EXPERIENCE REST, RELAXATION, AND REJUVENATION AT A SECLUDED MOUNTAINTOP HIDEAWAY
Words by Mitchell Goodbar
Photos by Erin Adams
PERCHED ATOP A GRASSY RIDGE, STRADDLING THE CATALOOCHEE DIVIDE, STANDS A WONDROUS WOODEN BUILDING QUIETLY OVERLOOKING GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK.
The land on which it stands was once vacant potato farmland, the sprawling expanse surrounding it space for cattle to roam. Nearby trails, like the Divide, are verdant veins teeming with wildlife. Experts speculate that the Cherokee tribe populated the area as far back as the13th century, and although these trails no longer feature the wattle and daub dwellings of the Cherokees, they still throb with life.
More and more people are flocking to the trails to witness the dazzling marvels nature has on her eternal display. This plot of land has seen much, undergoing change after change. But one thing that has remained constant—a fixed characteristic of the land amid the un-sentimental winds of time—is that it has always brought life together, cradling it gently in her lush grassy folds. That wooden building standing serenely on the horizon is North Carolina’s renowned resort, the Swag, and it is the latest incarnation of the land’s rich tradition of bringing people together.
The resort’s name was derived from the moniker the property was given when it was mere farmland. “Swag” refers to a geographic phenomenon denoting “a dip in a mountain along the ridge between two high points.” In the late 1960s, Dan and Deener Matthews purchased the untouched farmland, and in the early 1970s, they built the splendid structure that stands there today. In 2018 they passed on the torch, selling the Swag to family friends and former guests David and Annie Colquitt. “About two years ago I had started looking for small businesses that we could just do, Annie and me—not in the hospitality business but manufacturing companies—and then Dan and Deener, the prior owners, were in Knoxville and said they were interested in selling the Swag. Without thinking about it too long, we just thought this was an opportunity that wasn’t going to present itself again, and so we decided to go for it,” says David.
David and Annie met while attending Princeton University, married in 2011, and stayed at the Swag for their honeymoon. The combination of the resort’s old-fashioned charm and rustic warmth immediately captured the newlyweds’ attention. The Swag had already cropped up in Annie’s family history. “One of the stories we like to tell folks, which is true,” says David, is that Annie’s “paternal grandmother
died when her dad was 16 or 17—and this was before the Swag was an inn. The following Christmas, her grandfather asked, ‘I’ll take you anywhere you want to go for Christmas—where do you guys want to go?’At that point they knew the Swag only as the Matthews family house. So the first Christmas without their mom, they chose to come to the Swag before it was the Swag.” Annie and David hadn’t even been born, but the Swag was already coursing through their blood.
The resort itself looks like some sort of magnificent Lincoln Log masterpiece, the kind of place you can picture Davy Crockett living in, intently polishing his rifle by the crackling murmur of the Swag’s impressive fireplace. When erecting the Swag, the Matthews “used all reclaimed timber, so if you look at the pictures, you think, Oh gosh, that’s been there for 75 or 100 years, but it’s only been—pretty soon it’ll be 50 years that it’s been here,” says David. The resort is an amalgam of special timber culled from various old structures. Every component of the Swag has its own unique story. “The largest collection of timber in our dining room is from a Tennessee church that was built in the late 1700s. The next largest building is called the Chestnut Lodge. Wormy chestnut was obliterated when the chestnut blight came in 1903/1904, and so wormy chestnut obviously has increased in value over time because we can’t grow it anymore".
The resort’s aged aesthetic finds a human analogue in the team’s devotion to a communal experience, an experience that conjures up lost images of people huddled around a campfire exchanging tales and finding pleasure in one another’s company. “There are no TVs in rooms,” says David. “Something else that’s unique is about dinner here.Hors d’oeuvres run from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m., and then at 7 o’clock, we ring the dinner bell, and everyone comes in to eat...We offer both communal dining and private dining as well. That’s one of the things that we think makes the Swag so special and unique is that whether it’s hors d’oeuvres or dinner, there’s really time to interact with other people if you want to take advantage of that.
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