By way of shank’s mare or the proverbial old gray mare, for untold centuries travelers labored up and over the Blue Ridge Mountains at Rockfish Gap. The iron horse signaled a new era when it proudly steamed through the pass for a season during the 1850s, before Col. Crozet’s Blue Ridge Tunnel was opened for business.
During the late-18th and 19th centuries, innkeepers made special efforts to accommodate those travelers. Increasingly, the public became attracted by amenities offered by early hoteliers who enticed travelers to visit the gap, not for travel necessity, but simply to enjoy the pleasures of that lofty place.
By the early decades of the 20th century, independent affordable transportation was reshaping society, and an increase of better roads was encouraging people to venture out of the cities and off the farms to see and experience places which heretofore were strictly the domain of the leisure class. So it was, in 1927, that a real game-changer arrived on the mountain, and its name was the Blue Ridge Terrace.
The breaking news came on February 16th in Staunton’s News-Leader: “Pennsylvania capitalists who, two years ago, purchased several acres of land near the top of the Blue Ridge Mountains, on the Jefferson highway just above Afton, will begin at once the development of their property.
“The plans made public today by the promoters, The Blue Ridge Terrace Company, Inc., provide for a modern hotel, fifty cottages, a spacious playground and extensive flower gardens. The first unit in the development will be a modern hotel, the contract for which has been awarded Mr. J.W. Adams, well-known contractor and builder of this city. Work on the structure was begun this morning and the contract calls for its completion by May 15th, the formal opening to take place not later than May 30th.
“The hotel will be located on the eastern slope of the Blue Ridge about 500 feet above Hairpin Curve. The building, of white stucco, will be of Swiss design, three stories high. It will contain twenty bedrooms, a spacious dining room 24 by 50 feet, a promenade porch and an up-to-date store, with every accommodation for the tourists. Each bedroom will have a bath.
“The fifty cottages will dot the mountainside near the hotel, and each will have running water and electric lights. The plans also provide for an extensive playground, with up-to-date apparatus for children, such as swings, slides, etc. A free camping site for tourists will be provided on the grounds, with ample parking space for automobiles.”
Blue Ridge Terrace opened, as promised, by June 1, and the owners and staff hit the ground running. The once lofty dream was an immediate success, attracting both travelers and locals. The News-Leader offered a recap of those hectic early months just prior to the inn’s first Thanksgiving on the mountain: “Ever since its opening in June it has been filled to overflowing with guests from all over America and some foreign countries… Blue Ridge Terrace has 19 bedrooms, arranged very attractively, and the big kitchen is equipped with all electric appliances, making it very convenient and labor-saving to employees. There is also a tea room, where sandwiches and drinks are served, and where canned goods for motor parties who are camping also are carried.
“On the west side of the road is a lovely path winding along the mountainside, leading to four little, up-to-date cottages, consisting of two rooms and bath each. Blue Ridge Terrace also has its own filling station for passing motor cars… On Sunday, October 30, Mr. H.L. Norris and his assistants entertained 500 guests during the day.”
As the proposed Shenandoah National Park edged closer to reality, the SNP Tourist Bureau issued an oversize Official Pictorial Book in 1929. Blue Ridge Terrace was featured in an attractive half-page ad: “At the Sky-Line of the Blue Ridge. Blue Ridge Terrace, Inc., Afton, Virginia. Overlooking Virginia’s Valley Paradise, and Enjoying an Atmosphere Only Found in High Altitudes. Blue Ridge Terrace Offers the Tourist the Utmost in Modern Mountain Tavern Entertainment. Magnificent Rooms, Marvelous Meals and a Hospitality Truly Virginian.”
Duncan Hines, prior to his association with cake mixes and the like, was a well-traveled salesman who recognized that his own experiences gathered along the roadways of America could be of value to other travelers. Adventures in Good Eating, his first published guide, was complemented in 1938 with his second, Lodging For a Night. Those in the hospitality industry quickly realized the added value which Hines’ personal recommendation could bring to their business. Regarding the Blue Ridge Terrace, he wrote: “Up in the Blue Ridge Mts., near entrance to Skyline Drive. Delightful place to spend the night.”
In a message on the reverse of a novelty souvenir Blue Ridge Terrace Inn wooden postcard, mailed with a patriotic 3¢ “Win the War” stamp and postmarked at Afton in August 1943, a traveler named Kate concurred. To friends in North Carolina, she wrote, “I came up here Wed. It’s nice, cool; sleep and food is grand. May stay a week.”
Improvements continued at Blue Ridge Terrace. In addition to major highway improvements in 1940 and ’41, earlier cottages on the hillside across the roadway were replaced with more modern units and a two-story roadside motor court was added. The ever-popular dining room served the inn’s guests and hosted civic functions, the occasional wedding and associated banquets.
Longtime owner/managers Floyd and Edith Landis retired from the restaurant business in autumn 1964 and sold off their restaurant equipment. Interstate I-64 construction required taking the land occupied by the cottages and motor court in October 1968. Subsequently, the inn’s guest rooms were appropriated into rental apartments, and the dining room space hosted sales of arts, crafts, paintings and gifts.
As the storied former mountain inn “At the Sky-Line of the Blue Ridge” approaches the century mark, it takes scant imagination for passersby today to visualize the parking area and roadside filled to overflowing with vintage automobiles, and guests lined up at the dining room entrance, anxious for a savory bowl of Brunswick stew, delicious country ham, or fried chicken and waffle dinners.
Follow Secrets of the Blue Ridge on Facebook! Phil James invites contact from those who would share recollections and old photographs of life along the Blue Ridge Mountains of Albemarle County. You may respond to him through his website: www.SecretsoftheBlueRidge.com or at P.O. Box 88, White Hall, VA 22987. Secrets of the Blue Ridge © 2003–2021 Phil James