In July of 1912, before bulldozers, dump trucks, and paved highways were the norm, workers broke ground on a large resort in the wooded depths of Appalachia. Less than one year later, on July 12, 1913, the Grove Park Inn opened its doors to an eager upper class. The timeline of such an endeavor is nearly unbelievable even with modern tools, let alone a century ago.
This incredible feat began, oddly enough, with a particularly terrible case of the hiccups. Edwin Wiley Grove rose from the depths of childhood poverty with a hearty dose of perseverance and a devotion to the pharmaceutical business. His “Grove’s Chill Tonic” was produced en masse, a sweetened syrup of quinine used to treat the shivers and shakes associated with malaria. The Chill Tonic proved immensely popular, selling more bottles than Coca-Cola through the 1890’s and earning Grove his long-sought fortune.
But fortune, Grove quickly learned, was not everything in life. Despite his experience in pharmaceuticals, he returned again and again to his doctor with complaints of extreme hiccups, sometimes lasting for weeks on end. After countless failed cures and elixirs, Grove was sent to a small town in the rolling hills of Appalachia in the hopes of curing his hiccups.
Upon arriving in Asheville, North Carolina, Grove discovered that the climate and scenery not only cured his malady but improved his overall being. The charming townsfolk and endless vistas convinced him of his next project: Asheville, he decided, would be the perfect location for a resort and inn.
Grove began buying up tracts of land along the western slope of Sunset Mountain just north of Asheville in 1910. From farms to forests, Grove paused only when the entire mountain was his. But Grove didn’t just stop at Sunset Mountain; he worked tirelessly to turn all of Asheville into an ideal destination, buying land and destroying tuberculosis sanitariums across the mountains, ensuring that not a single pockmark remained on his pristine town. His work later earned him the epithet “the Father of Modern Asheville.”
Grove partnered with his new son-in-law, Fred Loring Seely, on his plans for the inn. Seely and Grove had met in Detroit through their shared investments in pharmaceuticals. Grove and Seely developed an easy friendship, and when Seely fell for Grove’s only daughter, he received immediate approval of marriage. With Seely tied even more closely to the family, Grove entrusted him with overseeing the construction of the Grove Park Inn.
Construction finally began in 1912, and the lavish hotel opened a mere eleven months and twenty-seven days later. How exactly did Grove accomplish such a feat without modern tools of construction and transportation? When Grove set his lofty promise of opening the hotel within a year of its groundbreaking, he knew he would need tireless workers willing to work inhumane hours; he also knew that the greatest motivator for such a workload would be money. He paid his 400 men exorbitant wages and watched them work ten-hour shifts six days a week. With mules, wagons, and handmade ropes, these men pulled tons upon tons of granite up and down the steep slopes of Sunset Mountain. And when they had finally finished on July 12, 1913, a modern marvel rested in their wake.
Built in the traditional Arts & Crafts style, the Grove Park Inn was, and still is, a beautiful icon of the architectural form. Grove wisely chose to fill the hotel’s interior with the designs of Roycrofters of East Auruora, New York, one of the most influential designers of the Arts & Crafts period. The lofted lobby boasts massive granite fireplaces, and the exterior is decked, in true Southern style, with sweeping porches lined with captivating views. Grove’s Inn wasn’t just a shoddy project thrown together but a beautiful and lasting architectural marvel.
When Grove opened the doors to his Inn, 400 of the South’s most prestigious and well-known gentlemen gathered on the lawns to witness the unveiling of the masterpiece. Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan delivered the opening remarks and stayed at the inn, setting the standard of guests for decades to come. Over the past century, a variety of celebrities have called the inn home for a night. Such famous visitors have included Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Helen Keller, John D. Rockefeller, Jerry Seinfeld, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Will Rogers. A total of ten Presidents have also stayed at the Grove Park Inn: Coolidge, Wilson, Taft, F.D. Roosevelt, Hoover, Eisenhower, Nixon, G.W. Bush, Clinton, and Obama.
But not all of the guests of the Grove Park Inn have been famous. During World War II, the inn was used to house Navy and Army servicemen, either recuperating or resting between tours. The hotel was also home to Axis diplomats, whose guarded trips into town bolstered a floundering wartime economy, and the Philippine government even operated for a time from the Presidential Cottage. Today, you’re more likely to find vacationing Southerners on the winding porches of the Inn than wartime generals, but it retains its reputation as a breathtaking destination nonetheless.
Mr. Grove developed a habit early on in life of setting demanding goals for himself. From overcoming poverty to building one of the country’s finest resorts in less than a year, Grove accomplished the seeming impossible. But his biggest accomplishment? Banning those pesky hiccups for good.
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