The lands which comprise the Limberlost Forest and Wildlife Reserve were sparsely and largely unsuccessfully settled in the mid-1800’s. Evidence of early homesteading, including stone walls built from the clearing of fields, as well as remnants of flower gardens and apple orchards can be found on the lower lying and more even lands, mainly within a mile of the Limberlost and Millar Hill colonization roads.
Limberlost Lodge began operating in the early 1900’s as a premier recreational resort, and was the first in the region to install a mechanized ski lift.
Any history written about the Limberlost Reserve would be incomplete without recognizing the role Gordon and Marion Hill played in building Limberlost into a pre-eminent wilderness resort.
Gordon Hill was born in 1894, as the youngest of four children of Thomas and Annie Hill, and grandson of the Reverend Norton Hill, founder of the Hillside community east of Huntsville. The Hills were among the earliest European settlers in the region.
While Gordon Hill was the visionary, Marion Hill was the one who promoted the unique wilderness experience Limberlost came to offer. The creative advertising brochures and related promotional initiatives spearheaded by Marion Hill were well ahead of their time, including the owl motif used on all promotional material to foster a distinct Limberlost brand.
In many respects the Hills were early pioneers of eco-tourism as it is known today. They offered an opportunity to venture into the woods and enjoy the trees, lakes and wildlife in a pristine wilderness setting. There were plenty of adventures for guests to embark on as they found themselves constantly taking on fresh challenges and learning more about nature.
The Hills’ development of Limberlost also brought significant economic benefits to the region. Their accomplishments encouraged others to establish similar northern resorts, which went on to achieve their own levels of success.
After Gordon Hill’s untimely death in 1947, Marion Hill and her daughter Bobbie continued to operate Limberlost. However, with changing times Limberlost’s fortunes faded.
Increased affluence enabled many families to acquire their own cottages and for others, the arrival of the large, more luxurious northern resorts seemed better attuned to their wilderness desires.
This led to Limberlost being sold around 1969 to local cottage owners, known as The Friends of Limberlost, who later re-sold it to a developer with plans to build a large townhouse community along the shores of Lake Solitaire. However, in the early 1980s these plans were shelved when the current owners acquired the property with a view to restoring Limberlost’s renowned hiking trails and re-opening them to the public.
After the original lodge was destroyed by fire in the early 1980’s, the reserve was significantly expanded and two smaller, more intimate lodges, and two cottages have been offered to guests seeking to enjoy the wilderness.
With the change in ownership, Ted and Judy Rivers arrived at Limberlost to make it their lives’ work to re-establish the property as a preferred eco-tourism destination. Shortly thereafter, Lorraine Schamehorn joined them and together they set about re-establishing the reserve’s pre-eminent wilderness ranking and introducing new forest stewardship practices.
Learn more about the early days of Limberlost in The Limberlost Collections – Early History and Popular Activities.