HistoryGATLINBURG SKY LIFT HISTORY
In the winter of 1953, Rel Maples contacted Everett Kircher and asked him to build a chairlift in Gatlinburg Tennessee. The local innkeeper wanted him to build the lift after reading an article about Kircher's chairlift expertise in AAA magazine. Kircher was interested however wanted to build the lift for himself with a possible lease or purchase of the land from Maples.
Gatlinburg is located in a narrow valley at the foot of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. It was, and still is, a funnel for people driving coast to coast and for hordes of vacationing familes from everywhere.
Kircher met with Mr. Maples and drove to Gatlinburg. Maples had a small hotel called the Gatlinburg Inn at the center of town. Right behind it on his property was a mountain with a steep vertical rise. There wasn't a road or even a path to efficiently begin the project however it wasn't impossible.
Maples wouldn't sell the property but did agree to a 99-year lease on a 100-foot easement. Kircher and Maples soon struck a deal and Gatlinburg sightseeing history was made.
Companies were not manufacturing chairlifts nor could Kircher afford one during this time. With a $10,000 budget he purchased a lift from the Sugar Bowl Ski Area in California. The lift cost a total of $3,000 plus the expense of tearing it down. Vic Chmielewski, head of Boyne's maintenance crew went to California to dismantle the lift and transport it to Kircher's fathers Studebaker dealership in Rochester, Michigan.
From the dealership, Kircher drew up the engineering plans using the Sugar Bowls original chairs, bull wheels and terminal apparatus but had to machine new wheels and make new balance assemblies, which he did at his fathers dealership with outside machining assistance.
Kircher's father made the trip to Gatlinburg to scout the area and coordinate labor. Kircher soon followed after closing Boyne Mountain after the ski season.
The first step was to hire a surveyor to set property easement lines. Flags were placed starting from the main street of town, running alongside Maples Inn, over the river and up this steep, imposing mountain. Before clearing the slope a road would need to be built from the valley floor up.
A local resident lived near the top of the mountain where the road would need to be placed. Kircher offered the owner the cut logs in exchange for clearing the road through his property. The owner was delighted and planned on selling the logs and then have a road to drive back and forth from his property.
The mountain had a 1,200 vertical drop. Pouring the footings would not be easy on the steep, rocky slope. Water was trucked to the top and then fed station to station through a series of 55 galloon drums connected by garden hoses. After the footings were set in place the lift was erected and chairs were placed.
The lift was an immediate success and became must do while exploring that Gatlinburg area. By the third season of operation, over 100,000 tourists rode the Gatlinburg Lift. It was the first chairlift ever built in Dixieland.
Boyne Mountain Resort would not have been developed as quickly without the added income from Gatlinburg. The scenic chairlift has been one of the main catalysts for the success of Boyne USA Resorts. For more information on the Kircher Legacy, visit any Boyne Country Sports Store for a copy of "Everett Kircher, Michigan's Resort Pioneer."