Inn Through the Years
The Inn Through the Years
LEFT: Buckhorn Inn Founders Audrey and Douglas Bebb were college sweethearts.
Buckhorn Inn was founded in 1938 by Douglas Bebb (1907-1984) and his wife Audrey Bebb (1911-1950). Douglas Bebb and his wife Audrey became interested in the Smokies because of Doug’s parents, amateur botanists, who visited the newly established Great Smoky Mountains National Park in the early 1930s. They encouraged Doug and Audrey to develop an inn in this new tourist destination. Availing himself of his parents’ help, he and Audrey bought a 25 acre site on which he built and developed Buckhorn Inn, the third oldest establishment in Gatlinburg and the oldest accommodation establishment still operating in Sevier County today.
RIGHT: The Bebbs oriented the Inn toward sweeping views of Mt. Leconte, TrilliumGap, Brushy Mountain and Winnesoka Knob. BELOW: Buckhorn Inn was constructed by local craftsmen without the assistance of electrical power.
Douglas and Audrey sited the neo-Colonial Inn perfectly, capturing a majestic view of the three points of Mt. Le Conte as well as Trillium Gap, Brushy Mountain and Winnesoka Knob.
With the help of local craftsmen, the Bebbs built the lodge (the main Inn building) and Cottages 1 and 2 in 1937-1938 and opened its doors for business in August 1938. Many Knoxvillians drove up to his quaint new inn for lunch as the Inn served three meals a day at that time.
BELOW: Page 1 of the Inn’s first guest book showing open day in August 1938. Because the Inn served a big lunch in those days, folks from Knoxville would drive up to the Inn for the day.
Originally there were six guest rooms upstairs – in 1978 two of these were combined to form the present Room 4 – and the water tower actually was a water tower, not the charming Tower Room it is today. In the 1960’s, Douglas built two additional cottages alongside the Inn, each with commanding and picturesque views of the mountains.
LEFT: Innkeeper Audrey Bebb with her younger sister Beverly Hogan (later Troth), c. 1938, at the Inn’s Colonnade which was modeled on Washington’s Mt. Vernon.
The evolution of Buckhorn Inn was a family effort from the beginning. Hubert Bebb, Doug’s architect-brother sent down designs for the Inn, which early on billed itself as the “Mount Vernon of the Smokies.” Its imposing columns and colonial architectural style gave it a special distinction in the Gatlinburg of that day. Douglas’ parents visited often, eventually buying property nearby, and his mother wove the Audrey, the inn’s first mistress, was actively involved its planning development of the inn rugs that originally covered the hallways and the living and dining rooms.
RIGHT: Audrey and Doug Bebb, 1947. Note Doug’s two sculptures sitting in the window – they sit there til this day. BELOW: Photo from west. The retaining wall lasted until the mid -1980s before it had to be replaced.
Audrey, the inn’s first mistress, was actively involved in its planning, development and operation – greeting guests, planning the menus, making the seating arrangements, and organizing the housekeeping.
Doug Bebb, an energetic innkeeper, builder, cook and forester, planted over 3,000 hemlocks and white pines on the cleared farmland, carefully sculpting the Buckhorn Inn in 1938 woodland environment so that no other human-made structure was visible from the Inn. He used his Chicago Art Institute training to carve buckheads for highway signs advertising the Inn. Two of his sculptures still grace the Inn’s stairwell.
RIGHT: The natural depression at the lower right was eventually was dammed up by Doug and became the Buckhorn Inn Pond. To the right of the Inn is the Inn’s original water storage tank.
Douglas raised his own chickens to produce the best eggs for his guests’ morning breakfast. Every year he brought forth an abundance of fresh vegetables from his garden. He was a renowned cook, preparing all the meat dishes served at the Inn. His Sunday Buffets, which he prepared in their entirety because it was the cook’s day off, were a favorite among the Inn’s guests. He taught himself auto mechanics, modifying an old Model A to run on a light switch. Known among the family and guests as Doug’s Jalopy, he used it to ferry items to the dump and back and forth across the property. He felled his own trees for firewood and milled his own lumber. The one-inch walnut paneling in the living room at Bebb House was milled by Douglas at his sawmill on the Buckhorn property.
Inspired by his parents’ example, Douglas had an abiding interest in nature and a belief in its ability to renew one’s spirit. His botanical explorations on his property led him to discover a scented white dogwood tree that he dubbed Fragrant Cloud. He patented it and it was taken for distribution by Jackson and Perkins. About his discovery Douglas said: “I just found the tree, so I say that money does grow on trees – if you find the right tree.”
After Audrey’s death in 1950, Douglas married June Edmondson Harvill, a widow from Maryville, in 1951 and she and her four children came to live at Buckhorn Inn. Doug and June had two children, Tina and Ellen.
RIGHT: The Bebb Family: Standing from right: Stan, Joe, Doug and Jon. Seated from right: Molly, Tina, June, Ellen and Anna (Stan’s wife). BELOW: Doug’s youngest daughter Ellen with her husband Finbarr visiting the Inn in 2012. Ellen grew up with her sister Tina and the Harvill children at Buckhorn. She remains one of the Inn’s biggest fans.
Buckhorn Inn was the family business and the family’s life. Ellen Bebb Saunders, Douglas and June’s youngest daughter, lives in Knoxville and remembers growing up in this family of innkeepers fondly. About her father, she said: “He was a jack-of-all-trades, from milling his own lumber to sculpting to baking the best pies. There just didn’t seem to me anything he couldn’t do.”
RIGHT: Doug and Audrey created a run on the egg market in Pittman Center when they opened the Inn and also developed a reputation for employing the very best housekeepers. Pictured are Ella Huskey and Grace Price Brannam who worked at the inn through the 1960’s.
Until the 1960’s a staff of four served three meals a day. In those early days without electricity, after dinner the guests might sit in their cars, listening to the news of far away events on their car radios. A coal furnace, stoked each morning by Doug, welcomed guests as did the roaring fire in the Inn’s main room.
LEFT: Pleasures were simple ones for travelers to the Smokies in its first forty years. In these, less litigious times, Doug allowed swimming in his new pond. Charys Freeman Wheeler, on her honeymoon in 1947 at Buckhorn, enjoyed a dip in the cold waters of Buckhorn Pond which is filled by a spring and runoff from down the hill. BELOW: Charys’ new husband, Haynes Freeman, took up archery when he and his new bride celebrated their honeymoon at Buckhorn in 1947.
Until 1979, the Inn was open from April to November. The seasons were marked then, as they are now, by the Inn’s “regulars,” none more regular than Dorothy and Jim Frisch and Robert and Liz Strehlow. The Strehlows, who spent every April and every October at the Inn from 1938 until 1984, would honk their horn as they drove up Buckhorn Road, and everyone would turn out to help them unload their supplies which included a TV set and a case of Jim Beam. Bob called himself Buckhorn’s Assistant Manager. He cued everyone to stand when Douglas entered a room and to hold their forks still until he sat down. One year Bob organized the Buckhorn Bottle Blowers and had the members of this musical group drive down to Huskey’s Store to buy matching plaid shirts.
Douglas Bebb and his family ran Buckhorn as an inspiration and on inspiration. The family wanted to provide a stable oasis to which their guests could return each year for a spiritual renewal. In a Christmas letter in 1963, June Bebb wrote: We go on at the Inn much the same, and though the town of Gatlinburg expands endlessly, we still feel we must retain an island of peace and quiet from the Doug and June Bebbconfusion of daily living.
ABOVE & RIGHT: June and Doug Bebb, c. late 1960’s
In the days of the Bebb Family, the cocktail hour was an honored tradition. As Tennessee was dry in the early years, guests would bring their wine and spirits with them. According to Ellen, those who knew her father well would throw in an extra bottle of Jim Beam for the innkeeper. “Some of the guests would take turns hosting pre-dinner gatherings in their cottages, but the greatest honor seemed to be when my parents would invite guests to their Buckhorn Inn Historic Photohome on the next ridge (Bebb House).”
LEFT: Early Days – Guests enjoy the Inn’s colonnade.
Because he had so much of himself invested in the Inn, Douglas chose his guests carefully. He did not believe in commercial advertising. With only a few exceptions, such as the time the Inn’s recipe for corn pudding was featured in the Ford Times (1949), he relied on advertising by word-of-mouth. In those days, as now, the high seasons for the Inn were Spring and Fall. During the hot Summer, the Inn was never full because it didn’t have air conditioning or television. Summer was the busy period for the rest of Gatlinburg and when tourists would begin their desperate search through the directory for a place to stay and happen onto Buckhorn, Douglas would turn them away, telling them that the Inn was full when only one or two rooms might be taken. He knew their preference was for color television sets and heated pools, and he only wanted people whose first choice was the Inn.
RIGHT: By the early 1950’s, Buckhorn had become famous enough to be included in the well-known touring book, Ford Times, created by the Ford Motor Company to encourage driving vacations in its popular new cars. Buckhorn’s entry, beautifully illustrated by Corydon Bell, stated: This hostelry is located on a hill dramatically facing the main range of the Great Smokies. You’re an easy car’s ride from many beauty spots. Breakfast, lunch and dinner served. Overnight accommodations and vacation facilities. Reservations necessary. Closed from November 1 to April 1. The entry featured Doug’s recipe for Corn Pudding. The lower part of the photo shows how the Aunt Jemima Company incorporated this advertising ploy into its own national marketing program.
With no television or radios to entertain, the Inn’s faithful guests would gather on the porch or in the living room for long evenings of conversation, reading, card playing, or a game of skittles or cribbage (the latter a game for which tournaments were staged and for which Douglas crafted a loving cup). In 1960, June Bebb wrote: Most of the discussions (sometimes a bit heated!) centered on the elections, world affairs, and sports, but a tramp in the woods or a view of our placid mountains dissolved all feelings that may have been stirred.
LEFT: Rachael Young, Second Mistress of Buckhorn Inn
In 1978, the year June died, Douglas sold Buckhorn Inn to Knoxvillians Rachael, Robert and Lindsay Young. The Young Family’s motivation in buying Buckhorn was to preserve an important part of the area’s history: “We just really wanted to preserve and protect it. We were afraid it would become commercialized.” After Douglas’s death in 1984, the family also bought the family home, known now as Bebb House and Lindsay House.
RIGHT: Room 4, Circa 1979 Rachael re-decorated all the upstairs bedrooms, using a decorator’s favorite – toile – in Room 4 (right) and Room 1 (below). BELOW: Room 1, circa 1979. Twin beds were still perfectly acceptable to the traveling public in 1979.
Ellen said that letting the Inn go was difficult for her father: My father’s hands had touched every inch of wood and every particle of soil. But without my mother’s presence to warm the great room, it seemed fitting to pass the Inn on to the hands of another.
Under the Young’s protection, the Inn became elegantly decorated with antique furniture and colorful English chintz window coverings and bedspreads. Many of the pieces of antique furniture throughout the Inn came from the Young Family and its relations. The Young Family converted the water tower to a bedroom, one of the most special in the Inn, modernized the kitchen, updated Bebb House, and revitalized the physical plant in general.
RIGHT: Elegant wedding parties and dinners became frequent under Rachael’s management and conferences and retreats were encouraged.
In 1998, Lee and John Mellor became the third owners of the Inn. A major renovation and expansion program was begun. All of the rooms in the Inn were refurbished and The Tower was completely remodeled. All four existing cottages were renovated and three new cottages (modeled on Cottages 1 and 2) were constructed and opened for business on New Year’s Eve, 1999. A meditation In 1998, Lee and John Mellor became the third owners of the Innand prayer labyrinth was built in one of the Inn’s large meadows. In April 2001, an addition on the west side of the lodge was completed, providing three new rooms and a guest sitting room and conference center. In 2004, an addition to the west side of the Inn was made which included a library and private dining room, guest suite, housekeeping quarters and maintenance workshop. In that same year a new guest house (Webb Mountain House) was incorporated into the Inn. Buckhorn House Events Center was completed in 2008. The grounds have been improved in recent years through the addition of the Callaway Garden, St Cordelia’s Garden and the Hill Garden.
ABOVE: Lee and John Mellor became the third owners of Buckhorn in 1999 when they purchased it from the Young Family in a private sale. RIGHT: Postcard sold by the Inn of its view in the 1960’s.
Some things have changed at Buckhorn over the years. There’s been electricity for a long while now and there are even televisions and DVD players. The Inn still relies mostly on word-of-mouth advertising, although these days that includes the Internet. We no longer serve the three meals a day Doug Bebb managed, but we do serve a hearty breakfast and a four-course gourmet dinner that we like to think he’d be proud to call his own. But, mostly, things go on here just as they always have.
We still cut our own firewood and if the staff sometimes greets guests as if they were long-lost friends, it’s because they are.
LEFT: View from the Inn, 2007. BELOW: Nighttime view from the Inn, 2010.
One of the greatest beauties of the Inn has always been its effect on people. Perhaps because it lies in the lap of such majesty, it reminds its guests, its staff and its owners of our collective insignificance. All of us at Buckhorn strive to maintain the beauty of the Inn and to preserve and advance the Bebbs’ ideal of providing travelers with a respite from the hurly-burly of everyday life, an opportunity to renew their spirits in the tranquility of nature’s bounty.