The area around the Nantahala National Forest, in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, is a place of waterfalls, gorges, and towering ancient tulip poplars, a primeval American Eden. It was once home to the Cherokee Nation, and the Colonial-era botanist and adventurer William Bartram rhapsodized about it: “I beheld with rapture and astonishment, a sublimely awful scene of power and magnificence, a world of mountains piled upon mountains.”
Ever since Bartram swung through, the region has attracted escapees from New York, Baltimore, and Charleston in search of mountain air, fishing, hiking—the Appalachian idyll. In the 1890s, the famed surgeon William Stewart Halsted, a Fifth Avenue swell who shipped his shirts to Paris to be laundered and who co-founded the Johns Hopkins Hospital, came to the area to honeymoon in the mountain hamlet of Cashiers, at the Hampton Hunting Lodge (elevation: 3,500 feet). He was as smitten as Bartram had been. Dr. Halsted soon took possession of the Hampton estate, giving it a new name: High Hampton. He went on to accumulate about 2,000 acres, planted dahlias and specimen trees, and when he died, in 1922, his High Hampton became a mountain inn, eventually listed on the National Register of Historic Places.