The Old Edwards Inn, Highland’s earliest boarding house, was built in 1878 by John Norton and known as the Central House. Norton combined four lots and constructed a two-and-a-half story frame structure with a gabled roof and a two-level front porch. The town of Highlands was founded in 1875 by Kansas developers who drew two lines on a map, one from Chicago to Savannah, the other from New York City to New Orleans, believing that the intersection would be good for trade.
In 1880, Norton exchanged Central House with Joseph Halleck for Halleck’s just completed Highlands House. Halleck ran Central House for eight years before selling it to James Rideout, who immediately traded it to David Norton of Norton Community for Satulah House, an Inn that Rideout had just built on Norton’s 5th Street property.
For the next seventeen years, from May through October, David Norton and his wife Martha “Mattie” Adams, better known as Uncle Dave and Aunt Mat, managed Central House. Their inn became widely known for its hospitality. The Nortons entertained generously and lavishly. Rev. Archibald Deal attributed to Aunt Mat a “joyous spirit warmed one like a sunbeam.” She and Uncle Dave were as good and honest as they were loyal to their friends, and their charity was known to be boundless.
In 1920, Porter Pierson sold what had then become known as the Rock Store to his brother-in-law W.S. Davis of Hampton, Georgia. Davis continued to operate it as a country grocery store for a dozen years or so. In 1925, the town’s police chief “Diamond Joe” Edwards and his wife, Minnie hired Will Cleaveland to build a two-story addition to Central House and raise two dormers in the roof of the main building. Four years later, after Edward’s death, Minnie married his Uncle Will Edwards. In 1934, they hired Wilton Cobb to construct the Hotel Edwards, designed by architect Linton H. Young. The classically-designed Hotel Edwards opened in 1935.
Minnie operated the new Hotel Edwards and the Central House until her health failed in 1950. The McDowells and the Rowes tried but failed to operate successfully. The Hotel Edwards closed in the mid-sixties until Rip and Pat Benton bought, operated and renovated it in 1982. In 2001, Art and Angela Williams of Palm Beach, Florida bought the Inn and restaurant and invested $50 million in the property, purchasing the former Kelsey Hutchinson Lodge and converting it to the Lodge at Old Edwards.
The Williams enhanced the Spa and the Farm, added the Executive Conference Center and refurbished the Madison Restaurant. In 2009, the Williams purchased the Highlands Cove Golf Club, invested $5 million and reopened it as the “Old Edwards Club at Highlands Cove.” They also launched the Old Edwards Private Residences at Satulah.
Old Edwards Inn vibrates with the arts, including live entertainment in Hummingbird Lounge and the alfresco Wine Garden, premium cocktails and culinary venues offering fresh, healthy cuisine – all delivered in Old-European style, service, and ambiance. An outdoor heated mineral pool, whirlpool and poolside bar, and cabana beckon city dwellers and lowlanders to rise above the heat and humidity to bask in a blissful mountain retreat.
There are many golf courses of distinction in the area. Bobby Jones spent several summers at the Highlands Country Club, and he still holds the course record. The Wade Hampton Club, designed by golf course guru Tom Fazio, was ranked 17th in the United States by Golf Digest in 2005.
Some of the resort’s many accolades include being named the #9 Most Romantic Hotel in America by Travel and Leisure Magazine; Trip Advisor’s Traveler’s Choice Awards 2012 #4 Hotel in The United States; Southern Living’s “The South’s Coziest Inn,” and a top 50 resort in Travel and Leisure Magazine’s annual World’s Best Awards. Old Edwards was also named Condé Nast Traveler’s Top Hotel Spa in North America 2010, with the first ever perfect score in the 20-year history of Reader’s Choice Survey.
Today, the Old Edwards Inn and Spa is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a member of the Historic Hotels of America. It is also rated as Forbes Four-Star and AAA Four-Diamonds for both the Resort and the Spa.
This article has been excerpted with the author’s permission from the book, “Built To Last: 100+ Year-Old Hotels East of the Mississippi,” AuthorHouse 2013. The author, Stanley Turkel, is a recognized authority and consultant in the hotel industry. He operates his hotel, hospitality and consulting practice specializing in asset management, operational audits and the effectiveness of hotel franchising agreements and litigation support assignments. Clients are hotel owners, investors and lending institutions. His latest book is “Hotel Mavens: Lucius M. Boomer, George C. Boldt and Oscar of the Waldorf.”