Most people have probably never heard of Intheoaks, the magnificent one-time home of incandescent lighting pioneer Franklin Terry and his second wife Lillian. Frank and Lillian would probably be happy about that. This wonderful 24,000 square foot home hidden, quite literally, in the oaks of Black Mountain, North Carolina was never meant to be boastful or showy, it was meant to be lived in and enjoyed. Even people in Black Mountain, the town where it is located, seemed to have no idea what I was talking about when I mentioned it. I had never heard of it myself until a friend of mine tipped me off to check it out. I'm really glad he did. Visiting Intheoaks (yes, that is how it's spelled) was truly one of the highlights of my entire month in North Carolina.
In 1878, when Franklin Terry was a teenager, he worked as an office boy for Ansonia Electric Company, an electric manufacturing company in Ansonia, Connecticut. One day, he sat in on a meeting about electric lighting between the plant's owner, William Wallace, and Thomas Edison. He was so enthused about the idea of electric lighting that he would work in the field for the rest of his life. His main contribution was coming up with a long-burning incandescent bulb which far outlasted those of his competitors. When he felt his small company couldn't compete with the bigger outfits like Westinghouse, Terry sought out other small electric companies to band together as the conglomerate National Electric Lamp Company (changed to National Electric Lamp Association or NELA in 1906). When NELA was absorbed by General Electric in 1923, Terry would become GE's Vice President. Terry also conceived the United States' first industrial park, NELA Park in Cleveland, Ohio. In addition to quiet working spaces, it provided ample opportunities for leisure activities for his employees. NELA Park included tennis courts, a library, a swimming pool, baseball fields and a bowling alley. The campus was designed by New York architect Frank E. Wallis, and upon its completion Terry had Wallis begin to design a grand estate for his personal use. The estate would be built near his wife's family in Black Mountain, North Carolina. They gave the estate the name Intheoaks because of the oak leaf in her family coat of arms.
Intheoaks was one of the last grand estates built in western North Carolina in that magical time between the coming of the railroad and the Great Depression. Built between 1919 and 1921 with a recreation wing added in 1923, Intheoaks would end up at just over 24,000 square feet. The house was built to resemble a Tudor-style English country manor house and has 67 rooms, 5 fireplaces, a 60'x20' heated, lit indoor pool and a 2 lane bowling alley. From the main entrance, it appears to have only two stories, but it is built ingeniously into the side of a hill and from the back you can see it actually has four. Of course with Franklin Terry's interest in electrical manufacturing, the house included the latest electrical lighting and even an intercom system. The grounds were designed by the most well-known landscape architect of the day, Frederick Law Olmstead, and included a lovely, winding driveway, a four-hole golf course, tennis courts and a diverse assortment of plants and trees.
The house was built during the beginning of Prohibition in the United States, and as "an industrialist with social responsibilities", Franklin Terry needed to be sure he could provide libations for his guests without interference. The house sits right next to the Southern Railroad, and it was said that they would bring in liquor on the trains in boxes marked "books". The liquor would then go into the house where it was hidden in a variety of places. My favorite was in The Dutch Room, a beautiful room built to look like a Dutch tavern with a remarkable Delft tile inglenook fireplace, dark wood everywhere and opaque leaded glass to keep people from seeing in. Historically a huge bearskin rug graced the hearth. In the corner was a small serving area where several bottles could be found on shelves. If an inspector pulled on the shelf, he would find it gave way and there was another shelf behind it with more bottles. Pulling on this shelf, it also gave way but there was a plaster wall behind that shelf. When the inspectors left, satisfied with their few cheap bottles of hooch, Terry would push in a side panel and slide back the "plaster wall" which was actually plaster on a solid metal door, and enter the 744 bottle wine cellar where he kept the good stuff. Seeing this secret wine cellar made me smile.
Franklin and Lillian Terry were wonderful hosts who loved to entertain. They were said to have thrown lavish parties for their guests which included many important people in the business world. Inside the guest book you can also find some pretty famous celebrities of the era including Gloria Swanson, Lillian Russell and Dorothy Kilgallen. They would hire bands and obviously provide plenty to eat and drink. Intheoaks was built to entertain people in a comfortable yet refined environment. I can only imagine the good times that were had in this magnificent estate.
Frank Terry would die of a stroke in 1926 at the age of 64, only three years after Intheoaks was completed. His wife, Lillian, would live in the house until her death in an automobile accident on the way back from Florida in 1954. Intheoaks would pass down to their daughter, Lillian Boscovitch, who would donate it to the Episcopal Diocese in 1957. They would turn it into the centerpiece of Camp Henry, a summer camp for children and also use it as a retreat house during the rest of the year. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. actually stayed in the house on January 20th, 1967 while holding a meeting of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. The house fell into disrepair and nearby Montreat College purchased the building in 2001 making it the Manor House of their Black Mountain Campus (their nearby main campus in the town of Montreat is a beautiful place to visit as well). The house has been used by the college for classes, offices and meetings and is also rented out for conferences and special events.
Unfortunately, it is closed at the moment due some major problems with the roof. Repairs are scheduled to begin in March, 2018. Once the repairs are finished, Intheoaks will hopefully be open for tours once again. I was very grateful to see the house thanks to a personal connection to the Terry family. The wonderful and informative caretaker, Beth, showed me around and even took me into the legendary secret wine cellar. Taking care of such an extraordinary property is no small task, and when Beth moved in it was apparently in quite a state of disrepair. It was very apparent that a lot of love and elbow grease had been put in to get the house into the condition it is currently in.
I would love to see Motreat set up a preservation fund so that they could furnish the building a little better and maybe open it up to more regular tours. It is such a hidden gem in the area and is only about 20 minutes from downtown Asheville. Intheoaks represents such a fascinating time in western North Carolina history and has at least been added to the National Register of Historic Places. On the other hand, it was pretty amazing to have the place basically to myself and to wander around picturing myself in a long jacket and a cool fedora hat, sipping bootleg whiskey on my way to the ballroom where the band is just warming up.
For more information on visiting Intheoaks you should contact Montreat College directly at (828) 669-8012 extension 3821. You can visit the college website HERE.