Around 1900, two brothers-in-law, Joseph Kenney, and Walter Christy traveled from Athens, Georgia, to Balsam, North Carolina, in the hopes of starting their own business. Both Kenney, and Christy favored outdoor activities, and hoped to capitalize on their passion, and know how.
They opened a modest boarding house and offered extensive fishing and hunting expeditions to anyone who stayed with them. These services, along with really good food, made the boarding house become quite popular.
In 1905, the two gentlemen decided to expand their business, and by 1908, construction on their hotel was officially complete. They called it the Balsam Mountain Springs Hotel. It had one hundred rooms available, with extensive porches, designed to provide breathtaking views to its guests.
While mountain inns, such as the Mountain Springs, became rather trendy in those days, many succumbed to fires. Others shut down, due to the extensive cost of upkeep. The two brothers, however, chose the location of their hotel wisely.
Mountain Springs was nestled in a valley between Plott Balsam, and Richland Balsam–two large mountain ranges. The gap provided adequate terrain for railroad tracks, and Balsam Gap became home to the most crowded railroad station in the east.
The convenience, and the exemplary service, made the brother’s hotel a continued success. Most of their profits stemmed from long-term guests who stayed at the hotel for the duration of the summer. Over time, the grand beauty of the landscape, and the charm of the building itself earned the hotel the nickname “Grand Old Lady.”
Economic Changes and Hardships
Even so, all good things must come to an end. Railway service became significantly less popular once interstates became the norm, and Balsam Gap became increasingly more anonymous. By the late 1980s, the Grand Old Lady was primarily empty, and in an alarming state of disrepair.
Enter preservationist Merrily Teasley. Teasley stumbled upon the hotel while hiking with a friend, and instantly fell in love. She purchased the property and hired a crew of workmen to painstakingly add modern amenities, such as private bathrooms, and heat. By 1991, the first two floors were reopened. The third floor followed in 1996. There were a total of 50 rooms available upon completion.
In December of 2017, an experienced hotelier named Marzena Wyszynska decided to purchase the Balsam Mountain Inn. Once again, it was in need of extensive updates, including new plumbing, heating, and electrical work. Restoration efforts were completed, and the hotel was reopened in April 2018. The hotel was officially renamed The Grand Old Lady Hotel in January 2019.
Someone in the Room
When Wyszynska first started making arrangements to purchase the inn, the former owners, as well as several staff members, were very open about the fact that the hotel was haunted. Wyszynska was immediately skeptical of these stories–until she stayed at the inn one night, shortly before the sale.
She woke up in the middle of the night. She watched, amazed, as some unseen force deliberately pulled the blanket off the bed. The following morning she also began to hear scratching sounds, coming from the empty room beside hers. That single night alone was enough to make Wyszynska a believer in the supernatural realm.
Cleansing and Communication
Initially, Wyszynska believed the paranormal activity that plagued the hotel would be bad for business. She contacted a local priest and had him cleanse the property. Strange things began happening a few weeks later, however, and a new plan of action was needed.
She ultimately hired a local paranormal investigation team. As the team spent hours communicating with the spirits, individual voices, and personalities began to come through. Wyszynska realized that when she had acquired the hotel, she had also inadvertently acquired a family of spirits as well, ones that considered the inn to be their permanent home.
One spirit has been affectionately nicknamed Sheriff. The team learned that Sheriff had been visiting the hotel, and had been shot outside the building in 1928. Fatally wounded, Sheriff was brought into the hotel, and placed in Room 205, where he passed away. The sheriff had been a very attractive young man when he was alive and had been considered a bit of a womanizer. To this day, the Sheriff is more apt to make his presence known when there are only ladies in the room.
A Lot of Bumps in the Night
The sheriff is a popular spirit at the Grand Old Lady, but there are plenty of other ghosts around, many of which are quite active. Many guests have reported phantom footsteps in the large hallways of the inn, as well as a lingering presence right outside their room door. Some have even claimed that they will hear voices, names, being whispered in the middle of the night.
It is not uncommon for guests to witness strange shadows in the rooms, and hallway of the hotel. These mysterious shadows seem to move of their own volition and are usually considered to be spectres.
Much like Wyszynska herself, guests have reported invisible entities tugging at their bedding while they try to sleep. A few have reported the sounds of giggling, though no guests could be seen nearby. No living guests, at any rate. In a few, albeit rare, cases, a couple of guests have even witnessed objects moving entirely on their own.
The hotelier quickly realized that it was better to embrace the supernatural activity of the inn, rather than try to fight it. She placed a register in each of the rooms, specifically so guests can record any paranormal activity they experience during their stay. Paranormal investigators are frequently brought to the Grand Old Lady, to interact with the spirits, and relay their experiences to any interested visitors.
Today, small iron signs, bidding “welcome” have been placed above the door frame of certain rooms within the hotel. This is to indicate that the room is considered to be home to one or more spirits. Wyszynska herself now considers the ghosts to be a part of the family.
Visiting the Grand Old lady Hotel
As of May 2021, the hotel closed its doors due to ongoing Covid-related restrictions and was discovered to be up for sale on LoopNet for $2.5 million. The listing isn’t currently live so whether it has changed ownership or not remains unknown.