Central House, known jointly as Central House Restaurant and Old Edwards Inn, was Highlands’ earliest boarding houses, built on property purchased by John Norton in July of 1878. In 1880, he exchanged Central House with Joseph Halleck for Halleck’s just completed Highlands House. Halleck ran Central House for eight years before selling it to James Rideout, who immediately traded it to David Norton of Norton Community for Satulah House, an inn that Rideout had just built on Norton’s 5th Street property.
For the next seventeen years, from May through October, David Norton and his wife, Martha "Mattie" Adams, better known as Uncle Dave and Aunt Mat, managed Central House. Beginning in 1890, they also ran a winter boarding house in Anderson, South Carolina. Their inn in Highlands became widely known for its hospitality. The Nortons entertained all who spent time in their home generously and lavishly.
Formerly a lieutenant in the Confederate Army and then a teacher in the public schools, Dave Norton served as postmaster in Highlands during President Grover Cleveland’s Administration. In 1893 he established the post office in the granite store, also known as the Stone Store House, later the Rock Store, one of the buildings on the property that later became the foundation for the Hotel Edwards. In 1905, Norton sold both the Central House and his Stone Store House to Uncle Billy Potts. Uncle Billy Potts’ wife, Martha "Mattie" Ammons, took in many boarders at Central House. Her son, Shine, remembered that there were 11 bedrooms and no plumbing or electricity.
As a businessman who ran a livery stable and also a Baptist minister who traveled a great deal, Uncle Billy left the management of Central House up to Mattie. In 1911, Uncle Billy sold his Stone Store to Porter Pierson and in 1913, just before he took over as pastor of the Baptist Church, sold Central House to the town’s Police Chief, J. Grover "Diamond Joe" Edwards, and his wife, Minnie Zoellner. Minnie ran Central House for the next three dozen years.
In 1920, Porter Pierson sold what had then become known as the Rock Store to his brother-in-law, W.S. Davis, of Hampton, Georgia. Davis continued it as a grocery store for the next dozen years. When Grover "Diamond Joe" Edwards died in 1925, Minnie hired Will Cleaveland to build a two-story addition to Central House and raise two dormers in the roof of the main building. Four years had hardly passed before she married Grover’s uncle, Will Edwards, on his return from twenty-five years living in Wyoming.
In 1934, Will and Minnie hired Wilton Cobb, local builder and owner of the hardware store across the street, to construct the Hotel Edwards. Raised on the site of the old Rock Store, it kept the store as its foundation and lobby. The new three-story brick and rock hotel was designed by architect Linton H. Young. A beautiful paradigm of the classical, traditional style, the Hotel Edwards opened in 1935, the same year that Rev. Billy Potts passed away. Minnie ran Hotel Edwards as well as Central House.
By 1950, Minnie’s health and eyesight were failing, so the Edwards family leased the Hotel Edwards to Charlie and Gladys McDowell and Steve Potts. Dick and Marjorie Rawls managed it during the early sixties, but eventually Minnie’s son, Louis Edwards, and his wife, Elizabeth, realized that neither they nor their lessees were really interested in running a hotel. They tried to remodel for shops, which proved even less satisfactory. Hotel Edwards closed in the mid-sixties until Rip and Pat Benton, who ran Blanche’s Courtyard, an inn and restaurant at St. Simmon’s Island, Georgia, bought and remodeled it in 1982. It’s been said that the Bentons restored Central House and Edwards Inn to what they should have been originally. In 2001, Art and Angela Williams of Atlanta bought the restaurant and Inn to continue the tradition of the past 123 years.