Soaring Above The Clouds: Roan Mountain’s Cloudland Hotel, 1889

In August 1889, several newspaper employees from The Comet engaged in a journey that caused them to soar thousands of feet above the clouds… with their feet on the ground. The fortunate few were said to be one of the happiest parties to visit the Cloudland Hotel that summer.

Their names were James A. Martin, Miss Lena St. John, Ralph Boyd, Miss Fannie Blair, Mrs. G.W. St. John, Mrs. Cy. H. Lyle (publisher's wife), Miss Lucy Blair and Frank St. John.

The workers made the journey on that Friday and the newspaper printed their exploits in the paper the following day. There had been so much written about the beauty of Roan Mountain and the Cloudland Hotel that they confined their remarks principally to facts that concerned anyone who might be contemplating a trip there.

After reaching the Roan Mountain Depot on the ET&WNC railroad, the second phase of the journey was traveling 12 miles to the Cloudland Hotel, which was made in a stagecoach. Their vehicle left the depot about noon and, after passing four miles of comparatively level road, they reached the base of the mountain and the balance of the way was spent climbing the zigzag road to the summit.

A Cloudland Hotel Envelope Dated 1891

In some places, the road turned so abruptly that it looked almost impossible for a hack to make the sharp turns. Nervous passengers felt queasy as they peered down the rocky bluffs below, but there was no real cause for alarm.

The road was safe and only careful and experienced drivers were permitted to handle the ribbons (reins for driving horses). The trip up the mountain afforded many magnificent views of the countryside below, which made passengers forget their concerns while riding the hack. One of the striking features of the trip was that all the chestnut trees along the line were dead.

As the travelers neared the summit, they tried to formulate a mental image of how the world would look from above, but it was not until they arrived at the hotel that they witnessed fully what the imagination could not supply.

The hotel was 6,394 feet above sea level and was reported to be the highest human habitation east of the Rocky Mountains. It was readily understood that the view from this location extended as far as the eye could reach in all directions.

Standing on Sunset Rock and looking out over the tops of mountains miles away and thousands of feet below, with clouds resting on them, a peculiar sensation creped over them and they felt like they were being lifted and instinctively looked around for something substantial for which to take hold.

It was a grand sight for the visitors and a trip that would never be forgotten. They realized that space and the English language would not allow a fuller description of the surroundings.

The hotel was leased by Mr. W.S. Ayers of Richmond, VA who was described as being a hotel man in every respect. The gentleman had been in the business for 30 years and knew the wants of guests who graced his lodge. Experienced and attentive waiters and porters were employed and nothing was left undone that would add to the comfort and pleasure of the guests. A very important feature of the hotel was the cuisine. The table was supplied bountifully with a variety of seasonable vegetables and delicacies, which were palatably prepared. This fact was remarkable owing to its distance from markets.

The universal remarks that guests made when they arrived displayed one of surprise and complete satisfaction at the variety of dishes set before them. The public was strongly urged to go to Roan Mountain and the Cloudland Hotel and become acquainted with the hundreds of guests there and they would enjoy the trip as much as did the newspaper party that visited there in 1889.