Highland Pines Inn: A Wicker Paradise

“[It is] the undeniable fact that a woman always looks well in a wicker chair, which conceals no part of the costume, and yet affords the support of a heavily upholstered piece.”

                   —Joseph P. McHugh, 1898.


Lobby of the Highland Pines Resort, Southern Pines, North Carolina, ca. 1920.  Collection 182, Joseph Downs Manuscript and Printed Ephemera Collection, Winterthur Library.

How did a humble folk tradition become the furniture of choice for wealthy, fashionable vacationers? A view into the lobby of the Highland Pines Resort in North Carolina at the turn of the twentieth century illustrates the changing role wicker has played in furnishing American interior and exterior spaces.

In 1913, the Highland Pines Inn opened its doors in rural Southern Pines, North Carolina, where it welcomed visitors until 1957. Highland Pines was not alone in its attempt to bring vacationers to the South: the hugely popular Grove Park Inn opened the same year in Asheville, drawing vacationers from across the country to relax and enjoy the health benefits of fresh southern air. Both resorts emerged during the heyday of the American vacation. The Gilded Age saw more Americans taking vacations than ever before, empowered by increased wealth and improved transportation. Resorts like Highland Pines gave these travelers an exciting new place for recreation, where they could enjoy their leisure time and be seen doing it.

When designers determined how to furnish the lobby of the Highland Pines Resort, they unequivocally turned to wicker to set the look and feel of this central, public space. Wicker was a practical choice for the resort. First, the material is durable and easy to clean, beneficial characteristics for pieces that would likely receive heavy use from the waves of guests. Wicker was also cost-effective. A catalog from the United State Willow Furniture Company advertised in 1924 rocking chairs similar to those purchased by Highland Pines for nine dollars apiece.


W.J. Sloan Company, Summer Ease (New York: W.J. Sloan, 1901).  Trade  catalog collection, Winterthur Library.

In addition to its durability, wicker is lightweight—when combined with its weatherproof nature, this allowed wicker chairs to be moved between indoor and outdoor leisure spaces with ease. Its open lattice design created a breathable seat comfortable in balmy Carolina summers, and supported current thinking about the health benefits of air flow. The wicker furniture in the lobby of Highland Pines likely did not see much outdoor use, however, despite the flexibility of the material to serve in all conditions; wicker dominates the room in this photograph to the extent that, were the wicker chairs carried outside, the lobby would be left awkwardly bare. Instead, furnishing the lobby entirely of wicker created the appearance of a veranda or other outdoor lounge area, establishing a summery and laid-back vibe for the lobby.


W.J. Sloan Company, Summer Ease (New York: W.J. Sloan, 1901).  Trade  catalog collection, Winterthur Library.

Wicker carried many meanings that were fitting for use in an American resort. As an Asian-inspired form, wicker had an association with the exotic that would appeal to travelers seeking the excitement of a foreign-feeling experience. More likely, however, vacationers were familiar with wicker in the seaside resorts of New England. Wicker became so associated with these coastal hotels that manufacturers of wicker furniture named their styles after resort communities like Bar Harbor, Narragansett, and Hampton. By using so many pieces in this style, Highland Pines created for its guests in North Carolina an atmosphere reminiscent of the northern resorts frequented by the rich and famous. Lounging in wicker in the mountains of North Carolina, guests were reminded of the fashionable northern coast.

For many Gilded Age Americans, travel was a way to revel in the wealth and free time brought about by new technologies and a booming economy. The Highland Pines resort, founded in the prime of this phenomenon, thoughtfully decked their interiors spaces with wicker to meet their guests’ desire to relax and to show off at the same time. Wicker met both needs at once, while being a practical choice for the hotel. Guests enjoyed wicker’s comfortable breeziness and healthful qualities, simultaneously creating the perfect picture of the wealthy, modern American on holiday.


By Candice Candeto, WPAMC Class of 2018


This post is part of a series written in fall 2016 for a Historic Interiors class at Winterthur.  Students explored photographs housed in the miscellaneous photograph collection (Collection 182) in the Winterthur Library’s Joseph Downs Collection. These scenes each reveal a treasure trove of objects that invite further examination, speculation, and connections to other Winterthur collections.


Further Reading:

Aron, Cindy Sondik. Working at Play: A History of Vacations in the United States. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Braden, Susan R. The Architecture of Leisure: The Florida Resort Hotels of Henry Flagler and Henry Plant. Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 2002.

Lofgren, Orvar. On Holiday: A History of Vacationing. Berkley: University of California Press,1999.

Tolles, Bryant F., Jr. Resort Hotels of the Adirondacks: The Architecture of a Summer Paradise, 1850-1950. Hanover: University Press of New England, 2003.

Vandenbergh, Lydia and Earle G. Shettleworth. Bar Harbor’s Gilded Century: Opulence toAshes, 1850-1950. Camden: Down East Books, 2009.

One response to “Highland Pines Inn: A Wicker Paradise”

  1. Margaret king says:

    I have a letter written from this establishment many years go written on the inn stationery. Would you like it?

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