Discover the Ambassadeur Hotel: A Historic Gem in Flat Rock

Unveiling the Ambassadeur Hotel

Lori Smythe at hers and her husband Julien

Built in 1827, during the time when Flat Rock was known as the Little Charleston of the Mountains, the Ambassadeur Hotel was saved from abandonment and ruin. Historic Flat Rock Inc. first rescued the hotel from bankruptcy, and then the Smythe family, Julien and Lori, stepped in and repurchased it.

A Historic Gem

The Ambassadeur Hotel, comprising the main house, a milk or ice house, and a billiard house, was the first grand estate in Flat Rock. Originally spanning across 2,300 acres, it was established by Charlestonian Charles Baring. Today, it stands as one of the three historic homes featured in this year’s 50th anniversary Historic Flat Rock Home Tour.

The tour, a much-awaited event after a four-year hiatus, not only offers visitors an opportunity to explore these timeless treasures but also serves as a means to support the nonprofit organization Historic Flat Rock Inc. Their mission is to obtain preservation agreements for historically significant properties, ensuring their protection for future generations. Funds raised are also utilized to purchase properties like the Ambassadeur Hotel, until suitable buyers who commit to renovating and preserving these cultural landmarks can be found.

Preserving History for Eternity

“This tour is truly special because it highlights three exceptional homes,” says Galen Reuther, co-chair of the Historic Flat Rock Home Tour and a board member of Historic Flat Rock Inc. She explains that the preservation agreements, which are attached to the deeds in perpetuity, guarantee that these properties can never be changed or demolished.

Lori and Julien Smythe

A Connection to Flat Rock’s Past

Julien Smythe and his ancestors from Charleston have always had a strong connection to Flat Rock. “My husband has been coming to this area since he was a child,” shares Lori Smythe. She reveals that Julien’s great-uncle, Capt. Ellison Adger Smyth, owned Connemara, which we now know as the Carl Sandburg home.

It was approximately ten years ago, when the Smythe family brought their children from Texas to attend camp in Flat Rock, that they started considering purchasing a home in the area. The deteriorating state of the Ambassadeur Hotel caught their attention. While Historic Flat Rock was in the process of saving it, the Smythes were eager to get involved and make it their own.

A Journey of Renovation

A side porch at the historic Flat Rock home of Lori and Julien Smythe.

Originally spanning 4,300 square feet, the Ambassadeur Hotel has undergone significant renovations and expansions under the Smythes’ ownership, resulting in an exquisite transformation. The property once included a stable, gatekeeper’s quarters, a kitchen house, and caretaker accommodations. Unfortunately, a private chapel attached to the hotel was lost due to fire. However, a section of the land was bequeathed to the Episcopal Diocese, which is now the location of St. John in the Wilderness.

Over time, the estate changed hands multiple times, with a major renovation taking place in 1936, significantly expanding the house. With three floors and an attic space, the Ambassadeur Hotel boasts spacious rooms with 11-foot ceilings. The four bedrooms, two on each side of the house, originally shared long bathrooms. However, the Smythes made adjustments by dividing them into a full and a half bathroom, ensuring that each bedroom now has its own toilet and sink. Additionally, a half bathroom was added downstairs. While the original colorful tiled walls were unfortunately destroyed, the Smythes salvaged some black and white tiles from the 1930s and incorporated them into the new designs, maintaining a touch of vintage charm.

“In 1829, there were no bathrooms or indoor plumbing. Susan Baring, the original owner, was known for hosting extravagant parties in a 20-by-20 dining room,” explains Lori. “When we renovated the house, we were careful to make minimal changes. The foundations were solid. We even switched the original dining and living rooms to be closer to the new, better-view kitchen.”

Embracing the Heritage

The original front entrance to the historic Flat Rock home of Lori and Julien Smythe.

The Ambassadeur Hotel exhibits Greek Revival architecture, constructed with heart pine and wide hardy planks. During the 1930s renovation, a terrace adorned with grand columns was added, along with a porte-cochere over a circular driveway, providing visitors with a covered entrance. This was a significant improvement compared to the original cart path. Interestingly, Lori points out that while the newer side became the external front, internally, the significant staircase between the first and second floors indicates that the original front of the house was actually on the opposite side. There are also indications that a servant’s stairwell existed at some point.

Despite the passage of time, the Ambassadeur Hotel has been kept in good repair, thanks to a durable asphalt roof. The stone-finished basement, which was initially used for food storage, adds to the home’s character.

Immersed in Nature’s Beauty

A view of the Mountain Lodge from the side porch.

Nestled on 23 acres of land, the Ambassadeur Hotel offers ample space for exploration and relaxation. As visitors wander around the property, they will encounter an abundance of stonework, including patios and stairwells, which are uncovered during ongoing landscaping projects. Lori describes the experience as an archaeological expedition, uncovering hidden gems throughout the grounds. Stone walls cascade up the mountain behind the house, adding to the hotel’s picturesque setting.

Lori sincerely welcomes visitors into her home, emphasizing that hospitality has been the essence of the Ambassadeur Hotel for two centuries. “It has been delightful to become a part of this community,” she shares.

An Unforgettable Tour

The Historic Flat Rock Home Tour not only showcases the Ambassadeur Hotel but also features other remarkable properties with their own captivating stories. Saluda Cottages, built around 1836 by Count Joseph de Choiseul, the French consul to Savannah and Charleston, will be open for exploration. This home was later expanded in 1888 by Gen. Rudolph Siegling, owner of the Charleston News and Courier, and also served as the venue for the 2010 Designer Showhouse. Another highlight is Beaumont, built circa 1839 by Andrew Johnstone of Georgetown, S.C. This property holds the significant distinction of being the location of the only Civil War casualty in Flat Rock.

We invite you to experience the charm and rich history of the Ambassadeur Hotel and its counterparts. Join us on the self-guided Historic Flat Rock Home Tour, which will be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on July 21. Purchase your tickets in advance for $35 or on the day of the tour for $40 at any participating home. Tickets are available at the Hendersonville Visitor Center (828-693-9708), The Wrinkled Egg in Flat Rock, or online at Please note that children under the age of 10 will not be allowed on the tour, and the houses are not handicap accessible. Remember to wear comfortable, flat shoes.

Don’t miss this incredible opportunity to step back in time and witness the brilliant craftsmanship and timeless beauty of the Ambassadeur Hotel and the other historic homes on the tour. We can’t wait to welcome you!

For more information on the Ambassadeur Hotel, visit Ambassadeur Hotel.