In September of 2017, I paid a visit to a place I had not seen since I was about six years old…the Land of Oz. I remember bits and pieces of the trip. My parents took me in 1972 and two of my strongest memories are of riding on the balloon ride (a converted ski-lift) in a blinding mountain rainstorm and the wet ride in a bus, with no windows, down the mountain, leaving. For years, I wondered what had become of that park.
Originally opening on June 15, 1970, it was a grand place to visit and managed to stay open for a decade, even after a fire in 1975, before falling into disrepair and abandonment. Many things were stolen, vandalized or left to nature.
Appalachian State University had a cultural museum, at one time, that showcased saved pieces from the park including the yellow bricks, some munchkin houses, costumes, parts of the witch’s castle and other assorted props. All artifacts were eventually returned to the park.
In 1991, the park was included in a celebration for Independence Day for Beech Mountain. Watauga High School students dressed in costume. Emerald Mountain, Inc., purchased the property in 1994 and a slow restoration began. An “Autumn at Oz” was started as a reunion for former employees and became a yearly event. By 2010, the park drew 8,000 people.
Land of Oz (Official Website)
The structure known today as the Colonial Inn was built on Lot 15 in 1838 as a hotel and was locally called Spencer’s Tavern […] but, was advertised as the Orange Hotel (a name which lasted into the 1880s). The structure was built for Isaac (Isaiah) Spencer (from Hyde County) who had purchased the property in late 1837. In 1841, Richardson Nichols purchased the property from Spencer and expanded the main structure. In 1856, Nichols sold the structure to the “Hillsborough Improvement Company” which consisted of Alfred, Henry and Cave Stroud.
Stroud family history has it that Henry’s wife (Sarah) saved the Inn from looting by Union troops by displaying her husband’s Masonic apron. Upon seeing the apron, a sympathetic Union officer, [whom] was a fellow Mason, protected the site from destruction.
William F. Strayhorn may have purchased or, at least, managed the business beginning in 1868 and, the property was purchased by local businessmen Henry N. Brown and Charles M. Latimer (who was also the county treasurer) in 1870. Brown and Latimer apparently lost the property through bankruptcy in 1872, with Strayhorn managing or operating the hotel until at least then. Perhaps related is that Strayhorn had been living in Twin Chimneys across the street from the hotel but, lost it due to financial problems in January 1869. [It] was purchased by David C. Parks in December 1872. In 1885, Parks sold the property to neighboring property owner Emily Pogue, who sold it back to Parks in 1888. [At] this time, it became known as the Occoneechee Hotel.
In 1908, Thomas A. Corbin purchased the property and renamed the complex the Corbinton Inn. In 1921, W. L. Foushee […] purchased the property from a H. L. Akers and by 1924, renamed the hotel the Colonial Inn. In 1946, Paul Henderson purchased the property from Foushee […].
During Henderson’s ownership, a “fine-dining” restaurant was added within the hotel structure. In December 1952, Charles and Ann Crawford purchased the property and business and, expanded the structure. They operated the business successfully until they, in turn, sold it to James and Maxine Freeland in 1969. The Freelands also expanded the structure and, continued the hotel and restaurant business at the location.
It fell into disrepair for many years. When I moved to this town in 2011, it looked bad.
The good news is, new owners are re-building. ~Vic
The Colonial Inn Hillsborough (Facebook)
Old Town Cemetery (Hillsborough Government Site PDF)
Colonial Inn (Open Orange)
The Colonial Inn 1838-1969 (Rootsweb)
The Colonial Inn: It’s History & Significance (World Now PDF)