Tourism in Pocahontas County has a rich history
William P. McNeel
The Pocahontas Times
As this article was being started in late February, there were people coming into the county in their Grand Cherokees full of skiing equipment. As it is being finished in March, the skis are about gone and the vehicles are carrying high tech mountain bikes, soon to be followed by riders for the Cass train and visitors to our parks. Not too many months ago, our visitors were coming for the fall colors and the hunting seasons.
Today, as everyone is aware, tourism is a major business in the county and becoming more so each year. Obviously, this has not always been the case. Marlin and Sewell certainly were not tourists, and for the next hundred years or so, the people coming to the area were here for reasons other than vacations.
However, somewhere between Marlin and Sewell and today’s skiers, there was a first person to come into Pocahontas county not to settle nor for business, but simply to “get away from it all.”
In general, the ability of the average person to take a vacation is relatively recent. Up until about 100 years ago, only a small percentage of very wealthy folks were able to travel. For the rest of the population, survival involved working six or seven days a week, virtually the entire year. Winter weather might have given farm families some time off from major work, but it also prevented travel on very rudimentary roads of the time.
The idea of vacation time for most folks had to await the economic changes that brought about the middle class and leisure time. Also needed was the improved transportation system that came with the development of railroads. The railroads had a good deal to do with development of an organized tourism industry, promoting excursions to help fill their passenger trains.
Marlinton was the terminating point for an excursion on August 11, 1901, with 542 passengers descending upon the town. They arrived in ten cars behind engine No. 158. After eating at the various local restaurants and hotels, the crowd spent the afternoon looking the town over, before departing at 6 p.m. Although the town had been a little apprehensive before the crowd arrived, due to concerns about a possible disorderly element, the good behavior of the excursionists and the fact they left several hundred dollars behind left the townspeople with the willingness “to see as many excursions as the railway company cares to give us.”
Of course, even before people started to come to Pocahontas County as tourists, there were travelers coming through for many purposes, and catering to their need for lodging and food provided business opportunities and employment from the earliest days of the county.
Before the Civil War, the County Court licensed both “ordinaries” (taverns) and “houses of private entertainment” (lodging and food?) and set the rates they could charge. One of the actions of the Pocahontas County Court at its second meeting, held in May 1822, was to set these rates: Diet, 25¢; lodging, 8¢; grain per gallon 12 1/2¢; horse 12 hours at hay, 12 1/2¢; whiskey per gill, 6 1/4¢; brandy per gill, 6 1/2 ¢; Jamaica spirits per gill, 12 1/2¢; French brandy per gill, 12 1/2¢; rum per gill, 10¢.
The first license for a house of private entertainment was issued by the Court in March 1822 to Travis W. Perkins. Perkins was approved to operate an ordinary in May. Other licenses for houses of private entertainment approved during 1822 went to John Bradshaw in Huntersville; Samuel Cummings and Thomas Bradshaw.
From the earliest days, there were a few hotels in the county, mainly in Huntersville, the county seat. Hotels were needed there to meet the needs of lawyers and others attending sessions of the county and circuit courts. In the 1880s, references to the Hotel Pocahontas and Huntersville Hotel are found in The Pocahontas Times.
To be continued…