The Taylor House Inn and Banner Elk, NC – A Beautiful Sight

June 18, 2012 · 0 comments

in Best Road Trips

Some road trips go to specific locations. This road trip went to a specific area.

Greetings again friends, this is Bill Taylor writing about a road trip we enjoyed. Three small towns form a triangle. Blowing Rock, Boone and Banner Elk, NC. In this area you find the most spectacular natural attractions anywhere in the eastern US. This highlands area of the Appalachian mountains is called the Eastern Continental Divide. Anyone who has previously visited this area will quickly tell you there’s no place like it.

Roads here conform to the mountains. They are therefore, filled with steep slopes and sharp curves. One man driving on US 219, said he passed the same house three times while driving down one mountain. In spite of this spectacular feature, the roads are amply wide, and well maintained. The drive is more  a spectacle, than dangerous. Relax … enjoy yourself.

Taylor House Inn in Valle Crucis

Taylor House Inn – Banner Elk, NC

We chose to stay at the Taylor House Inn at 4584 Hwy194 South,  in the Valle Crucis. The nearest town is Banner Elk, NC. We visited this area on numerous occasions. When we saw this beautiful Inn we promised ourselves to stay here the next time we visited. I think you will too.

The strange name Valle Crucis, comes with an interesting story. In 1840, the Bishop of the Episcopal church up the road from the Inn, while observing the water passage through the valley saw that it formed the shape of a cross. Therefore, he called the valley, (English Version) The Valley of the Cross. The name has stuck to the valley which holds the town Banner Elk, NC and is a hub for other attractions in the area. We like the Valle Crucis area because it is centrally located to attractions we most enjoy.

A Bedroom in Taylor House Inn

Several buildings in this community are on the National Historic Register. There are only52 such sites in the entire state. The Taylor House Inn was built as the home of the large family of Squire Taylor. Two very old photos of the family are displayed in the living room of the Inn. Guest rooms are named for their original occupants. The room we stayed in had two queen size beds. It is called ‘The Twins Room’ and was named for Squire’s sons Gordon and Henri. Other rooms are named for aunts or other family member who originally slept there.

This is a true bed and breakfast inn. You are greeted by the owners of the inn and welcomed like old friends. I had communicated by email about our visit and were greeted by our first names, as were our two granddaughters who were traveling with us. The owners took a personal interest in our comfort and enjoyment. A plate of homemade cookies was on a sideboard and we were encouraged to eat all we wanted. We did, they were yummy.

Breakfast is served elegantly

The owners are Bernard and Tessa Russo. He is Italian and she is French. Each  has lived in numerous countries, as required by their previous employments. Each has a beautiful accent. There is something musical about the English language when it is spoken by people whose native tongue is other than ours. They may have more difficulty understanding me (I have a southern drawl) than I had understanding them.

Chip Wilson, restaurant owner from Atlanta, bought and renovated the house in 1985. It had been abandoned for 15 years. She converted the home from a residence to a B&B. She then sold the house to a friend Mrs Kasse, who used the house primarily as an event place. She hosted hundreds of weddings and other events here. Bernard and Tessa bought the house from Mrs Kasse and returned it to its present B&B status.

Little Switzerland, NC

Little Switzerland, NC

Before they bought the house, Bernard’s sister and family would visit and stay two months at   nearby Little Switzerland on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Tessa and Bernard never came with them. Bernard’s family decided to move here in 2005. In early 2006, they persuaded Bernard to retire and move here as well. They sold their home in the Caribbean, and bought the Taylor House Inn, becoming its new proprietors. They moved from a hot climate to a cold one. It’s kinda like jumping from the frying pan into the ice box.

Bernard had no background in construction practices, so he attended classes in a nearby community college where he learned building trade skills. He is certified (and skilled) in carpentry, plumbing and electrical work. He earned his license as a contractor so he could get building permits for projects at the inn. Throughout the beautiful home you can see his handiwork.

Tessa Russo is Head Chef and chief gardener of the Inn. She bakes cookies and prepares gourmet breakfasts for guests. A delicious carafe of coffee (I’m a heavy coffee drinker), is placed on the sideboard at 8 am. For breakfast we had a choice of juices, Eggs Benedict with Asparagus Spears and Canadian Bacon and fresh sliced tomato, for dessert a shortcake with a dreamy Blueberry cream sauce and fresh peaches as garnish. The coffee is great, the food was delicious and the table settings are elegant. Tessa is a talented chef.

One of the Russo’s daughters  is a talented artist. Several of her beautiful paintings decorate walls of the home.

An interesting history

Mast General Store – 1983

Bernard sat down with me in the living room after breakfast and told me the history of the house. Squire Taylor, who built this house, was the son of one of the original five families of the valley. His father was the owner of The Taylor General Store (1883) which later became The Mast General Store. Mr. Mast was an employee of Taylor, who later bought out Mr Taylor and changed the name to The Mast General Store.  The Historic Registry store  is ‘just down the road’ from Taylor House Inn. This is the original store of the chain which now operates branch stores throughout the state.

Squire Taylor, son of one of  the five original founders of this community, built this house in 1861. Squire Taylor was in the timber business while his neighbors all raised tobacco. Squire had nine children from several different wives and died in 1940.

Who Could Ask for Anything More?

There are three principal towns in this region. Banner Elk is the smallest in population. It is nestled in the lush valley between Beech Mountain, Sugar Mountain and Grandfather Mountain. Boone, the largest of the three is home to Appalachian State University and many other attractions. Blowing Rock, may be the most scenic of the three towns. Numerous resorts, mountain cabins, motels and restaurants are silent testimony to its popularity as a destination.  You can stay in either of the three towns and be within minutes of a long list of exciting destinations. The town of Beech Mountain, NC, 5,506 ft,  is the highest town in eastern North America

Daniel Boone Inn

Perhaps the most popular home-style food in the area is served up at the Daniel Boone Inn in Boone, NC. The food is brought to your table in generous dishes. We had fried chicken, cubed steak smothered in gravy, ham-biscuits, a variety of vegetables and ‘sweet tea.’ You can get seconds on anything but the ham-biscuits. We have eaten here several times and never needed seconds on anything but a refill on our tea glass. Folks literally come ‘from miles around’ to eat here. I rank it as one of the top three places in the southeast Us for home-style eating.

Blue Ridge Parkway near Banner Elk, NC

The famous Blue Ridge Parkway, with 16 million visitors a year, the most visited US park, begins in this area. The Appalachian Trail also  passes through this area and is at times adjacent to the Blue Ridge Parkway. High atop the Blue Ridge Parkway is the charming village of Little Switzerland which has a restaurant, motel/lodge and a few public facilities.  It is the only town directly on the Blue Ridge. The peak of Mitchell Mountain is the highest point in the eastern US.

Snow skiing, white water rafting, mountain climbing, hiking, biking, caving, horseback riding, golf, prospecting, antiquing, historic walking tours, watching Fall colors, zip lining, rock climbing, mountain stream trout fishing are a few of the natural attractions. If any or all of the above require more energy than you wish to expend … this is a great place to find a cool breeze, lay back and take in the mountain air. I could enjoy a real cool ‘lazy-day’  here.

Blowing Rock

The Blowing Rock, near Blowing Rock, NC is North Carolina’s oldest travel attraction. This scenic site is also filled with legend of an ancient romance between a Native American couple whose love was interrupted by tribal rivalries.

There is almost always a music festival of some description nearby and in some places musicians simply gather and start picking. Grandfather Mountain is itself, a natural attraction, on which events are regularly scheduled.

The trip home can be equally enjoyable.

No matter which road you took on your way in, you can always find a new road on the way out. We love to drive from Boone, NC toward Johnson City, TN. The roads through this area have spectacular overlooks. Many of the mountainsides are cultivated and planted with Christmas Trees. A friend of mine here in Mississippi takes his crew to this area each year to plant trees. He said they have planted more than a million trees in these parts. This planned planting is an unexpected pleasure among the thousands of square miles of uncultivated growth which abounds throughout the eastern mountain states. The trees are planted in beautiful symmetric patterns on hillsides which were previously used for tobacco or other crops.

Take my word for this … you can read books until your eyesight blurs. You can only discover the grandeur of this amazing mountain region by being here. Even then, you can’t take it all in.

All this and a new grandson too …

We’re heading home for a few days. We have a new grandson on the way and we’re trying to beat him to Nashville, TN. (PS: he was born on June 14th. He is Elijah Coleman Taylor. 7lbs 15 oz and 20 1/2 inches long. He’s a handsome lad if I do say so myself.) We only beat him to Nashville by 30 minutes.

Y’all keep driving up miles and dialing up smiles. About the only thing that beats a good road trip is getting a new grand baby.

Until next time,

Bill Taylor

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