Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Southern Exposures

A family’s whitewater rafting adventure makes for unforgettable summer memories on North Carolina’s scenic Nantahala River.
Southern Exposures
By Augustus Mayhew

With South Florida’s daily heat index reaching 100 F and the reported Handelsman v. Handelsman $750 million Palm Beach divorce trial not heating up until next season, I drove overland to visit friends in the Blue Ridge Mountains on the North Carolina/Georgia line and then onto Highlands, North Carolina.  A chance meeting turned into a pleasurable afternoon visit to a reproduction of a late 19th century Victorian-style farmhouse built by native Missourian Elma Weil Ettman with the aid of Atlanta architect Milan Vancura. In Highlands, part-time Palm Beachers Arthur and Angela Williams are often credited with uplifting the architectural and aesthetic ambiance of this resort town’s Main Street.

The Williamses, who built their insurance business into what was described as the nation’s largest before selling it to Primerica, set a new standard for a town resistant to change with their reported $40 million transformation of the historic Hotel Edwards into the Old Edwards Inn & Spa, along with another Atlanta-based architect, Keith Summerour, principal at Summerour & Associates.
I met Elma Ettmann at an Old Dial Road porch party where friends and family gathered for a late Saturday afternoon vegetarian lunch to enjoy local musicians and celebrate several occasions, among them, Elma’s 87th  birthday. At the party, I had met Elma’s son and daughter-in-law visiting from Miami Beach and on their way to Milan and Lake Como. Discovering we had mutual Miami acquaintenances, they thought I might be interested in meeting Elma and visiting her farm. Unable to find her, I wandered out to the road to photo these magnificent Anatolian Shepards when Elma soon reappeared and invited me to come by the farm the next day.
The Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation awarded its 1990 Outstanding Achievement Award to Elma Ettman. Surprisingly, not for preservation or restoration but for completely rebuilding the Cochran-Davenport House that burned to the ground August 23, 1987, shortly after Elma bought it. Some might have taken this ominous sign as an unwelcome warning. But not Elma. Then, a mid-50s divorcee with four children determined to make the 16-acre idyllic Toccoa River setting her refuge, Elma hired Vancura and completed a well-disposed reproduction of the original 1885 main house that stands today surrounded by the six authentic centuries-old farm buildings that were not destroyed 30 years ago. “I had closed on the house the month before the fire and was renting a nearby cottage. At 11:30 pm one night I looked out my window and saw my house in the distance going up in flames. It was arson as the sheriff showed me where a trail of gasoline had been poured around the property,” recalled Elma.
On the road to Highlands, North Carolina, elev. 4,120 ft., up in the clouds within the Nantahala National Forest.
Before Arthur and Angela Williams completed their Highlands project, the town’s Main Street was one of several predictable western North Carolina’s attractions. Today, the Williamses’ architectural magnum opus is consistently among Conde Nast and Travel & Leisure’s top destinations and affiliated with the Relais & Chateaux association of hostelries. The one-block project that became an impressive three-block expansion is simply sensational. While I spent part of an afternoon at the Inn’s Wine Garden and toured the venue’s public areas, staying at the nearby more modest Highlands Lodge, I can only hope Art and Angela Williams consider bringing their vision, their architect and their cash to Palm Beach’s Worth Avenue.  Well done!

Along with views of  Elma’s Farm, Highlands’ Main Street and The Bascom: A Center for Visual Arts, here are some of my recent southern exposures.
Dry Falls, the setting for scenes from the Daniel Day Lewis film The Last of the Mohicans, is one of a series of spectacular waterfalls on the never ending 19-mile drive from Franklin to Highlands. This shaded sublime spiraling ascent ranks with New Hampshire’s Kancagamus Highway, the hairpin Flagstaff to Sedona Oak Creek Canyon crawl, and the twists and turns leading to Taos with steep cliffside drops into the Rio Grande.
Old Edwards Inn & Spa
445 Main Street — Highlands, North Carolina
The Inn’s award-winning Madison’s Restaurant offers atmospheric outdoor dining.
Madison’s Restaurant, entrance from the Wine Garden.
Old Edwards Inn, entrance from Main Street. The 1935 three-story brick building was added in 1935 to the adjacent 1880s wood structure that operated as a boarding house. The property was listed in the National Register in 1992, a decade before the Williamses acquired the property.
Old Edwards Inn. Angela Williams is credited with acquiring much of the Inn’s artworks.
Old Edwards Inn, Wine Garden restaurant, view from Main Street.
Main Street, Highlands
The venerable 135-year-old Highlands Inn stands in contrast to the Old Edwards Inn & Spa directly across the street. Restored and refurbished several times and listed in the National Register of Historic Places, the town’s first hotel was built in 1880 as the Highland House.
Martha Anne’s, 256 South 4th Street, is located directly behind that Old Edwards Inn. Nearby, Palm Beach’s J. McLaughlin and C. Orrico shops.
The Ugly Dog pub offers some of the best food in Highlands. Located in the block up the hill from the Old Edwards Inn, I enjoyed dinner here.
Main Street’s Presbyterian Church (c. 1885) staircase offers a steep challenge.
The Episcopal Church (1896) on Main Street is across the street from Mountain Fresh Grocery, a Whole Foods Market type destination with delicious food.
The Southern Way offers “casual southern clothing.”
Elma’s Farm
Cochran-Davenport House-1885/1988
Dial Road - Blue Ridge, Georgia
Cochran-Davenport Farm, entrance. The farm’s original 19th-century corn crib barn.
Cochran-Davenport House, cornerstone.
In the center hall, the indefatigable Elma Weill Ettman sits below a portrait of her farmhouse’s original owner George Cochran who was married to Elizabeth Van Zandt, a member of this Blue Ridge Mountain community’s pioneer families. “I was staying at one of the Van Zandt’s cottages nearby when the house caught fire,” remembered Elma.
Elma’s Farm is made up of the 1988 main house, left, and the surrounding six late 19th-century farm buildings, right.
“It took about five years before I felt the house was completely finished,” said Elma, whose architect followed the house’s original footprint for the reconstruction.
The Cochran-Davenport House rebuilt, view overlooking the Toccoa River.
“ When I invited plein-air artists to set up their easels at the farm, I thought they would paint the historic buildings or the river landscape but they seemed to like my chickens best,” said Elma, who formed the Sustainable Art Society at Blue Ridge to foster creative endeavors and support environmental conservation for the rural community.
One of Elma’s magnificent chickens.
The 1890s Apple House also serves as guest accommodations and a lower cellar serves as a canning storage area where the original owners stored dry produce in the winter.
The Spring House porch.
The Spring House where water from the river is channeled to the main house.
The formal dining room.
“My great grandparents, Monsieur and Madame Metzger, I can’t remember their first names, who were from Alsace-Lorraine and later moved to Dijon. He was a school superintendent who received the French Legion of Honor that I still have ,” said Elma, remarking on their portraits in the dining room.
Dining Room, tableau.
One of several pottery pieces from Elma’s collection by Lanier Meaders, Georgia’s best known folk potter.
“The glass bottles and fragments were salvaged from the ruins of the original house after the fire,” Elma recounted.
The cook’s kitchen opens onto a breakfast room with skylights and a glass wall opening up onto the hill behind the house.
In an upstairs guest bedroom, a  doll house is a reminder of her children and grandchildren who have enjoyed the house.
A cloud of steam rises on the old  shed barn’s tin roof after a late afternoon rain. “We replaced much of the wood and added a window for the horses we once kept there,” said Elma. 
A welcome sign on Elma’s back porch.
The Bascom: A Center for the Visual Arts
323 Franklin Road, Highlands, North Carolina
The Bascom’s principal gallery spotlights the extraordinary collage work of artist Natasha Bowdoin, pictured above Daisy Chain, detail. gouache, acrylic and ink on cut gator board and cut paper.
The Bascom’s farmhouse style reminded me of the more elaborate Shelburne Museum in Vermont. Set on six acres, the facility encompasses more than 27,000 square feet of  building area including the main galleries and pottery barn.
Sculptor Vaughn Randall is professor of sculpture at SUNY-Cortland.  Above, Everywhere is Nowhere, 2017. Cast iron, bronze, and steel.
“Journeys in Iron.”
Printmaker Grant Benoit, 2017 artist in residence at The Bascom.
The Bascom’s reception area with the gift shop in the far right corner.
The art center’s founders George Watson Barratt, artist, scenic designer and theatrical producer, and his wife Louise Rand Bascom Barratt, novelist and playwright, were part-time residents of Highlands where Louise Barratt’s parents were pioneer settlers. The proceeds from the sale of their Satullah Mountain home provided the funds to establish The Bascom. Above, Overlooking Mountain, 1910. Artist George Watson Barratt (1884-1962).
The pottery barn.
Creating pottery may sound easy but …
Frank Vickery is director of ceramics for The Bascom.
The pottery barn, works in progress.
The Bascom is featuring the work of Dave Drake.
The Loft Gallery showcase of Dave Drake’s work is described as “a once in a generation exhibition.”
A Maine-born artist, Natasha Bowdoin is an assistant professor of painting and drawing at Rice University, Houston.
Brooklyn-based sculptor Eric Araujo’s lumber and steel compositions have been added to the facility’s Winkler Sculpture and Nature Trail.
The 200-year-old Will Henry Stevens Bridge spans the Thornapple River entrance to The Bascom. Imported from New Hampshire and reassembled in North Carolina in 2006, the bridge was reconstructed with replacement timbers and more than one thousand tree nails, dowels and trunnels.
Mountain scenes
“Lake House Rules.”
Summer buzz.
Ninety minutes north of Atlanta, Blue Ridge’s Main Street has become Buckhead North.
An objet d’art parked in front of a Blue Ridge barbecue restaurant.
Joe’s BBQ - Blue Ridge is certain to gratify the most discerning barbecue connoisseur.
A view of the creek.
Downtown Murphy, North Carolina’s Midcentury Modern Henn Theatre remains open.
The 1896 Carpenter Gothic-style Episcopal Church is located on Murphy’s Main Street.
Western North Carolina’s Nantahala National Forest  has a plentiful collection of riverfront cabins.
The Nantahala River attracts hundreds of visitors daily who raft, kayak or tube the more than three-hour adventure that includes Class I and Class II rapids.
We settled on a late afternoon lunch at River’s End restaurant with prime views of the rafters.
A Summer Bloom. In memory of my Mother who passed away July 9 from complications following a fall more than four years ago resulting in a devastating brain injury and left frontal lobe dementia  with gratitude to her tireless caregivers Mamie Williams and Rose Joseph, her Trustbridge Hospice of Palm Beach Crisis Care team, and the Parkside ALF for Alzheimer’s and Dementia Care. Thank you.
Photography by Augustus Mayhew.

Augustus Mayhew is the author of Palm Beach-A Greater Grandeur