History of Snowbird Lodge

The following story was sent to the Snowbird Mountain Lodge by Mrs. Gladys Smith. She and her husband, Elmer, owned and operated the Lodge from 1953 until 1968. This note was enclosed: The attached story is about the history of the lodge. It was written by my mother, Katherine H. Roger. She spent several summers with us in the years of 1955 – 1956 – 1957. Arthur Wolfe, the original owner (and builder) told this story to us when he came up one summer for a visit. My mother was a writer and made this rough story from Arthur Wolfe’s conversations. It was never published. Elmer and I bought Snowbird Mountain Lodge from Arthur and Edwin Wolfe in the fall of 1953.


WAY UP THAR by Katherine Harvey Roger
A Mr. and Mrs. Johnson and their daughter left Atlanta, Georgia, after lunch, motoring north to the mountains of North Carolina. They were on their vacation and were looking forward to spending a couple of weeks of rest and recreation.
The weather had been exceedingly hot for July in Atlanta. The Johnsons had written several Chambers of Commerce for folders and decided on Snowbird Mountain Lodge, as the name had intrigued them, sounding cool. Also, it was one of the very few lodges built high on a mountaintop instead of in a valley.

They had just driven through Robbinsville, the county seat of Graham County. The road was paved up to West Buffalo Creek, where the homes became few and far between and a winding gravel road emerged. They saw a native mountaineer whittling on the porch of his cabin. Hailing him, they asked him the direction to Snowbird Mountain Lodge. He stopped whittling for a moment, spat out a chaw of tobacco, and pointed to a high mountain ridge, saying, “Way up thar.”

After about fifteen minutes, they arrived at Snowbird. A little breathless from the steep climbing, the curving road, and the stupendous view that met their eyes, they blurted out, “How in the name of heaven did you find this place and build such a beautiful lodge?” Elmer and Gladys Smith, the new and enthusiastic owners of Snowbird Mountain Lodge, related the following story from the information given them by Arthur and Edwin Wolfe, the former owners who built the lodge in September of 1940 and opened it to the public in April 1941.

Arthur Wolfe had had his own travel bureau in Chicago (1922–1942) and for a number of years he specialized in sending tour parties from Chicago to Asheville and the Great Smoky Mountain region. The groups stopped overnight in Asheville, Gatlinburg, Chimney Rock, Bryson City, and Tapoco. They left Chicago by train to Knoxville and then took the Smoky Mountain Tour buses for a six-day tour through Western North Carolina.

At one point in the tour, the buses sped them through Robbinsville on their way to the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest, where a short stop was made to see the giant hemlocks and poplars of this virgin forest. It was such an impressive sight that Arthur dreamed of a mountain lodge nearby that could house his tour parties before they departed north from Knoxville to Chicago.

It was not long before the opportunity presented itself. The former president of the Smoky Sightseeing Company came to Chicago and told Arthur that if Arthur could raise some capital to construct a lodge in the vicinity of the Joyce Kilmer Forest and Lake Santeetlah, he would do everything possible to direct and transport guests to the lodge. He also offered his car and the services of his son and daughter-in-law to scout the region for a possible location.

The three of them drove from Asheville to Robbinsville during the fall of 1939. They stopped at the drug store in Robbinsville to inquire about the sale of private property since most of the area was government property under the supervision of the Nantahala National Forest. The druggist knew of none but suggested that they take a Robbinsville boy with them on their search, as the natives were not too friendly with strangers.

Wiley told them that there was some private property across the road owned by relatives of his wife. He volunteered to show them the land. They started from the gap and struggled to the top of the steep ridge, grasping for laurel bushes and trees to pull themselves to the top through the thick brush. At the top there was a little clearing, and they gazed in breathless wonder towards the south where the Snowbird Mountain Range loomed up on the horizon, with Cedar Top on the extreme right and Joanna Bald and Tatum Gap on the extreme left. Nearer and down in the valley, they caught a glimpse of Lake Santeetlah and the farmland of the Snowbird Indians. It was a most impressive view, and they were highly satisfied.

The next thought was about water. Wiley told them there was a mountain spring about a hundred yards north of where they were standing that had been flowing regularly for the past thirty years with water that was deliciously cool, clear, and healthy. They felt quite pleased, for view and water, the two most important factors, were there. Now, to negotiate for the property, which consisted of about 175 acres.

Two brothers supposedly owned the land. However, in tracing the matter down, Arthur found that there were about ten heirs and was necessary to get all of their signatures. As they were scattered in several states, with some in isolated areas in the mountains and some in logging camps, an entire year was consumed locating all of them. The Underwood’s, the mayor of Robbinsville, and his nephew, a lawyer, were most helpful in finding them.

In the interim, Arthur went to Franklin, North Carolina, to consult the Chief Forester of the Nantahala National Forest. He was very enthusiastic about the project and gave Arthur every cooperation. Arthur also made contact with a good architect in Asheville, North Carolina. He came to look over the property to see the feasibility of the building of a lodge on top of a mountain ridge at an elevation of 2800 feet. The Wolfe brothers were gratified to hear that it could be done. Plans were drawn up, with Arthur and Edwin incorporating many of their ideas of attractive features that would please future guests: a two story beam ceiling in the lounge, a picture window facing the mountains to the south, two large fireplaces for the lounge and dining room, attractive bedrooms with private baths, and a light, airy kitchen. All the rooms would be paneled in different native woods. The lodge would be heated with steam heat in the spring and fall months.

In December of 1939, surveyors were lined up for leveling of the lodge site and the grading of the driveway from the road to the lodge. They also checked the boundary lines of the property.

In August 1940 Wiley Underwood and his son, Corbin, started cutting down trees on the ground where the lodge was to be built to clear an area for the bulldozer. The bulldozer was transported on a truck from Robbinsville, and a path was cleared so it could navigate up to the top of the ridge from the highway. It took the bulldozer ten days to level off the ridge and grade the drive-way.

A foreman who lived in Andrews was hired. He had built a guest house lodge in the vicinity of Andrews and he knew the labor market and read blueprints. The stonemasons, the carpenters, the electricians, the plumbers, and the unskilled workers came from a radius of fifty miles. The native stone came from a government quarry about fourteen miles distant. Some of the chestnut logs were secured from the lodge’s own property. The hard woods – wild cherry, butternut, chestnut, maple, silver bell – came from the lumber mill in Robbinsville. Electrical, plumbing, and heating equipment came from Chicago. Trucks wound up the steep mountain roads transporting lumber, stone, and equipment to the lodge site during the entire fall, winter and spring.

A Chicago interior decorator designed the lounge furniture, dining room chairs, and drapes. She also purchased some antiques. The bedroom furniture and dining room tables were all handmade by two native boys living in Robbinsville. The six-room cabin which now contains five guest rooms was hastily built first to serve as sleeping quarters and mess hall for the workmen. The entire construction was supervised by Edwin Wolfe.

Several names for the lodge were considered:
1. Nantahala – the lodge’s property was surrounded by the Nantahala National Forest
2. Santeetlah – the lodge was near Lake Santeetlah
3. Snowbird – the lodge faced the Snowbird Mountain Range, was near Snowbird Creek, and the Cherokee Indians living in the vicinity were called the Snowbird tribe. 1 and 2, while pretty Indian names, would be hard to remember and spell. 3 seemed more appropriate, was short, and sounded cool.

Named the Snowbird Mountain Lodge, the Wolfe brothers’ effort was opened to the public in April 1941.