The Historic Gatlinburg Inn received the Community History Award from the East Tennessee Historical Society (ETHS). The ETHS annual Awards of Excellence were presented at the organization’s Annual Meeting on May 6, 2014 at the East Tennessee History Center in downtown Knoxville. Each year the society recognizes individuals and organizations that have made significant contributions to the preservation, programming and interpretation of the region’s history. These awards have been presented annually since 1982.
The Inn received the Community History Award for preserving the history of Gatlinburg. Built in 1937 by R. L. Maples, Sr. this historic inn remains in the hands of the Maples descendants and is the oldest lodging facility in Gatlinburg. It was the first home of the Gatlinburg Chamber of Commerce, the town’s first bank and newspaper and was featured in the 1970 movie, “A Walk in the Spring Rain,” starring Ingrid Bergman and Anthony Quinn.
Mr. Allen Barker, who accepted the award on behalf of all the owners of the Inn, thanked the East Tennessee Historical Society for the award. He also thanked the city leaders of Gatlinburg for their support on the preservation of this historic property, the staff of the hotel and Hospitality Solutions and, especially, the many guests without whom Gatlinburg Inn would not have thrived since 1937.
The Gatlinburg Inn was built in 1937 by R.L. Maples Sr., whose family had moved from the nearby Sugarlands after selling their property to the National Park Service for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which fully opened in 1940.
The Inn went through several expansions and a remodeling in the early 1960s to its present alpine motif. The hotel’s David Crockett Tavern was one of the finest restaurants in Gatlinburg. The property includes the 60-year-old Sky Lift, an iconic feature of the area.
When Rel Maples died in 1985, his widow, Wilma Maples, continued to operate the Inn and to play an important role in the civic life and philanthropy of the area. When she died in December 2011, the Knoxville News-Sentinel called her “the grande dame of Gatlinburg.” The roses that she planted for Rel in the 1950s still adorn the grounds.
Wilma Maples left her half of the property to her sisters and/or their surviving children. The other half was inherited by the descendants of Rel Maples and his first wife, Ruby. The heirs could have sold the property, 2.2 acres in the middle of one of America’s greatest tourism towns, for a large sum, but they realized that anyone paying such a price would tear it down. That gave them common ground to overcome greed, suspicion and longtime alienation to form a partnership that has not only kept the Inn operating but has expanded its season, added amenities and begun an internal remodeling project that will maintain the character of the Inn while bringing it up to modern standards.
The Inn’s grand reopening in 2013 featured entertainment from Bobby Osborne and the Rocky Top Express, with the sons of Felice and Boudleaux Bryant in the audience. It hosted part of the Smoky Mountain Songwriters Festival that summer and will be the headquarters hotel for the event in 2014.
The Inn is currently under the management of Hospitality Solutions, Inc., whose president, Logan Coykendall, remarked “I’ve been in the Gatlinburg business community for most of my life and am very honored and excited about being involved in the preservation and enhancement of such a unique and historic property.”