Don’t go looking for your skis just yet; however, this idea has an interesting history going back at least to 1920.
It is well known that General John Wilder had a smaller retreat constructed on the Roan in 1877 and then in 1885 built the iconic Cloudland Hotel, which for a variety of reasons offered was abandoned in 1910 and mercifully torn down in 1915. W.E. Ragsdale of Morganton was in charge of the Hotel for years prior to its demise. In 1920 a newspaper article stated that he went to New York and successfully organized the Roan Mountain Hotel and Improvement Company with capital of $400,000 (over $2 million in 2018.) He had plans drawn for a “mammoth stone hotel” and intended to build also an incline cable line. We have pursued this part of the story with no success.
In 1924 as a part of the effort to determine a site for a “great national park” in Eastern America, representatives from the Southern Appalachian National Park Committee visited Roan Mountain accompanied by attorney John McBee and Brown McKinney of Bakersville. The Committee’s final decision of course resulted in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
In 1934 a game sanctuary was proposed for the top of the mountain, in 1938 a North Carolina State Park was proposed, in 1939 a public road from Bakersville “to the peak” was begun, and in 1940 the U.S. Forest Service announced that it was to acquire the 3,000 acres atop Roan Mountain and provide public access on what was once a toll road. That road opened in June 1942 and in October USFS announced that the field work for a master plan by E.H. Reinsmith had been completed; however, actual implementation would wait until the end of the war.
Perhaps one impetus for restarting the Roan road and development efforts was a number of news articles in 1945 that implied and/or stated emphatically that Tennessee was making great strides to “steal” – in terms of economic advantage – the recently created Great Smoky Mountains National Park as well as Roan Mountain, with TN building a hard-surfaced road to Carvers Gap.
In February 1947 S.T. Henry from Spruce Pine, John C. McBee from Bakersville, and a former member of the state highway commission met with Governor Cherry in Raleigh. The meeting was an obvious success, because in June 1947 Governor Cherry made a two-day trip to the area and met on top of the Roan with U.S. Tennessee Senator A. Tom Stewart, who has just attended the 2ndTennessee Rhododendron Festival.
On Sunday following the visit, State Highway Chairman A.H. Graham announced in Spruce Pine that a $500,000 ($4.5m today) road-building project had “passed the blueprint stage.”
In April 1948, the U.S. Forest Service announced that architectural plans had been completed for development on top of the Roan, including a loop road through the rhododendron gardens, a large central lodge on the Cloudland footprint, and cottages “scattered among the balsams.” In July the NC Highway Commission announced the road project formally and in August surveying for the 12-mile roadway began. However, little progress appears in the news until November 1949 when an additional $200,000 in U.S. Forest Service Funds were announced with a mention again for a “lodge by private interests.”
In December 1949 the Roan Mountain Development Committee was announced by D.J. Morriss, Supervisor of Pisgah-Croatan National Forests. The initial meeting was held 13 December with S.T. Henry of Spruce Pine elected chairman, Joe Summers of Johnston City, vice chairman, and other representatives being William Waddell of Elizabethton, E.C. Guy of Newland, and John C. McBee of Bakersville serving along with several Forest Service officials.
In April 1950, a newspaper announcement indicated that bidding was opened in March for construction of the TN highway to the Roan and was to open in May for the NC side. The announcement said that a hotel was to be built along with rental cottages, grocery stores, and gas stations, all with private capital. A separate article for the first time reported that Morriss had been investigating the potential for “big time skiing for Western North Carolina.”
In May 1951 S.T. Henry speaking for the Roan Mountain Advisory Committee announced that a mile-long ski run with an automatic tow was being planned for the Roan and was to be opened in the 1952-53 season.
Beginning in January 1952, accounts of Committee meetings were announced, an ice skating rink under construction at Carver’s gap, a Forest Service and Committee inspection trip in March, announcement of the companion project “Crimson Laurel Way,” in October that construction bids were to be advertised that fall, and in November a headline saying “3rdTourist Hotel Looms for Peak of Roan Mountain” with credit given the Advisory Committee.”
In March 1953 a newspaper announced that “when Forest Service officials and interested private citizens, members of the Roan Mountain Advisory Committee, gathered around to study bids, there weren’t any” and also that the Advisory Committee will meet “to look over the situation.” A later article indicated that a meeting of the Committee was to take place April 10 in Newland. In May 1953, an article headline says, “Roan Mountain Is Getting a New Look,” and another describes in detail the upcoming Rhododendron Festival, but there is no mention again of the project. That is until January 1955 when a very strange article under the banner shown above described the project as if it was just getting started. In September 1955 an article announced that plans had been made for an extension of the loop road, additional parking, and construction of an 18-foot tower. No skis, no ice skates, no hotel. End of story!