At the turn of the century, many urban industrialists were drawn to the southern Appalachian mountains as an escape from the stresses of their city lives. In 1906 one such man, Edward McAllister Backus of Brooklyn, New York, bought 1450 acres of land straddling the line between Jackson and Transylvania Counties atop Cold Mountain Gap in Lake Toxaway. He was a frequent visitor to the area, thanks to the Toxaway Inn where he spent his leisure time with prestigious guests such as George Vanderbilt, Carl Schenck, Thomas Edison, Harvey Firestone, and Henry Ford. He immediately had “Backus Lodge” built in the Adirondack style that was popular at the time.
The Lodge was built using unpeeled chestnut logs which were packed in straw before being loaded onto ox-driven carts to protect the character of the bark during the bumpy journey up the mountain. The Lodge’s interior is fully hardwood, with exposed poplar ceiling beams and oak planking for both the walls and floors. In addition to the main lodge, a stable and servants’ cottage were constructed. Earth mounds and a block-and-tackle pulley system were utilized in the construction of all buildings, and afterward the dirt was redistributed to even out areas around the small lake that was also created at that time. Backus/Baccus Lodge is on the National Historic Register and is unique in that other than kitchen updates and the addition of electricity in 1986, it remains true to its original construction and unaltered.
After the bursting of the Toxaway Dam in 1916, Backus sold his property to Jerome Moltz and left the area for good. Moltz was a lumber baron from Pittsburgh and may be remembered by his ownership of what is now the Greystone Inn. He owned the railroad in that area for lumber transportation and extended the tracks to reach The Lodge. In 1922 Moltz sold the ten-acre tract that contained the lodge, stable, and cottage to Sallie Joyner Davis of Greenville, NC.
Upon obtaining ownership of Backus Lodge, Sallie, her mother, and her sister Katherine renovated the caretaker’s cottage and stable to include a board-and-batten second story and added a shingle cottage, now known as Davis Cottage, that they used as their family home. They opened the property as an exclusive girls’ camp catering to the wealthy known as “Camp Toxaway” and renamed the main lodge building “Cold Mountain Lodge”. The camp closed in 1935. Katherine continued to live on the property as a private residence until she sold it to Rev. Dan and Christine Williams of Greenville, SC.
Rev. Williams also constructed two additional buildings: a recreation building and an A-frame chapel. He redubbed the property “Canaan Land” and designated it as a religious retreat. All of the buildings were given Biblical names, which they still bear today. In the mid-1980s Williams passed away and the property was purchased by George and Nancy Corbett of Florida. The Corbetts continue to run Canaan Land as a private retreat for ministry workers and their families.
The Corbetts purchased approximately 10 acres that they have since added to the property and have continued to improve the land. One such improvement is the addition of twelve “birdhouse” cabins that were transported from another local Christian summer camp, The Wilds, during their camp renovation. Although Backus Lodge has passed through many hands, it’s been preserved as a remnant of an important era in history. Photographs and information for this column are provided by the Rowell Bosse North Carolina Room, Transylvania County Library. This article was written by Local History Librarian Laura Sperry Gardner. For more information, comments, or suggestions, contact NC Room staff at [email protected] or 828-884-1820.