North Carolina Resorts

Written By Jonathan Martin

Due to North Carolina’s rich resource of both mountains and beaches, tourists and vacationers, as well as medical patients have visited the state for vacation and for well-being. Beginning in the 1830s, resorts and health spas emerged across the state—-especially in the western North Carolina near mineral and hot springs. Referred by some as the “Golden Age of Health Resorts in North Carolina,” thousands of people who suffered from yellow fever, tuberculosis, and rheumatism traveled to the state between the 1830s and 1920s to benefit from spas in both beach towns and mountain getaways.

Western North Carolina Resorts

Health resorts first sprang up in the mountains of western North Carolina before the start of the Civil War. Shocco Springs in Warren County, Kittrell Springs in Vance County, and Sulphur Springs Hotel in Asheville were resorts attracted high class vacationers from northern states. Mineral springs attracted visitors based on the water’s proposed health value, and hotels offered classy food and drink, dance ballrooms, and rich living quarters. Asheville, which has long remained a popular resort town for tourists, developed after the arrival of the railroad in the 1880s.

Grove Park Inn, built in 1913, was built by Missouri businessman Edwin W. Grove at the bottom of Sunset Mountain in Asheville. Remarkably in under a year, 400 workers and 20 stonemasons built the 156-room inn.  William Jennings Bryan spoke at the inn’s dedication, and he announced that the hotel was “built for the ages” (Encyclopedia, p. 542). Numerous elites spent time at the Grove Park Inn including Henry Ford, President Woodrow Wilson, and writer F. Scott Fitzgerald during the 1910s and 1920s. Although the Grove Park Inn was neglected due to financial lapses during World War II, the hotel was renovated, and in 1988 it was reopened with 500 guest rooms, 4 restaurants, and a golf course.

Other resorts in the mountains attract tourists year round. Hot Springs, located in Madison County, has attracted visitors since the 1800s. The area around Lake Lure, a 1,500-acre lake in Rutherford County, was North Carolina’s most famous resort areas in the 1920s and 1930s. Built in 1840, the Esmeralda Inn was the setting of The Heart of the Blue Ridge (1915) and Dirty Dancing (1987). Blowing Rock, located in Watauga County, developed into a mountain resort along the Blue Ridge Mountain Parkway in the 1930s.

Piedmont and Coastal Resorts

The Piedmont and the sea towns have drawn numerous visitors. The Piedmont’s golf attractions have important tourist attractions for those traveling to Pinehurst. The Carolina Hotel, constructed by Fredrick Law Olmstead at the behest of James Tufts in 1901, was built as a resort for golfers from around the nation. The golf retreat, enhanced by the cool climate of the mid-Carolinas, centered on the famous Pinehurst Number 2 course. After the influx of tourists, other entrepreneurs sought to take advantage of the well-liked territory, and hotels and other golf courses were built in both Southern Pines and Pinehurst. According to Powell, “Moore County is considered by some golf enthusiasts as the “Golf Capital of the World” (Encyclopedia, p. 968).

Atlantic beaches and the Outer Banks have drawn tourists since the 1700s, and the buildup of clientele eventually led to the formation of coastal communities around the tourism industry. Many towns still rely on tourism: Nags Head, Ocracoke, and the famed Cape Hatteras are three. There are reports that people visited Ocracoke in the 1750s and 1760s, and Jonathan Price proclaimed that Ocracoke as “this healthy spot is in autumn the resort of many of the inhabitants of the main” (Encyclopedia, p. 968). Morehead resorts (named for Governor John Morehead) in Carteret County developed around the 1850s and 1860s. Hotels and pavilions were constructed at resorts such as Atlantic Beach, Emerald Isle, and Pine Knoll Shores in the mid-1900s. Much of the development of the Morehead region is owed to Governor Morehead, who also worked for the Atlantic & North Carolina Railroad and helped in the arrival of the railroad at Morehead City in 1858.

The Wrightsville area, in New Hanover County, is similar to the Morehead region in Carteret County. The oldest boating club in the United States, the Carolina Yacht Club, built its clubhouse at Wrightsville Beach in 1853. Hugh MacRae constructed the Lumina pavilion in Wrightsville in 1905, and one of its intricacies included a large dance floor, overlooked by a spectator balcony. Lumina became a hotspot during the big band era; Paul Whiteman, Cab Calloway, and Jimmy Dorsey and their bands played regularly at the hotel. According to William Powell, “some claim the shag, a popular dance, was invented at the Lumina” (Encyclopedia, p. 969).

After World War II, the middle class had a greater opportunity to visit and travel to resorts in both the western and eastern section of North Carolina. The development of roads as well as the tourism industry’s aim at attracting both the wealthy and middle-class led to an increase in tourism. In addition, second-home construction increased in Carolina’s three regions, allowing vacationers to visit the beach or mountains more often. The Blue Ridge Parkway, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and the increase of national seashores continue, as William Powell proclaimed, “to make tourism one of the state’s major industries” (Encyclopedia, p. 969).