Growing up in the Colonel’s Court

This is a guest post by Terry Roberts, the award-winning author and Asheville native who grew up in ‘Sander Court.’ 

My parents, Lee and Helen Roberts, owned Sanders Court north of Asheville from about 1948 until about 1975. They bought it from Colonel Harlan Sanders after my dad returned from service in Europe during W.W. II. Originally, the property ran in one, uninterrupted swath from its frontage on the old Weaverville Highway all the way to top of Baird Mountain, but over the years, they sold off parcels of farmland and woods until only the land surrounding our house and the court remained.

They first operated the Court as a classic Motor Court, strategically placed just at the intersection of the Weaverville Highway and the Old Marshall Highway, which was the only route north out of Asheville to Tennessee and all points west. They also operated a restaurant in the kitchen and living room of the house I grew up in, which had been Colonel Sanders’ residence. And yes, my sister and I still joke that Sanders’ secret recipe of eleven herbs and spices must have been invented in our kitchen. (Historical note: Harlan Sanders was apparently going back and forth between our Sanders’ Court in Asheville and the gas station he owned in Corbin, Kentucky during the 1930s and 40s, which became the first KFC.)

My parents continued to operate the court for seasonal tourists till roughly eighty percent of it burned in the winter of 1956-57, the winter after I was born. They eventually built it back and rented the units as apartments for twenty years after that. When the court burned, they also ceased operating the restaurant; although, I can still remember that the venetian blinds on the front door of the house when I was little read OPEN on one side and CLOSED on the other.

Adjacent to the motor court is an old quarry stone house that was Sanders’ residence when he lived there and became the house my sister and I grew up in. It was a wonderful place for me as a child because in those halcyon days, it sat out in open country just off the highway. Behind the house was a dirt-road neighborhood of widely spread houses in open fields, and behind that was the wooded mountain side. My father’s mother, Grandma Roberts, lived in a small cottage about fifty feet from our backdoor, and I spent my childhood following her from garden to chicken house to the woods, absorbing her stories about the generations of mountain farmers who were our ancestors.

So magical was my childhood in the woods and fields behind Sanders’ Court that I have always loved and identified with Dylan Thomas’ “Fern Hill”

All the sun long it was running, it was lovely, the hay

Fields high as the house, the tunes from the chimneys, it was air

And playing, lovely and watery

And fire green as grass.

 

That was my childhood in a time and place when the seasons were pure poetry. Yes, I spent weeks of every summer mowing grass, and one whole July painting the Court—slowly, with a brush. But with the benevolent effect of time, all the work melts away and the fond memories remain.

Sanders’ Court became an extraordinarily important part of our family history and my personal story. As for Sanders himself, he came back years later to visit, and he pulled up across the highway in one of the log-cabin courts there. He was being chauffeured in a long, white Cadillac by a uniformed driver. When the owner of the court, who had known him for years, greeted him as “Harlan,” he replied haughtily that he should be addressed “as Colonel, if you please.” In the time since he’d left the mountains of North Carolina, he’d ceased being a neighbor and become a celebrity. Our friend from across the road wasn’t impressed; he told the Colonel to go to hell.

 

Terry Roberts is the author of two award-winning novels, A Short Time to Stay Here and That Bright Land. His third book, The Holy Ghost Speakeasy and Revival is scheduled to be released from Turner Publishing on August 21st. Visit his website at www.terryrobertsauthor.com .

If you haven’t seen my past post on Sander Court, you can visit it here: The Colonel’s Court & Cafe – Asheville, NC

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