Beyond the Build

Conservation

The Story of Lonesome Valley

The JenningsWhile I’ve been visiting the Blue Ridge Mountains for a long time, a few years ago I found a place that captivated me. I connected with the story of Lonesome Valley and the beautiful land there. Last week, the Jennings family (brother Dick, sisters Sally and Binford) stopped by our place for a visit. They shared a little history which I thought you might find interesting.

This place called Lonesome Valley

The Jennings family first came to Western North Carolina about 1900 when great-grandfather EH Jennings, an industrialist from Pennsylvania, purchased 30,000 acres. A the heart of this land was 800 acres, a box canyon, considered by many to be the gem. It would stay in the family through the years, later becoming known as “Lonesome Valley.”

After returning from the war, Richard Jennings (Dick, Sally and Binford’s father) started raising minks for the fashion world on this land and continued until the 70s. Parallel, he raised trout, which continues today under the guidance of his daughter Sally at the Sunburst Trout Farm, now located a few miles away.

In late 90s, faced with the knowledge that family politics would never allow consensus on what to do with the property after they were gone, the three Jennings children decided to control the destiny of the land they love. Land planning went through a number of developer interviews and in the end the Jennings, consumed with a desire to preserve the heart of what the land meant to them, chose to take on the task of development themselves. “It looks like it did when we were children, and it always will,” Sally told me.

The box canyon down the road from Cashiers is called Lonesome Valley, and boasts the tallest wall of sheer granite rock face east of the Mississippi River, about 1400 vertical feet.

The Jennings divided the land into 122 parcels total and intertwined them with 300 acres of donated land put into special conservation easements for perpetuity. The wild nature of the property will always be preserved and cottages will coexist in harmony with the land.

Canyon Kitchen: Another Gem

Along the trail, Sally discovered one of her favorite James Beard chefs was close to retiring from Blackberry Farms. Canyon Kitchen was built. John Fleer‘s masterpiece sits near the front of the property with vistas back across the meadow. There are gardens adjoining where vegetables are grown and they even a chicken coop for fresh eggs. Jennings-Eason’s Sunburst Trout Farm is often served as well, alongside other local producers. I have experienced the food there and give it the highest accolades.

The Road to Now

While the future is bright, because of the recession things have been tough on LV, just like with all of us. The Jennings are no exception and their road has been choppy with stiff headwinds. Through it all, to me, they never lost sight of what they wanted to achieve. If their great grandfather Jennings could see what they have done he would be proud.

 

Merrill Stewart Jr.

Merrill Stewart is Founder and President of the Stewart Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham.