< Gilley's story continued >
[Mr. Walls stands beside the original register still located in the lobby]
" I don't think any of us had ever even thought of having the historic old hotel as a possible home for our museum," Haskins said.
Walls was working in California on an aerospace project when he became part-owner of the hotel in the early 1980's.
Later, after becoming sole owner of the property, he entertained visions of a big restoration project himself, but it was not to be.
"After I retired from a company that had been working on the Hubble Space Telescope, the project of restoring the old hotel appeared to get larger and larger," said Walls, now 71.
"I didn't want to burden my family in South Carolina with a project this large, I wanted it to go to the people of Bulls Gap."
The history of the hotel is so intertwined with the history of the railroad and the town itself that it is easy for some of us to conclude that it is one of the true rail culture landmarks still standing in this part of East Tennessee.
"It doesn't look too pretty on the outside right now," said John Burkhart, a retired railroader who serves as a director of the museum association," but it is very substantial on the inside."
The inside of the building is so solid, in fact, that Haskins says visitors often express delight at what they see.
"To date from the 1800's this building has held up remarkably well," said Haskins.
For those of us who grew up around Bulls Gap, it has always been the Gilley's Hotel, but we're just seeing and talking about part of the picture.
"It was originally the Smith Hotel ," said Haskins, whose love for trains and railroading has made him a serious student of Bulls Gap history.
"The original hotel was built in the mid- 1850's, when the railroad was being built into Bulls Gap," he said.
The Smith hotel became well known for its food and accommodations all up and down the line, Haskins said, until it was destroyed by fire in 1883.
The Smith family rebuilt the hotel, in the same location and by 1884, it was up and running again, bigger and better than ever.
In the very early 1900s, the Gilley name became forever linked to the hotel when a man named Rufus Henry Gilley acquired the property and continued to serve the growing rail industry in the bustling little town.
Before the Great Depression began in 1929, Gilley had expanded operations by adding a wing that provided an office and dining room for the hotel.
A lot of people still refer to it as "Gilley Hotel," but that is not what the sign in the window says.
The sign says "Gilley's Hotel," which is the correct name, according to surviving family members now living in Hamblen County.
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