When a group of Pennsylvania investors stumbled upon Blount County, Tennessee at the turn of the twentieth century, they were looking for resources to produce leather. They found a great deal more than they bargained for.
East Tennessee’s rich natural bounty wasn’t limited to the virgin forests and streams they sought for their factories. The lush mountains and valleys appealed to visitors of all sorts – industrialists angling for the next boom, travelers looking for respite and settlers searching for home.
The inn that housed those adventurers in 1903 still welcomes them today.
Chilhowee Inn, located in Walland, Tennessee, is mere footsteps from the spot where the town was founded as an important railroad terminus in the shadows of the Great Smoky Mountains. Its owners, John and Carolyn Pullias, are stewards of the five-room bed-and-breakfast’s storied history.
When the husband-and-wife duo purchased Blount County’s oldest inn in 2005, it had lain dormant for two decades. In addition to restoring the original structure – all of which still exists – the new owners added modern conveniences such as air conditioning and indoor plumbing. They also built new amenities: a walking trail, a treehouse gazebo and gardens.
“It was fascinating finding different structures within the house and then discovering from the old pictures, ‘oh, this is what that used to be,’” said John Pullias. “We tried to stay as close as we could to the original intent of the inn.”
Chilhowee Inn’s roots may be rustic, but its luxuries are anything but. It has won awards for its gardens, hospitality and service – a reflection of its owners’ passion for making guests feel at home in their home, nestled in the mountains and overlooking the Little River.
“Our biggest enjoyment is the guests we have,” said Pullias. “We get a lot of first-time B&B guests who say they’ll never again stay at any other type of hotel.”
Why? Because of the inn’s tranquility and convenience, says Pullias. It’s just 25 minutes from Knoxville’s airport and on the border of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
“A lot of people just enjoy sitting on the rocking chairs on the porch and letting their troubles flow out on to the river so it can take them away,” said Pullias. “We’ve got mountains and trails, and we’re ten minutes from the most visited national park in the country. We feel blessed to live here.”
The inn serves a country breakfast every morning, which includes its world-famous cheese grits – labeled as such by Pullias after a French traveler returned home and raved about the Southern delicacy. Its diverse, historic rooms offer a peaceful escape, while its location in the center of quaint Walland provides easy access to nearly a dozen antique shops, live bluegrass music and seasonal festivals.
There’s a third member of the family partnership: their son Thomas, who worked on the renovation and continues to help with upkeep. Working where they live is a consuming lifestyle for John and Carolyn, but one they wouldn’t trade for any job in the world.
“My son once made the comment, ‘As much time as you work here, you’re probably making about a dollar an hour,’” Pullias said. “But when you work in this business, you can’t look at it that way. Do I have enough money to pay the bills and do what I enjoy? That’s the most important thing.”
What keeps the Pullias family energized each morning? Building personal history with the guests – and building on the the inn’s illustrious history.
“We have lots of return guests, and no one can pay you a better compliment than to return. We have become close friends with some of our guests,” said Pullias.
“We’ve been able to piece together old pictures and stories from people who used to work at the inn, and we’ve tried to keep those together in a scrapbook,” Pullias added. “Whenever we need to pass the inn on to the next owners, we’ve got something to give them and hopefully have them add to it.”
“We’re just another part of its history. It should outlast us.”