Remembering the Kenhurst lodge
North Carolina Room Friend Cliff Lively is the current resident of the stately home on Elk Mountain Highway that was known for 30 years as Kenhurst Lodge. We thank Mr. Lively for lending the Library his collection of material relating to the Lodge, including guests’ letters, brochures, guest book, guest registers, and a bundle of receipts. Those materials have now been scanned and are part of the North Carolina collection, providing a view into the day to day management of an Inn during the 1930s.
Built by Florida architect Francis Joseph Kennard and his wife Carrie, the Kenhurst Lodge operated from 1934 to 1964, May to mid-October, offering relaxation and relief from the heat for tourists who flocked to the mountains. In those days, it was common for prospective guests to write to Mrs. Kennard to inquire about accommodations, room rates, and available dates when they might visit.
Reading over those inquiries, there is much repetition in this basic business correspondence. However, many writers share specific concerns and requests. Dr. E.H. McRae of Tampa, FL wrote what we would now regard as an ADA request. He, his wife and daughter required two rooms and since his “physical exertion was limited,” he needed a room on the first floor. Mrs. James H. Kelly of Long Island wrote: “Could you accommodate my husband, myself and our small (14″ high) smooth-haired dog?” The same writer goes on to inquire about bathroom conveniences and garage space–presumably not for the dog. A group of four ladies from Florida wrote Mrs. Kennard to ask if she had a room with four single beds and a bath for them to share. If not, two rooms with two beds apiece would suffice.
Marjorie Cowell of Tampa, FL inquired whether her train could be met in Biltmore. It was. Mrs. John Crichton of Miami, FL sent this query: “We are undecided whether to take a vacation in July or August. Could you advise us which is the coolest time, as we want to get away from the hot weather.” The reader is reminded that Jim Crow laws were in effect in 1930s Asheville when another writer, Mr. Brown from Coral Gables, FL, included a query about his Negro driver. Where might he stay during the two weeks of the Browns’ visit? Mrs. Kennard’s reply: “The only accommodation which I could offer for your Negro chauffeur would be in the house of a neighboring colored couple, who are clean and respectable. The woman works here.”
The most common questions concerned room rates. Mrs. Kennard wrote to one such inquiry: “This is a small establishment, accommodating about twenty-five guests. Rates, weekly, are $20.00 and $17.50 per week for one person in a room according to location. For two persons, the charge was $17.50 and $15.00 each.” The higher rates were assessed for rooms with connecting bathrooms. Another common question: where is the Inn located? Mrs. Kennard wrote: “This place is in the mountains overlooking Beaverdam Valley with the City of Asheville beyond. We are five miles from the City Hall, yet right in the country.” She also advised the driver to follow Merrimon Ave., remaining alert to the turnoff onto Beaverdam Rd. since a pine hedge near the golf course hid it from view. In yet another query, Mrs. Kennard wrote to Miss Angie Kendall, “The trails and walks in this neighborhood are quite safe for women to walk alone.”
Then as now, tourism was important for Asheville’s economy. But what drew visitors to the Kenhurst Inn in particular? Some correspondents were from Tampa and were acquainted with the Kennards. Mr. Kennard was a noted architect there, they spent the greater part of the year there, and they appear to have been involved in the community. Others relied on word of mouth, naming a friend who recommended the Kenhurst Inn. Dr. Kirby Howlett of Shelton, CT wrote, “A friend, Miss Annie Westall of Asheville, has suggested Kenhurst Lodge as a nice spot at which to spend a brief vacation.” That one grabbed our attention since Miss Annie Westall was the Director of the Asheville Public Library at the time. It appears that many guests were return visitors. “Can you give us the same accommodations we had last year?” wrote Mr. Eugene Pearce of Clearwater, FL. Personal endorsements were also important. Mrs. Ida Gregory of Norfolk, VA delivered the equivalent of a 5-star review: “We just had the loveliest time while with you and only regret that we couldn’t stay longer. Everyone says that your place must be Heaven the way we have raved about it.” The Kennards also published a pamphlet advertising the Inn; a photo of it appears at the beginning of this blog post.
A large, brown guest book contains visitors’ names and home towns, their signatures a testimony to the Inn’s 30 years hosting travelers. American’s travel habits changed during those three decades, however. Air conditioning became the norm, private bathrooms an expectation, and impersonal motel chains replaced locally owned inns. The Kenhurst Lodge’s guest book reflects those changes as the number of visitors during the 1950s and early 1960s declined. We are grateful to have this collection documenting a bygone time in the history of Asheville tourism. Travelers came from across the country to meet one another in shared spaces, to relax and cool off, and then they went back home and raved about it.
Kennard was a prolific Tampa, Florida architect and many of the buildings that he designed are on the National Register of Historic Buildings. To see a few of the buildings he designed, click here.