When a reader told me that the Mountaineer Inn sold for $6.1 million, my first thought was a pretty strong, "Huh?"
$6.1 million? For a motel that dates back to 1939, it seems to have a lot of cheddar, and shall we say, it has seen better days. Hey, according to Buncombe County tax records, the total assessed value of the motel and two acres is $2,863,000.
My second thought was, "Well, it has to be a demolition and another dodgy new hotel in Asheville. I wonder if this giant redneck icon will end up being forgotten to history."
Like most people who have lived here for a long time (I'm not a local, just a resident since 1995), I have mixed feelings about this scruffy, barefoot, almost daring mountain traveler with muskets in hand. Accommodation on a motor boat on the way to the tunnel. And let's not forget the short mountain men that surround the room, including a gruff climber holding a vial labeled "XXX."
But perhaps the worst part is the inscription on the sign: the reversed "E" and "N" in "Mountain Inn". It is hard not to read the message about the alleged mountain illiteracy.
The new owners will keep the sign
Before anyone gets excited, the new owners of LOGE Camps (pronounced "Lodge") plan to keep the iconic logo. LOGE stands for "Live Outdoors Go Explore," and outdoor vibes, by the way, are the theme of this Bend, Oregon company.
"We're more rebuilders than developers," LOGE Vice President Slate Olson told me in a phone interview. "We know it has a lot of charm and character, and it probably needs a lot of work to make it seem more modern and fantastic to us who travel today."
Olson said there would be a "cog wall" in the room for people to hang mountain bikes and such on, but being a redneck, I swear I thought he was talking about a "deer wall." We all laughed.
"I believe if somebody brings in fresh game, if they like it, that's really fine with us," Olson joked. "We're building floors underneath so the dirt can drip."
The motel has 76 rooms, and they plan to keep all but 10, and use the additional space for a cafe and bar. They're also adding a sauna, hot tub, and cold tub to help with recovery after all those outdoor activities, and they're renovating rooms and bringing in new furniture and decor. They plan to keep the price point reasonable -- likely in the $129 to $169 range -- and will keep the racetrack styling.
"Probably the most important thing is that we absolutely keep the logo," Olson said. "We don't want that to change in any way."
I told him that he loved the logo, but also kind of hated it.
"It's a conversation," Olson said. "In general, we like to preserve the heritage of every place we conquer."
The company specializes in buying and renovating properties that may have passed, but their intention is never to erase history, he said. Instead, they want to be a part of history and move it forward.
"It felt like part of the DNA, and certainly part of a different era," Olson said. "It's such an iconic design element and landmark that we feel it deserves to stay."
Olsen said he understands that "Beverly Hillbilly is associated with the hillbilly concept, but it feels like a piece of history worth living."
"Some things are just icons, and I think this one is positive," he added.
I can see the strange appeal of this logo for some people. It's tacky, neon-lit at night, and might make some locals nostalgic for Tunnel Road of yesteryear, when it featured busy drive-ins like Buck's, Wink and Babe Malloy's, along with a bunch of the usual teenage cruising-up Chevrolets and Fords.
Like it or not, it's part of America.
'We're still hunting possums'
But it's definitely a stereotype of a peasant who drinks moonshine, wears overalls and brandishes a rifle.
Jim Buchanan, former editorial page editorcitizen of the roadnow an editorsylva vjesnikI was once told in Jackson County that rednecks are the only blatantly offensive stereotype in America that can still be milked. By the way, Buchanan is a native of Jackson County and the author of "Historical Stories of Sylva and Jackson County."
When I texted him about it all, he said, "I guess it's accepted because guys like Jed Clapett always seem to win. And because real rednecks really don't have time to get excited about it."
The "Snoopy Smith" comic strip continues to appear in hundreds of newspapers across the country and is a mountain man stereotype. (Fun note: The guy who drew that cartoon, John Ross, lived in the same dorm I did as a freshman in college.)
Dan Pierce, a history professor at the University of North Carolina at Asheville, moved to Boncombe when he was 3 years old, and his family hails from the mountains of East Tennessee, where he claims to be redneck. Although he said he was surprised by some of the mountain folk stereotypes immigrants and retirees believed to be true when they moved here — we joked that they thought the movie Deliverance was akin to a documentary — Pierce won't take offense to the redneck stereotype.
"I do it professionally," Pierce said with a laugh. "You can't stop some people from thinking that way, but you can make them think."
When it comes to mountain sayings and legends, Pierce occasionally screws things up.
"I like the whole idea of playing a peasant," he said. "I was driving an old pickup truck with a sticker that said 'We're still hunting possums.'
Pierce is the author of several books, including "Real NASCAR Racing: White Lightning, Red Clay, and Big Bill French" and "Tarheel Lightning," a history of moonshine in the mountains. They were a pleasure to read, and it was obvious that he was a very literate man.
And, as he admits describing the peasants, "the truth is that this is a stereotype that still exists."
But even at 67, Pierce is still the type of guy who likes to interrupt meetings with college junkies with something like, "Let me throw a skunk in the middle of the table." The reactions are always priceless, he said.
So you might have guessed that he falls into the "keep the logo as is" camp.
"I hate to see it go because it's been an Asheville icon my whole life," Pierce said.
I will also point out that we have some high school and college teams here called the "Mountaineers", including Appalachian State University in Boone, which has a Mountaineer mascot named "Yosef". By the way, I may or may not have a fleece jacket with Yosef.
Not like the hustle and bustle of "Chief Pontiac"
But back to the climber logo. I look forward to further controversy surrounding his nearly century-old guard on the tunnel road.
The study stands in stark contrast to the Chief Pontiac controversy embroiled in the GMC "Harry's on the Hill" dealership in West Asheville in 2018. Many locals protested that Harry's would remove the iconic fiberglass Indian chief after so many years, but in my opinion and many others it was time to release the shirtless figure - he ended up in a museum by the way.
The United States concluded that such condescending depictions of American Indians were undesirable. That's why we have the Washington Commanders football team and the Cleveland Guardians baseball team instead of the Redskins and Indians.
But it's still okay to poke a peasant, so I'm not going to cry over the climber logo.
When my wife and I moved here in 1995, the first festival we attended was "Racoon Dog Day" in Saluda, Polk County. Yes, it's ostensibly a celebration of dogs, but it's also an excuse for big parades and street parties.
Grace and I still talk about this peasant ship that has an old Model T truck that is rigged to shoot up and shoot white smoke all the time. Half a dozen "rednecks" in torn overalls ride on the roof and drink from liquor jugs marked XXX.
I must say it's a lot of fun. But should it be?
Probably not, but you have human duality. This might be too loud. Mountaineers might say that everything is "opposite of right".
As a result, I think we can be sure that the Mountaineer sign will continue to make friends and enemies along Tunnel Road.
Regarding the $6.1 million list price, Olson told me he thinks their price is a good value between the location and Asheville's growing tourism economy. They plan to invest significantly in the property, which will be open until the fall, then closed for renovations and closed in the spring.
"We feel like it's really fair," Olson said. "We don't feel like we're overpaying. We think the value is there."
I'd say the giant peasant has the last laugh.
Asheville Watchdog is a nonprofit news team that produces stories that matter to Asheville and Buncombe County. John Boyle has been covering Asheville and surrounding communities since the 20th century. He can be reached at (828) 337-0941 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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