Tryon History Museum restores and dedicates bench from Thousand Pines Inn

Published 8:30 am Thursday, January 12, 2023

TRYON–Originally the home of famous playwright and actor William Gillette, a property in Tryon’s Gillette Woods once served as the Thousand Pines Inn. For decades, there sat an open weave cane wood bench that visitors would sit on to enjoy the view from the porch. 

When the last owner of the historic inn, Miss Selina Lewis, died in 1978, many of her effects were inherited by her niece, Anne Wheeler. In August, Wheeler gave the antique bench to the Tryon History Museum, and the Museum recently restored it and dedicated it to Carl Wharton of Tryon, who passed away in 2021. 

After the passing of Lewis, her house sat vacant until 1987, when it was purchased by a young couple, Carl and Claire Wharton. The Whartons raised their children there, treasuring the home for its history and unique architecture while preserving its special wood-carved features. 

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After Carl’s death, a bench restoration fund was started by his friends to dedicate it to him. Carl was well-known in the Tryon community. He was in charge of all the BBQ Cookers that came to Tryon each summer to compete in the NC State BBQ Championship from 1994 to 2016, and was also very active in the Polk County Chamber of Commerce. Claire still lives in the house and operates their business, Thousand Pines Property Management firm, in downtown Tryon.

When the Museum received the bench, it was in relatively poor condition. Last year, the Tryon History Museum decided to have the bench restored by the Silver River Chair Company in the River Arts District of Asheville. They identified the bench as having been made by the Old Hickory Chair Company in Indiana by the maker’s mark found on one of the legs, a style of bench that the company out of Martinsville still manufactures.

Silver River Chair Company, also known as Silver River Center for Chair Caning, is the nation’s only chair caning school and museum. They are passionate about restoring and saving antique cane chairs from all over the world. 

The restoration and dedication were made possible by Becky and Bill Ingham, Jacque and Craig Williams, Douglas McMillan, Joe and Billie McConnell, Michael Kilby, Andrew “Blind Dog” Grega IV, Joy Sharp, John and Kathy Swift, the Wharton family, and Wanda and George May. It is on display presently at the Tryon History Museum at 26 Maple St. in downtown Tryon.