- [S106] The Mountain Press, 23 Jul 2012.
Upland Chronicles: Sevierville bed & breakfast celebrating 25 years in business
by CARROLL McMAHAN
Newlyweds Estel and Ruth Ownby purchased a 50-acre farm on Jay El Road in 1938. The young couple could not have known that sometime in the future they would have a daughter, who with the help of her family, would realize a dream by building a bed and breakfast on the property.
Twenty-five years ago the Blue Mountain Mist Country Inn opened for business. The proprietors are planning an event billed as the Smoky Mountain Heritage and Local History Festival to mark the milestone.
Choosing to celebrate the occasion by emphasizing local history and mountain heritage came natural for Norman and Sarah Ball (who is the only daughter of Estel and Ruth Ownby.) Both of them have roots planted deep in the Smoky Mountains. Their ancestors go back to some of the earliest settlers in the area.
Sarah’s father grew up in Big Greenbrier Cove until the park was established and his family moved to the Shady Grove Community. It was there that he met his wife, Ruth Shields. Both Estel and Ruth attended Smoky Mountain Academy. Ruth graduated from Carson-Newman College and taught school for 38 years. Estel was a farmer, rural mail carrier and church leader.
Norman is a son of James N. “Jim” and Lottie Myers Ball of Gatlinburg. His father Jim Ball was born in Elkmont where he was known for his ability “to play any musical instrument he picked up.” Jim Ball began playing with the band at Wiley’s Shop in Gatlinburg and later performed in several groups that included various relatives and friends.
Both Norman and Sarah were school teachers. Norman began his career as industrial arts instructor at Gatlinburg-Pittman High School and retired as director of the Sevier County Vocational School. Sarah had been teaching for 16 years when she decided to take a leap of faith into the business of inn keeping, an endeavor she knew nothing about.
“The planning, the building, the decorating was all so exciting,” said Sarah. “Then came the 24/7 days of hard work. What an adjustment! No more weekends, summers or holidays off. Learning how to run a business, cope with a 15-year-old boy and a 5-year-old boy was not easy. However we dedicated the business to God and with his help we have survived 25 years,” she added.
Norman and Sarah have three children: a daughter Misty (Spinelli) who is a home-school mother of six with a background in graphic design, art and marketing and has been a great asset to the business.
Their older son Eric is the chef at the inn. He honed his cooking skills observing his Grandmother Ruth along with her “how to make it taste good tricks.” Their younger son, Jason, who has been around the inn since he was 5, has taken over the job of office manager, the website and marketing. Jason’s wife Heather is the in-house massage therapist and wedding planner.
Thousands of guests have enjoyed the warm hospitality and relaxed atmosphere at the Blue Mountain Mist Country Inn since Jim and Evelyn Ham, who were honeymooning in the Smokies, were the first guests to spend the night there on July 27, 1987.
While most of the guests have been enjoyable and some have become good friends of the family, there have been some strange ones. For instance, there was a lady who claimed to be Mrs. Elvis Presley and proved it by providing a check with her name printed on it. The check bounced, of course.
Challenging circumstances such as the blizzard of ’93 when 19 people were stranded for two days in the inn without electricity or water and the Shields Mountain fire when the fire department used the front yard as its headquarters have added a bit of drama to the establishment from time to time.
Memorable occasions such as the Japanese engineers who were staying at the inn while touring the local compost plant preparing a traditional Japanese lunch for the innkeepers have kept life operating an inn interesting.
Another unforgettable occurrence is the time Sarah walked into the kitchen minutes after a vendor had delivered a wedding cake to discover the cake collapsing and the two top tiers tumbling to the floor.
A shotgun wedding, complete with a father wearing overalls and a rifle hoisted over his shoulder when giving the bride away, ranks among the more humorous events taking place there.
Well-known guests who have stayed at the inn include Newt Gingrich, who stayed there with his wife at the time while he was serving as speaker of the House of Representatives.
Actor F. Murray Abraham has stayed numerous times at the inn. Abraham became known during the 1980s after winning the Academy Award for Best Actor for his role as Antonio Salieri in “Amadeus” and has appeared in many other roles in films and television. For several years, he and his wife, Kate, attended an annual Jazz Festival in New Orleans and always stopped on their return trip home to New York to spend a few days at the Blue Mountain Mist Country Inn.
S&S Tours has brought its big coach full of people at least twice a year since the second year the inn was opened. Lockheed- Martin’s bomb-sniffing dog and the American Eagle Foundation’s “Challenger” have numbered among the guests as well.
Reflecting on 25 years in the lodging business, Sarah Ball said, “There have been many challenges through the years, but most of them have turned out to be opportunities to grow in the dependence on God and the wisdom in how a bed and breakfast should be run. From our parents who loved it and helped as long as their health allowed to our children who now help operate the business, to our 10 grandchildren who are growing up experiencing all kinds of nice people and being exposed to learning situations that most children never have the opportunity to experience.”
SEmD Carroll McMahan is the special projects facilitator for the Sevierville Chamber of Commerce. The Upland Chronicles series celebrates the heritage and past of Sevier County. If you have suggestions for future topics, would like to submit a column or have comments, please contact Carroll McMahan at 453-6411 or email firstname.lastname@example.org; or Ron Rader at 604-9161 or email to email@example.com.