Lake Lure and Chimney Rock have long been known as sanctuaries for relaxation and rejuvenation. The town of Lake Lure derives its existence from the Morse Family. In 1925, they established Carolina Mountain Power Company and funded the building of a dam on the Broad River, which created Lake Lure. The scenic beauty of the area also made the region a frequent location for tourists, and more interestingly, for the motion picture business.
One of the oldest legacies in Lake Lure and Chimney Rock, other than the towering monolith from which Chimney Rock derives its name, is the Esmeralda Inn. The storied past of the Esmeralda dates to 1891 when Colonel Thomas Turner built the Inn. It was opened in 1892 and was used as the first stage coach stop in the area. The Inn was instrumental in luring tourists into the area.
The Inn burnt to the ground in 1917, but was rebuilt on the original foundation. It then served as a post office for some time. The Inn was destroyed by fire again in 1996 just after a massive flood wiped out many of the businesses in Chimney Rock. It was rebuilt again with much of its original historic character restored.
The Inn was “discovered” around 1915, and became host to several motion picture makers and cast members such as Mary Pickford, Gloria Swanson, Douglas Fairbanks, and Clark Gable, who used the Esmeralda as a hideout while in town filming.
On August 30, 1919, the Asheville Citizen-Times wrote about a “big feature” being filmed in the area. The actor Harry Morey and a company of vitagraph players resided at the Esmeralda Inn while filming The Man Who Might Have Been. According to the director of the company, the Esmeralda and surrounding area had been a “favorite location… for years,” and “its wonderful scenery, [was] so well suited to the production of pictures…”
Indeed, a number of movies were filmed in the area. Some of the more notable ones were Thunder Road, Firestarter, Dirty Dancing, My Fellow Americans, and The Last of the Mohicans.
UNC Asheville is the repository for the Morse Family Chimney Rock Collection. One unique piece that we happened upon in the collection is a picture book from the 1920’s entitled, “Lake Lure at Chimney Rock: A Pictureland.” The book references the Esmeralda Inn at the beginning:
“Frequent, indeed, were the tallyho parties that started out from the old Battery Park hotel, in Asheville, and found welcome at the fireside of the Esmeralda. It was at Chimney Rock that Frances Hodgson Burnett wrote her romantic drama, entitled ‘Esmeralda,’ and Christian Reid declared that here, indeed, was the crowing jewel of the ‘Land of the Sky.'”
Frances Christine Fisher Tiernan, pen name Christian Reid, would go on to write The Land of the Sky, a novel about “adventures in mountain by-ways,” in 1876. However, Reid, like many others who enjoyed visiting the area, likely could not foretell how truly popular and loved both the Esmeralda Inn and the Lake Lure and Chimney Rock areas would eventually become to The Land of the Sky.
Ashley McGhee Whittle, Special Collections
Picture Book, Morse Family Chimney Rock Park, D.H. Ramsey Library, Special Collections, University of North Carolina Asheville.
Postcard of the Esmeralda Inn, Sixty Four Selected Views of Western North Carolina, D. H. Ramsey Library, Special Collections, University of North Carolina at Asheville.
“Harry Morey Comes to Esmeralda Inn,” Asheville Citizen-Times, August 30, 1919.
Esmeralda Inn History, https://theesmeralda.com/about-the-esmeralda-inn/esmeralda-inn-history/