- [S106] The Mountain Press, 31 Dec 2011.
Midtown Lodge started as White Oaks Flat Hotel, but many changes followed
by RACHEL OSBORN
An early view from the 1950s of Midtown Lodge.
Sign shows amenities offered, including tile baths and automatic heat.
This early view shows how relatively undeveloped the downtown area of Gatlinburg was.
GATLINBURG — As the Midtown Lodge in the heart of downtown Gatlinburg shuts its doors for good, co-owners, former guests and long-time Gatlinburg residents took time to reminiscence about the family business and property.
The Midtown Lodge started out as White Oak Flats Hotel. Owned and operated by Sidney Lillard Maples — almost everyone knew him as Lillard — and Edna Bohanon Maples, the first units opened around 1938. The original building consisted of four rooms and four baths, constructed out of barrels. In the next few years, four more rooms and baths were added.
"It went through several renovations," said current co-owner Robert Maples. "They didn't have bulldozers then. They used a horse to scoop out the basement."
In 1941 the hotel's first major renovation took place, filling in the space between the barrels with concrete blocks to create five individual units. In 1943 two double cabins, containing two rooms and two baths, were added.
Another addition occurred in 1944, when another double cabin containing two bedrooms and one bath was built.
By 1952, it was deemed necessary for the Mapleses to upgrade their accommodations. They leveled the concrete cabins, replacing them with nine stone rooms in one continuous unit. These rooms featured plastered walls, wool carpeting and electric heat. The bathrooms were tiled and hosted shower and tub combinations. Each room was furnished with an easy chair, lamp and writing desk.
These rooms were connected to a large lobby by a covered walkway. In the lobby, guests could listen to the radio, read or plan their trips. Between the busy summer seasons of 1952 and 1953, a TV was added.
City Special Events Coordinator George Hawkins recalls the hotel in its heyday.
"It brings back a lot of fond memories there," he said.
After moving to the area, Hawkins was introduced to Lillard, Edna and their five children — Ralph, Roy, Peggy, Ruth and Robert. Hawkins spent time a lot of time at the hotel, socializing with the family and other friends.
"We'd stay up in the lobby, playing Yahtzee until 2 a.m.," Hawkins said.
In July 1953, a restaurant was added above the lobby. Here, guests could enjoy a meal, watch movies projected on the restaurant's giant screen or take in the picturesque view of the surrounding mountains through the eatery's large windows.
The restaurant was managed by a local businessman, before one of the Maples' children — Roy — took over in 1954. Another local man, Ray Jones, started managing the restaurant in 1956.
In all, the hotel underwent at least six major renovations since its opening. The last extensive facelift occurred 24 years ago, with Robert overseeing the construction process.
"All three boys were in construction," Hawkins said. "They kept the motel up and in great condition over the years. It has (also) flourished because of where it (sits, on the Parkway at Maple Lane and River Road)."
After Lillard's death in 1971 and Edna's death in 1973, the business was handed down to their kids. Roy, Peggy and Robert managed the hotel until Saturday, when its doors closed for good.
"We hate to be closing, but we're all getting older," Robert said. "It's been hard work. We've been closely involved in it, all of our lives. It's time to quit fighting the battle."
The decision to close was made in the last year and Robert admits that age and lack of family interest played an important role in their choice.
"Other family has no interest in perpetuating the business," he said. "It's something you hate to see turn loose. (The hotel) has been part of our lives for 60 to 80 years."
Everyone will miss the customers, that have become like family members during the last 70 or so years though.
"The best memories are some of the guests who have come here," Robert said. "We've had some mighty fine people stay with us over the years. We've made a lot of friends.
"A lot of them express regret that we are closing. People are really hating to see us go. (They) want to come and stay with us again."
One of these guests is Shirley Pursley, who's stayed at Midtown Lodge for the last 30 years. Originally from Georgia, the hotel-lover has visited Midtown four to five times a year for decades. After moving to Sevierville several years ago, she continued her vacations in Gatlinburg.
"It's our home away from home," she said. "It's always a nice place to stay.
"You meet a lot of nice people. We have a lot of friends that come here also. Most people are regulars that come up here. The memories, there are a lot of them."
Now Pursley spends a weekend in October and the Thanksgiving holiday at her favorite spot. Typically Pursley and members of her family stay in rooms 601 or 602, outfitted with balconies that overlook the Parkway.
"My mother liked to sit on the balcony and watch people," she said. "They never messed up our reservation. All of the people who work here are nice. They accommodate you in every way. It's been superb."
Upon learning that the hotel was closing and that she would be unable to stay anymore, Pursley was extremely disappointed.
"It was a total shock," she said. "We're disappointed to know it won't be here next year. It's bad knowing we won't have reservations.
"It's like losing something that belongs to you. If there was any way to stop it, we would. There'll never be another Midtown Lodge. It's a wonderful place."
- [S73] Rawlings Funeral Home, Book 2, 30 Apr 1971.
Maples, Sidney Lillard Jan 25, 1900 Tn April 30, 1971
Spouse: Bohanan, Edna
Father: Maples, I.L.
Mother: Whaley, Jemima
Sons: Ralph, Robert, Roy
Daughters: Mrs. Ruth Hunter, Mrs. Peggy Mize
Cemetery: Smoky Mt. Memorial
Sisters: Mrs. Emma Maples Pollard, Mrs. Hattie Ogle Mc Giggin
- [S34] In the Shadow of the Smokies, Smoky Mountain Historical Society, (1993), 384.
Death listed as 2 May 1971.