History

The Great Smoky Mountains

 

The 363 acres upon which Camp Montvale stands are a living testimony to our Appalachian heritage.

 

Nestled in these Smoky Mountain foothills is the story of a spring, a people, and an enduring love of the beautiful mountains we call home.

 

 

THESE ARE THE OLDEST MOUNTAINS IN THE WORLD - WE WERE NOT THE FIRST TO WALK HERE.

 

Sam Houston "The Raven" 1793-1863

The mountain land of the Montvale area belonged to the Cherokees until 1831.  Legend has it that Sam Houston roamed this area with the Indians and gave the name 'Montvale' to it, and the springs were referred to as 'Montvale Springs'.

 

About this time D.D. Foute purchased the property from the state and built a two-story log hotel, which he opened to the public in 1832.  The Montvale site as laid out today is the exact site of that first hotel. 

 

 

Celebrities, politicians, and statesmen from many sections of the country visited the place with their families to rest, and drink what they believed to be “... the healing waters of the springs.”

 

 
Guests enjoy their stay at The Seven Gables Hotel  

 

In 1853, Asa Watson built a new, elaborate structure and named it, 'The Seven Gables Hotel'.  He also constructed 40 cottages and proceeded to plant shrubs and trees from every country he visited.  Some trees he brought from Japan and from California, and many of these trees stand on the grounds today. 

 

 

The well advertised resort soon became known as 'The Saratoga of the South'.  About 1860, Watson sold the area to Sterling Lanier.

 

In this period smoldered the fires soon to break out in the War between the States.  Influential state and national figures were guests at Montvale.  Political discussions no doubt often went on under the trees of the great lawn and in the closed chambers of the huge hotel.

 

This too was the period when the great springs or 'Watering Places' were the nightclubs of the 19th century.  Montvale was one of the more prominent.  It boasted of luxury, food and entertainment.

 

Author and Poet Sidney Lanier

The advertisements featuring the water were gems to behold.  The hotel promised relief to sufferers of anemia, scrofula, chlorosis, dropsy, paralysis, disorders of the liver, blemerrhea, gravel, gleet, menorrhagia, dismenorrhagia, nervous afflictions, confirmed weakness and loss of muscular power, and all chronic cases attended by low vitality and a weakened condition of the whole system. 

 

It was also about this time when Sidney Lanier, the young poet, stayed at Montvale.  The idea for his novel, “Tiger Lilies” occurred as a result of his visits to Montvale.

 

Author Mary Noailles Murfree

Another author, Mary Noailes Murfree, also found inspiration while staying at Montvale for her famous book, “The Prophet of the Great Smokies.”

 

In 1869 the famed hotel burned, and a third hotel was built in 1901, and for a time the place enjoyed a semblance of its former glory.  It passed into other hands shortly after and finally became the property of Ludwig Pflanze, of Maryville, in 1911.

 

The day of the mountain spring resort was slowly fading, however, the increase of automobile traffic and the advent of good roads gradually erased the appeal of the 'springs' vacation spots.

 

When the hotel was destroyed by fire November 20, 1933, its decline already had been marked.

 

The property stood idle until a choice tract was purchased by the Knoxville YMCA in 1947.  Along with that purchase came an easement on the remainder of Montvale’s 2,500 acres “for the purpose of hiking, camping, nature study, and related educational, religious, and recreational purposes..”

 

YMCA Camp Montvale served hundreds of children and families through summer camps and group retreats.  The camp provides many popular recreational activities including high ropes and rock climbing from a 50 foot alpine tower, tennis, volleyball, soccer, basketball, canoeing, kayaking, horseback riding, and swimming.

 

The Clay House, a resort-era structure built using an experimental rammed-earth technique, unique in the region.

 In the spring of 1953, the Knoxville Y’s Men’s Club contributed $2,500 to construct a Director’s cottage.  In the spring of 1954 the Volunteer Y’s Men’s Club gave the money and also furnished the manpower to build two additional cabins for the campers.  Also Julian Morton provided the funds to reconstruct the original Band Stand and Spring House that remain as landmarks to memorable Montvale.

 

The Power Equipment Company provided a bulldozer and operator to enlarge and level off our ball field.

 

During 1955 the Knoxville Rotary Club gave $3,300 to construct a recreation building known as 'Rotary Chapel'.

 

Also in the 1950’s the Knoxville Y’s Men’s Club donated funds to begin a new caretaker’s house.  Concrete blocks for the foundation were furnished by Southern Cast Stone Company, and the foundation was dug by the Power Equipment Company.  The Volunteer Y’s Men’s Club provided actual labor toward the new house.  This building in recent years has been modified to serve as the camp’s office.

 

Rich’s gave the plywood and fence that was used around their new store construction to the camp.

 

Campers fill the original stone steps of the Montvale Springs Hotel.

 

More recently, Jan Morton and Gene Monday have completed renovation of the historic Spring House, and Monday donated a 'Seven Gables' pavilion, which rests in the exact location of the old hotel and is attached to the original stone steps leading into the hotel.

 

 

 

In 1998 a major renovation took place to add new cabins, an expanded dining hall, a new director’s and caretaker’s house, horse barn, and other projects were completed in celebration of the camp’s 50th birthday.  2003 Marked the 55th summer of operation.

 

Camp Montvale met its most serious challenge after the 2005 camping season.  The YMCA of East Tennessee chose to change their service direction and get out of residential camping service.  Montvale essentially went up for sale.  Initially it looked as if Montvale would end up as another of the recent high-end mountain developments.  The community banded together and convinced the YMCA that a better future could be had for Montvale (that would continue to benefit the community).
 

At that time, the Harmony Property Group made up of Otto Slater, James Tomiczeck, and Tim McConnell, approached the newly formed Friends of Camp Montvale about securing the property so that it might continue its mission in serving the children and families of East Tennessee and beyond.  They offered the Friends the opportunity to manage and run operations at the camp if they succeeded in purchasing the property.  They also committed to putting Montvale in protective easements so that Montvale could never again be at risk of being developed. 

 

In December 2006, the Harmony Property Group successfully purchased Camp Montvale from the YMCA.  In addition to the funds paid for the camp, individual members of Harmony have invested approximately $100,000 to date in improvements to the camp. 

 

Currently, the Friends of Camp Montvale are fundraising and plan on reopening Camp Montvale. Due to the generosity of Harmony, Camp Montvale’s future will extend far into the future.