Thousands Pass Through on the Appalachian Trail….
After Earl Schaffer’s visit in 1948, thousands of Appalachian Trail thru-hikers have found shelter at the Sunnybank Inn. Elmer Hall bought Sunnybank from the third Gentry generation, Mrs. Jane Douglas Gentry, in 1978. He has continued the tradition of fine food and mountain hospitality.
Official Place in History…..
In 1980, the Sunnybank Inn was placed in the National Register of Historic Places by the United States Department of the Interior in recognition of its significant role in American history, architecture, and culture. In 1989, the State of North Carolina erected a historical marker in recognition of Jane Gentry’s unique contribution to the tradition of balladry in the souther Appalachian mountains.
The Sunnybank Inn, having witnessed and shaped part of Hot Springs’ 19th century glory, now shares a glimpse of that past with the passing traveler who comes seeking rest, relaxation, and hospitality in the midst of the mountain wilderness.
The Sunnybank Inn, standing at the corner of Walnut and Bridge Streets in Hot Springs, dates back to 1840. Originally the building was two smaller structures, a farmhouse and another building, which were later incorporated into the present building. Charles D. Merritt acquired the land where these structures stood, and, in 1875, he built the Italianate Victorian form which stands today and named it Sunnybank.
To Vacation Home….
In 1894, Sunnybank was acquired by a Rhode Island businessman, Mr. Frances R. Shaw, to be used as a family summer home. The Shaw family vacationed and entertained lavishly at Sunnybank throughout the summer seasons during the village’s zenith as a fashionable Victorian Spa.
The turn of the century witnessed a sharp drop in the popularity of health resorts and began a steady decline of Hot Springs as a resort. Sunnybank changed from lavish summer home to a boarding house for travelers at this time.
During World War I, the Mountain Park Hotel, a large resort hotel which had been built next to the mineral springs, was leased to the government as an internment camp for 2,700 German Naval Officers captured at the beginning of the war. Some of their wives were allowed to board at local boarding houses, including Sunnybank.
Town legend has it that the only successful escape from the hotel-prison was planned by a German hausfrau from her room in Sunnybank. The wife, naval officer, and their dog made good their escape, traveled to Mexico, and eventually back to Germany.
Folk Ballads and the Songcatcher….
Sometime after 1912, the Gentry family took over the Sunnybank boardinghouse, and it remained in the Gentry family for over half a century. During this time, Sunnybank became associated with the now combined Dorland-Bell Institute, a Presbyterian school for Appalachian girls. Many of the Dorland-Bell teachers boarded at Sunnybank.
Mrs. Jane Gentry and her daughter, Mrs. Maude Gentry Long, were musicians and folklorists of national note, and they taught music and shared mountain food, song and tales with hundreds of students, boarders, and travelers who passed through Hot Springs. The most famous visitor, Cecil Sharpe, the English folklorist and noted authority on ancient ballads, was touring the mountain areas collecting 450 tunes for his famous volume titled English Folk Songs of the Southern Appalachians. He stopped at Sunnybank in 1916, and collected over 64 ballads from Mrs. Gentry for the book.
Mrs. Maude Gentry Long, an alumna of Dorland-Bell, presided over Sunnybank in the succeeding generation and carried on the Gentry tradition of fine music and warm mountain hospitality. In the 1940’s and 1950’s Maude Gentry Long was recorded singing a large repertoire of ballads and The Jack Tales (by Richard Chase), both at Sunnybank in the Library of Congress in Washington D.C.
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