The History of Our Accommodations in Western North Carolina
The Skyline Village Inn has been a landmark adjacent to the Blue Ridge Parkway for 70 years. In 1938 John Greer bought the land next to the Parkway and started making moonshinein a cavern just off the road on what is now NC226 Alt. The US Government had begun construction of the Parkway only 3 years prior and had plans to construct a bridge over NC 26 (now 226 A). John made plans to construct a gas station and store alongside the Parkway. He funded these plans with the money he made selling moonshine.
By 1942 John had completed building the store, gas station and a residence on the southeast side of the Parkway on a very steep incline falling sharply 2000 feet over 4 miles. The views were great and the state of North Carolina had committed to buying the part of NC26 that was a private toll road from Big Lynn Gap to Gillespie Gap.
After completing his residence and gas station, John was ready to start excavation for his most ambitious enterprise yet: Building the Skyline Village Inn across the street from the residence/overlook and gas station. According to John’s nephew, Joe Turbyfill, John made a deal with the state that if the state paid for the excavation for the hotel he would concede the right of way. The only problem: John did not want a state contractor discovering his still operation. So John stipulated that his cousin would get the contract.
The following picture was taken in 1942 of the excavation crew. John is on the left. Next to him is Tom Cox, John’s cousin. I know this because I received a phone call one day from a gentleman who introduced himself as Tom Cox’s nephew. He was looking at the picture below as it was on my web site. He told me basically the same story I had heard from Joe. But he told me more about Tom. Tom had been a supervisor for the Clinchfield Railroad and had been involved with the excavation for the 14 tunnels built for the ”Clinchfield Loops” through North Cove, Alta Pass, around the 2 ridges below the innwe call the “Dolly Parton” mountain. Surely Tom was well qualified!
So they began the project in 1942 just after the beginning of WWII when many supplies for materials were seriously short and many times restricted from purchase or rationed. This probably slowed John’s progress, but it did not stop him. He was determined to finish what he started. Steel rebar for example was in short supply, so John substituted what he could find available: Railroad tracks! We have come across several of these in the building walls while doing renovations.
Another story related to building materials surfaced one day when a man named Lee Waycaster came in and introduced himself. In 1947 he was working for John. Lee was 15 years old at the time. John was trying to decide what kind of building materials he was going to use for the floors and walls in the downstairs restaurant,lobby and store. The American Thread Plant located in the Woodlawn area on the way to Marion was being built at the same time. Lee said one day John told him that he had been told that the construction company building the American Thread Plant might have extra East Tennessee marble they might be willing to sell. John had another idea: He sent Lee to negotiate a deal to trade moonshine for the marble. Lee managed to negotiate the deal and said he made more than a dozen trips up and down what is now NC 226A taking moonshine down and bringing marble back up!
The Greer family suffered the tragic loss of John’s first wife Eva in 1947 when she was struck by lightning while bathing in the second story apartment under the overlook. John continued the building project and opened the inn for business in 1948. Following is a postcard from 1948 showing the gas station and overlook/apartment on the south side of the road.
The National Park Service had the following photograph of the Skyline Village Inn dated 1948 in its archives:
When completed, the Skyline had 32 rooms. Some of the rooms shared a bathroom. All the rooms were small. Some had no windows and therefore no ventilation. The inn had oil-firedradiator heat in the winter and of course no air conditioning until much later! The restaurant was opened with the rest of the business. John had to move the still because he was venting it from the cave under what was now a busy parking lot.
A few years ago I had a visit from one of John’s nieces and her teenage grandchildren. I showed them around pointing out some of the wood inlay furniture and the paneling that John had made. I hadn’t mentioned the moonshining. But one of the kids picked up a postcard with the picture from 1948. The postcard had been inscribed with “Skyline Inn 1948. Built on moonshine money.” They read this and their grandmother said “Yes. Uncle John was known for his moonshine!” I then asked if she would like to visit the cave where the shine was made and she said, “Sure.” So we showed the kids the cave and I told them John had closed the cave and moved the still when he opened the hotel. She said, “Well that’s not quite right.” She said further, “He continued making moonshine here for several months and covered the vent hole with a rock around check-intime each day!” I stood corrected.
John expanded the store and gas station business across the street in the early 1950’s while his brother, Cecil, built the Mountain View Motel on the next hill over to the east of the Skyline. This property is now the Mountain View Restaurant.
John erected a 3-story brick building from 1953-1955 on the steep incline dropping down to NC 226 that had been built around 1950 as a short cut to Spruce Pine. This reduced the number of miles traveled from 13.5 to 5.5 between Gillespie Gap and Highway 221. The foundation used for building this expansion was not as failsafe as the one used for the hotel. Further complicating the matter was the precipitous drop to NC 226 and a geological fault between the Skyline Village Innand the Mountain View. In the 1960s a slight earthquake cracked the building. The crack was not fixed and grew worse in time. Finally in the 1990s it was taken down by the previous owners. The good news is that taking down the building restored the tremendous view of the valley and surrounding mountains from the Skyline Village Inn!
John Greer entertained some distinguished guests from over the state in the 1950s. The following photograph was taken by Hugh Morton, a well-known photographer and owner of Grandfather Mountain. The photograph is a dinner for some Democrat state officials including Luther Hodges, the governor of North Carolina from 1954-1960. Hodges went on to become Secretary of Commerce under John Kennedy. He must have known something about commerce if he knew John. We figure these connections had a lot to do with the fact that John was never prosecuted for his moonshining and boot-legging activities.
John died of leukemia at Duke Hospital in Durham in 1962 at the age of 59. His son, Hubert, inherited the business. From what we are told, Hubert discontinued making moonshine, but bootlegged whiskey from ABC stores in Hickory and Asheville until he was finally able to obtain a license to sell beer. The licensing came about sometime in the 1990s. While renovating we actually found a couple of bottles of Hubert’s bootleg whiskey hidden in a firebreak in a bathroom wall. The bottle was a pint of Jack Daniels dated 1966. The other bottle was dated the same year but was 175th anniversary Jim Beam.
Hubert passed away in 1995 and his wife Lettie then sold the business to a local family in 1997. They sold the business to us in 2004.
The business was in disrepair when we purchased it. We have updated almost everything about it and we try to bring it up to date without harming the character of the building, which we cherish. We have built a sewer line from the hotel to 1.5 miles down NC 226 at Wal-Mart in Grassy Creek. We have renovated each of the guestrooms and tried to use materials that match the character of the building. We completely rebuilt the plumbing system using modern material such as PEX to ensure there is no rust or other remnants of outdated plumbing. The water system is state of the art, using a series of filters and an Ozonater to purify the wonderful mountain water. We look for ways to continually improve and upgrade the facility. Two years ago, we replaced the flat roof with a pitched roof. This was probably our biggest project yet.