|Lake Toxaway dam after breaking. Note the figures on top for scale.|
In July 1916 what is locally known as the Great Asheville
Flood occurred. Back-to-back hurricanes kept the area under a steady stream of
rain for ten days. The French Broad River crested at 17 feet above flood stage.
The flood subsided, but then heavy rains continued and taxed the already
weakened dam of Lake Toxaway into early- to mid-August. On August 13, 1916, the
Toxaway dam burst releasing the 540-acre lake. A total of 5,376,548,571 gallons
of water flooded through the gorge into miles of South Carolina lowlands below.
Farms, forests, and residences were all decimated by the aftermath. Litigation
against the landowner went on for months, and even then, many were never
compensated for the damage.
|The dry bed of Lake Toxaway after the dam burst in 1916.|
The dry lake pictured is a stark contrast to the idyllic resort
once enjoyed by so many. With the lake gone, the inn’s stream of guests dried
up as quickly as the lake itself. The Toxaway Inn sat vacant until a group of
investors in 1926 bought the Inn and property for $1.5 million (equivalent to
$23.2 million in 2021). Much more was spent in trying to revitalize the inn,
but before it could be put into service again, the Great Depression hit and the
inn sat idle once more. The property was eventually sold for $20,000 in 1947
(equivalent to $300,000 in 2021).
The new owner, S.L. DeArmond of Knoxville, TN, chose to
strip the inn bare of all valuable furnishings and sell them for salvage.
Electrical wiring, hardwood flooring, plumbing, bath fixtures, timbers, and
water pipes were sold en masse to the public. After the salvage sale, the inn
was razed to the ground and was no more. Like our very own Titanic of
Transylvania, the Toxaway Inn’s grandeur and following decay and destruction
instills a sense of awe made more poignant by the contrast.
|Modern-day Lake Toxaway|
Toxaway had new life once more in the early 1960s when Reginald Heinitsh
revitalized the area by purchasing 8,900 acres to create a vacation retreat.
During the reconstruction of the dam and refilling of the lake, a couple of unusual
remnants of the past were uncovered. The first: the rotting hull of a
steamboat, once used to carry guests on pleasure jaunts about the lake. The
engine and canopy had long before been removed and sold; the boat itself was
seen as valueless and left to the elements. The second remnant (now removed): A
60-foot deep hole filled with scrap iron was discovered with a pipe leading
from the bottom of the hole beneath the former dam and out into the waters
below. It would seem this was the source of the “mineral waters” once
advertised as a benefit of the resort. Although the Lake Toxaway Inn lives on only through its
legacy and artifacts, the lake it overlooked has been restored to its previous
glory and once again draws those seeking an escape.
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 Gardner. For more
information, comments, or suggestions, contact NC Room staff at [email protected] or 828-884-1820.