Banner Elk Hotel
The Banner Elk Hotel in Avery County, North Carolina is the only remaining historic inn in the town of Banner Elk which was associated with the booming tourism industry that began in the late nineteenth century in the mountains of western North Carolina. The original section of the Banner Elk Hotel, a small, two-story, single-family house, was built ca. 1856. Later additions appear to have included the expansion of the original house into an I-house form between 1877 to 1891, and the addition of two wings to the rear between 1891 to 1898.
The property’s original owner appears to have been Lewis B. Banner, one of the earliest settlers in Banner Elk, who gave the house and a portion of his land to his son Edwin Joseph Banner in 1877. To accommodate the burgeoning tourist industry Edwin Banner likely operated the house as an inn beginning in the 1880s. The property was later sold to Robert Lee and Blanche VonCanon Lowe who opened the Banner Elk Hotel in 1898. For fifty years, the hotel served not only as a tourist destination from spring to fall every year but was also a focal point of the local community. Many civic, church, school, and social groups met at the inn, and local people often came for the bountiful meals. Fannie Lowe, daughter of Robert and Blanche Lowe, continued to operate the hotel until the late 1960s, offering the same degree of hospitality and warmth as her parents.
The Banner Elk Hotel officially opened on June 1, 1898. An advertisement for the hotel noted that it was only eight miles from the railroad (at Elk Park or Cranberry), with “…good accommodations and polite service”. Rates were $1.00 per day, $5.00 per week, and $15.00 per month. The ad also stated that “…you cannot find a place where the scenery and other attractions are better, and the very low rates offered for board make this the ideal place for the tourist from the low country. The Hotel and furnishings are both new, and guests will receive the very best attention.”
Banner Elk Hotel
|1856 – 1950
Guests were transported by horse and buggy from the train to the hotel. While the Banner Elk Hotel was more modest in its accommodations than the nearby Eseeola Inn at Linville or the Green Park Inn at Blowing Rock, it had over twenty rooms available for rent, and quickly became known for its hospitality; gay, social atmosphere; and excellent food grown on the surrounding farmlands, orchards, and gardens. Livestock was also raised on-site for use at the hotel. Three meals were served per day, with a typical breakfast consisting of oatmeal, eggs, bacon, ham, biscuits, butter, and jam. Blanche Lowe supervised a staff of cooks, with students from Lees-McRae College often waiting on tables in the summers. Other staff came from nearby Lenoir. Fresh flowers from the hotel gardens were always on the tables, and cold lemonade was served on the wide porches on summer evenings. Excursions trips on horseback were offered to the guests, often including an overnight camping trip in the nearby mountains. Day trips were offered to guests to the nearby Blue Ridge Parkway beginning in the 1930s. Spring water was piped into the hotel from a spring that was one-fourth of a mile away. Water was piped through hollowed-out Chestnut logs crafted by Bill Banner, a neighbor, and cousin of Blanche Lowe, who also crafted the newel posts and balustrades and some of the furniture in the house.
The hotel was open to guests primarily from April to October each year, but there were often small numbers of guests at the hotel in the winter months as well, including local teachers who boarded during the school term. Guest registers, which date from May 29, 1934, to August 1967, include visitors from Boone, Asheville, Lenoir, Johnson City, Erwin, Elizabethton, Crossnore, Hickory, Salisbury, and Newland, but also list repeat visits from guests from as far away as California, England, and France. Over thirty states were represented at one time or another by guests at the Banner Elk Hotel.
Well-known guests included Shepherd Monroe Dugger, the first superintendent of Watauga County schools and an author known as the “bard of Banner Elk”; Marjorie Rawlins, author of The Yearling, who wrote some of the book at the inn; Maximilian J. St. George, author of Traveling Light or Cycling Europe on Fifty Cents A Day; Congressman Jamie Clarke and family; Reverend Edgar Tufts, founder of Lees-McRae College; and Lieutenant Governor W. C. Newland, for whom the town of Newland was named.
The hotel, while established primarily as a tourist guest house, served the local community of Banner Elk in many other ways as well. It was often the social center of the local community, with weekly dances, quilting parties for the local women, meals open to the local residents, and weddings and anniversaries often celebrated there. On New Year’s Eve, the hotel would host a gathering for the men in the community, which included a possum supper, and children’s events such as candy pulls and Halloween parties were always part of the hotel’s activities. It was the meeting place for many community, school, and church groups, including the Red Cross during World War I, the Presbyterian Woman’s Circle, the Banner Elk Woman’s Club, and the Literary Society. The post office, which had been established for Banner Elk in 1875, was located there in the 1890s. The hotel also served as the location for voter registration for the county. In the 1920s, the telephone exchange was located in the hotel, and there was a small lending library there before the local public library was established.
In addition to their work as host and hostess of the hotel, Robert and Blanche Lowe were involved in many other community activities. Blanche Lowe was head of the Republican Party for Avery County and served on the executive committee of the local Red Cross chapter. She also served as postmaster, running the post office out of the hotel from 1891 to 1897. Robert Lowe was mayor of Banner Elk at one time, served as head of the Democratic Party for the county, and was the first Justice of the Peace in Avery County. As Justice of the Peace, he performed the first wedding in the newly established Avery County at the Banner Elk Hotel. Robert Lowe also owned and managed a store across the street from the hotel (on the present-day Lees-McRae College campus), and ordered supplies for the hotel from there. In 1909, he also built a store in Valle Crucis, the Watauga Supply Company, which was two blocks from the Mast Store. He sold it in 1910 to Charles D. Taylor and Dr. H. B. Perry. This building is now the Mast Store Annex.
On August 24, 1948, soon after the death of Robert Lee Lowe, his will was found. In it, he willed the hotel and associated acreage of approximately 2.84 acres to daughters Fannie and Annie, with the remainder of the hotel lot to be sold with proceeds to his other children, Gilbert, Charles, Lucy, and Mildred.
Fannie Lowe, the eldest of the Lowe children, helped to run the hotel as a young woman, and then took over managing and mining it after her parents died in 1948 and willed the property to her and her sister Annie. She continued the long-established traditions of her parents in extending warm hospitality to both local and out-of-town visitors to the hotel. In addition to her duties as hostess of the Banner Elk Hotel, Fannie Lowe was president of the Banner Elk Woman’s Club and served in the 1930s on the Avery County Public Welfare Board. Fannie continued to run the hotel until the end of 1967 and died on September 15, 1973. In her will dated August 28, 1961, Fannie Lowe willed one-half interest in the hotel property including the …furnishings, glass, linens, and china…” to her brother Charles L. Lowe. Annie Lowe Morgan willed the other half-interest in the hotel to her two sons. Upon the death of Charles L. Lowe, the hotel property was passed on to descendants of the Robert Lowe family who still own it today.
The Banner Elk Hotel is eligible for listing under National Register Criterion A in the areas of social history and entertainment/recreation for its contributions to the development of the town of Banner Elk and for its role in the history of tourism in Avery County. It is also eligible under Criterion C for architecture as a highly intact example of an unpretentious but substantial frame building originally constructed in the mid-nineteenth century and expanded during the latter part of the century in order to accommodate growing numbers of tourists.
Edited for space and readability. View the full NRHP Application HERE.
- Banner, Lewis Bitting
- Banner, Edwin Joseph
- Banner, Martin Luther
- Lowe, Blanche Von Canon
- Lowe, Fannie
- Lowe, Robert Lee
Geography & Location
Banner Elk Hotel
309 Banner Street
Banner Elk, NC 28604