Angela Nicholas Special to Asheville Citizen Times USA TODAY NETWORK
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What has become a 40-acre vacation get-away with 25 rental cabins all began with the purchase of a tiny, falling down log cabin the owners named after their then middle school-age son Chris.
Chris' Cabin at Asheville Cabins of Willow Winds, just off Sweeten Creek Road and Stockwood Rd. Ext was rotting away when Mike and Sandy McLeod purchased it and a 20-acre plot of land with three other cabins in ill repair.
Sandy, a Fletcher native, and Mike, a D.C. attorney, were living in Northern Virginia when they decided to begin a search for property so they could move back to Western North Carolina to be near Sandy's family.
"We lived close to the Pentagon, and when 911 happened we thought maybe it was a good time to put Chris in school in the South," Sandy said. Mike continued to work, commuting by plane weekly.
"A lady's husband had passed away and she rented out a couple of houses. This cabin (Chris' Cabin) was used for storage," Sandy said. "It had a hole in the wall from what is now the kitchen out to a walkway. It was in pitiful shape at best. It was hell in a hand basket.
After the purchase and while the couple was still living in Virginia, Mike and Sandy's sister Pat Fowler conspired to get the cabin renovated as a surprise to Sandy. They had purchased the property in August and by the time Sandy came to visit at Christmas they all went to see the place they had bought and Sandy got a huge surprise when she opened the door to find it repaired and livable.
Guy wires were attached to the little cabin to help stabilize it. The hole in the wall had been reconstructed with logs and chinking to match what is thought to be 1800s original construction. With a large wood-burning fireplace made of rock in the middle of the cabin, the little house now had a kitchen and a bedroom with a king-size bed and added bathroom with space for a small washer-dryer unit.
With the structure then named after the McLeod's son, the tradition of naming the cabins after family and a few friends was begun. There is Mike's Place, Dad's Diggs, Mom's Manor, Pat's Place, Jackie's Gem and Larry's Lodge, to name a few. The McLeods named the property Willow Winds after finding an old sign in the woods.
Today, like all the cabins on the property, Chris' Cabin has a deck (with a hot tub) overlooking the pond they built and stock with fish. The rustic log cabin is often used by honeymooners looking for a cozy and unique place to stay. Couples carving their names like youngsters in love in the numerous wooden beams over the bed caught on after one of the first honeymooners braved the act. "When we first noticed it, we though, hmmm," Sandy said. "But it's kind of a honey thing now."
To get the rental business going, Pat first worked from home, serving as the sole employee taking reservations until an office was built. As the years have passed, the family has added two more tracts of the land backing up to the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Now their guests can choose from the very rustic to the more modern and larger cabins on the property, some with up to three bedrooms and all with decks overlooking well-kept grounds and furnished with a private outdoor hot tub.
The cabins are stocked with everything renters need for a vacation or staycation. "The only thing we tell people to bring is their clothes and groceries and we'll even grocery shop for them for a $25 fee," Sandy said.
There are gift baskets and guest books that share thoughts from grateful guests, many who have returned year after year. One woman, Miss Pearl, spent so much time as a guest at Willow Winds, she asked to have her ashes scattered over the herb garden when she passed at age 95.
It is a family-owned and -operated business and every aspect of the cabins and grounds has a personal touch. Mike, who loves gardening has ensured the development stays ablaze with color. He has also made sure that families with children feel welcome, recalling a trip he made with his family years back where a bed and breakfast owner said they did not accept children.
Numerous fountains, children's playgrounds, game areas and man-made waterfalls enthrall guests who stop for photos. Mike calls them their Triple Falls. "You don't have to leave the property to go to a waterfall," he said.
There is a gym and special memorials along pathways that include a memorial garden dedicated to Mike's mom Frances. There is also a plaque dedicated to three men who greatly influenced Mike's career and life, including former Vice President and Sen. Hubert Humphrey, Sen. Herman Talmadge of Georgia and Richard Lyng, secretary of agriculture under President Ronald Reagan.
Chris, who has grown up now helping with the business and has a family of his own, said guests return year after year and the family gets to know them. He said the family takes the business of making people feel at home very seriously and added that returning guests know to book at least six months out for the holidays by going online at ashevillecabins.com.