High Atop the Mountain
The Smokies are one of the world’s oldest ranges, once soaring almost as high as the Himalayas. From our lawn, almost a mile high on the rim of the Cataloochee Divide, you can spot four of North Carolina’s six highest mountain ranges, all remnants of those ancient Everests.
Path of History
As the rocks eroded and history began to be written, the Cherokee hunted on the property and blazed the Cataloochee Divide Trail, which still runs behind our hideaway. Later settlers developed a distinct Appalachian culture and tradition that lives on to this day.
Before The Swag’s original owners, Dan and Deener Matthews, bought the land, The Swag was a potato farm, whose mountaintop balds were created and maintained through agriculture. With no road up the mountain, a farmer would have to hike straight up to the ridge to harvest the crop and then slide the potatoes down the trail.
An Elevated Vision
Dan Matthews, an Episcopal priest who spent some of his childhood in Western North Carolina, and his wife Deener began looking for property in the area after visiting a friend’s home near The Swag. They hiked up the mountain with the property’s owner, and when they stepped out of the forest into the meadow and saw the sweeping layers of mountains in the grand view, they fell in love with the land. At first, the Matthews would hike up and camp on the property, but they soon cast a vision for an authentic, Smoky Mountain log home on the ridgeline. Carving a road into the steep mountainside was the first challenge. Then, Deener began to drive around the southeast looking for old log buildings to purchase and reassemble into their family’s mountain home. The oldest logs in The Swag House came from the Lonesome Valley Primitive Baptist Church in Tennessee and date back to 1785. In every building design and method, the Matthews prioritized authenticity and craftsmanship.
From Home to Hospitality
The Swag was originally built as the Matthews family’s private getaway. Deener and Dan made memories with their children, Gail, Danny, and Laurin, and would often open their mountain home for church groups and spiritual retreats. When The World’s Fair came to Knoxville in 1982, organizers asked the Matthews to open The Swag for hotel guests, just for the duration of the fair. The guests who came up the mountain were so taken by the natural beauty and stunning setting of The Swag that they never drove into Knoxville. When guests asked to book a stay again for the next year, Deener decided to become an innkeeper.
Deener’s Fourth Child
At first The Swag was a one-woman show, with Deener preparing meals, changing sheets, and hosting dinners for her guests. She soon hired a neighbor, who would hike across the ridge before sunrise to help with the cooking. With each passing year, the Matthews grew the staff and lovingly added details, amenities, rooms, cabins, and experiences to better take care of their guests. Deener calls The Swag her “fourth child” and gave it her whole heart over her time on the mountaintop. Deener’s vision for excellence in every detail and genuine love of people kept guests coming back year after year.
A New Chapter
In 2018, the Matthews decided it was time to step back from The Swag and sold the property to Annie and David Colquitt. Annie’s family has a decades-long connection to the Matthews and The Swag, and the newlywed couple visited for the first time for their honeymoon in 2011. The Colquitts fell in love with the natural beauty, the authentic architecture, and the genuine sense of rest and peace that pervades The Swag and returned again as guests. When they heard the Matthews were selling the property, they jumped at the opportunity to be the next stewards of this special place and continue its heritage of hospitality.
The Swag Today
As proprietors, the Colquitts have continued the Matthews’ legacy of warm welcomes and thoughtful improvement. From the original Swag House that the Matthews built in the 1970s, the property has grown to include The Chestnut Lodge, three cabins, a spa, outdoor dining porch, and wine cellar. The Swag was honored to join Relais & Châteaux in 2020 and continues to focus on providing guests with outstanding service and the restorative combination of epic natural beauty and authentic hospitality.