A local Dillsboro inn had four recipes featured in the Southern Living cookbook, Off the Eaten Path: Favorite Southern Dives and 150 Recipes that Made Them Famous.
The Jarrett House, a favorite Dillsboro bed and breakfast for the past 127 years, has received national recognition for its regional expertise. Pages 160 to 163 of the cookbook contain photos of the Jarrett House, an introduction to the restaurant and four of its famous recipes.
Morgan Murphy, the former travel and food editor for Southern Living magazine, toured the South in his old Cadillac, searching for the region’s best restaurants and recipes. He stopped at the Jarrett House, giving the GPS coordinates for fellow travelers, on his way through North Carolina.
“The cooking here is as straightforward and simple as their buttery biscuits. You won’t find complex ingredients or cutting-edge techniques. But what you will find is delectable Southern fare served with a smile,” Murphy wrote about the Jarrett House.
Murphy’s favorite was the chicken and dumplings. “I’d be a dumpling myself if I lived anywhere near the Jarrett House,” he wrote. The cookbook lists the ingredients and preparation instructions for the dish, including the diner secret: two kinds of pepper give the recipe a “country kick.”
Murphy included the Jarrett House’s 3-step recipe for Vinegar Pie, describing the taste as “something between a poundcake and a pecan pie without pecans. Yum.” The Jarrett House’s “easy, four-ingredient biscuits” and house apples (2 pounds sliced apples, 1 cup sugar) were also featured.
The Hartbargers have owned the Jarrett House for 36 years; in that time, Southern Living has visited the restaurant and written articles about it periodically, which the restaurant has kept for display. According to Jim Hartbarger, Southern Living has always offered an extremely positive response.
Hartbarger said the Jarrett House was chosen over other restaurants “because of its age and standards. It was a no-miss situation.” When Murphy came to visit the restaurant last year, he sat down for lunch and interviewed the staff, making sure he had a story to accompany the recipes.
“Southern Living has always been good to us. It’s an honor, and we’re really proud,” Hartbarger said.
By Tessa Rodes • SMN Intern
Depending on which town leader you ask, Dillsboro is prepared to co-sign on a more than $300,000 loan for the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad — or, short of that, the town is inclined to help the railroad in some significant, still-to-be-determined manner.
That loan amount is nearly double the town’s annual budget of $171,610.
“We’d sign if need be,” Dillsboro Alderman David Gates said flatly. “If they have adequate collateral, we said we would.”
Gates’ fellow board member, David Jones, was a bit more circumspect about the potentially controversial agreement: “We’re interested, and we certainly want the railroad here — we’ve agreed to listen to more details.”
The railroad is privately owned by businessman Al Harper, who has asked Jackson County commissioners for $95,176 in cash and $322,000 in the form of a loan to keep the tourist trains coming to Dillsboro on a regular basis. This is less than Harper originally sought. In early March, he asked for more than $800,000 from Jackson County in the form of grants and a loan, but later downsized the dollar request.
Swain County has contributed $25,000 to help the railway, and the Swain County Tourism Development Authority has kicked in another $25,000, said Bryson City Mayor Brad Walker.
“It’s an economic engine for Bryson City,” Walker said in explanation of the willingness in Swain County to fund a private, for-profit enterprise. “I call it our Harrah’s.”
That would be a reference to Harrah’s Cherokee Casino, the money machine for the neighboring Cherokee Indian Reservation.
The railway recently bought an old steam engine — which is currently in Maine — and wants to put it in service along with its diesel-powered engines. Harper said the money from the county would help make that vision a reality.
In return for the loan from the county, the train in exchange says it will run 110 to 120 days of service each year out of Dillsboro.
Harper told commissioners the excursions would create 15 to 20 new jobs in Jackson County, and bring in least 20,000 visitors annually to the tourism-dependent town.
Dillsboro served as the headquarters of Great Smoky Mountains Railway, an excursion railroad catering to tourists. About 60,000 people a year rode the train, and Dillsboro boomed — until the train pulled out in 2008.
Last year the Great Smoky Mountains Railway began limited, seasonal trips out of Dillsboro again. The company said in January that Dillsboro was put back on the schedule because the scenic little town of about 220 residents is a drawing card for the business. Currently, the train is advertising excursions from Bryson City to Dillsboro five days a week during the summer and four days a week during fall, according to its online schedule.
Dillsboro leaders would like to cement more spots in the train’s schedule.
According to draft minutes of the April 11 Dillsboro town board meeting, Mayor Mike Fitzgerald told his fellow board members, “Jackson County commissioners would like the Dillsboro Board of Alderman to co-sign the loan, provided that the GSMR gives adequate collateral to cover such a loan. David Gates made motion that the board agrees to support the Jackson County commissioners, providing sufficient collateral is given by GSMR. The motion was seconded by Tim Parris, and passed with four ayes, one abstention.”
Interim County Manager Chuck Wooten said county commissioners have not taken any formal action to ask Dillsboro to co-sign at this point.
“However, informal discussions among the commissioners generated this concept as an idea,” he said. “I believe Chairman (Jack) Debnam asked Mayor Fitzgerald to poll his members to determine if this might be something they would consider. Based on their action, it appears they would endorse this action once they feel comfortable with the pledged collateral to secure the loan.”
The county hasn’t yet received a formal loan application from the railway, Wooten said, adding, however, “I suspect the commissioners will feel more at ease approving a loan if Dillsboro is willing to co-sign.”
Wooten has previously explained that the $95,176 grant would be used to restore and paint the steam locomotive and exterior of first-class coaches. Wooten said he intends to consider this grant in the upcoming fiscal-year county budget, which commissioners have final say over.
“We will discuss their grant request during upcoming budget discussions ... I’m still hopeful I will have a budget document to submit to the commissioners on Monday, May 2,” he said.
The $322,000 revolving loan would pay for moving the newly purchased train from Maine to North Carolina. The county’s economic development arm manages the revolving loan fund. It would be up to county commissioners whether to approve the loan request.
Harper’s company, American Heritage Family Parks, owns two other tourist railroads in Colorado and Texas. Harper is one of the principle investors and owners of Ghost Town in the Sky amusement park in Maggie Valley, which has been in bankruptcy for two years. Harper has made an effort to buy the park out of bankruptcy, but has been unable to secure financing. Harper at one point had lined up a loan using the railroad as collateral, but the deal fell through. A new deal is pending, which involved transferring 49-percent ownership in the railroad to a newly created corporation for the purpose of piecing together a Ghost Town rescue.
Bringing regular train service back to Dillsboro greatly depends on whether Jackson County commissioners come up with dollars to help restore a steam engine and bring it here from Maine, Kim Albritton, vice president and general manager of Great Smoky Mountains Railway, said this week.
The railway has reduced the amount of money it’s seeking from Jackson County taxpayers from more than $800,000 down to $95,176 in cash and $322,000 in the form of a loan.
Albritton stopped short this week of flatly calling a thumb’s down from the county a deal breaker, instead characterizing such a commission vote as making “it more difficult” for the company to proceed.
The railway recently bought an old steam engine — which is currently in Maine — and wants to put it in service along with its diesel-powered engines.
If the county will help with that goal, the train in exchange will run 110 to 120 days of service each year out of Dillsboro. This, railway owner Al Harper has said, would create 15 to 20 new jobs in Jackson County, and bring in least 20,000 visitors annually to the tourism-dependent town.
Until 2008, Dillsboro served as the headquarters of Great Smoky Mountains Railway, an excursion railroad catering to tourists. About 60,000 people a year rode the train, and Dillsboro boomed — until the train pulled out. It moved its headquarters and main depot to Bryson City and quit running excursions to Dillsboro, which languished as result.
More business in the form of train-riding tourists returned last year when the Great Smoky Mountains Railway began limited, seasonal trips out of Dillsboro again.
Interim County Manager Chuck Wooten, who received the new funding request from Great Smoky Mountains Railway in late March, said the $95,176 grant would be used to restore and paint the steam locomotive and exterior of first-class coaches. Wooten said he intends to consider this grant in the upcoming fiscal-year county budget, which commissioners have final say over.
The $322,000 revolving loan would pay for moving the newly purchased train from Maine to North Carolina. The county’s economic development arm manages the revolving loan fund. It would be up to county commissioners whether to approve the loan request. Wooten said he doubted this would take place until sometime later this month.
Private land in Dillsboro might spare the historic Monteith House site from becoming home to a turntable for the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad, part of a plan to return regular train service to this tourism-dependent town.
Kim Albritton, the railway’s vice president and general manager, confirmed railroad representatives will talk with private landowners about the possibility of using their land for a turntable instead of Monteith Park as originally proposed. That has not taken place yet, she said.
Without a turntable, engines must travel in reverse, pushing the train’s cars instead of pulling them, when making the return trip back to Bryson City after an excursion to Dillsboro.
Previous discussions had involved putting the turntable in front of the barn near the Monteith House. The old farmstead house faces the proposed turntable site just a few hundred yards away. It would change — if not stop — plans to renovate and turn the house into an Appalachian Women’s Museum. The museum would honor and recognize the contributions of Appalachian women to this region.
Dillsboro Mayor Mike Fitzgerald emphasized that town leaders had considered using the town-owned, historic Monteith Park as “a last resort” only.
That falls in line with stipulations from the state, which in 2004 gave Dillsboro $250,000 to help fund the park. State rules mandate the town must “explain in detail which sites have been evaluated and where they are located and why Monteith Park is the only alternative” for a train turntable, according to an email dated Feb. 24 received by the town from LuAnn Bryan, a consultant for the N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation.
If the requirement to use “all practical alternatives” is met and no other site is viable, the town does have the state’s OK to let the train use Monteith Community Park, according to the email.
The turntable would then be built on about three-quarters of an acre. In return, the town would offer up two acres, known as the Vanderwoude property, for recreational development, according to town documents. The town would be required to replace the lost parkland.
Dillsboro resident Emma Wertenberger, who is heading up efforts to turn Monteith House into a museum, said she and other committee members haven’t given up on the idea.
“We still hope to have a home at the Monteith homestead,” she said.
Great Smoky Mountains Railway this week promised to return to Dillsboro in a big way, on this condition: Jackson County must come up with $817,176.
“We need to explore how we can work together and get that train here, and market it together,” railroad owner Alan Harper told county commissioners.
Taxpayers’ dollars would:
• Pay for moving a train set from Maine ($322,000 in the form of a grant).
• Restore and paint the locomotive and exterior coaches ($95,176, also a grant).
• Install a turntable in Dillsboro’s Monteith Park ($250,000 in the form of a loan).
• $150,000 in annual tourism advertising funds (in the form of a matching grant).
Until 2008, Dillsboro served as the headquarters of Great Smoky Mountains Railway, an excursion railroad catering to tourists. About 60,000 people a year rode the train, and Dillsboro boomed — until the train moved its administrative office and main depot to Bryson City. Dillsboro languished in the wake of that decision. Last year, and even more this year, Great Smoky Mountains Railway did begin limited, seasonal excursions out of Dillsboro again.
Now this news — 110 to 120 days of train service each year, 15 to 20 new jobs created in Jackson County, low estimates of at least 20,000 visitors to the tourism-dependent town, and the possibility of turning Monteith Park into a train destination in its own right, too. Harper said he has a steam engine that doesn’t work, and he’d be willing to possibly park it at Monteith. And, another sweetener — an unused metal bridge the town could use to span the creek in Monteith Park. All that for just more than $800,000, Harper said.
County commissioners clearly were not surprised by the request or presentation (the details were included in a pre-assembled packet for commissioners and reporters. Plus, Harper said he’d been discussing the deal with Dillsboro town leaders “individually,” and the possibility of a turntable had been bubbling about the town of just more than 200 residents for the past few weeks).
A turntable would do just what it says — serve as a means of turning the train around. Town leaders, Harper said, have indicated they believe Monteith Park would work for that purpose.
The train excursions would, he said, be first class using a steam engine. Commissioner Charles Elders asked when they would start if this deal is struck, and Harper said possibly by mid-summer. Commissioners took no action, with Chairman Jack Debnam telling Harper the county looks forward to working with the railroad.
In many ways, Brian Hockman and wife Carrie of Claymates, a “paint your own pottery experience,” serve as the perfect business portrait of the new Dillsboro.
This is Dillsboro post the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad. A Dillsboro that maybe hasn’t exactly risen from the ashes like some resurrected phoenix, but a town that has, nonetheless, persevered and survived.
Claymates is located in the downtown section on Front Street: within a hop, skip and a jump of the railroad tracks that run through the town. The train once served as a major business conduit, disgorging crowds of tourists — about 60,000 a year — into the waiting arms of merchants.
Brian and Carrie Hockman came to Dillsboro a short time after the tourist train pulled out in 2008. In the midst of the recession, the train consolidated business operations to its new headquarters in nearby Bryson City and canceled passenger service to Dillsboro. The train moved just one county away, but the shift might as well have been to the moon as far as Dillsboro merchants were concerned.
People lost jobs — 22 full-time railroad employees and a handful of part-time workers were stranded. Stores lost money. Businesses went elsewhere.
So why did Brian and Carrie Hockman settle on the economically (and for merchants, emotionally) depressed Dillsboro during such a bleak period?
The rent was low in those just post-train days, and Pennsylvania native Brian Hockman was eager to start a business showcasing his photography. As a sideline, his wife started Claymates, a pick-out-a-cute-porcelain-figure-and-paint-it-yourself business — and the sideline became the mainline as the couple built a successful store. Brian and Carrie Hockman don’t depend heavily on tourists and walk-ins. Claymates instead relies more on events such as birthday parties, girls-nights out and office parties.
So recent news that the Great Smoky Mountains Railway has once again expanded seasonal excursions into Dillsboro doesn’t matter that much to Brian Hockman. Truth be told, he really just hopes his rent won’t increase as a result.
Other business owners in this small Jackson County town are more excited than that. But they, too, remain cautious — any help during these hard economic times is, of course, welcome news. Just be clear on this: Dillsboro won’t ever put all of its eggs back in that one basket again.
Great Smoky Mountains Railroad started four-hour roundtrip excursions from Bryson City to Dillsboro in January, and plans to continue them through this month. Tourists riding the train have an hour-and-a-half layover to wander the town.
On occasion, that layover means an extra customer or two for Jill Cooper at Haircuts by Jill on Front Street. Men who decide they need a trimming and a place to sit while their wives shop, she said, or men ordered in by their wives who want to visit other stores without them hovering nearby. Additionally, some of the train’s employees get their hair cut while in Dillsboro.
But even though the direct business benefit might be of marginal importance for Haircuts by Jill, Cooper is very happy the train is back — no matter for how briefly, or for such a short layover.
“It’s exciting,” she said.
The train has brought back a certain liveliness missing since it left, said Cooper, who lives — as well as works — in Dillsboro.
Limited runs by Great Smoky Mountains Railroad started back up in 2010, with the train bringing tourists in June, July, August and October. Peak season summer and fall runs were a good sign, but trips in the winter are an even better indication that Dillsboro might again secure a place in the train’s long-range regional vision.
“It is a bigger deal because we are coming in the winter,” agreed Sarah Conley, marketing manager for Great Smoky Mountains Railroad.
It turns out Dillsboro’s character was popular with train riders, and that had a lot to do with the train’s decision to restore passenger service to the town.
“Dillsboro is such a quaint little lively town, and it has a lot of strongholds. It is an added bonus for riders to have a destination. When they get off they say, ‘Oh this is neat. It is a little quaint historic town,’” Conley said.
Additionally, the 32-mile roundtrip from Bryson City to Dillsboro has sights that interest most riders, Conley said. There is the 836-foot Cowee Tunnel to pass through, The Fugitive movie site to eyeball, and the scenic Tuckasegee River to enjoy.
“Another thing that is really neat on the way to Dillsboro is they go by the train shop where our engineers work on the trains,” Conley said.
While the recession is still taking its toll on tourism, Conley said ridership was up last year compared to 2009.
Many of the passengers on these winter excursions are day-trippers, the marketing manager said. People who have visited Harrah’s Cherokee Casino and are looking for more things to do. Tourists who come over the Smokies by way of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, Tenn., for an opportunity to ride the train, and North Carolina residents who are in search of something to do on the weekend.
In early January, new customers came into Twin Oaks Gallery and told owner Susan Leveille they had learned about her shop after visiting Dillsboro via a ride on the train.
“That was more than I had heard in a long time,” Leveille said of the train-Dillsboro connection.
Twin Oaks Gallery, which features works in pottery, glass, iron and such by local artisans and craftspeople, isn’t in direct sight of the train tracks. That means Leveille can’t be sure exactly how much business Great Smoky Mountains Railroad funnels into her store — she must rely on customers to tip her off.
“In concept, though, I think it is a great thing they are making trips here and connecting with Dillsboro again,” the longtime business owner said. “It can’t be anything but good for us.”
Staff writer Becky Johnson contributed to this report.
One of the more traditional holiday experiences in Western North Carolina takes place in Dillsboro the first two weekends of December.
Each year, this small mountain village is awash in the glow of white paper bag luminaries during the Dillsboro Festival of Lights & Luminaries.
This year’s festival is Dec. 3-4 and Dec. 10-11. On these special Friday and Saturday evenings, the town’s merchant “elves” illuminate the streets and sidewalks with more than 2,500 luminaries. The merchants also flip the switches on strands of small white lights trimming the town’s buildings, many of which date to the 1800s.
Once Dillsboro is aglow, carolers fill the streets, musicians stroll through town playing Christmas favorites, and Santa visits with children at Town Hall. Shopkeepers add to the merriment by staying open late and serving holiday treats with hot cider and cocoa.
New in 2010 are horse-drawn carriage rides on both weekends, and performances by the Smoky Mountain High School Show Choir on Dec. 3 and Dec. 4.
“Folks tell us every year how genuine this event is, and how much they enjoy it,” said Julie Spiro, tourism director for Jackson County. “It’s a nice combination of cool winter weather and warm holiday spirit.”
The Festival of Lights & Luminaries begins each evening at dusk and runs until 9 p.m. There is no admission charge and lodging is plentiful with more than half of Jackson’s County guest rooms located in Dillsboro or within a 15-minute drive.
For information, go to www.visitdillsboro.org, or call the Jackson County Visitors Center at 800.962.1911.
The town of Dillsboro will host Western Carolina University faculty, staff and students during a special event called “Destination: Dillsboro!” on Thursday, Nov. 18, from 5 to 8 p.m.
Designed to show Dillsboro’s appreciation for WCU, the event will feature merchants staying open late and offering free samples and discounts especially for the WCU community.
The evening will feature a raffle drawing for numerous prizes from Dillsboro merchants for faculty and staff and a scavenger hunt using the social network Twitter for students.
To be eligible for the prizes, faculty and staff will enter their registration forms into a basket at the Jarrett House, which is serving as headquarters for the event. Registration forms are being sent through the WCU e-mail system, and prizes will be drawn throughout the evening. Once visitors register at the Jarrett House, they will be given a new holiday shopping guide that provides an updated map of the town and ideas for holiday gift giving from Dillsboro.
Mayor Mike Fitzgerald will be greeting guests and making an official declaration of appreciation for WCU at the Jarrett House at 6 p.m.
“We’re looking forward to a great night,” Fitzgerald said. “The town will be decorated in purple and gold, but we’re rolling out the red carpet for the Catamounts. We hope WCU folks and their families will come down — if only for a little while — to check out the shops and eat at the restaurants. We’ve made a special effort to provide free child care and activities for the kids, so the whole family can enjoy the event.”
Destination: Dillsboro! is the latest event in a recent partnership forged the town and WCU. The overall goal of the partnership is economic revitalization. Numerous faculty, staff and students from across the university are working on a variety of projects including small business counseling, survey research, marketing, public relations, broadcasting, arts, entertainment and special events.
— By Matthew Hoagland, WCU
The Western North Carolina Pottery Festival expects record attendance this fall as the juried festival continues to attract master potters from across the U.S.
This year’s event will be held from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 6, on the streets of downtown Dillsboro.
The festival features 42 clay artists, each demonstrating their craft throughout the day; roughly half of the potters hail from the mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee, while the other half are from as away as: Texas, Iowa, Wisconsin, New Jersey, Illinois and Ohio.
“The festival has taken off higher than we ever imagined,” said organizer Joe Frank McKee of Dillsboro’s Tree House Pottery. “Attendance increases each year and the potters who apply get better and better. What started as a local pottery festival has blossomed into more of a regional and national pottery festival.”
Admission is $3 and includes a ticket for a day-long raffle. Children under 12 are admitted free.
828.631.5100, or www.wncpotteryfestival.com. For lodging information call the Jackson County Visitors Center at 800.962.1911.
The sixth annual Western North Carolina Pottery Festival is set for Saturday, Nov. 6, in Dillsboro.
This juried festival showcases more than 40 master potters demonstrating a variety of techniques.
The WNC Pottery Festival was established in 2005 by Travis Berning and Joe Frank McKee of Tree House Pottery and Brant Barnes of Riverwood Pottery. The show’s concept is for potters to interact with the public through demonstrations and sharing their general knowledge of clay. It also gives pottery collectors a chance to meet and take home a piece of pottery from their favorite artists.
This year, potters from as far away as Texas, Florida, Michigan and New Jersey are exhibiting their wares.
Steven Hill, this year’s featured potter, has been a professional studio potter since 1974. He started working out of a backyard studio and selling his work, mostly at art festivals. By the mid 1990’s he was looking for a way to expand his studio, to begin a resident artist program for aspiring potters, and to provide space for other ceramic artists to work.
Red Star Studios became the home of Steven Hill Pottery from 1998 to 2006. Hill now lives in Sandwich, lll., and has founded Center Street Clay with his partner Kim Miner. This is a studio and residential workshop facility.
Hill has been single-firing his functional stoneware since 1972. Although at times it is frustrating to glaze raw pots, he finds it encourages directness and spontaneity in his work.
Hill received his BFA from Kansas State University in 1973. His work is featured in nationally juried shows and in many ceramics books. He has taught more than 200 workshops throughout the United States and Canada and has been published multiple times. For more information about Steven Hill, Center Street Clay and his workshops visit www.centerstreetclay.com.
A Clay Olympics will be held on Friday, Nov. 5, from 1-3 p.m. at Treehouse Pottery. Prizes will be awarded to the winners in this throwing contest.
Festival hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. rain or shine. Admission is $3 per person and includes a ticket for a day-long raffle. Kids under 12 get in free.
For festival information call Tree House Pottery at 828.631.5100.