By Dave Russell
Mark Twain, Winston Churchill or perhaps Jonathan Swift once said “everything old is new again.” Whittier native and Smoky Mountain High grad Chris Ellsworth is bringing the phrase to life at the historic Jarrett House in Dillsboro, which he purchased at auction in January 2021.
Ellsworth is looking to return every board, nail, doorknob, window and other pieces back into the inn as he renovates the Jackson County landmark.
“The goal is to put the Jarrett House back to what it was in the 1880s through early 1900s,” Ellsworth said. “We hope to respect the building and put it back to what it was in the first place.”
The building is on the National Register of Historic Places.
“We’re doing a formal restoration to a historical building following the National Park Service’s guidelines for preservation,” he said. “The building has had limited updating for 140 years.”
Renovation goes deep
The house foundation consisted of piles of rocks with boards sitting on them, he said.
“Those boards had basically melted onto those rocks,” he said. “We’ve kept those rocks in a pile and I’m excited to find a place for them, maybe a fire pit or something. Even putting a new foundation in we could not level all the floors in a reasonable fashion, but we can make sure it never moves again. We had to remove portions of the foundation, the floor system and even parts of the wall system, but we have put them all back exactly as they were, using as much of the original material as possible.”
The aluminum siding is in the process of removal and will be replaced by the original wood siding, he said.
“Right now you can see all of the original siding from the 1880s, and it’s not in great shape,” Ellsworth said. “We have to scrape it, get all the nails off it, caulk it, seal it and repaint it. All the wood that we can salvage from the building is going to be reused. All of it. If a piece is broken and too small and we can’t put it back in, we’re going to replicate it.”
Every bit of drywall has been removed. Every window will be taken out and cleaned up and restored and re-installed. All of the furniture is being restored.
“All the doors are original, the trim is being saved,” Ellsworth said. “We’re going to use as many of the original doorknobs as we have, but any new doorknobs will be time period specific. So it will not be the kind of place where you get your little magnetic card upon check in. I’m hoping you check in and get in your room with a skeleton key.”
Some of the furniture might be new, but it would be period pieces to match the early 1900s feel of the rest of the building, he said.
“I was able to save all the barrel chairs from the Jarrett House Restaurant so I am refinishing them,” Ellsworth said. “They are going to look brand new, but they are the original chairs.”
Furniture from the rooms and other areas has been cleaned and refurbished as well.
The iron railing on the front porch is coming down.
“The original railing from 1884 is coming back,” he said. “We’re replicating it exactly. All the decorative pieces, all of it will be back to the way it was in the 1880s.”
Ellsworth is basing much of the renovation on historical photos.
“I’m looking for more pictures, more stories and more history of the Jarrett House,” he said. “Especially any view that is not of the front. The more detail we can find about what it once was, the more accurately we can put it back together. I want the house to be kind of a tribute to Dillsboro and the Jarrett House.”
He has plenty of pictures of the facade from the early era, but no shots of the back or sides of the building.
“I’m really looking for anybody in the community who can help us with that,” he said, offering the email address firstname.lastname@example.org for submissions.
Diners will once again enjoy the family-style dining the Jarrett House offered for many years.
“It’s going to have the same menu it has always had,” he said. “Family style southern cooking, as close to what it has been for the last 50 years as possible.”
“Also, we will have two or three retail shops,” he said. “One is planned to be a bakery and coffee shop. In the other space, I would like to have, on consignment, local handmade products that could have been made in the 1800s. Woodworking, metal working, fabrics, quilts, lotions, soaps, wooden toys ... anything that could have been made 100 years ago could be sold in the shop.”
An announcement inviting local crafters to participate is coming soon, he said.
Support for his effort has been overwhelming, he said.
“I’ve never done a project with more support from the community,” he said. “I’ve done about 100 projects like this, but I have never had the support that we have now. Everybody is excited about helping me get the project done.”
Still, it is a challenge.
“It happens to be the biggest project I’ve ever done,” Ellsworth said. “I did not set out to do a renovation this large. I intended to clean up the place and make it much nicer, but I did not intend to go to the level of renovation that we found necessary once we started taking the place apart and seeing what was underneath it. A lot of it was rotted and broken and had to be replaced.”
In addition to opening year-round, Ellsworth hopes to host special events.
“I really want to be able to have weddings there,” he said. “I want to offer full service – host the wedding onsite, have the reception onsite and have all the guests spend the night.”
The former Coach’s Bistro, now separated from the main house as it was many years ago, will have three functions.
“It’s going to be an event center for private parties with a full service kitchen,” he said. “It’s also going to be overflow seating for the Jarrett House Restaurant and when neither of those are happening we can operate a bar out of it. We are leaving our options open.”
Ellsworth has found a few treasures, he said.
“We discovered a board that has a message from a person from 1888,” he said. “It was on the back of a piece of door trim on the second floor. He left a note saying he was going upstairs to work on it and signed it ‘Your friend, J.B. Early, June 8, 1888.’ We found a note from 1991 from a couple of gentleman working on the roof. They were freezing apparently, so they put a note on a piece of wood and put it in the building.”
Perhaps the most exciting find is a book of original poetry by Frank Jarrett. “It’s in very rough shape, it’s hand-bound,” he said. “It’s signed and autographed by Jarrett, from 1911.”
The Jarrett family bought the inn from Dillsboro founder William Allen Dills, who built it in 1884, naming it Mount Beulah Hotel. Dills sold the hotel in 1894 to R.H. Jarrett & Sons of Franklin, and Frank Jarrett took over the management and renamed the establishment the Jarrett Springs Hotel.
“I’m looking for historical pieces of the Jarrett House to put on display in the restaurant and lobby,” Ellsworth said. “Like I found this old stamp from 1885, an embossed seal from the Blue Ridge Locust Pin Company,” he said.
The target opening date is Jan. 1, when the hotel’s 24 fully renovated rooms will welcome guests, he said.
Ellsworth has a request from the community.