By Dave Russell
The two-month bidding war for the Jarrett House ended in victory for former Whittier resident Chris Ellsworth.
The “For Sale” sign is gone from the 136-year-old Dillsboro inn and adjoining Coach’s Restaurant. The two initially sold for $120,000 at an auction on the Justice Center front sidewalk Oct. 26. Ellsworth, who lives in Marietta, Georgia, did not bid that day, relying on the upset bidding process to secure the property.
He and Mohamed Darar of Morrisville were the final two bidders, with Ellsworth putting down $300,000 for the property Dec. 23. Farar had 10 days to respond with a bid of $315,000, but waved a white flag instead.
Ellsworth is a 1991 Smoky Mountain High School graduate. He would restore the property to its “past glory,” he said.
“I have to figure out what the next steps are,” he said. “I’ve never bought one like this before.”
He has experience, though.
“I buy broken, dilapidated buildings and rebuild them,” he said. “My most recent project was a 188-unit apartment complex in Huntsville, Alabama. We just bought 25 commercial condos near Athens, Georgia, near the University of Georgia that are in rough shape and in need of love. I look for value-added opportunities where I can use my experience to put buildings back together and get some new life out of them.”
The future of the property is not etched in stone, but Ellsworth used the word “extravagant” in describing potential plans. A restaurant would be part of it, he said.
“I got a great deal, which allows me the opportunity to invest more in it,” Ellsworth said. “Ultimately, being able to do something that is an attraction to men and women, making the place a bit more comfortable, making people want to stay there instead of visiting for an hour just to grab some food.”
Shoring up the building’s foundation would be a first step, he said.
“The key is to just figure out what the structural challenges are and what needs to be addressed,” Ellsworth said. “Once I have a level building that is strong and structurally sound, then I think my options will be pretty open. The whole place needs a facelift, that’s for certain.”
House has been missed
The closing of the Jarrett House left a “big hole in Dillsboro,” town Clerk Debbie Coffey said.
“I am still getting several calls each week from people wanting to know if the Jarrett House is open and operational,” she said. “They almost always say it is somewhere they would stop at every time they visited the area. Many will go on to say they came as children with their parents and grandparents and are wanting to bring their kids and grandkids to experience the history and tradition that has always been offered there.”
Dillsboro Alderman David Gates, who bid on the property at the live auction in front of the Justice Center, worked at the Jarrett House as a youth.
“I washed dishes,” he said. “I was grateful they hired me, but one thing I took away from that – my wife will never be without a dishwasher.”
Gates has some experience refurbishing homes and toyed with the idea of taking on the Jarrett House.
“I thought about buying and re-doing it just for the fun of it, but I was not willing to pay what he was,” Gates said. “I wish the man (Ellsworth) well. I am very pleased that he is the gentleman who got it.”
Gates said he smiled when he got the call from Coffey about the sale.
“I’m excited. It would be so great for Jackson County and Dillsboro for it to get back open,” he said. “It was kind of the anchor for Dillsboro for 100 years. If you said you were coming to the mountains, everybody said ‘Well, go to the Jarrett House.’ It’s not going to be quite like it was because times have changed, but there’s a place for it.”