It’s rare to find one location in the US that can adequately showcase, in an authentic and honest way, some of the world's greatest treasures without losing itself. Hints of the Ritz in Paris here, paintings from prolific Latin American art masters there, all brought together thanks to the curiosity and taste of one woman--Maggie Hardy Knox.
Knox’s playground is Nemacolin, a 2,000-plus acre luxury resort in South West Pennsylvania where guests can indulge in their every whim. Want to take in an aerial view by hot air balloon? Visit the on-site animal sanctuary? Nemacolin has something for everyone.
We spoke with Knox as she hosted the finale of ABC’s hit show The Bachelor, which was shot on the property, to learn how this amazing destination came to life.
This is a family business. What was your vision when you took over from your father?
My dad and I liked to fish, and back in 1987, this property was up for bankruptcy. My dad and I came up here three days before the auctio, and searched around for a fishing pole. We found this really beautiful spot called Beaver Creek. There was a little log cabin and I said, “Daddy, I want you to buy me that.” I was 21 at the time. He came up the day of the auction, three days later, for which I was not present and--well, he bought everything but the little fishing hole, ‘cause I was a wild child.He knew I needed something to occupy me.
That's how Nemacolin started, quite frankly. He and I just started cleaning up. He hand painted the actual airport building himself. His friends would come in, and he'd be on a ladder. His pants would be falling down. He had paint all over him. [It was] a family labor of love. It gives me great joy to continue with my son P.J..
That's amazing. How did you do it?
You've been here for a couple of days now, right? You've seen the lay of the land. They probably pointed out to you that the only thing that was in existence was a 30 room in the old original structure and then a golf course. That was it. Everything you toured around in the last couple of days is everything. My dad and I drew up, visited, touched down somewhere in the world, and if we really got a kick out of it, we’d build it here. There is no master plan. We just really like something, and then we built it in hopes that other people like it. This place is full of the whimsical and a sense of humor. It’s a place to not take yourself so seriously. It's just love, fun, drinking, laughing and being merry.
What are your favorite parts of the property?
Dearest to my heart is the Woodland spa. That was my first project. I designed that when I was 23 years old. It has since been updated a couple of times, but that was back in the late ‘80s, early ‘90s when there weren't spas like that. There was the LaCosta and some other ones, but very few. It was a little too early for the Americans, but it started catching on. I wanted it to be a destination spa, but I quickly figured out this place doesn't need to be “destination golf” or “destination spa.” It should be a destination with the most amazing amenities in the world.
I went to the activity center yesterday, and there was snow tubing and a rock climbing wall. Where did the inspiration for these build-outs come from?
We had a real crappy little tubing area for the last couple of years. In the last couple of years, over this past winter, we weren't getting the snow, but with tubing, you can basically get a hose, be more ad-lib and throw the kids down the ice. It was small, so Trey, my GM or managing director, said, “We should do it to run.” You have to seize the moment, right? Because this too shall pass. Another thing is going to come, so we're going to do it. We opened it up this year, and we're very excited about it, too.
The inception of the idea for that particular tube came the day before Christmas. We had an open on Jan. 3 or 4. That's how things happen here - largely the ideas of the associates. I love that they live it. They breathe it. I also get inspiration in my travels. When I see something bizarre or fun and exciting that no one in their right mind would put in Western Pennsylvania. Again, if you look at a map, we're at the highest dense population. You have New York, it's only a six-and-a-half, seven-hour drive. There’s Baltimore, Columbus, Cincinnati, Cleveland. If you look in the four hour, five hour drive radius, it’s a lot of people. We need to really take all these wonderful amenities. We hosted a PGA ‘84 classic.
How did you get the PGA to host a tournament in Western Pennsylvania?
The commissioner of the PGA at the time said “no way in hell you can get enough people here.” What we did is we get very personalized. It was the golfer--and there's different pockets. You have the religious group, you had the drinking group, you have the womanizer group, and when they travel, they all travel in their pockets and or with their family's pockets. We would have parties for the partiers. The women that are real high maintenance, and we brought in stylists for them. We brought in fabulous makeup artists to get them to the property.
We'd find out when their kids' birthdays were. Let's say you have a daughter, 12 years old, and she likes Cinderella for example. You're playing in Australia and her name is Sydney. Let's say we knock on the door. We asked for Sydney and it's Cinderella delivering the birthday cake from Maggie at Nemacolin saying “ We can't wait to see you at Nemacolin!” We did that with anyone’s immediate family for the four years.
So you really make a connection.
Make the magic happen. The only way to do that is to really, truly understand the individual and what you're trying to get out of life. Maybe we can add something to do, either lighten your load or inspire you.
What is your family's vision for the future?
It’s all about personal touches. If I had time, and if you weren't interviewing me, I could put you in a trance. I would pull something out of you. We would get something that's a little awkward, we'll say, and we would play on that with you and your wife, knowing that you and your wife were here. All along, you'd be like, “how the hell?” It's not just that we have the wonderful amenities, don't get me wrong. There's $1.5 billion in this property. It's on almost 2,300 acres, and we continually buy. Imagination is the only limit we have right now. The world is our oyster, and I'm so blessed to be financially in a situation today. It could all change tomorrow as it has in the past, but today, my son and I can create fun amenities continuously for families, for couples, for individuals of any race, creed, whatever--try to add just a little tickle to their life. That's what Nemacolin is all about.
Learn more about the Nemacolin resort and all its ammenities by visiting their website.
Photography by: Courtesy Nemacolin