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The Chalet is the newly renovated original Kilmichael
Tower, a 40 foot viewing tower commissioned in the 1930's by Judge Heriot
Clarkson, a North Carolina Supreme Court Justice and founder of Little Switzerland.
Heriot named the tower for ancestral
family holdings in the British Isles: Kilmichael,
an Anglicized spelling, is derived from the Gaelic words Cill
Michaell, which mean the church of Michael, the archangel. The
original Cill Michael is commemorated as one of the earliest Christian
missionary cells in Ireland and Scotland.
Heriot first visited Grassy Mountain, where the tower was later
built, in 1909. His discovery of the pristine
mountain that later became known as The Beauty Spot of the Blue Ridge opens Dr. Louisa Duls' The Story of Little Switzerland, a book about
our unique mountain resort.
It was June, 1909. Grassy Mountain rose steep
in front of them as the three men guided their mules cautiously over
the rough turf that covered the mountainside. As they reached the open
grasslands of the top, involuntarily Mr. Heriot
Clarkson, an attorney from Charlotte, NC and instigator of this trip, drew in
the reins of his mount and sat gazing in disbelief. For on all sides,
as far as the eye could see, he was surrounded by an incredible dream
of misty blue mountains and green valleys made unbearably beautiful
by the play of sunlight and cloud shadows falling gently upon the Blue Ridge. It was hardly necessary for Mr. Clarkson
to articulate what was in his mind: "This is the place.
Heriot's search for the ideal place to found
a vacation community had taken him to the summit of a 4000 foot mountain.
Beyond valleys and ridges, twenty miles to his west stood Mt. Mitchell, the highest mountain east of the Mississippi. About thirty miles to the east and
northeast were craggy Grandfather Mountain and Flat-Top Table Rock Mountain.
reminded Heriot of the Jura Range in Switzerland that he had recently visited, so the
1100 acre parcel of land that he purchased he named Little Switzerland.
next 25 years, Little Switzerland became a summer resort with a small
hotel, a general store, a post office, an Episcopal church, about two
dozen summer homes, and Kilmichael Tower.
was built in the early '30's. It served as a community gathering place
and also as a destination for travelers on the newly opened Blue Ridge
Parkway to view the surrounding landscape.
was completed by local craftsmen, among them men whose families had settled
as early as the 1600's in the mountains that were like the Scottish Highlands
in so many ways. Among these hardy and capable people were members of
the McKinney clan, one of whom completed the
exterior stone walls. Two oxen--Pete and Repete--dragged
the stones day after day on a wooden sled up to the site, and Fate crafted
the stones into four rock-solid walls with Celtic style arches.
Kilmichael Tower was described in the May
edition of the Spruce Pine News as follows:
contains a large number of windows to light the interior staircase which
leads one to the observation platform. An excellent view may be obtained
from inside the tower by timid persons who would be awed by the sudden
sweep presented from the platform above.
along the Blue
Ridge Parkway would take Grassy Mountain Road to its crest where the tower stood.
Inside, they could purchase a coke and snacks at the small concession
stand before climbing the stairs bolted to the stone tower walls. Up on
the wooden viewing deck, they had panoramic views of the surrounding mountains.
On the Fourth of July and other special occasions, community picnics were
held on the tower grounds.
In the forties,
two bronze plaques were affixed to the tower, one commemorating Heriot Clarkson, and the other all the men from Little
Switzerland and Spruce Pine who had
served their country in the Second World War. These plaques are on display
today on a miniature stone tower.
The miniature tower is located at the
Church of the Resurrection, an Episcopal church in Little Switzerland
that is on the National Register of Historical Places.
In the eighties,
the Kilmichael Tower was transformed into a
home, a cozy retreat of natural beauty. The
original stone structure, including the front entry and windows, was preserved.
Keeping up the family rockwork tradition, the original rock-mason's son and grandson--Landon
and Doug--added two interior stone walls and the fireplace. The walls,
with their massive 2-foot thickness and R-16 insulation sandwiched in
the middle, keep the chalet cool in the summer and warm in the winter
and--under the loft in front of the fireplace--as quiet as a wine cellar.