In its heyday, the Lake Toxaway depot received four trains a day, bringing travelers to enjoy one of North Carolina’s largest man-made lakes. Then, in the early 20th century, the lake attracted a resort community, where folks flocked to its 14 miles of shoreline to bask in the crisp southern Appalachian air.
Today, Grand Olde Station, a restaurant located in that former depot, is filled with hungry diners instead of weary travelers. They share stories and make connections over fare that ranges from brick-oven pepperoni pizza and house-made black bean burgers to Chateaubriand and rack of lamb.
Grand Olde Station’s entrées pay tribute to the restaurant’s former life as the Lake Toxaway train depot. Photography courtesy of THE COLLECTION OF BOB’S PHOTOS
Owner John Nichols III (left) and Chef Joshua Payne. photograph by Tim Robison
Executive Chef Joshua Payne is committed to serving local food in ways that make everyone feel welcome. “When I use food, I think about the location that I’m in and what resources are around,” Payne says. “I work with local farmers for products of amazing quality.” Payne sources mushrooms from Pisgah Gourmet in Brevard and uses produce from Highlands-based August Produce and other local farmers markets. He also serves pork from Grazer’s Glade Mountain Ranch and trout from French Broad Trout Company, both in Balsam Grove.
Payne believes that his meals provide a reason to gather and connect to the depot’s past. Practically every inch of the restaurant displays historic items that have direct ties to the area: blueprints of the original Toxaway Inn (circa 1903), local family photos from the 1900s, a vintage Biltmore Dairy clock, and a snapshot of the Carolina Panthers that was taken at the restaurant a few years ago. Diners enter Grand Olde Station for the food, but they leave with a fuller understanding of the region. That’s where owner John Nichols III comes in.
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The Toxaway Company, founded in 1895, was determined to build the largest man-made lake in the region when they invested in Transylvania County property. They dammed the Toxaway River and, by the summer of 1903, a lake was born and became a resort destination for the likes of Thomas Edison and John D. Rockefeller.
But Lake Toxaway’s first chapter as a retreat ended abruptly on August 13, 1916, when the dam broke and the lake drained. The land remained empty for decades until Nichols’s grandfather and a business partner hired a firm to rebuild the dam and fill the lake in 1961.
Visitors to Grand Olde Station can enjoy a meal created by Chef Joshua Payne. photograph by Tim Robison
Nichols grew up as a year-round resident of Lake Toxaway, living with his family in the Caretaker’s Cottage — named for the former caretaker of the Toxaway Inn — just across the road from the depot. One of Nichols’s goals is to preserve the history of the area where he was raised, while also creating a place for year-round residents, second homeowners, and tourists to come together on the restaurant’s grounds.
Nichols points to the photos and memorabilia on the restaurant’s walls. “We want Grand Olde Station to tell a story,” he says. “We want it to feel like a place you’ve been coming to your whole life.”
To commemorate our 90th anniversary, we’ve compiled a time line that highlights the stories, contributors, and themes that have shaped this magazine — and your view of the Old North State — using nine decades of our own words.