Over the last 30 years, local historian and writer Bruce Johnson has been researching and writing about the Grove Park Inn. Within this time period, he’s published three history books — Built for the Ages: A History of the Grove Park Inn, Tales of the Grove Park Inn and The Arts & Crafts Furniture of the Grove Park Inn.
On Wednesday, June 28, Johnson will offer a talk at the Brown Bag Lunch Series, sponsored by The Friends of the North Carolina Room. The hour-long discussion, titled “Family Feud: The Bitter Battle Between E.W. Grove and Fred Seely for the Grove Park Inn,” will begin at noon in the Lord Auditorium, on the lower level of Pack Memorial Library.
Johnson spoke with Xpress about the upcoming event.
Xpress: What initially drew you to researching the Grove Park Inn?
Johnson: I was always interested in the arts and crafts movement [decorative and fine arts movement that began around 1880 in Britain before making its way to North America]. When I lived in Iowa City, I heard of the Grove Park Inn because it was built in 1913 and furnished in the arts and crafts style. So as soon as I moved to North Carolina [in 1986], I went to the Grove Park Inn and just literally fell in love with it, if you can fall in love with a building.
What will the focus of your upcoming talk be?
This is about a love triangle. The love triangle involved E.W. Grove [owner and founder of the Grove Park Inn], his only daughter Evelyn Grove [and her husband] Fred Seely. At the beginning, it was, or would appear to be, a perfect relationship. … In 1909 E.W. Grove is approached by the city of Asheville encouraging him to build a modern hotel. Asheville at that time had a lot of old wooden boarding houses, but the Old Battery Park Hotel, which has since been torn down, was really showing its age and they needed a new hotel. … Grove provided the money and Fred Seely provided all the design and the furnishings. And then when it opened in 1913, Fred Seely managed it for his father-in-law. But there was a problem: There was a jealousy issue … [which led to] a very bitter ending.
How did you go about researching the topic?
There are tremendous letters. E.W. Grove was hard of hearing. So he couldn’t talk over the telephone. And so, he wrote long, long letters to Evelyn and to Fred. We have tremendous … letters in the Grove and Seely families’ [collections] that detail all this.
What do you hope people take away from your talk?
One of my guiding philosophies as a historian … is to show that these were human beings. They had weaknesses. They had strengths. They’re not figures that we think of as marble statues. They were real people. And they had emotions like jealousy and pride. … They had some serious hurdles to overcome. I think the more we see historic figures as human beings, the more we can appreciate what they were able to accomplish.
WHAT: “Family Feud: The Bitter Battle Between E.W. Grove and Fred Seely for the Grove Park Inn”
WHERE: Pack Memorial Library, Lord Auditorium, lower level, 67 Haywood St.
WHEN: Noon-1 p.m. Wednesday, June 28. Free