A Jackson County landmark has changed hands.
Pulling off the Great Smoky Mountains Expressway onto the Cabin Flats Road, within an earshot of Waynesville, a cold wind whipped against the pickup truck, signaling to any and all that winter is far from over here in Western North Carolina.
The quiet road soon turns from pavement to gravel to dirt. And just as quickly the Balsam Mountain Inn appears, looming high above Cabin Flats like a postcard of a forgotten era, perhaps lost in the mailroom of time, a point in history when style and class were synonymous.
The first time Merrily Teasley saw the Balsam Mountain Inn was somewhat dreamlike. It was during a full moon hike that would reroute her life.
“There was no illumination except for the moon,” Teasley recalled. “It just looked like magic. It was gorgeous.”
It’s always entertaining to get back off main-traveled roads and poke around in the little villages here in the mountains. Each such place has its own story. And Balsam — just off the four-lane between Waynesville and Sylva — is no exception. For such a pretty little place it has a pretty big story; indeed, it has a ghost story. More about that later.
When Merrily Teasley returned for her second first day at the Balsam Mountain Inn in early September, a familiar couple was sitting on the entry room couch — a St. Louis duo who had visited the inn those years when she had owned it. They were there to herald her return.
“I thought, ‘Oh my. This feels good,’” Teasley said.
Teasley bought the historic inn on the courthouse steps in 1990, saving it from foreclosure and owned it until she retired in 2004. She has now resumed ownership after the former owners were forced to declare bankruptcy — and once again rescuing the inn on the courthouse steps.
She first spotted the 104-year-old inn, which sits off the Blue Ridge Parkway between Waynesville and Sylva, while night hiking with a friend. A full moon was shining down on the building.
“It looked magical,” Teasley said. “The bones of the building were just exquisite.”
Looking at the building in full daylight gave her a more realistic impression but it did not quell her attraction. The neglected bed and breakfast was not for sale at the time, recalled Teasley, who lived in Tennessee at the time.
But, when she found herself in the area a year later, Teasley found the inn up for sale. Although she was leaving the next day to go home, Teasley was able to pencil in a 6 a.m. meeting with the Realtor before she left.
“I had five hours to think about (buying) it driving over to Tennessee,” she said.
The 42,000 square-foot, 50-guest-room country inn is now one of seven structures she has restored.
“I love old buildings,” Teasley said.
Because the inn is a historic landmark, Teasley had to work within the parameters of the state historic preservation department guidelines. The structure features a mixture of original aspects, such as its molding, as well as accurate replicas from the early 1900s.
Although it has been moved from its original place, a small sink still sits on the wall in the hallway near the gift shop. It was once said that the water from the sink had healing properties.
Teasley’s particular affection for the Balsam Mountain Inn is apparent as she relayed her first time seeing the inn and how green growth creeps up the mountains as the trees and other plant life begin to leaf out in the spring.
“It’s the prettiest place on earth in the spring,” she said.
Teasley officially regained ownership of the inn last month and is busy returning the building to its former glory.
“The book I was reading when I came up here in September I haven’t finished,” said Teasley, who used to read several books a week.
Even her dog is the same as before: Grover is just older now. The white-and-brown shelter dog, Teasley said, didn’t take much time to re-acclimate to his surroundings. He immediately returned to his spot behind the check-in counter, Teasley said.
When she returned to the inn this past September, one of the first orders of business was to let former patrons know she had returned.
Teasley sent out 800 notes to previous guests, telling them that the inn is “going back to the way I used to run it,” she said. Of those, she estimated that she received 220 replies.
Although things are much the same this time around, Teasley herself is more experienced. That’s helped everyone associated with the inn.
“You know what to expect this time around,” said Tom Tiberi from his perch behind the check-in desk.
Tiberi helps Teasley keep the inn. He worked for the couple who owned it during the late 2000s until they were forced to declare bankruptcy. Former regular visitors to the inn had stopped patronizing it, saying the experience had declined without Teasley at the helm.
The staff is “willing to do whatever they can to make it work again,” Teasley said, adding that Tiberi had maintained the inn while it was between owners.
Now, Tiberi’s sister, Mary Kay Morrow, has joined him as head chef of the inn’s restaurant, where dishes are made almost solely from fresh produce. Even some of its fish is shipped regularly from Hawaii, Teasley said. It is caught, packaged and delivered to the inn within 48 hours.
While breakfast is included in the cost of the room, the inn is open to anyone for dinner. The restaurant can seat up to 164 guests in its main dining room and patio. Smaller rooms are available for private dining or meetings.
The Balsam Mountain Inn will remain open throughout the winter months. Check-in time is after 3 p.m., and room rates range from $145 to $225 a night. The inn is located at 68 Seven Springs Drive in Balsam in the Haywood-Jackson county line.
The inn also has a restaurant, which is open to the public for dinner and breakfast daily, year-round. The dining room and patio can seat up to 164 guests, and smaller rooms are available for private dining or meetings. Musicians regularly perform at the restaurant.
855.456.9498 or balsammountaininn.net.