William H. Allison, born to Alexander D.B. Allison and Eveline Lister in 1856, grew up on Beechnut Farm, where Straus Park is today. In the early 1900s Allison was given land by his father and set up home on a hill across the road where St. Timothy’s Methodist Church and Allison Road are today. Allison built a two-story home that grew from 12 rooms into a 28-room house by 1907. The house, known as “Elk Lodge,” was at the center of his large fenced private reserve, Deer Park Estate. Allison was a businessman affiliated with Brevard’s Bible Publishing Company. He was a very successful traveling salesman and invested his earnings in land, developing an extensive estate over time. He also used his earnings to go into business mixing medicinal preparations alongside his colleague S.M. Macfie. This venture led to his nickname “Dr. Bill”, though he was not actually a practicing doctor.
He developed his land into “Deer Park Estate” which included hundreds of acres of fenced land that he stocked with elk and deer for his own amusement and that of the community. It was a wildlife preserve of sorts, not hunting lands, though it was often speculated that deer which grew large enough to jump the fence added to the wild deer population of the area. His land extended across the Boylston Highway, and so he had a large, fenced bridge constructed to allow the herd to move back and forth between the parts of the property. He regularly supplemented the diet of the deer and elk, and they would come over the rolling land at feeding times near his house, which Allison claimed was one of his favorite sights.
He had a pet bull elk known as “Monarch of the Woods” that he had bottle-fed as a baby when its mother died. It would follow him around the estate and stay by his side. Family legend has it that Elk Lodge was originally constructed as a retreat for a family member with tuberculosis, and then later became a boarding house for summer visitors. The boarding house catered to wealthy clientele and included experiences like carriage rides every evening for picnic dinner atop the mountain to view the elk and deer. For many years, Allison allowed the residents of Transylvania County free access to the property as well, only starting to charge a nominal fee to offset costs after frequent poaching and dog attacks necessitated the hiring of a security guard.
In 1913, Allison leased part of the land to Camp Sapphire, which was the first summer camp established in Transylvania County. The camp was in operation until the early 1940s. Shortly after Allison died in 1915, the large estate was subdivided and given to family members or sold. There is no mention of what became of the deer and elk that resided there. The house was demolished when the Hawthorne Heights subdivision was constructed on that location. In 1945 the Camp Sapphire property was sold to Harry Straus who converted it to a recreation area for Ecusta employees known as Camp Straus.
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.