Sevierville’s newest lodging property, The Historic Central Hotel, is a boutique hotel that’s paying homage to its predecessor in unique ways. With large two and three bedroom units, upscale finishes and a trendy restaurant planned for rooftop dining, this new hotel brings guests back to stay in the center of downtown Sevierville. Read on to learn the history of the Central Hotel that once occupied this same plot of land at the corner of Court Avenue and Main Street.
Central Hotel a Fixture in Sevierville for Many Years
By Carroll McMahan, Sevier County Historian
Central Hotel was a white-clapboard structure with a large double stacked porch on the front.
The date the original Central Hotel opened for business is unknown, but it was sometime prior to 1900. W.A. Trammel operated the hotel from the late 1800s until 1902.
P.E. Walker and M.B. McMahan, Sr. sold Central Hotel to Joseph E. Bowers and his wife, Elizabeth Sing Bowers, in 1902 for $1800. Mr. Bowers operated the hotel until his death in 1912 and his widow continued the operation along with her daughters, Ida and Serene Bowers.
There was no running water at Central Hotel and rooms were heated by a coal burning grate. A “sample room” was provided at the front of the hotel for traveling salesmen, commonly called drummers, to display their wares. The hotel was also a seasonal home to many milliners who came to the different stores in town to create custom-made hats for ladies.
In 1919, Mrs. Bowers sold Central Hotel to a new corporation which included: A.H. Lowe, Dr. R.J. Ingle, C.L. Thurman, W.C. Henderson, Garland Price, E.E. Conner and K. Rawlings and Company.
James and Margaret Bowers Davis leased the hotel from the stockholders. After James Davis died in 1920, Mrs. Davis continued operating the hotel until she constructed her own hotel two blocks south on Cross Street (now called Court Ave.). Her hotel was named Davis Hotel and is now Rawlings Funeral Home.
In 1923, a fire engulfed the old Central Hotel, located on the southwest corner of the Public Square in Sevierville. After surveying the damage, owners decided to raze the wooden structure and erect a modern brick building in the same location.
Sanders L. Atchley, who was cashier of Sevier County Bank, sketched plans on the back of a post card which Burden Brothers Construction Company used as a blueprint to erect the new structure.
The new brick building, called New Central Hotel, had 40 rooms with more than half having private baths. The first managers were Ralph Murphy and his bride, Willie Kate Brown Murphy.
A gala dinner to celebrate the grand opening was held on September 24, 1924. 400 people attended. About one fourth of the dinner guests were from surrounding counties. The Farragut Hotel and St. James Hotel in Knoxville sent trained waiters to assist with the event.
On the evening of the grand opening a couple of the requested waiters were unable to report for work. Ralph Murphy remembered George and Stewart Burden, the brothers whose company constructed the new building, once worked as waiters for the Statler Hotel in Detroit, Michigan.
When the Burden brothers arrived, dressed for the dinner, Mr. Murphy asked them if they would mind helping serve the meal. They removed their suit coats, put on the waiter’s uniforms and began serving dinner in elegant style.
After the guests had finished their meal, Ralph Murphy started the program. He introduced the contractors before they had time to remove their waiter uniforms. George and Stewart Burden came out of the kitchen and bowed to the astonished crowd.
An article appeared in the Montgomery Vindicator in 1930 stating: “Through keen business judgment Ralph Murphy has made the New Central Hotel known throughout East Tennessee and he made it a credit to this entire community.”
The Murphy’s ran the hotel for 13 years until Mr. Murphy became postmaster of Sevierville. Between 1937 and 1951, the establishment was operated by Mell Lawson, Mrs. M.B. Allen and Gerald “Doc” Hayes.
In 1951, the hotel was sold at public auction to Dwight Wade, Sr. and Eugene Robertson. The name was changed to Hotel Sevier and Mr. Robertson’s wife, Mildred Umbarger Robertson, ran the business for the next 16 years.
The hotel served as the setting for many notable social, business and political events.
In 1925, Clarence Darrow was a guest at the hotel when he was informed of the sudden death of William Jennings Bryan in Dayton, TN, a few days after the conclusion of the famous Scopes Monkey Trial.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his wife, Eleanor, stopped at the hotel en route to the dedication of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 1940.
The hotel experienced many “firsts” for Sevierville including the first television broadcast in the lobby, the first color television viewed, the first long distance telephone call and the first successful beauty salon.
The hotel was dismantled in 1968 to make way for Sevier County Bank. The bank was located on that spot for almost four decades before moving into a new building next door in 2006. The old bank building has now been completely renovated and reopened as the Historic Central Hotel.
Learn more about the people and places of Sevierville when you explore our Trip Ideas.