Historical Sketches of Mount Pisgah
Before the settlers of European extraction entered this part of North Carolina, these mountains and valleys were the exclusive domain of Cherokee Indians. The Cherokees had their own names for Mount Pisgah and the Pisgah Ridge. The mountain was Elseetoss and the ridge was Warwasseeta, and around them the land was rich in game and lush with trees and other plant life.
The name "Pisgah" comes from the fourth chapter of Deuteronomy, The Lord ordered Moses to the top of this mountain and told him to look in all directions, thus revealing the "Promised Land" to the tribes of Israel. There are at least two stories as to how this Biblical mountain's name came to be applied to this sylvan eminence in Western North Carolina. They follow below. Pick the one you like.
In 1776, General Griffith Rutherford led an expedition against the Cherokees. Accompanying this expedition as a chaplain was one James Hall. The men of the expedition saw the mountain from the French Broad River valley and saw a rich land around it--- a land of milk and honey, a promised land. James Hall, preacher and soldier, is credited with drawing the parallel with the land that Moses saw from Pisgah and applying the Biblical appellation to this mountain.
George Newton was a Presbyterian minister who lived and taught in the late 18th and early 19th centuries at what became Newton Academy in Asheville. Reverend Newton is credited with naming Mt. Pisgah.
Because of the extensive view in all directions over a rich land, Reverend Newton felt there was similarity between this mountain and the one on which Moses stood.
The first recorded appearance of the name "Mt. Pisgah" was in 1808. In this year, part of Buncombe County was split off when Haywood County was created, and part of the new county line was along the "ridge dividing the waters of Pigeon and the French Broad River, to the top of Mount Pisgah."
Thomas Lanier Clingman was a state legislator, United States Congressman, United States Senator, Confederate General, and somewhat given to controversy. He left his mark the history of Western North Carolina through his famous argument with Dr. Elisha Mitchell and his mark on the land. Clingman's Dome in Great Smoky Mountains National Park is named for him. He has been described as "an intrepid man of most arrogant and aggressive character, greatest self-confidence, unlimited assurance, prodigious conceit, stupendous Aspiration, immense claims, more than common ability, no considerable attainment or culture, great boastfulness, and much curiosity." Mr. Clingman owned 300 acres on and around the top of Mt. Pisgah. He owned this land from the 1830's until shortly before his death in 1897, when he sold this land to George W. Vanderbilt.
George Washington Vanderbilt was the grandson of the "commodore" Cornelius Vanderbilt. Mr. Vanderbilt began buying land south of Asheville in 1888, and by the time he finished, he owned about 125,000 acres, including Mt. Pisgah. Near Asheville, he built his famous Biltmore House, the grounds of which Fredrick Law Olmstead landscaped.
Two other famous names are associated with Vanderbilt and Biltmore Estate. In 1891, Gifford Pinchot, recently returned from studying forestry in Europe, became Chief Forester of Biltmore. Here, with Mr. Vanderbilt's strong support, he introduced scientific forestry to the United States. In 1898, Pinchot was named head of the Forestry Division of the Department of Agriculture.
Dr. Carl A Schenck of the University of Darmstadt came to the United States to succeed Pinchot. When Dr. Schenck came to this country, there were fewer than half dozen trained foresters, and all had studied forestry in Europe. There was no place in the United States to study forestry.
With George W. Vanderbilt's support, Dr. Schenck founded the Biltmore Forestry School in 1898. Classes first met in the village of Biltmore, upstairs in what is now the headquarters of the Biltmore Company. This building is a Registered National Historic Landmark. The field school for the Biltmore Forestry School was near the foot of Mt. Pisgah. The United States Forest Service has done an excellent reconstruction of this school at the "Cradle of Forestry in America".
In 1911, Congress passed the Weeks Act. This monumental piece of legislation permitted the U.S. Forest Service for the first time to purchase forest lands. In 1914, the Forest Service purchased nearly 80,000 acres, including Mt. Pisgah, from Edith Vanderbilt as a part of what is now the 479,000-acre Pisgah National Forest.
In the Mount Pisgah area, the Vanderbilts kept 471 acres in Buck Springs Gap, about a mile from Pisgah Inn. Here George W. Vanderbilt had constructed a popular log hunting lodge. The main lodge had 4 bedrooms, breezeway-connected building had two two-bedroom suites, and the kitchen/dining building was connected to the other two. There were several buildings near these buildings. Mr. Vanderbilt built Buck Springs Lodge just before the turn of the century, and the others were razed in 1961.
The Mt. Pisgah area has been a popular resort area for a number of years. The first Pisgah Inn opened about 1919. This rustic old Inn was a welcome journey's end for thousands of travelers escaping from the heat of the lowlands in the summer. Development of the modern Pisgah Inn began in the early 1960's. The original Inn was disassembled in 1990 due to safety concerns.
Most of the Blue Ridge Parkway in this area was built across land transferred from the U.S. Forest Service. The exception was the 471 acres around Buck Springs Lodge. The State of North Carolina purchased the land and the lodge in 1959 and transferred the land to the United States for the construction of the Parkway. The Blue Ridge Parkway through the Mt. Pisgah area opened for travel in the mid-60's. The Present Pisgah Inn was built in 1964.
From 1964 until 1978, the Inn was owned by Aaron Prevost. Under his able ownership, a series of different managers directed operations. In 1977, the manager, Mr. Wright, passed away leaving open the position of Manager. In 1978, the O'Connell family came on board. Tom and Phyllis were retired hotel operators. Bruce, their son, had just graduated from the Cornell Hotel School. Together, they took the helm with Bruce running the food operation and Tom running the hotel division. Phyllis was the anchor that held the whole place together. Tom passed away in 1985 leaving Bruce and Phyllis to manage the Inn. Bruce (who has now been at the Inn for 27 seasons) runs the Inn with the help of his mother and many long term, key staffers. The present concession's contract expires in 2013. At that time, a new contract will be drafted. Hopefully, Bruce will continue his tenure watching over this precious resource.
Blue Ridge Parkway Milepost 408.6
PO Box 749, Waynesville, NC 28786
(828) 235-8228 - www.pisgahinn.com