History of York House Inn
The York House is Georgia's oldest continuously operating Inn, and the oldest continuing business in Rabun County, Georgia. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places (NRIS item is 82002459 and the property was published 09/09/1982). In the Rabun County area after the Civil War, farming was the industry of the county with only a grist mill and some scattered sawmills. Hiram Gibson deeded 40 of his 1,077 (175 improved as of 1880) acres near the Little Tennessee River to his grand- daughter, Mollie, “Little Mama” (Mollie Gibson York-13 Feb 1859-03 Sep 1946) in 1873. She and her Civil War veteran husband William T. York, “Papa Bill” (1850- 05 April 1929) eventually grew the farm to approximately 400 acres. The Inn began operating in 1896 in the two-story farmhouse, and the addition to the original structure was completed in 1907. As late as 1981 original wiring from a Delco system of 1907 were still in use. It appears that the Inn maintained as many as twenty six rooms and several indoor bathrooms by the end of the original owners' management.
The farmhouse itself dates to 1846 and was constructed from Chestnut logs, then covered with pine plank siding. The logs are unique as American Chestnut trees were killed off in a blight in the 1920s. Chestnut beams and the original dove-tailed log construction can be viewed in the gifts area and in the former slaves quarters, now refurbished, on the lower level. In this area of Georgia, farming was the primary goal, with the York farm producing barley, corn and rye. The York House continued passing from mother to daughter until 1979.
Originally the Inn was built to house workers for the railroad and then catering to travelers or boarders on the Tallulah Falls Railroad. The Charter for the Georgia Corporation was granted in 1838, but wrangling over the railroad route caused construction delays until the 1850s. Construction started in 1854. All of the work on the railroad project was stopped with the outbreak of the Civil War.
The failure of the Blue Ridge Railroad, employing what was estimated as 2000 people before the War, resulted in adverse social and economic conditions the area. After the war, efforts to resurrect the Blue Ridge Railroad failed. The railroad that did come to Rabun County was the Tallulah Falls Railroad which ran from Cornelia to Franklin, NC. Construction on the Tallulah Falls project, originally referred to as the Northeastern Railroad, began in 1871. The goal was to build a railroad connecting Athens to the planned Blue Ridge Railroad, using the right-of-way through Clayton.
By 1895 the immediate property had as many as eight additional structures: a spring house, smoke house, dance pavilion, wagon shed, pig pens, log cabin, corn crib and stables. The spring house is the only structure remaining, several were destroyed to construct the house next door and the smoke house and log cabin were relocated and reconstructed at nearby Foxfire center. A interesting walk-through can be found in the 2017 Spring/Summer Foxfire magazine. During its early history the Inn was described as “the large ideal country home with a farm run in connection with the house where all kinds of fresh vegetables are raised: chicken and fresh meats daily, milk and butter in plenty”. Amenities included “tennis court, mountain spring water, large verandas, shade trees, free access to grape, plum and apple orchards and a new system of hot and cold waterworks and bathrooms on each floor.”
The York House Inn was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982. The Inn was accepted to the Register for its evolution from log cabin to Victorian Inn, landscape architecture making use of the aesthetic features and natural setting, it’s significant association with railroad commerce and finally due to the Gibson and York family significance in local politics.
The York House design reflects similar hotels of the day, however most examples of the “Resort Era” were located in town square areas and not rural adaptations. Most are long gone. The landscaping and building orientation and well known two story porch make for excellent views of the Little Tennessee River Valley. Railroads have long been a part of Rabun County history, and therefore, that of the York House as well. The York House and its long gone dance pavilion were a community gathering place. The Gibson and York family members were active in local politics, Hiram Gibson being Sheriff of Rabun County and William York being Sheriff of the City of Clayton. Many of the York women were colorful local personalities.
The Inn has hosted famous guests, including Walt Disney and Joel Chandler Harris. Also, scenes from the films Deliverance (1972) and the Great Locomotive Chase(1956) have been filmed here. A full story on the Inn can be found in the Spring 2017 Foxfire Magazine.