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Today, Memorial Park is a place for Blowing Rock's residents and visitors alike to enjoy the relaxed lifestyle the town has to offer. However, this community staple holds a secret from a time when Blowing Rock was first getting its start as a resort community. Over 125 years ago The Watauga Hotel graced this spot as the first major hotel constructed in Blowing Rock. Built in 1884, the hotel took advantage of the growing tourism industry. Tourists came to escape the industrial life of late 19th century American cities as well as the heat of lower elevations. The Watauga Hotel set a precedent for a significant tourism business in the town. Nestled alongside Blowing Rock’s Memorial park is a small white cottage known as the 1888 Museum. The cottage, which received a Historical Marker in 2012, is one of several that was built in 1888 to provide additional lodging for the Watauga Hotel.

The Watauga Inn after the 1905 rebuild.

The Watauga Inn after the 1905 rebuild.

In 1885, where Memorial Park stands today, the first major hotel in Blowing Rock was constructed. From 1885 to 1889 the Watauga Hotel saw dominance as the largest and most luxurious hotel in the area and was a mainstay for most of the early visitors to the growing mountain resort. An advertisement from 1886 boasted “First-Class Accommodations. Reasonable Rates. Accessible Location. Excellent Table. Plenty of Ice. All the Delicacies of the Season.” Throughout its first few years “The Watauga” saw unparalleled success and was at capacity every season. The hotel would remain unrivaled until the construction of The Blowing Rock Hotel which opened in 1889 and then The Green Park Inn which had its first season in 1891. The Watauga Hotel’s early success prompted the 1888 construction of six small cottages each containing two rooms. The last surviving cottage was later transformed into the 1888 Museum that stands at the corner of the park.

A large hotel with a curious past, “The Watauga” today is known more for its tragic history than for its accommodation of early guests. In 1886 and 1902 large sections of the tin roof were blown off in winter windstorms. Soon after the hotel was completely destroyed by fire. It was immediately rebuilt on the same foundation and renamed the Watauga Inn by new owner Thomas Coffey. In 1926 the Hotel burnt to the ground once again. “The Watauga” was then moved to the building that originally housed The Hob Knob Inn burning a third and final time in 1946. There has not been another building in Blowing Rock with Watauga in its name. 

After the fire of 1926, the lot which held the then destroyed hotel sat vacant for several years. The first park was constructed in the late 1930s. At that time most of the cottages were torn down. The one exception would go on to become a fixture of the town, hosting the Chamber of Commerce offices and small businesses until the Town of Blowing Rock acquired the property in 1994 and the Blowing Rock Historical Society now uses the cottage to house the 1888 Museum.

  1. Blowing Rock Historical Society Records
  2. Buxton, Barry. Burns, Jerry. Jones, Robert. Village Tapestry: The History of Blowing Rock. Boone, NC. Appalachian State University Press, 1989. p96
Image Sources(Click to expand)

Blowing Rock Historical Society Archives