This story was originally published in the August/September 2014 Issue of Chattanooga Magazine.
Some pockets of the South are unusual, developing in different ways than others. Time moves slowly, especially in the southern Appalachian Mountains where remote communities often become known for the activities and aspirations of the residents.
One might think of mountain arts, music or even religious snake-handling fervor. But when a northern oilman set aside over 1,000 acres of southern woodland for hunting and fishing he may not have gotten salvation, but he found a balm for the soul nonetheless.
In 1890, Pittsburgh oilman E.H. Jennings bought a large tract of land in the Cashiers, North Carolina area. Jennings settled there, and although recreation and relaxation were powerful initiatives, his entrepreneurial side held sway. He started the Toxaway Company which created several fabulous resorts — the Fairfield Inn, The Sapphire Inn, the Lodge, the Franklin Hotel and the Toxaway Inn. Coinciding with the coming of the railroad, he had an earthen dam built to create Lake Toxaway, the first manmade lake in Appalachia. He also operated a logging operation and a successful trout farm.
After four generations, the Jennings family retains the Sunburst Trout Farm and shapes the development of an 800-acre tract known as Lonesome Valley. Their intention has been to honor the conservation philosophy and desire of their ancestor to preserve the beauty of this distinctive canyon. The box canyon makes up the largest granite face east of the Mississippi and is home to wildlife indigenous to the eastern woodlands—wild turkey, bobcat and bear. Mountain streams feed two ponds, stocked by Lonesome Valley with Rainbow Trout, bass and bream.
The Jennings family has engaged exciting professionals from a number of fields—architects, conservationists, a culinary giant and a fly fisherman—bringing their talents to the project.
In 2009, Lonesome Valley began working with Chef John Fleer who was the Executive Chef at Blackberry Farm, a luxury resort in East Tennessee, and a James Beard Award finalist. Within the next few years, Fleer would open the Canyon Kitchen on the grounds of the community and create a menu that has captured the best of the farm-to-table movement.
The last weekend in May seared Carolina bison ribeye, rhubarb-glazed pork tenderloin and grilled Mahi-Mahi were on the prix-fee menu complemented by local shiitake mushrooms, fingerling potatoes and Swiss chard, kale with roasted shallot hash and roasted carrots with pickled fennel. The dessert finale featured a Canyon Kitchen version of strawberry shortcake that would inspire one to write home about.
The restaurant occupies the old Jennings barn, freshly repurposed, yet authentic in its preservation. The addition of indoor and outdoor fireplaces, extra barn doors that may be rolled back to completely open the space for indoor/outdoor use only adds to the charm. The restaurant is surrounded by gardens with herbs, vegetables and edible flowers. Visitors travel from miles around to enjoy a dinner—Lonesome Valley style—with its granite walls looming in the background.
The community is an active one where a variety of ages are represented. With over 10 miles of hiking trails, homeowners and their guests are often seen with their dogs. At one trailhead a couple with a pair of large Newfoundlands dons daypacks filled with water bottles and a light lunch to enjoy at a favorite picnic spot before the afternoon heat sets in. Still others gear up for fly-fishing at an early hour.
“There are 500 miles of world-class trout streams within a one-hour drive of Lonesome Valley,” says Foster. The nearby Davidson River has been touted as one of the top-10 trout rivers in the state. Foster says he’s never seen a community like this one, where 70 percent of the residents fish, and having the fishing on-site—where they can just walk out the door—makes all the difference.
Cashiers has abundant streams and waterfalls, but this western North Carolina village has other amenities that visitors enjoy—a grocery store like no other nearby, with incredible produce including an olive bar, fresh local vegetables, a huge wine selection and other delicacies.
On Highway 107 one may shop in Francie Hargrove Interior Design, a colorful boutique filled with designer clothes, gifts and furniture. Cashiers’ antique shops and farmer’s markets draw crowds on weekends throughout the summer and fall.
Every town should have a coffee house and Buck’s Coffee at the crossroads of 107 and Highway 64, satisfies the caffeine cravings of the populace. In fact, there are plenty of culinary options. Lonesome Valley’s Canyon Kitchen general manager, Brien Peterkin also owns Cornucopia, a casual dining restaurant with delightful food and a friendly atmosphere. The restaurant, at 16 Cashiers School Road, is open from April through October with dining on it large screened-in back porch.
The quaint hamlet of nearby Silva, North Carolina is a place to go for wine tastings and to see craft breweries like Heinzelmannchen Brewery or Innovation Brewing.
After a day of hiking, fishing or touring, guests of Lonesome Valley may return to Laurel cottage, one of two upscale rental cabins (nightly rate $325), open to those who want to get to know Cashiers and Lonesome Valley more intimately.
Charleston resident Angela Winther says, “The Canyon is a model of agrarian simplicity, communal authenticity and historic preservation.” Aside from the historic barn which houses the Canyon Kitchen, the caretaker’s cabin has been renovated and repurposed as the newest jewel in the Lonesome Valley collection—the Spa at Lonesome Valley.
The Spa opened in June and is booking appointments for an assortment of treatments including signature and hot stone massages, facials, manicures and pedicures. It will be catering to bridal parties that have scheduled weddings and receptions in the Valley. Special Events Director Sarah Jennings arranges destination weddings for many couples who have attachments to the area for one reason or another. Sarah is a descendent of E.H. Jennings himself, and has an understanding of the property and the magic it will conjure for life’s best moments. She says, “Lonesome Valley is a place rich in history that our guests want to be a part of.”
Photography courtesy of Lonesome Valley