Grandfather Mountain’s new “Top Shop”

Recently Elizabeth told me about the demolition of the old “Top Shop” and the ongoing construction of a new shop on the summit of Grandfather Mountain. I grew up in North Carolina, and my childhood was full of visits to Grandfather Mountain; I loved searching through the gift shop after I walked over the Mile High Swinging Bridge. So to honor the transition from old to new, this post will be dedicated to the progression of development on the summit of Grandfather. (This is just a brief summary; perhaps the staff at Grandfather can provide a more detailed chronology?)

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Originally, the gift shop/visitors center on the summit of Grandfather was just a little wooden building, with a stone bathhouse next door, as shown above. The first picture is a view of the first visitor’s center. I like this picture because it shows the quaint nature of the original design of the Grandfather summit.  The second picture shows golfer Billy Joe Patton (left) and others at a trophy ceremony for the “Sports Car Hill Climb” event that used to be held annually. The wooden visitors center is in the background. I chose this picture because it shows how the summit was used as an outdoor gathering space.

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Morton inherited the land at Grandfather Mountain in 1952. In the 1950s (according to the book Grandfather Mountain by Miles Tager), “the postwar economic boom had by this time returned visitors to the region, opened up by the Parkway and other roads,” after the scarcity of visitors during the Great Depression. Morton took advantage of the prosperity of the 1950s by constructing a new road to the summit, a new parking lot, and a new gift shop. The picture above shows construction of the road to the summit.

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The new building, dubbed the “Top Shop,” was constructed in 1961. The first picture is of construction of “Top Shop” visitors center, right before it was completed in 1961. The next picture is of the “Top Shop” soon after it was built. And the last picture is of tourists browsing the new gift shop.

Grandfather Mountain has gone through many phases to become the popular attraction that it is today. The new shop will have many advantages over the old one, will be less of an obstruction to the view of Grandfather’s profile, and is much needed because of the weather damage that happens to buildings on the summit. (To see pictures of the construction of the newest “Top Shop,” click here). But though these transitions at Grandfather Mountain are all for the best, it is nice to look back at the simple beginnings of the wooden gift shop sitting on a barely developed piece of land.