A Brief History and Guidebook
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LAND The first parcel of land, 293 acres, was bought in October of 1902, and additional acreage soon brought the total to 318, shown above, directly around the lodge site. This original acreage extended from Bull Gap up the ridge to Rocky Knob (once called High Knob), and over Sassafras Gap to High Swan (once called Ray Knob) and down Tanbark Ridge. This natural "amphitheater," easily seen from the Tanbark Ridge overlook on the BRP, was chosen because of the shielding on three sides. During the next years, Dr. Ambler purchased more land surrounding this property. The Shope Creek area, consisting of 1,000 acres, including the ridges of Lanes Pinnacle, Wolfden Knob, Rich and Rocky Knob, were obtained. He also bought 300 additional acres down into the Ox Creek area. The government bought this additional surrounding land of 1,300 acres in 1916 for $10 per acre, and it became part of Pisgah National Forest, and later, part of the Blue Ridge Parkway.
The original land of 318 acres was sold in 1920 and was resold several times after that. The Blue Ridge Parkway obtained a right-of-way in the 1930s, and in 1976, what was left of the original tract was sold to the Parkway (out-bidding the author about 300%!). This purchase was extremely beneficial for the public, as now the property is protected from developers. The Parkway not only owns this amphitheater, it fortunately owns other property outside of their "normal" right-of-way, beyond the lodge area all the way to Potato Field Gap. The Mountain-to-Sea trail on this old Ambler property is a delightful hike, as it is far removed from the Parkway itself, and little traffic noise reaches the hiker. The Carolina Mountain Club maintains the Mountain-to-Sea trail, with the cooperation of the Parkway.
BULL GAP TO MITCHELL TRAIL The comment written on the back of the above photograph taken by Dr. Ambler simply states "Craggy Trail cut through Rhododendron thicket." There are many articles and other indications that document the fact he supervised building the trail from Bull Gap to Mt. Mitchell about 1908 and 1909. At the time the trail was built, he owned the land from Bull Gap to Lanes Pinnacle.
In a report to the Good Roads Association in April of 1912, Dr. Ambler writes, "...we have raised $550 to apply to the survey of the crest of the Blue Ridge highway; we have constructed a horseback trail to Mt. Mitchell, our directors have in body inspected this trail..."
The Sept. 12, 1911 Asheville Citizen describes this trip of the Directors. Twelve members spent the night at the lodge and then went by horseback to Mt. Mitchell on the newly constructed trail. The article states: "The route follows the survey of the proposed 'Crest of the Blue Ridge Highway' very closely with two exceptions, the first of which is between Bull's Gap at the head of Reems Creek and Potato Patch Gap, a distance of nine miles. ...The trail is part of the Ambler road which has been built several years."
In February 1910, J.R. Vernon, Mrs. Ambler's father, wrote in the Salem Ohio News, " ...Diverging from this ranch there are 45 miles of trails, the longest of which is to Mt. Mitchell. Dr. Ambler personally conducted the making of these trails." Some of this horse trail beyond Rich Knob to Craggy was on Bee Tree Lumber Co. land and later the Woodfin watershed. Because of this, some sections were moved and made part of the Mountain-to-Sea trail. It is now a more interesting foot trail for hikers, by staying mostly along the ridges. This relocation was done by Arch Nichols, a leader in the Carolina Mountain Club for many years. Some of Dr. Ambler's original graded trail can still be seen around the ridges of Wolfden and Lanes Pinnacle.
BULL GAP The last bull buffalo in North Carolina was shot by Joseph Rice in 1799 along a creek now called Bull Creek. The creek, Bull Gap and Bull Mountain supposedly got their names from this event. "Bull Mountain," by some maps, is an all-inclusive term, and extends from the gap through Lanes Pinnacle.
The markers on the Parkway that say "Bull Gap, Elev. 3107 feet," are misplaced, being where the Ox Creek road turns off, not actually at Bull Gap, lower in elevation and about a half mile farther down the Parkway. The gap's elevation is 3,177, according to current maps.
Early maps in the Pack Library show a road from Riceville and Bull Creek through Bull Gap and into the Ox Creek and Reems Creek valleys. The gap was first used by buffalo, then Indians, and finally settlers. It was a major route between the Swannanoa and Reems Creek valleys in the 1800s and early 1900s. Perhaps closing this route when the Parkway was built was a mistake.
As with all the early maps, there are inaccuracies other than altitudes, as shown here: Rich Knob, Richland and Courthouse are all slightly out of place. The Rocky Knob shown is now what is called Rock Knob. Cravens Gap became Craven Gap. The early maps all say "Lanes Pinnacle," which is the name the author first learned. How it became Lane Pinnacle is a mystery. (One wonders if we will have a new name in the Smokies: "Charles Bunion.")
Notice there is only a horse trail from Cravens Gap to Bull Gap. Of interest is that "Dr. C.P. Ambler's" was put on this hand drawn map. The map shows a trail from the Bull Creek Road up to the lodge site. Since it crosses the top of the stream, this may be one of today's existing trails up from the tunnel.
At the same time he was building the lodge, Dr. Ambler built his trail/road from the road at Bull Gap, since that was the least steep access, and there was already a fine road at the gap.
our "current" topo, revised 1978, but not field checked, also has errors.
The Ox Creek road should be solid, and the road shown through the gap has
been gone about 55 years!
The 1925 map above shows the road through Beaverdam and to Cravens Gap. This was the most common route to the lodge. It is still confusing how the road from Cravens met the gap road.
The 1938 map is a bit clearer. However, "Richard" should be "Richland." High Knob is now called Rocky Knob for some reason. Ray is now High Swan. Someone's idea of where the Parkway may have gone is most interesting: An impossible grade to High Knob! "Bulls Gap Road" is mentioned may places in the history books. It was this road from Cravens Gap and from Sunset Mountain that was a common way to get to Bull Gap until the Parkway was built. The author remembers having to park at the gap, as the parkway, although somewhat blasted and graded, was not yet open to the Tanbark tunnel. We would walk to the lodge area from the gap.
The story of Rattlesnake Lodge is more than that of land and buildings and ruins. The editorial in the Asheville Citizen upon the death of Dr. Ambler will give the reader a better understanding of the man behind the lodge.
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Copyright 1994 and 2000 by A.
Chase Ambler, Jr.