By Jack Wright. Series Compiled and Provided by John Hubbard.
This is part 8 of the series. It was originally published in the October 2000 TVCC newsletter.
I re-visited late in August doing a little ‘club history sniffing’ after the September column on the Chattooga. I hadn’t been back there in 15 years or so. The old Highway 76 over the mountain east from Hiwassee, GA, that used to be twisted enough to make you car-sick, is much improved now, straightened and 3 lanes. The Chattooga was, of course, running very low, no paddlers in the parking lots, it was mid-week anyway. The rafting companies were probably on other rivers with more water.
When we ran our TVCC trips on long weekends in the mid 70’s, most of us would eat together one night buffet style at a hotel in Clayton, and the next night family style at the famous Dillard House, in Dillard, GA, 15 miles north on 441. Most of us got to know Louise, the Clayton hotel owner, because she was such a character, and gave everybody a big bear hug. She connected with us paddlers because Burt Reynolds and the ‘Deliverance’ movie gang had stayed there in ’72. I just had to see how it is today.
The Old Clayton Inn:
This is the old hotel’s name today, right on Main Street, in beautiful downtown Clayton. Our owner friend, Louise Dillard Coldren, unfortunately died of cancer at age 73, in 1992. The hotel changed hands, was remodeled, re opened in 1993, and the lobby now doubles as an art gallery. It still serves a bountiful buffet of excellent country food in the very same dining room, weekdays at lunch, and weekends at dinner. I had lunch on a Wednesday, and the place was full. See the website www.oldclaytoninn.com. (note: In 2017 that website is no longer for the Inn. Search Facebook for ‘Historic Old Clayton Inn’ to see the Inn.)
Famous Dillard family and Louise:
Our friend Louise was indeed a 6th generation direct descendant in the famous Rabun County Dillard family, who own and run the Dillard House Restaurant. John Dillard moved there in 1794, buying 1000 acres from the Cherokees, and started farming. Louise’s father Arthur (5th generation) had a general store, and her mother Carne opened their 6 room house to boarders in 1917, which then became the ‘Dillard House.’ Louise grew up ‘Foxfire’ style in the ’20s and ’30s, went to the U. of Ga. during the Depression, taught school, married a doctor, and had 2 children. Then she owned and operated the hotel in Clayton, while being one of 4 board members (with 3 brothers) on the family corporation. Her husband Dr. Jim made a little ‘shine during Prohibition, as everybody did, when Rabun County was the moonshine capital of GA.
Louise did indeed get a part in ‘Deliverance’ (close to the end, bringing in food), and off-camera jokingly became the ‘other woman’ in Burt Reynolds life. There’s a picture of Burt, her, and Loni Anderson in the Dillard House lobby. She helped find the best local locations for filming. I thought I remembered hearing that stuff; she used to tell us TVCCers those stories after dinner in her dining room in Clayton, while we showed paddling slides and movies on the wall. Billy Redden, the ‘dueling banjo’ boy, was later a raft guide for NOC. I do regret the normally kind and warm ‘mountain people’ got such a bad rap in the movie.
The Dillard House:
I should say, the ‘Dillard Corp’ now with 300+ employees. It’s a restaurant, gift store, caterer, produce farm, cattle ranch, inn, motels, cottages, chalets, conference center for 300, riding stables, and petting zoo! Check the website: www.dillardhouse.com (still a good website in 2017). The 7th (Louise’s nephew) and 8th generation Dillards, with hotel and restaurant management degrees, run the place now. You can still stay in the original 1917 house, next door to the restaurant for $49/night/midweek, with indoor plumbing now. When have you stayed in an 83 year old B&B and been served by 8th generation family, in their 206th year living on the site?
Hold up your hand if you’ve been there. We waited in line an hour or more to eat on weekends in the ’70s. There are live ‘dueling banjo’ players on the porch with rocking chairs. No menu. You’re seated, and minutes later 3 waiters descend on you with 15 or 20 large bowls brimming with meat, vegetables, breads, everything, family style, re-filled all you can eat. I ate enough food for a week. Many ‘Foxfire’ style foods, a lot of it grown and produced on that farm. If you haven’t been, you have to go, but get there early, they serve about 2000 meals/day on Fall weekends! An unforgettable experience! Price, about $16. Don’t leave without buying the cookbook, $16, it’s half history book too.
None of my macho friends would knowingly bite into anything called ‘Butternut Squash Souffle’, but the stuff sure tasted good to me since it looked like sweet potatoes that evening. The very professional hostess was having a great time watching expressions of horror on us ‘flatland touristers’, as she explained what the ‘sweet potatoes’ dish really was, and asked us how we liked it, as we staggered out the door. Those ‘mountain people’ are just like that. Are we having fun yet?