The weary travelers would come up from Charleston, from Savannah, from Augusta, all taking the Greenville + Northern Railway line, which everyone knew by its popular nickname, the “Swamp Rabbit.”
It was the late 1800s, as the South was still binding its wounds from the Civil War, and the population was shifting and reshaping itself.
During the evening, the smell of coal smoke suffused the air as the travelers arrived at their stop for the night: a small, two-story inn situated on a swath of 100 acres of green, fertile land. In the morning the travelers would continue their journey from the Lowcountry to the mountains — a popular summer destination — but for now they were tired.
This quaint inn looked as good a place as any for the travelers to rest.
Luckily enough, a loading dock attached to the inn allowed them to easily step off with their luggage. The proprietor, a man with a thick white beard who introduced himself as Mr. Anderson, greeted them warmly and helped them with their bags.
That was nearly a century and a half years ago, and since then nearly all the inns and taverns that once amounted to the origin of Travelers Rest are no more. The railway line is gone, replaced by the Prisma Health Swamp Rabbit Trail. And yet, that historic inn, known as the Spring Park Inn, remains as it was, a monument that has quietly borne witness to the formation of a modern community all around it.
Now the Spring Park Inn will be here to stay for many generations to come, a “Central Park” for downtown Travelers Rest, according to those who’ve worked to preserve it.
It’s all thanks to a group effort from a lawyer, a preservationist, a historian, a devoted cousin and his wife, an environmentalist and — most importantly — a woman whose final wish was to preserve the priceless house that has been in her family for generations.
A historic stop
The Spring Park Inn house, with its exposed end chimney and full-width front porch, was originally built sometime before 1820 by Aquilla Bradley. The house served as a private residence until it was purchased by Chevis Montgomery, who turned it into an inn in 1852.
Positioned along the so-called “To Saluda Gap” route on Old Buncombe Road, a primary stagecoach route into western North Carolina and its many resorts, it was a convenient stop for Lowcountry visitors in search of more nourishing climates.
Once the railway line was established, the third owner, Robert Wright Anderson, created a railroad platform for loading and unloading passengers in the late 1800s.
“This meant that rail passengers arriving in Travelers Rest were literally delivered to Anderson’s door,” wrote Kyle Campbell, owner of Prerservation South, which is leading the job of preserving the historic structure.
Anderson’s daughter and son-in-law, Edward and Minnie Lee Hillhouse, later inherited the house and named it “Spring Park Inn.” The house then passed from family member to family member, first being acquired by Minnie Lee’s nephew, Robert LeRoy Anderson, and later passing on to Robert’s daughter, Nell Anderson Gibson.
Decades later, after spending a lifetime in the house, Nell came up with a plan to make sure the house would remain long after she herself was gone.
A group effort
The land off Old Buncombe Road on which the former Spring Park Inn now sits has shrunk since its heyday, now totaling about 20 acres, but the house remains intact and charming as ever.
As the final owner, Nell donated the land and the house to the Travelers Rest Historical Society last year. She also donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to ensure the house could be restored and preserved.
“She’d been thinking about it for a long time,” said Nell’s cousin, Ed Neves, who along with his wife, Laura, worked to make Nell’s wish come true. “But we realized we needed professional help.”
That help came from Cary Hall, of Wyche Law Firm, who worked with Scott Park of the environmental advocacy group Upstate Forever to obtain a conservation easement on the property, guaranteeing the land will not be developed and can be preserved as a park and green space for the community.
“This is a long-range project,” said Rosemary Bomar, president of the Travelers Rest Historical Society, who played a key role in the effort to preserve the old inn.
To preserve the house itself, they reached out to Kyle Campbell of Preservation South, who is now at work transforming the house back to the state it was back when those passengers would arrive by railway to rest before continuing on their journey.
“Nell was involved with us every step of the way, the goal being to take the house back to the way it looked around the time Travelers Rest was incorporated and the Swamp Rabbit railway was brought in,” Campbell said.
In other words, take it all the way back to the birth of TR.
Once restored, the former inn will become the new home of the TR Historical Society and serve as a museum, a way for future generations to see a monument that contributed to the town’s founding.
Sadly, though, Nell would never get to see her dream come to fruition. She passed away last November.
But her cousin, Ed Neves, said he knows how she would have felt had she been here to see this occasion.
“My wife actually asked the other day if I felt relief that we got this done, and I said no. What I felt was a great sense of accomplishment,” Neves said. “Nell was a very humble person — very determined, but humble. She wanted to to preserve this history. And to see all these people pull together and make her wish become a reality, I think she would be proud.”
“Everyone contributed something,” he added, “but nobody more than Nell.”
For those wishing to help preserve the home and transform the land into a new park, donations are welcome. More information available at travelersresthistoricalsociety.org.