75 years of hospitality
For Lee and John Mellor, being owners of the Buckhorn Inn is a privilege and not something they take for granted. That’s why they have planned numerous events to celebrate the Inn’s 75th anniversary during 2013.
In the grand scheme of things, the Mellors are but babes in the woods when it comes to Gatlinburg landmark’s 75-year history. They’ve been its caretakers for only 15 years, after purchasing it in 1998 from its second set of owners: Rachael, Robert and Lindsay Young, who looked after it for 20 years. Prior to 1978, the Inn’s builder, Douglas Bebb, and his family spent 40 years welcoming guests to the neo-Colonial style structure and its outlying cottages who wanted a little special treatment during their visit to the Smoky Mountains.
Lee Mellor said she and her husband were aware of the responsibility they were undertaking when they bought the place more than a dozen years ago. But they also knew it needed to grow to survive.
“You feel a terrible responsibility,” she said. “We felt that to support itself the Inn needed to grow. It needed more accommodation to sustain itself. We felt that our contribution would be to make the Inn sustainable so that when we die somebody else who buys it could say they could make a living here, which is very important.”
But making changes was a daunting task. “We were scared to death to change it,” Mellor said. “How would people feel?”
Mellor said they took great care when they added two additions to the original building, one on each side branching off the main dining room. One of the additions is set off a bit from the front.
“We were so careful; we worked with (architect) Tom Trotter because Tom had a connection, he was trained by Doug Bebb’s brother, who was the architect,” Mellor said. “One reason that part is set back the way it is, is so you couldn’t see it when you came over to the Inn. We wanted to kind of hide it from people.
“We were so happy when people would come in and say, we hadn’t noticed you’d made an addition.”
But adding new rooms didn’t mean regular guests would be willing to book those new accommodations. Mellor said some of those guests would refuse to move from “their room.”
As the years passed, she said many did try out the new rooms, though she admits one guest just this past weekend was offered a free upgrade to one of their “newer” rooms and refused.
“‘No,’ they said. ‘We don’t want a new room,’” she said they told her. “I told them that was just fine.”
Making people feel at home was been a tradition set forth by Doug Bebb and his family and then continued by the Youngs. Mellor said the Youngs were a little hesitant about selling because they loved it so much.
“They were extremely fond of Buckhorn because it was such an important part of their life,” Mellor said. She still speaks with Rachael Young on occasion. “She tells me, because we remain friends, and it’s the nicest thing that anybody could say to me, is that she made the right decision in selling it to us.”
Ellen Bebb, the youngest daughter of Doug and June Bebb (who married in 1951 after Doug’s first wife Audrey passed away in 1950), said it was very hard for her when the Inn was sold the same year of her mother’s death. She grew up onsite and worked there starting when she was 12.
“It was much more difficult than the sale of our family home 10 years later,” she said. “Our lives were centered around the Inn, and I still maintain friendships with a number of our former guests.”
Pittman Center Mayor Glenn Cardwell has childhood memories of the construction of Buckhorn Inn, which Mellor said was named after a small stream in the vicinity.
“We thought it was a good thing to come about,” he said. The city had a few hotels at the time, but nothing like the Buckhorn Inn. “We thought to have a hotel called an inn in our neck of the woods was unique, in a country setting.”
Some of the memories Cardwell recalls from the Inn, which at times employed his brother and and aunt, was how during World War II, Doug Bebb called on his mother to purchase eggs and hens to help feed his guests. The Inn also had its own garden for fresh vegetables, Cardwell recalled.
Cardwell said he’s never stayed at the Inn, but like many area residents he’s enjoyed dining there.
“On special occasions we go up to the Inn,” he said.
Rick and Janis Glover discovered the Inn about five years ago. They are Michigan residents who winter in the Smoky Mountains.
“We went out there and absolutely fell in love with it,” Rick Glover said. “Where it’s situated, the property is spectacular.”
When they found out about the nightly meals, they started making monthly reservations. “When we have someone visit us, that’s where we always take them,” he said.
“It is just a country inn type feeling,” he said of the atmosphere at Buckhorn Inn during dinner service. “It’s not like being in a restaurant. You know there’s a lot of history here. From the time you turn up toward the property (from the road) to the time you walk in. There’s warmth from the fireplace going in the winter months. It’s such a good feeling, so relaxing. It’s something special.
“If you want a special evening, go to the Buckhorn.”
Cardwell said the success of the Buckhorn Inn can be attributed to its quaintness and beauty. “It has earned its place in history,” he said.
Bebb said she thinks her father would be pleased with how the Inn has continued and thrived through the years.
“I am so thankful that the oasis my father created 75 years ago continues,” she said. “He took a small farm and planted literally thousands of trees to showcase that amazing view and to embrace the Inn. The Mellors have been marvelous stewards, and I think both my folks would agree.”