. National Park Service photograph.
The Globe Forest controversy reflects significant changes in the economy and the interrelationship between the public, private industry, and the federal government in the Linville area. Town councils in Blowing Rock and Boone joined the Watauga County Commission in protesting the logging. One account noted that citizens deluged the Forest Service with over 1,800 comments, most of which opposed logging. With the increase in environmental awareness and the decline in logging industry jobs, many inhabitants of western North Carolina have altered their perspective on the local environment.
2.Howard Covington, Jr., Linville: a Mountain Home for 100 Years (Linville: Linville Resorts Inc., 1992), 9.
3.Swanson, "Grandfather Mountain," 3.
4.Linville Improvement Company. “Linville Pamphlet.” 1888-1910.
5.Drew A. Swanson, “Marketing a Mountain: Changing Views of Environment and Landscape on Grandfather Mountain, North Carolina.” Appalachian Journal 36, 1/2 (2008-2009), 35.
6.Covington, Linville, 15.
7.Whisnant, Super-Scenic Motorway: A Blue Ridge Parkway History, 272.
8.United States, Bureau of the Census. "Fourteenth census of the United States. State compendium. North Carolina : statistics of population, occupations, agriculture, drainage, manufactures, and mines and quarries for the state, counties, and cities," 55.
9. Covington, Linville, 7.
10. Swanson, “Marketing a Mountain," 32.
11. Covington, Linville, 10.
12. Whisnant, Super-Scenic Motorway: A Blue Ridge Parkway History, 273.
13. Covington, Linville, 7.
14. Swanson, “Marketing a Mountain," 31.
15. Shepherd M. Dugger, The Balsam Groves of the Grandfather Mountain (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott Co., 1892), 121.
16. Dugger, The War Trails of the Blue Ridge, 143.
17. James P. Vining, manager, “Eseeola Inn and Annex promotional pamphlet,” (Philadelphia: Longhead), 10.
18. Swanson, “Marketing a Mountain," 36.
19. Whisnant, Super-Scenic Motorway: A Blue Ridge Parkway History, 273.
20. Covington, Linville, 61
21. Rudy Abramson and Jean Haskell, editors, Encyclopedia of Appalachia, (Knoxville, University of Tennessee Press, 2006), 738 and 760.
22. Abramson and Haskell, Encyclopedia of Appalachia, 738.
23. Department of Commerce and Labor, Bureau of the Census, “Thirteenth census of the United States taken in the year 1910: statistics for North Carolina: containing statistics of population, agriculture, manufactures, and mining for the state, counties, cities, and other divisions,” 7.
24. Covington, Linville, 62-63.
25. Covington, Linville, 71.
26. Ronald Eller, Miners, Millhands, and Mountaineers: Industrialization of the Appalachian South, 1880-1930 (Knoxville: Tennessee University Press, 1982), 119.
27. Whisnant, Super-Scenic Motorway: A Blue Ridge Parkway History, 276.
28. Whisnant, Super-Scenic Motorway: A Blue Ridge Parkway History, 102.
29. Letter from R. L. Gwyn to R. L. Doughton, 26 August 1935, folder 508, in the Robert Lee Doughton Papers #2862.
30. Whisnant, Super-Scenic Motorway: A Blue Ridge Parkway History, 276-83.
31. Swanson, “Marketing a Mountain,” 38.
32. Eller, Miners, Millhands, and Mountaineers, 127.
33. Whisnant, Super-Scenic Motorway: A Blue Ridge Parkway History, 276-283.
34. Whisnant, Super-Scenic Motorway: A Blue Ridge Parkway History, 280.
35. Whisnant, Super-Scenic Motorway: A Blue Ridge Parkway History, 286-287.
36. Whisnant, Super-Scenic Motorway: A Blue Ridge Parkway History, 286-287.
37. Ben Prater and Chris Joyell. "Forest Service Rejects Globe Forest Appeal." The Wild South Quarterly: Protecting Forests for Life, Winter 2008, 5. http://www.wildsouth.org/~wildsout/images/WSQ/WildSouth_02Feb08.pdf.
38. Prater and Joyell, "Forest Service Rejects Globe Forest Appeal," 5.