In the early 1950’s as Highlands NC area grew in popularity, it became apparent that if you did not own property on the environs of the clubs there, that play on their golf courses would not continue to be available. Mr. Gene Howerdd, Sr. was retiring from Georgia Pacific and decided to look for property to build a golf course community nearby.
In 1954, the Howerdd family acquired 8500 plus or minus acres of land in Sapphire. The property included approximately 6500 acres of land, an Inn (originally known as Fairfield Inn) and a 200 acre Lake (known as Lake Fairfield) on the North side of Highway 64 together with approximately 2000 acres of land, some of which had been farm land, on the south side of Highway 64. This area was perfect for a mountain course as the terrain varied by no more than 12 feet across the valley floor!
The property was owned by members of the Tatum family who were part of the original ownership group of Lake Toxaway. This land was deeded to them when the Lake Toxaway Dam broke and the 250,000 acre tract was divided up among the partners.
These partners also include E.H. Jennings whose family still owns nearby Lonesome Valley today. It was then renamed The Tatum Sky Club. The Tatum family owned a Club in Miami called the Tatum Surf Club. How Mr. Howerdd found out the property could be purchased is another chapter.
Planning, development and operations began immediately and The Sapphire Valley Inn and Country Club, known today as Sapphire Valley Resort, was born.
George Cobb, a formally educated golf course architect at University of GA Fine Arts Dept. of Landscape Architecture and a former Major in the Marine Corps where he had co designed 2 Golf Courses at Camp LeJeune, was hired to design a course on the 2000 acre tract.View the Country Club of Sapphire Valley under construction in 1955 here.
In order to have a place for friends and family to enjoy the new course and mountains, the Howerdd's began renovations on the Fairfield Inn. Originally built with 56 rooms and only 2 baths per floor, the Howerdd's converted closets in each room to provide private baths.
An elevator was added [which came from an old Palm Beach hotel], telephones in each room, and many upgrades to the lobby, dining room and guest rooms.
The Howerdd's daughter, MaryJo, operated the Inn's Gift Shop along with Doll McDevitt, the Howerdd's niece. Items in the gift shop came from the finest shops in New York and Palm Beach as well as fine items brought back after trips to Europe.
Katie and Gene Howerdd expanded the Fairfield Inn by adding a rear terrace, almost across the entire back side of the Inn, which provided a great place to relax and enjoy Fairfield Lake and Bald Rock Mountain.
As their friends continued to visit and build second homes, areas around the Golf Course and the Fairfield Lake became summer residences for many. Those areas exist today as Round Hill Estates and Golf Club Estates.
Gene Howerdd, Jr., after several visits to the new, nearby Cataloochee ski area, knew Sapphire Valley would be perfect for southern skiing. So in 1964, the Sapphire Valley ski area was built. The Ski area included a beginner area with rope tow and a double chair lift servicing a 1500' main slope with snow making equipment.
To complete the experience, Mr. Howerdd, Jr. had two Austrian Ski Instructors, Hans and Deter, on the slopes for many years.
Mr. Howerdd, Jr. combined the Ski Area development with the creation of Hogback Lake and the first Holly Forest real estate section was created. Lot owners in Holly Forest were given Ski Area Membership and many homes were built on the new lake.
The Ski Area operates to this day with a new quad chair lift and the Frozen Falls snow tubing experience.
The Howerdd Family, relatives and friends operated the Inn, Country Club, Ski Area and real estate development until 1970