Heyday of Polk’s Skyuka and Oak Hall hotelsPublished 4:38pm Wednesday, October 19, 2011
One of my favorite cousins has bought a “mountain cabin” on White Oak near the site of the long gone Skyuka Hotel. The picture “came with the house,” and she has shared it with me. The hotel had white siding, so it was visible from down here even when the trees were fully leafed out for summer.
The hotel enjoyed high occupancy in its heyday as shown (right), but later on my friend Howard Williams’ family lived in the building as caretakers. When local businessman Tom Costa bought the property, he dismantled and sold its carcass for at least three local houses. I remember seeing its remains on a hike and marveling that the pencil marks of its builders were still visible on its framing. The Spartanburg YMCA built Camp Skyuka next on the site, and its buildings have been turned into residences, one of which my cousin’s family now enjoys.
Another huge frame hotel was central to life in Tryon for many years. Oak Hall was built by Tryon’s first mayor, T. T. Ballenger, and commanded a magnificent view from atop the hill now covered with condos. Its gravel driveway entrance was like a continuation of Melrose Avenue.
The roster of notables who stayed at Oak Hall or lived there is impressive. The widows of President Coolidge and General George Marshall lived there for years. The Rotary and Kiwanis Clubs met there every week, and Kiwanian Howard Greene had to go early because a short visit with the aforementioned ladies was mandatory. Mrs. Marshall was sure that former Army Ranger Greene was one of her husband’s buddies.
F. Scott Fitzgerald was in residence at Oak Hall for most of a winter and is said to have worked on “The Great Gatsby” while there. Aunt Mildred danced with him at Sunnydale, Tryon’s “Night Club” (log building next to Dollar General) built and run by Ernest Kerhulas for many years.
Fran and I stayed at Oak Hall once just for the experience. Clara Edwards was keeping it going then, and noted that there was no telephone in the room, but one was available in the hall. She also offered to try to find a room door key if we wanted one; we declined and slept well.
The food and service in the dining room were exceptional, as the staff had been there as long as anyone could remember. As a youth I read an essay to the combined Rotary and Kiwanis clubs meeting in the large dining room; later Fran and I both enjoyed wonderful luncheons there as invited guests.
Hotel Tryon (now Town Hall) should also be mentioned as another fine place to stay and dine. Mary Danis was in charge of the dining room; her brother ran the hotel. Mary was one of “the Girls,” Aunt Mildred’s circle of friends that we met weekly for breakfast, who took turns having the rest of us over for dinner. She was a really “good cooker,” as our son still says of Fran.
The Boxwood Inn was another fine inn in its day (the Columbus Fire Station is on its site now). When Henry Ford, Thomas Edison and Harvey Firestone came through here on their famous odyssey, they stayed at the Boxwood Inn. When my mother, then a little girl, was invited to sit on Edison’s lap, he gave her a quarter!
Fortunately, we still have local inns that continue the tradition of quiet elegance of Oak Hall, but in a smaller venue. Would that we could still enjoy Oak Hall’s big dining room with white linen and white coated waiters, huge veranda with view, subdued lighting in a big lobby, and creaky floors throughout!