WHITE LAKE — With more than 20 different ledging options — from motels and apartments to cottages and campers — the biggest concern for visitors to White Lake is whether they will be able to find a vacancy.
One of those options, Melwood Court, has been a family-owned business since 1952, when it was built by Percy and Eunice Melvin, making it the oldest motel still in operation. However, even before Melwood Court was conceived, the Melvin family had big plans for small town White Lake.
“It all began when my great-grandfather had 800 acres of land at White Lake in 1854. At first it was a large farm with corn, cows, and other livestock, that they would run down to the lake to drink water,” explained James Melvin, current owner at Melwood Court.
“Then, in 1901 my grandfather, Ralph Preston Melvin, built Melvin’s Beach, which is now known as Camp Clearwater, as a summer resort,” said Melvin.
With the land the Melvins had left, they decided to build Melwood Court, which was run by Eunice Melvin until her death in 1967. Then James and Becky Melvin, who married in 1968 after meeting at Wingate University, took over and have been running it ever since.
“We already had Melvin’s Beach and Melvin’s Motel, so we thought it would be redundant to name it Melvin’s Court, so we come up with Melwood Court,” said Melvin.
In 1977, the Melvins decided to expand Melwood Court by buying Joe’s Motel and connecting the piers to create an even larger asset for their customers.
As the business began, James practiced law while Becky taught at Elizabethtown Baptist for nearly 20 years. After Becky and James decided to have two children, Becky decided she wanted to stay home and watch her boys while running Melwood Court full time.
“This was such a wonderful place for our boys to learn and grow up,” said Becky.
While staying home, raising her family and running Melwood Court, Becky got into arts and crafts. All over the walls of Melwood Court in each room there are pictures and crafts she has made.
“I always told my wife she should not hang up all her work in the rooms, because someone was going to steal them. One day, she come running in the office so excited because someone stole one of her pictures,” explained James.
Inside the office of Melwood Court there is also a wall where several pictures and paintings hang that guests have given the Melvins over the years. One painting in particular is of the pier at Melwood Court that an artist in California — whose family has been coming to Melwood Court for years — painted.
“When you have the same guests that come and stay even for 55 years, we all become like family,” said Becky.
It is not just the family-friendly atmosphere that would bring people to Melwood Court. In 1999 the Melvins decided to host the first-ever Melfest, a bluegrass festival for all the locals and guests.
“After Hurricane Fran came, it destroyed one of our piers, so we took the pier lumber that was left over and decided to build a stage and have Melfest,” explained James.
Melfest started with local people coming to play bluegrass music, until the Melvins decided to bring in professionals and let them stay in their rooms at Melwood Court during the festival.
The Melvins continued to host Melfest every year for 10 years with people coming from all over just for the festival, bringing in a lot of extra business to White Lake up until 2009.
The Melvins explained that one thing in particular that their guests love is that Melwood Court never changes.
“Its nostalgia,” said James. “A 17 year-old boy gets out of the car runs down to the pier and dives right into the lake. Next thing you know he is 67 years old, back again, and diving right back into the lake. Those kinds of memories bring people back for years and years.”
Some guests have said that they have given their children the option to either go to Myrtle Beach or Melwood Court and they almost always choose to go back to Melwood Court.
Rosa McTague, a long-time guest at Melwood Court, said, “I have been going to White Lake and staying at Melwood Court for over 30 years now. I have grown up going there. Now my children’s children are going there. My whole family, we love it — very safe and friendly.”
James explained that they have experienced happy and sad times with their guests, and they all treat each other just like a big family.
“Some of our guests will literally (argue) over our apartment units,” explained Becky. She added that the guests at Melwood Court book ahead for upcoming summers so that they are sure to get the same apartment each year.
James said, “One time I had a guest tell me if I ever decided to sell the place that I had to put in the deed that their family gets Apartment 12 on the same week every summer.”
Madison McLamb can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.