December 7, 2017 – Black Mountain News
Learn more about the museum’s annual hiking series

December 2017 e-newsletter
Only 2 more days to see the Guastavino exhibit + free book talk Friday

November 29, 2017 – Black Mountain News
Museum tips its hat to mountain toppers

November 2017 e-newsletter
Tour the Asheville Watershed this Weekend + Free Guastavino Talks on Nov. 14

November 2, 2017 – Black Mountain News
Restoring a piece of valley history (Museum Barn Loom)

November 2, 2017 – Black Mountain News
Guastavino Jr. was hardly standing in his father’s shadow

October 26, 2017 – Black Mountain News
Catching up with the spirits of the Swannanoa Valley

October 26, 2017 – Black Mountain News
Join Museum on a Watershed Tour

October 19, 2017 – Black Mountain News
Visit the Mountain House ruins via special invitation

October 18, 2017- Appalachian State University News
Black Mountain College Semester at Appalachian to include lectures, workshops, art, films and other events

October 2017 e-newsletter
Fall Events – Hike the Old Mitchell Trail & Tour the Asheville Watershed

September 20, 2017 – Black Mountain News
Museums offers free photograph workshop 

September 13, 2017 – Black Mountain News
Museum hosts ‘meet and greet’ for new and returning docents

September 9, 2017 – Mountain Xpress
Guastavino exhibit highlights architectural genius

September 2017 e-newsletter
Take the Self-Guided Guastavino Tour & Events Galore

August 21, 2017 – Asheville Citizen-Times
Horse power: Warren Wilson’s Plow Day returns Sept. 9

 

Hike back to when Black Mountain was Grey Eagle

Black Mountain was known as Grey Eagle until 1893 when the town officially incorporated and changed its name.

On Saturday, June 17, find out one possible source of the town’s original name on the Swannanoa Valley Museum’s annual Grey Eagle Rock Hike, the sixth hike in its Rim Hike Explorer Series.

This difficult 3.5-mile hike takes its name from symbolic rock formation that legend says resembles “Grey Eagle,” an Indian chieftain or brave who protected the Valley of the Swannanoa from his lofty perch along the heights of the Swannanoa Rim.

This prominent stretch of fir-clad ridgeline is one of the wildest, highest and most rugged on the entire length of the Rim. Along the way, hikers will witness the trackless, scenic “rhododendron hells” notorious to the “south face” of Potato Knob. All in all, it’s a celebrated piece of ground that once separated the warring tribes of the Cherokee and Catawba.

The hike begins at Black Mountain Gap off the Blue Ridge Parkway near the entrance to Mount Mitchell State Park. At approximately 5,200 feet, Black Mountain Gap is one of the highest gaps on the entire Blue Ridge Range. During the trek, hikers will cross the summit of Potato Knob (6,400 feet).

The most difficult part of the trip will be the steep ascent up the historic south face of Potato Knob.

Potato Knob is the highest point in Buncombe County (Mount Mitchell’s peak – the highest in eastern North America – at 6,684 feet sits just over the border in Yancey County.)

To summit Potato Knob, hikers will ascend more than 1,200 feet in a mile. Because of the grade of the slope, hikers at times are level with the boots of the person in front of them.

In addition to being the roughest section of the Swannanoa Rim, Potato Knob features the highest elevation, most spectacular environment, and the most incredible vistas.

 

“We traverse three major climatic zones and go through forests that are usually found as far north as Ontario, Canada,” Wendell Begley, who typically leads the hike, said. Hikers typically see a variety of flora including beech, spruce, balsam, rhododendron blossoms, blueberries, and Purple Fringed Orchids.

Besides the prominent Grey Eagle Rock, hikers will also pass many historic sites on the way. Much of the time hikers will be looking down on the Swannanoa Valley and its many extraordinary geographical features. Some of the trek will be along traces of the celebrated 1840 Mitchell Trail used by tourists a century ago to access Mitchell’s peak from the North Fork Valley.

The final mile follows the historic roadbed that was initially built to the summit of Clingman’s Peak about 75 years ago. The hike ends at Stepps Gap, the entrance to Mount Mitchell State Park.

Swannanoa Valley Rim Hike #6

Hike: Grey Eagle Rock

When: 8 a.m. June 17

Meet: Swannanoa Valley Museum, 223 W. State St.

Difficulty: Strenuous, 3.5 miles

Cost: $30 museum members, $50 nonmembers

Register: swannanoavalleymuseum.org, 669-9566

 


 Summit three peaks of the Swannanoa Rim

The Swannanoa Valley Museum & History Center’s volunteer leaders will take hikers across the Pinnacle of the Blue Ridge from Toe River Gap to the summit of Greybeard on Saturday, May 20.

The hike, the fifth in the museum’s popular Swannanoa Valley Rim Series series, will begin near the entrance to Mt. Mitchell State Park. Hikers will climb to an elevation of 5,665 feet while summiting Blue Ridge Pinnacle. From the peak, hikers will have an impressive, almost 360-degree view of the surrounding mountains, including Mt. Mitchell, Clingman’s Peak and Potato Knob.

Just below Pinnacle lies the North Fork Valley. The area was once home to a thriving community until the city of Asheville acquired the land for its watershed. North Fork, known as such because it lies across the North Fork of the Swannanoa River, was one of the earliest areas settled in Black Mountain. The closed watershed is off-limits to the public, but wonderful views of the pristine wilderness can be had from the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Though the displacement of North Fork families from their homes, well documented by Fred M. Burnett in his 1960 book “This Was My Valley,” was controversial at best, the designation of the area as a reservoir has ensured a secure and clean water source for residents around the region.

Besides being home to some of the Swannanoa Valley’s oldest families, the North Fork Valley was also the route that tourists would traverse to Mt. Mitchell’s peak. There were a number of cabins dotting the valley – one owned by the Stepp family and others by the Pattons – which would host overnight guests as they made the trek on horseback to the summit of the highest peak east of the Mississippi River.

The hike continues to follow the ridgeline to the 5,240-foot summit of Rocky Knob, which also affords hikers incredible views of the surrounding peaks.

“Rocky Knob was purchased in 1900 by Dr. Isaac J. Archer, who lived in Montreat,” said Joe Standaert, the hike’s leader and co-author of two books on Montreat history. “Dr. Archer operated the Royal League Tuberculosis Sanatorium on North Fork Road where Camp Dorothy Walls is now.” The 200-acre tract was purchased from Dr. Archer’s estate in 1991 by the Montreat Cottagers, Inc. and is now protected by a conservation easement through the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy.

The next peak summitted on the hike is Greybeard Mountain, which is also protected by conservation easement. Once a grassy bald, at 5,408 feet, Greybeard’s peak still offers great views. Much of the property traversed down from the Greybeard summit is maintained by the Montreat Conference Center and Montreat Trail Club.

The hike returns to the Blue Ridge Parkway via the historic road bed of the Mt. Mitchell Railroad (1912-1921) and the Mt. Mitchell Scenic Auto Toll Road (1922-1939). The Mt. Mitchell Railroad, operated by Pennsylvania lumbermen Fred Perley and W.H. Crockett, transported tourists to and from Mitchell when not hauling wood. Because of Mitchell’s steep terrain the railroad bed had to utilize a number of switchbacks, which are still part of the trail today.

The term “switchback,” though now much more commonly used when referring to hiking trails, originated with railroads. The narrow-gauge Mt. Mitchell Railroad could not approach the steep summit directly, but instead had to travel back and forth across the mountain, slowly ascending. Since trains cannot negotiate hairpin turns, the track was built so that a train would enter the first switchback traveling forward, rest while the track was switched, and then leave the switchback traveling backward. The train would then back up to the next switchback where it could then continue forward again as it moved up the mountain. Hiking trails today also use switchback to create less strenuous climbs as well as combat trail erosion.

This 8.3-mile hike is strenuous in sections. Preregistration is required.

A major annual fundraiser for the nonprofit museum, the Swannanoa Valley Rim Series consists of 11 hikes that wind around Black Mountain following the more than 30 miles of ridgelines surrounding the upper Swannanoa Valley. Experienced hikers can participate in individual hikes or conquer the entire series, all while learning about the history, geography, and environment of the Swannanoa Valley.

Swannanoa Valley Rim Hike 

Hike: Pinnacle of the Blue Ridge
When: 8 a.m. Saturday, May 20
Meet: Swannanoa Valley Museum, 223 W. State St., Black Mountain
Difficulty: Strenuous, 8+ miles
Cost: $30 museum members, $50 nonmembers
Register: swannanoavalleymuseum.org, 669-9566


Riding rough on the Old Toll Road

On March 3, 1915 a bill passed the state legislature to establish Mount Mitchell as the first state park in the Southeast. At 6,684 feet, Mount Mitchell is the highest peak in the eastern United States. Today, thousands of visitors travel to the summit via the Blue Ridge Parkway.

But when the park opened a century ago, tourists came by railroad and later they traveled along the legendary Old Toll Road. On Saturday, May 6, the Swannanoa Valley Museum & History Center will offer an exclusive chance to travel back in time on a historic toll road to Mount Mitchell.

Each year, the Swannanoa Valley Museum organizes an exclusive four-wheel drive caravan from Black Mountain up the historic Mount Mitchell Motor Road to Camp Alice. The day-long event is led by volunteer historians. The driving tour will include stops for historical interpretation and many photo opportunities. The museum will cater lunch at the former site of Camp Alice and provide snacks along the way.

“Now open! … the motor road to the top of the world!” proclaimed an early 20th century brochure for the Mount Mitchell Motor Road. Prior to the opening of the Blue Ridge Parkway in 1939, the toll road was one of the only routes to Mount Mitchell from Buncombe County. The mountain was named for Dr. Elisha Mitchell, a geologist and educator who fell to his death attempting to prove the peak was the highest east of the Rockies. The U.S. Geological Survey confirmed Mitchell’s measurements in 1881-1882 and officially named the mountain for him.

In Mitchell’s days, travel to the summit was treacherous and required the aid of mountain guides along a trail that was said to have curved like a sinuous reptile. Despite the difficulty of the journey, the marvel of the soaring peak enticed tourists throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries. In the decade thereafter, transportation improved markedly when the Dickey and Campbell Logging Company laid a 21-mile railroad from Black Mountain to the base of the mountain. Eager tourists hitched rides on logging cars to the peak.

 

Fred A. Perley and W.H. Crockett purchased the railroad in 1913 and added three passenger cars by 1914. They hired Sandford H. Cohen to boost tourism to what was then quickly becoming known as the “Land of the Sky.” Civic boosters and business leaders in nearby Black Mountain were also ardent promoters of tourist access to the mountain.

An advertisement in a 1915 The Asheville Citizen newspaper invited visitors on “America’s Greatest Scenic Trip” to Mount Mitchell at the cost of $2.50 roundtrip.  Between 1915 and 1916 alone more than 15,000 passengers traveled to the summit on a bumpy three-hour long train ride to the peak, followed by a three and a half-hour trip downhill.

To accommodate tourist needs, promoters constructed Camp Alice in 1914 or 1915, three-quarters of a mile from the mountain’s apex. The bustling tourist destination featured a kitchen, 250-person dining hall, lunch counter, souvenir stand, and cabins and tents for overnight camping.

By this time, logging activity had denuded much of the Black Mountain range. Visitors voiced alarm about the environmental destruction. Gov. Locke Craig listened to these concerns and endorsed a bill to designate Mount Mitchell as the first state park.

Passenger rail service ended in 1919, when World War I increased the demand for lumber. The war depleted timber resources, and logging ceased in the Black Mountains. Cashing in on the tremendous growth of automobile ownership, tourist boosters smoothed, straightened and paved the railroad bed with rock and cinders for the 18-mile toll road from Black Mountain to Camp Alice in 1922.

Once a major tourist attraction, the “Old Toll Road” made the “apex of Appalachia accessible” for the cost of $1 per person. As many as 150 cars drove “Old Toll Road” each day. The single-lane road required motorists to depart for the mountain before noon and begin their descent by 3 p.m. The opening of the modern, paved Blue Ridge Parkway in 1939, which provided free access to Mount Mitchell, led to the road’s closure. Today, the remnants of the former toll roads remain undisturbed. The lands around them are undeveloped.

Registration and prepayment for the trip is required. Proceeds benefit the nonprofit Swannanoa Valley Museum. Drivers with high-clearance four-wheel drive vehicles who can carry other passengers may attend free.

Old Mount Mitchell Toll Road 4-WD Caravan
When: 7:30 a.m. May 6
Meet: Black Mountain Savings Bank, 200 E. State St., Black Mountain
Difficulty: Moderate (some walking on rough terrain)
Cost: $75 members/$100 nonmembers
Register: 669-9566, or swannanoavalleymuseum.org


Visiting Our Past: Local architect ​Guastavino recalled

Name a famous architect besides Frank Lloyd Wright.

A top ten to know might include Rafael Guastavino, a Catalan prodigy who revived a regional bricklaying technique and turned it into a worldwide wonder.

He called that technique “cohesive construction.” Utilizing ceramic tiles and Portland cement, Guastavino vaulted walls with unsupported domes, creating distinctive tile patterns that we might call the Guastavino effect.

Except that it’s not just an effect; it’s also an amazingly economical solution to structural and safety-related problems.

Two of Guastavino’s masterpieces are in our region: vaults and ceilings at the Biltmore Estate, and the architectural landmark St. Lawrence Basilica, completed in 1908 as Guastavino fell ill and died, leaving the finishing to his son Rafael Guastavino III.

“We were the first,” the restorer of Guastavino’s 1881 Massa Theater near Barcelona, Spain, told David Madden, Guastavino Committee founder, “and St. Lawrence is the last.”

For the last 13 years of his life, Guastavino lived with his wife, Francesca, on a thousand-acre estate that is now part of Christmount.

Christmount is lending some of its Guastavino artifacts to “Palaces for the People: Guastavino’s Great American Places,” a national traveling exhibit that has just opened at the Swannanoa Valley Museum (828-669-9566).  Guastavino’s home place is on a driving tour, created by the local Guastavino Committee (828-419-0730) and distributed at the museum.

Path of a genius

After having cemented his reputation with a giant factory building in Barcelona at age 24 in 1868, Guastavino visited a grotto, Cola de Caballo (“Horse Tail”) on a client’s estate. The name refers to the shape of the falls that descends into a bowl, full of stalactites and lidded by an “immense natural vault supported by walls of the same nature,” Guastavino related in a lecture.

“The thought entered my head,” Guastavino noted, that “this colossal space was covered by a single piece … and was constructed with no centers or scaffolding … I was convinced that we can learn a great deal from this immense book called Nature.”

The inspiration coincided with changes in the building industry — steel beams, improved mortar and the need for fireproofing — and built upon a vaulting tradition pretty much confined to Guastavino’s native region.

Vaulting with tiles had its origins in Egypt, Rome and Byzantium, but then went dormant, surviving only in Valencia, Spain, Guastavino’s native region. It had been considered a bricklayer’s shortcut, used in rural homes and farm buildings.

In the late 1300s, the style seemed ready for the big time. In 1382, Peter IV, King of Aragon, sent his architects to Valencia to learn about the “very profitable, very lightweight, and very low cost” method of vaulting using plaster and brick.

But then half a millennium passed without popularization, until, in France, Comte d’Espie, a retired army officer, began championing and writing about cohesive construction. He built many buildings using it. When one of his ribless vaults collapsed on the job, he blamed it on low-quality plaster.

D’Espie’s “primary interest in the construction technique,” John Ochsendorf notes in his book, “Guastavino Vaulting,” “rested in its ‘incombustible’ or fireproof nature.” This, along with the method’s structural and cost-saving value, led the Battló brothers to commission Guastavino to design and build their new Barcelona factory.

The Battló factory took up four blocks, rose five stories and, according to the Barcelona daily paper, produced “a beautiful effect through the combination of stone masonry and brick.”

It also introduced pioneering ventilation and lighting features and took only two years to complete.

Guastavino was a genius, which went along with problematic character traits — workaholic intensity, bad money management and an impresario’s love of ladies.

From Spain to America

As a youth, he’d been on track to become a virtuoso violinist, but then he got to know an elderly relative, the Inspector of Public Works, who breathed architecture, and Guastavino gravitated to this art form.

Rafael’s dad, Rafael Sr., was a cabinet maker and father of 14. When young Rafael reached adult age, his dad sent him to live with a rich, bachelor uncle in Barcelona, where Rafael got a clerk’s job in an architectural firm and attended architecture school. Already, Guastavino’s inventive mind was boiling over.

He was very interested in tile vaulting and complained “that there were no textbooks of value to him on the subject,” George Collins writes in his foreword to Rafael Guastavino IV’s family history, “An Architect and His Son.”

While experimenting with cemented tilework in the 1860s and 70s, Guastavino “extensively used these vaults for small spans in his work” and “almost alone recognized (the) potential of cohesive masonry for spanning greater areas.”

In 1881, Guastavino came to America with $40,000 in his purse. His decade leading up to this move had been very productive and turbulent. He and his first wife, Pilar, had three boys; separated; had a fourth boy, Rafael III; and finally split, Pilar taking the older boys to Argentina, and Rafael taking 9-year-old Junior with him.

Unable to read English, Guastavino nonetheless got commissions, including one to design and provide the ceilings and vaults for the Boston Public Library, the principal architect of which, Charles McKim of McKim, Mead and White, had orders to make it fireproof.

Guastavino presented a talk on cohesive construction at MIT, but he wasn’t the speaker. His office manager, William Blodgett, read from what Guastavino had written, which, because it had been botched by a typist, caused Blodgett to go quiet during confusions.

“As he read,” Rafael Guastavino IV writes in “An Architect and His Son,” “Blodgett was … aware of what seemed like shadowy movements behind him, and he turned around. There was Rafael demonstrating the sizes of tiles with his hands. He had been on the stage for some time gesturing to Blodgett’s remarks.”

Guastavino must have improved his English for, in 1892, he gave a talk at the Colombian Exposition in Chicago, for which he’d designed the Spanish Pavilion.  Architect Richard Morris Hunt was there, which may be the connection that led to Guastavino being engaged to apply his technique to the Biltmore House.

George Washington Vanderbilt, Biltmore’s owner, was very up on technology.

Biltmore House and St. Lawrence

The Vanderbilt job brought Guastavino to these mountains, and he stayed. He bought his Lakey Gap spread and got started on his dream home, Rhododendron, a Spanish castle made of wood, not stone, because wood and good carpenters were plentiful.

He took up violin playing again and composed original pieces. He produced wines, which he stored in a wine cellar built at the bottom of a series of terraces below his house.

Whenever Guastavino went on a trip — the train in Black Mountain went to New York — Francesca “would hire a carpenter and have him build something small on the place to please her husband on his return,” Guastavino IV relates. He was not pleased.

Rafael III learned his father’s trade and worked in his company as a director. At age 23, he won an Architectural League design contest, and at 26 oversaw the building of a new cohesive tile dome at the University of Virginia. (It replaced Thomas Jefferson’s, which had burned in a fire.)

Rafael III then became frustrated, like his father, at his industry’s shortcomings. He couldn’t get good tile. So he packed up for Black Mountain to make his own in a Guastavino kiln. The kiln has since crumbled, but its tall, attractive chimney still stands.

Guastavino, elder, was working at the time on yet another addition to his estate, a Roman Catholic stone chapel. The drawings have been preserved.

Guastavino’s Catholicism was deep. He recalled the head of Christ that his father had carved. He waited until his estranged wife, Pilar, had died before marrying Francesca in the eyes of the church.

When St. Lawrence Church found itself turning people away as the Catholic population in Asheville increased, Guastavino embraced the opportunity to create a new church and designed everything from the statuary and chapels to the 58-by-82-foot dome.

“In St. Lawrence every part of the building except the stone foundation and brick walls is built of Catalan construction,” Peter Austin writes in “The Work of Rafael Guastavino in Western North Carolina,” published in Robert Brunk’s “May We All Remember Well, Vol. 1.”

“The staircase behind the altar demonstrates what are perhaps the most dramatic Catalan construction techniques. The stair treads are carried by a series of narrow, steeply arched vaults that are built against the inner tower walls, each one launched at a right angle off the outer edge of the previous one.”

St. Lawrence Basilica is a pilgrimage place, and it’s where Guastavino is buried in a crypt opposite the Chapel of Our Lady of the Assumption. Both the crypt and the chapel feature colored terra cotta tile as decoration, a specialty of Rafael III.

“I would like to see some attention focused on Guastavino’s son as well as on Guastavino,” Madden said. Some of Rafael III’s decorative tiles are on exhibit at the Swannanoa Valley Museum. The inheritor of his father’s construction made his own innovations — not only in glazing, but also with path-breaking acoustic tile.

The national exhibit provides large images of the Guastavinos’ contributions, and the Guastavino Committee adds much local context.

Rob Neufeld writes the weekly “Visiting Our Past” column for the Citizen-Times. He is the author of books on history and literature, and manages the WNC book and heritage website, The Read on WNC. Follow him on Twitter @WNC_chronicler; email him at RNeufeld@charter.PHOTO CAPTION


Exhibition Celebrates Rafael Guastavino: Asheville’s Master Builder

Basilica of St. Lawrence Catholic Church
You’ve likely seen his powerful work. After all, Rafael Guastavino’s incredible tiled domes and vaultings can be found in 31 states and six countries. From the Museum of Natural History in Washington D.C. to Grand Central Station in New York City, from The Public Library in Boston to Biltmore here in Asheville, Guastavino has helped shape the American architectural landscape.Now, an exhibition will showcase his life and works in Black Mountain, N.C., the location of his former estate. The exhibition titled, “Palaces for the People: Guastavino’s Great American Places,” opens April 8, 2017, at Black Mountain’s Swannanoa Valley Museum. The exhibition, which is free to the public, has already opened to great acclaim in Boston, Washington D.C. and New York City. When the exhibition opens in Black Mountain, it will include rare pieces and experiences that have not been enjoyed anywhere else.

The Master Builder

Rafael Guastavino, who was born in Valencia, Spain, arrived in New York in 1881 with his 9-year-old son. He had been so successful as a master builder in Spain that he brought $40,000 with him (a lot of money for that time!). Guastavino made a name for himself as an innovator who pioneered a form of grand tile work that did not require iron beam construction. His first great success in the United States was creating the tile vaultings and ceilings throughout the Boston Public Library. His fine works caught the attention of George Vanderbilt’s head architect, Richard Morris Hunt, who contracted Guastavino to bring his talent for tile work to Biltmore Estate.

Biltmore Swimming Pool

Guastavino’s Asheville Footprint

To this day, visitors to Biltmore in Asheville, N.C., will see Guastavino’s tile work in the hall ceilings around the Winter Garden and in the basement swimming pool.

After completing work on Biltmore, Guastavino took on a project near and dear to his heart: the heavenly Basilica of St. Lawrence in downtown Asheville. Guastavino finished the plans for what became the largest free-standing elliptical dome in North America but died before construction was complete. He is buried there on the grounds of the Basilica.

Guastavino was so inspired by the mountain landscape in the area that he bought 1,100 acres and built a stately Spanish-style home, called “Rhododendron,” in Black Mountain. The home burned in the early 1940s but some ruins still remain today.

The Exhibition Experience

The exhibition opens in April 2017 at the newly renovated Swannanoa Valley Museum in Black Mountain, less than a mile from Guastavino’s former estate.

The exhibition details the life and work of Guastavino through a series of displays and artifacts. Four major artifacts have been added just for this local exhibition: an enormous iron bell from the top of his home, a huge exotic fountain, a four-piece parlor set rescued from a fire in the home, and the black dress Guastavino’s widow wore for several decades. Biltmore also has donated artifacts for the exhibition.

After enjoying the exhibition at the museum, take the self-guided walking tour of Guastavino’s estate ruins before visiting Biltmore and the Basilica of St. Lawrence to see his works first-hand.

Know Before You Go

Top photo of Basilica of St. Lawrence by Steven Hyatt. Photo of Biltmore swimming pool courtesy of The Biltmore Company.

April 4, 2017
 

Museum hosts volunteer orientation before April 8 opening

Volunteers are essential to the Swannanoa Valley Museum & History Center, which will reopen for the season on Saturday, April 8 with a special temporary exhibition, “Palaces for the People: Guastavino and America’s Great American Spaces.”

In preparation for the opening, the museum is recruiting new volunteer docents to serve 3.5 hour shifts during the museum’s opening hours. The museum will host an orientation for new and returning docents on Thursday, March 30 at 10:30 a.m.

Completed over the winter after the museum’s extensive renovation, the museum’s second-floor exhibit “Pathways from the Past” showcases its permanent collection that ranges from Native American artifacts through mid-century memorabilia.

The building itself is historic. Formerly Black Mountain’s historic fire house, it was designed in 1921 by Richard Sharp Smith, the Biltmore Estate’s supervising architect. The 2016 renovation was an effort to stabilize the building, bring it back to Smith’s original design and add features like climate control and public restrooms.

“Palaces for the People: Guastavino and America’s Great American Spaces” addresses the life and works of internationally-renowned architect Rafael Guastavino. The new, temporary Guastavino exhibition was funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities and originally designed for the Boston Public Library. It was also mounted in New York City and Washington, D.C. before being donated to Christmount Conference Center in Black Mountain.

It was on the grounds of the present-day conference center that Guastavino built his retirement home in 1895. His house, known locally as the “Spanish Castle,” was a ramshackle three-story whitewashed wooden house with a central bell tower. Through grander than local farmhouses, the house did not exhibit the cohesive construction technology that made the architect famous.

 

Examples of the internationally renowned architect’s craftsmanship grace many of America’s most famous Beaux-Arts landmarks, including the Boston Public Library, Grand Central Terminal, Grant’s Tomb, the Great Hall at Ellis Island, Carnegie Hall, the Smithsonian, and the U.S. Supreme Court, as well as the Biltmore Estate and Basilica of St. Lawrence in Asheville. The exhibit will document Guastavino’s work along with his local accomplishments and presence and will feature items in the museum’s collection, including the bell from atop the Spanish Castle, Mrs. Guastavino’s black mourning cape, and bricks and tiles stamped with Guastavino’s logo.

The museum, with its engaging exhibits and dynamic programming, is part of the cultural heart of downtown Black Mountain. With a small staff, the museum relies upon volunteers. More than 60 volunteers are the lifeblood of the museum, and more volunteers are always needed.

During the open season, the museum is almost entirely staffed by volunteer docents.

“The museum has been able to continue to operate in the black every year due to the dedication of our volunteers,” museum director Anne Chesky Smith said. “Our docents, who staff the museum on a daily basis, truly are the face of our museum.”

Docents greet visitors, introduce the history of the Swannanoa Valley to visitors, track attendance, interpret exhibits, sell gift shop merchandise and open and close the museum daily. Docents also help with special events, such as school field trips, book signings and demonstrations held at the museum.

“Each and every volunteer is an ambassador of history for visitors and locals alike,” Chesky Smith said. Many docents serve the museum every week. Shifts are 10 a.m.-1:30 p.m. and 1:30-5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday. Each new docent receives on-the-job training on their first day of service.

Volunteering with the museum allows docents to learn about Black Mountain and the surrounding region, while serving the community and forging connections with fellow community members. While some docents are native Western North Carolinians, many are newcomers to the region.

The March 30 orientation will provide an overview of docent duties and allow volunteers to sign up for docent shifts beginning in September. The events will take place at the museum, 223 W. State St., downtown Black Mountain. Coffee and refreshments will be served. New and returning docents and volunteers are invited to attend.

Attendance is not required to become a volunteer, and interested candidates are encouraged to contact the museum directly. For more, email volunteer@swannanoavalleymuseum.org or call 669-9566.


Hike the Seven Sisters peaks with the museum

The Seven Sisters Mountain range ascends from the towns of Black Mountain and Montreat. A familiar sight from Lake Tomahawk, the seven peaks form a northwestern wall between the city of Asheville’s watershed and the Montreat Valley. The range leads to the summit Greybeard Mountain, which is not one of the “Sisters.”

The range is known in common parlance by one of three names: The Seven Sisters, Walkertown Ridge the Middle Mountains, as they are referred to on U.S. Geological Survey maps.

Distinguished from the seven sisters of Greek mythology or the women’s liberal arts colleges that form the seven sisters in the Northeast, the local “seven sisters” have their own unique names.

Historically, the seven peaks have been called, from west to east, Tomahawk (or alternately, Solomon Morris) at 3,680 feet, Little Piney (or Stomping Knob) at 3,960 feet, Big Piney (or Brushy Knob) at 4,180 feet, an unnamed peak at 4,360 feet, Forked Ridge Knob at 4,511 feet, Little Slaty at 5,000 feet, and lastly Big Slaty (or False Greybeard) at 5,260 feet.

 

While the Seven Sisters span an expanse of only three and a half miles, hiking up to and across the range is a strenuous distance of about 9 miles. On Saturday, March 25 the Swannanoa Valley Museum & History Center will lead a daylong hike across all seven peaks. The hike will commence at an elevation of 3,000 feet and follow Montreat’s Greybeard Trail to Big Slaty Mountain (aka False Greybeard) at 5,260 feet, before descending along each of the Seven Sisters.

Along the way, the museum’s experienced hike leaders will share historical anecdotes about the peaks’ nomenclature, social history, geography and ecology. For instance, Stomping Knob’s name derives from the mountain’s purported connection with moonshining. Solomon Morris was the name of a dairy farmer on the eastern slope of the mountain, on property now owned by Billy Graham, who owns much of Little Piney Cove to the east. Indeed, much of the landscape surrounding the Seven Sisters is privately held.

The Asheville Watershed encompasses the western side of the range, while the Mountain Retreat Association, the parent organization of Montreat Conference Center, owns the east side. The hike will afford 360-degree panoramas of these areas, including the North Fork Valley on the northern side of the range and the Craggy Mountain Range and the Swannanoa Valley on the south side.

From the summit of Little Piney at 3,960 feet, the hike will proceed across the ridgeline to the Tomahawk’s peak before descending into Montreat.

Although many recognize the Seven Sisters, few have hiked the range due to the difficulty of terrain and distance. But the hike is personally gratifying and bucket list-worthy for locals.

“The ridge is rugged, wild, scenic, and challenging,” one hike leader, Marilyn Kaylor, said. “On my first Seven Sisters hike, we scared a bear off its mid-trail resting place. It will take all day and at the end, you will be ready for a hot shower. You will also know that you have hiked the ridge that you see every day on your drive through Black Mountain.”

The hike is recommended for experienced hikers and all hikers will be approved by the hike’s leaders during registration. The cost of the hike is $30 for museum members and 45 for nonmembers. Advanced registration is required. Proceeds benefit the nonprofit museum. Participants should wear sturdy hiking boots, dress in layers, and pack a lunch, snacks, and plenty of water. The hike will meet at the Swannanoa Valley Museum at 8 a.m. To register, visit swannanoavalleymuseum.org, email info@swannanoavalleymuseum.org, or call 699-9566.

 


Museum hike follows contours of Blue Ridge Assembly

The Swannanoa Valley Museum & History Center continues its 2017 Swannanoa Rim Hike Series on Saturday, March 18 with a hike to Weatherford Heights, named for the founder of YMCA Blue Ridge Assembly. The strenuous, six-mile-long hike follows the original boundary line of the conference center’s grounds, surveyed in 1906 by educator, author and religious leader Willis Duke Weatherford.

Roger Hibbard, who served as Blue Ridge Assembly’s director for 33 years, will lead the hike, which departs from Swannanoa Valley Museum, 223 W. State St. at 8 a.m. Hikers should wear sturdy hiking boots, pack a lunch and bring plenty of water. The cost is $30 museum members and $50 nonmembers. Advanced registration is required at swannanoavalleymuseum.org or 669-9566.

As a student at Vanderbilt University, Weatherford became involved in the student Young Men’s Christian Association. Traveling to the Blue Ridge Mountains by horse and buggy in 1906, he sought a permanent location for student training sessions he arranged. When he reached the present site of Blue Ridge Assembly, between two steep forested ridges of the Swannanoa Mountains two miles from Black Mountain, he exclaimed, “Eureka, we have found it!” The enterprising educator raised half a million dollars to finance the construction of the Blue Ridge Assembly.

In addition to acting as the conference center’s president until 1944, Weatherford was the president of the YMCA Graduate School and faculty member at Fisk University and Berea College. Weatherford’s travels to college campuses across the South in the Jim Crow era made him acutely aware of race relations, and in 1910 he published the widely distributed “Negro Life in the South.”

In subsequent years, he organized interracial conferences on social issues attended by college students, faculty, clergy, and politicians from both the North and the South. In 1964, Weatherford reflected on the inroads initiated during his tenure and the legacy of Blue Ridge Assembly.

“We were doing something about the whole race problem,” he said. Slavery “left a dirty mark on Southern life … We set ourselves deliberately to break that prejudice down. Blue Ridge has been one of the forward-looking institutions … willing to take a step forward, even though sometimes it might not be popular … We knew it was right.”

In a fitting tribute to the social justice ideas promoted by Blue Ridge Assembly’s founder, Robert E. Lee Hall, the architectural centerpiece of the grounds, was renamed Eureka Hall in 2014. Designed by New York architect Louis Jallade, the three-story neo-classical revival building hosted the experimental Black Mountain College from 1933-1941.

Swannanoa Valley Rim Hike

Hike: Weatherford Heights

When: 8 a.m. March 18

Meet: Swannanoa Valley Museum, 223 W. State St.

Difficulty: Strenuous, 6 miles

Cost: $30 museum members, $50 nonmembers

Register: swannanoavalleymuseum.org, 669-9566


March/April 2017 – WNC Magazine
WRITER: Jon Elliston

When the recently renovated Swannanoa Valley Museum & History Center reopens for the season on April 8, it will unveil an exhibit honoring adopted hometown hero Rafael Guastavino, the late architect and builder. A native of Spain, Guastavino was world-renowned for his tiled arches and domes at buildings including the Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC, New York’s Grand Central Station, the Boston Public Library, and Asheville’s Basilica of St. Lawrence, to name just a few.

Work on the Biltmore Estate brought Guastavino to WNC in the 1890s, and he decided to build an estate of his own, Rhododendron, in Black Mountain. The exhibit will document his far-reaching work along with his local accomplishments and presence. The museum, director Anne Chesky Smith notes, has relics you won’t see anywhere else: rare photos, the bell from atop Rhododendron’s Spanish Castle-style home, and bricks and tiles stamped with Guastavino’s logo. “People are increasingly realizing that Guastavino’s self-supporting arches were an incredible engineering feat,” Smith says, adding that the museum is proud to showcase “examples of his expertise as they are lost and found.”


Walking thru the Mosers’ land, hearing about balladeers

The Swannanoa Valley Museum’s first hike of its 2017 Valley History Explorer Series on Saturday, March 11 will explore the Moser family’s historic property in the Buckeye Cove community.

This will be the first time the museum has hiked in Buckeye Cove. With special permission from the Moser family, hikers will be allowed to explore their mountain property and learn about the family’s role in preserving Appalachian traditions.

The museum’s exclusive Valley History Explorer hiking series introduces participants to the history of the many distinct communities within the Swannanoa Valley. The series is composed of eight moderate hikes about three miles long held on the second Saturday of the month from March through October. Historians and hikers are invited to discover the secrets of the valley, unknown to many, through this series.

Artus Moser Sr. has often been called a “renaissance man of the mountains.” He was born in 1894 near Asheville and raised near the Biltmore Estate where his father David “Fate” Moser was a forester. Artus became a collector of ballads for the Library of Congress, a noted painter, sculptor, singer, storyteller, gardener, actor and teacher. His life’s work was greatly influenced by his life-long residence in Western North Carolina and especially in the Buckeye Cove community near Swannanoa.

Artus Moser Sr. passed away in 1992, but even into the 21st century, the Moser family continues to be well-known keepers of important highland traditions. His daughters Joan and Irene, and indeed the whole Moser family, including their brother Artus Jr. and their many nieces and nephews, continue to preserve traditional Appalachian song and dance, crafts, healing arts, storytelling and plant lore.

Joan founded the Appalachian Studies program at Warren Wilson College in 1977, and for many years Irene has lent her skills in teaching and as a librarian at colleges and universities across North Carolina and West Virginia.

“What we did whenever the weather was good was, we went hiking,” Joan said in a 2003 interview with the Swannanoa Valley Museum. “My mother being particularly interested in all the botanical names of the plants, she would teach all those and she had plant books … So we would take plant books, and we would go for all-day hikes.”

Many members of the family form the old-time music Buckeye Band of Swannanoa. “My father (Artus Moser) bought a second-hand guitar out here at the pawn shop in Asheville,” Joan said. “He got a little book that showed where to put your fingers and he had a good ear, so he would tune it up and so we started. … when we were 8 or 9 … (my mother) taught us how to play the piano (and) we learned the ballads that my grandmother knew.”

Though Joan had a group called the Mountain Women’s String Band that played together for some 20 years, she eventually tired of it and, “that was when we all together decided to just get together in an informal way out our houses from time to time,” she said . “ … Now we have put together a family band (the Buckeye Band) and we sit in the big house about every other week and all of us play together.”

The Valley History Explorer hiking series visits seven communities that dot the landscape of eastern Buncombe County, including Riceville, Bee Tree, Swannanoa, Black Mountain, Ridgecrest, Montreat and North Fork. Each hike highlights the unique history of a specific community. Though this hike will explore the community of Buckeye Cove, those who complete the hike will receive credit for the “Bee Tree” hike in the series.

Led by experienced hikers and historians, the hikes in the series range between two to three miles long over gradual terrain. Participants can hike a single hike or complete the entire series. Series finishers will be awarded an embroidered Patagonia fleece during a hike celebration at the end of the series.

The cost of each hike is $25 for members and $35 for non-members. The cost of the full series is $175 for members, and $225 for non-members. Led entirely by volunteers, all the proceeds of the hikes benefit the nonprofit Swannanoa Valley Museum, established in 1989 for the preservation and interpretation of the Valley’s history through engaging exhibits and dynamic programs for all ages.

The museum will host a special “interest meeting” about the series on Thursday, March 2 at 6:30 p.m. at the museum, located at 223 W. State St., Black Mountain. The meeting is free.

To register for a hike or learn more about the Swannanoa Valley Museum and the Valley History Explorer Series visit swannanoavalleymuseum.org. You can also register for a hike by contactinng info@swannanoavalleymuseum.org or 669-9566.

Valley History Explorer Hike

Hike: Buckeye Cove

When: 9 a.m. March 11

Meet: Swannanoa Valley Museum, 223 W. State St.

Difficulty: Moderate, 3 miles

Cost: $25 museum members, $35 nonmembers

Register: swannanoavalleymuseum.org, 669-9566


March e-Newsletter


Make friends, get info at Museum’s next hike meeting

The Swannanoa Valley Museum & History Center will hold its next meeting Thursday, March 2 about its annual Valley History Explorer Hiking Series. The free informational meeting at the Swannanoa Valley Museum, 223 W. State St., Black Mountain will be at 6:30 p.m.

The moderate hikes in the series take participants outside the nonprofit museum’s walls and offer hikers unique opportunities to improve their knowledge of the landscape and the communities that form eastern Buncombe County.

The seven hikes in the Valley History Explorer Hiking Series take participants to some of the small communities that make up the Swannanoa Valley and delve into the unique history of the each of them, including Riceville, Bee Tree, Swannanoa, North Fork, Black Mountain, Montreat and Ridgecrest. These hikes are both informative for natives seeking a connection with their heritage and newcomers hoping to gain insights into the region’s past.

Each hike is about three miles long over moderate terrain and is led by an experienced guide.

“The leaders are very well-informed about the area,” Juanita Bruce said. “I’m not from here, so the history of the area is very important to me. Stories about the first settlements, the water systems and how the settlers maintained their lives on the farms in these mountains, stories about the assemblies and the people are all wonderful parts of these hikes.” Participants who complete all hikes in the Valley History Explorer Series receive an embroidered Patagonia fleece at the end of the series.

“It’s a good way for newcomers to the area to get to meet people who live here and to really see where they are living now,” hike leader Bonnie Nache said. Many parts of the hikes are on private property and are not accessible to the general public.

Joe Standaert, the museum’s hiking committee chairman, notes that some hikers travel to the area to participate.

“The thing we have found from the previous years of the hikes was that being out there, being in the woods, builds a sense of comradery among the hikers,” he said. “They really bond together in a way we never expected, especially among those who have hiked several times. The other volunteers and I have watched them building a community that goes far beyond the museum.”

The Valley History Explorer Hikes are held every second Saturday from March through October. There is a participation fee for these hikes, which help sustain the nonprofit Swannanoa Valley Museum as Buncombe County’s primary museum of general, local history.

For the fourth year in a row, the museum will offer two donation-funded scholarships towards the cost of a hiking series to ensure that events are accessible to all who wish to participate. The scholarship is generously funded by donations from past finishers and community members interested in keeping history alive. To apply for a scholarship, applicants are invited to mail or email the museum a 500-word essay explaining why they want to participate in the program, which series they would like to hike, and how the scholarship would help them participate, along with their contact information.

The museum’s hiking programs instill a pride of place for hikers. The hikes engender a reverence of history and demonstrate the presence of the past in our daily lives. Some hikes follow routes taken by Daniel Boone and the early Cherokees.

The year’s first Valley History Explorer Hike to Buckeye Cove will take place on Saturday, March 11. This will be the first time the museum has hiked in Buckeye Cove. With special permission from the Moser family, hikers will explore this mountain property in this unique community. The family is distinguished in the fields of Appalachian studies and folklore for its scholarship and collection of mountain traditions, particularly music, storytelling and plant lore. Family members are also long-time educators in these fields.

Space on the hikes are limited, and hikers are encouraged to register early. Detailed information about each series and descriptions of the individual hikes are available at swannanoavalleymuseum.org. To learn more, contact the museum at 669-9566 or email info@swannanoavalleymuseum.org.


Museum hike explores 18th century frontier borderlines

The Swannanoa Valley Museum hikes to the 18th century, easternmost boundary of the Cherokee nation on Saturday, Feb. 18. The Cherokee Boundary trek is the second hike in the museum’s popular Swannanoa Rim Explorer Hiking Series, a sequence of hikes around Eastern America’s highest and most historic skyline. Hikers do not need to sign up for the complete series to participate in the hike.

This difficult, 4.25-mile hike traverses part of the boundary between the Cherokee and American colonists, as well as the Eastern Continental Divide at the crest of the Blue Ridge Range southeast of Black Mountain. It continues to near the Swannanoa Gap. Following the Cherokee Boundary, the hike ascends to elevations between 2,560 and 3,560 feet.

Since the Cherokee Boundary is trackless, the hike involves many ups and downs across steep knobs and fallen leaves. The hike also requires some steep slope bushwhacking and crossing downed timber.

While strenuous, the hike rewards hikers with 360-degree views of the upper Swannanoa Valley, the Black Mountain Range, and the Great Craggy Range, a landscape rich in natural, social and cultural history. Most interesting, the Cherokee Boundary Hike takes folks through the wildest and most remote sections of the 31-mile Swannanoa Rim. Participants will also be able to see the most inaccessible sections of the Catawba River’s headwaters in addition to discovering the river’s historic bubbling source. The hike is led by volunteer historians and hike guides.

Western North Carolina remained an uncharted territory for much of the first century of European settlement in North America. Prior to the arrival of European explorers, the Cherokee were the largest group of  Americans Indians in the Southeast, occupying 135,000 square miles from the Ohio River to Alabama. Beginning in the early 17th century, the Cherokee engaged in trade with Europeans, primarily for deerskins in the Black Mountains.

By the mid 1700s, yellow buckskin breeches were so popular they were “the eighteen-century equivalent of modern blue jeans” in the words of historian Kathryn E. Holland Braund. Some estimates figure that a skilled Cherokee hunter in the Black Mountains could collect 300 pounds of leather per year, most of which made its way to London haberdasheries. Venison, wild turkey, chestnuts (a seasonal delicacy in colonial households) and fur pelts were also lucrative trade items. In exchange, Cherokee traded for European cloth, blankets, tools, guns and ammunition, in addition to novelties like mirrors, scissors, and belt buckles. The Cherokee even began to cultivate imported crops such as peaches and watermelon.

In 1766, provincial Governor William Tryon entered negotiations with the Cherokee to extend the boundary of the western frontiers of the Carolinas into Cherokee hunting grounds. Tryon mounted a personal military expedition to engage in the talks. The Cherokee were flattered by the governor’s visit and deemed him the “Great Wolf of North Carolina.” The Cherokee Boundary, signed on July 13, 1767, called for the removal of white settlers west of the boundary running north to south from Virginia to South Carolina by January 1, 1768 and required traders west of the line to obtain a license. The treaty proved difficult to enforce.

At the outset of the American Revolution, the British commissioned the Cherokee to fight against the colonists. In 1776, the Irish-born, middle-aged, recently appointed brigadier general Griffith Rutherford led 2,400 white men from Davidson’s Fort (today’s Old Fort) against the Cherokee, decimating more than 50 villages (including sacred council houses), plundering livestock and burning acres of crops in Western North Carolina. Interestingly, a few of the museum’s Swannanoa Rim guides/historians are direct descendants of men that crossed the Cherokee Boundary with Rutherford in 1776.

By the close of the Revolutionary War, the Cherokee recognized their defeat and eventually ceded 75 percent of their land through a series of treaties, while still maintaining their political autonomy. The early 1800s was period of “Cherokee renaissance” as the Cherokee adopted European customs such as schooling and legislative government and Sequoyah codified the first Cherokee written language. Yet, following Andrew Jackson’s election in 1828, further contests over land led to the Indian Removal Act in 1830, forcing most of the Southeast’s Cherokee to Oklahoma along the Trail of Tears from 1838 to 1839. However, about 300 to 400 Cherokee in WNC defied the removal and received federal permission to remain in the Qualla Boundary. The state formally recognized the Eastern Band of Cherokee 1866, followed by the federal government in 1868.

Hikers should allow most of the day to complete the trek. Due to the rugged terrain, hikers should wear sturdy hiking boots (rather than tennis shoes) and long pants, and bring rain gear, a hat, sunscreen, bug spray, and hiking poles. Participants should also bring lunch, snacks, and plenty of water. Hikers should pack all gear in a daypack to keep their hands free. Advanced registration is required.

Swannanoa Valley Rim Hike

Hike: Cherokee Boundary

When: 8 a.m. Feb. 18

Meet: Swannanoa Valley Museum, 223 W. State St.

Difficulty: Difficult, 4.25 miles

Cost: $35 museum members, $50 nonmembers

Register: swannanoavalleymuseum.org, 669-9566


Museum’s ‘Valley in the Alley’ exhibit begins to take shape

At the end of January, the Swannanoa Valley Museum & History Center began installing engraved red and granite bricks and pavers in its outdoor Valley in the Alley exhibit.

The exhibit is located, fittingly, in the alley owned by the museum between the museum and the Dripolator Coffee House, just off West State Street.

“We thought we could make the alley safer and more attractive and in the process create something that is both educational and entertaining,” John Corkran, a museum board member who came up with the concept, said: “An important bonus will be that the net income from paver sales will be available to maintain and enhance museum programming.”

Through the program, people, families and businesses can buy and “own” a piece of history – a variety of special pavers that will form the geographic outline of the Swannanoa Valley and locate major points of special interest, such as communities, dwellings and landscape features.

“We are so excited for the community to see this unique map of our valley begin to take shape in the alleyway,” museum director Anne Chesky Smith. “We hope it will help everyone visualize how the final project will look.”

The result will be a mosaic showing the north and south ridgelines of the Swannanoa Valley, the major geographic features on, and within, the ridgelines and the locations within the Valley which trace the settlement and the evolution of the Valley to the vibrant community it is today.

Figuring out the placement of bricks was not simple. Graphic artist Neil Thomas laid out the initial design. And Chesky Smith, working with Corkran and a number of employees from the town, were able to place each brick in its proper location on the map.
“We really couldn’t have done the installation without the help of town employees Keith Belt, Chris Sloan, Gabe Martin, Adam Shelton and Mark Calisti. Their expertise was vital in getting the bricks in the right place,” Chesky Smith said.

The first round of bricks has been installed, and the museum is now collecting orders for the second round of bricks, which will be sent to the engraver at the end of February. Regular 4- by 8-inch brick pavers containing three lines of text sell for $100. The engraved granite pavers that form the special features of the mosaic start at $200 for one 4- by 8-inch paver with three lines of text and increase in cost and available text, depending on the size of paver. Particularly popular have been bricks commemorating hikers who have finished the museum’s popular Rim Hike series. These granite bricks are $200 and include a mountainous ridgeline along the bottom of the brick.

About 4,000 pavers make up the alley, of which nearly 600 will form the outline of the valley. Along the outline and within the valley, more than 100 sites of historic interest are available for special recognition or dedication. 
This spring, the museum hopes to also install three benches in the alleyway. Benches are available for sponsorship as well.

For more or to purchase a brick, visit the museum website at swannanoavalleymuseum.org or call 669-9566.


Black Mountain museum launches WNC history book club

BLACK MOUNTAIN – The Swannanoa Valley Museum & History Center will begin hosting a free book club once a month beginning at 11:30 a.m. Feb. 10 at the museum, 223 W. State St. The yearlong series will continue to meet the second Friday of each month. Participants are encouraged to bring a bag lunch and a copy of the month’s chosen reading selection to participate in a casual discussion. Coffee and tea will be provided.

The first discussion will center on “Corn From a Jar: Moonshining in the Great Smoky Mountains” (Great Smoky Mountains Association 2013) by Daniel S. Pierce. Pierce is the NEH Distinguished Professor in the Humanities at UNC Asheville, where his work focuses primarily on the study of moonshining, NASCAR and the history of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Pierce will join the discussion as moderator and will be available to autograph books.

“Corn From a Jar” is Pierce’s latest work following “Real NASCAR: White Lighting, Red Clay and Big Bill France” (UNC Press, 2010) and came directly as a result of his study of NASCAR. He has said his goal for the work was to “humanize the moonshiner” and trace the development of moonshining in the mountains not as the practice of a handful of outlaws, but as an industrial business of what would become some of the region’s most well-known figures.

Future selections span a range of titles and include fiction, nonfiction, poetry and prose, all with themes related to Western North Carolina and the Appalachian region. Authors include Ron Rash, Sharyn McCrumb, Jim Wayne Miller and others.

The schedule of meeting days and reading selections follows:

• Feb. 10: “Corn from a Jar: Moonshining in the Great Smoky Mountains, Daniel S. Pierce, 2013.

• March 10: “I am One of You Forever,” Fred Chappell, 1987.

 

• April 14: “The World Made Straight,” Ron Rash, 2007.

• May 12: “Buffalo Dance: The Journey of York,” Frank X. Walker, 2003.

• June 9: “A Land More Kind Than Home,” Wiley Cash, 2012.

• July 14: “The Education of Little Tree,” Forrest Carter, 1976.

• Aug. 11: “The Ballad of Tom Dooley: A Ballad Novel,” Sharon McCrumb, 2012.

• Sept. 15: “Creating the Land of the Sky: Tourism and Society in WNC,” Richard D. Starnes, 2010.

• Oct. 13: “Nightwoods,” Charles Frazier, 2012.

• Nov. 10: “Requiem by Fire,” Wayne Caldwell, 2010.

• Dec. 15: “Every Leaf a Mirror: A Jim Wayne Miller Reader,” 2014.

Joining the club is free, and registration is requested online at swannanoavalleymuseum.org, on the museum’s Facebook event page or by calling 828-669-9566 during office hours.


February 2017 e-Newsletter


Hike highlights unknown soldier, stagecoach route

Trickling between Old Fort and Ridgecrest, Swannanoa Creek is a natural passageway into the Swannanoa Valley. Over the centuries, the storied tributary has led many travelers into Western North Carolina.

The Swannanoa Valley Museum & History Center will lead a moderate-to-difficult, mostly downhill, four-mile hike down this path on Saturday, Jan. 28, shedding light on the natural, social, and cultural history of this once major artery into the Blue Ridge and crossroads for tourism, commerce – and calamity.

During Stoneman’s Raid at the close of the Civil War, the thoroughfare played a critical role in the defense of the region. Using an ingenious and surprisingly simple diversion, Confederate troops were able to prevent the Union Army from using the route to make its way to Asheville. Participants will hear the full tale as they walk the same route used by the troops more than 150 years earlier.

Near the road lies a mysterious gravestone related to the skirmish. The grave’s occupant is unknown, and Confederate veterans told two conflicting versions of the story, which museum historians will share when hikers reach the site. The gravestone, marked soberly “U.S. Soldier,” is visible alongside the creek, sometimes marked with Confederate flags and Old Glory.

Despite the solemnity and mystery enveloping the creekside, during much of the 18th century the Swannanoa Creek formed the backbone of the burgeoning Western Turnpike, the main pathway in WNC. Starting in 1820, a stagecoach line ran along the road from Morganton to Old Fort, and then up the mountain to Black Mountain along the stream.

The museum hike will follow the old kudzu-covered stagecoach road eastward. Writer Christian Reid described the stagecoach ride up the Swannanoa Creek to “The Land of the Sky” in her 1876 book of the same title. The name has hence been appropriated as a regional tourism slogan. During the height of stagecoach travel, residences and lodging facilities sprung up along the roadbed. The ruins of several home sites remain along the historic path, including the remnants of the chimney of the early 19th century Allison cabin, visible during the museum’s hike.

By the end of the 1870s, the stagecoach was displaced by the railroad, after new-fangled nitroglycerines blasted through the 1,800-foot Swannanoa Tunnel, uniting the eastern and western portions of the state. The railroad was a feat to construct, taking many lives in the process, including hundreds convicts forced into labor. Hikers will hear the entire treacherous tale as they view the railroad tracks passing through the Swannanoa Tunnel.

Although passenger trains ceased in the mid-20th century, cargo trains continue to run east and west along the creek several times a day. From Old U.S. 70, the museum’s hike will descend to the Swannanoa Creek down below the Swannanoa Gap. Here the waterway is alternately known as Davidson Creek and Allison Creek, named for the area’s legendary earliest settlers.

The hike will continue along the stagecoach road, crossing the creek again several times to conclude at Point Lookout Greenway Trail. Since the old roadway is dilapidated from disuse, hikers are advised to wear sturdy hiking boots and bring hiking poles for added stability over the rocky road. Hikers should also dress for the weather and bring lunch and plenty of water.

 

The hike meets at the Museum at 223 W. State St., Black Mountain at 9 a.m. Hike leaders will carpool hikers to the trailhead. The hike, a fundraiser for the nonprofit museum, costs $25 for museum members and $35 for nonmembers. Advanced registration is required. Sign up at swannanoavalleymuseum.org/calendar, email info@swannanoavalleymuseum.org, or call 669-9566.

Swannanoa Valley Museum Hike
Hike: Swannanoa Tunnel and Creek
When: 9 a.m. Jan. 28
Meet: Swannanoa Valley Museum, 223 W. State St.
Difficulty: Moderate, 4 miles
Cost: $25 museum members, $35 nonmembers
Register: swannanoavalleymuseum.org, 669-9566


Swannanoa museum starts new year of hikes

BLACK MOUNTAIN – The Swannanoa Valley Museum & History Center will hold interest meetings in January with information about the Museum’s annual Rim Hike Series and Valley History Explorer Series. These hikes take participants outside the nonprofit museum’s walls and offer hikers unique opportunities to improve their knowledge of the landscape and the communities that form eastern Buncombe County.

Now in its eighth year, the popular Rim Hike series consists of 11 hikes that reveal the geography of the Swannanoa Valley and its history as well. Each hike explores a different section of the 31-mile long Swannanoa Rim, terrain that spans from Jesse’s High Top, across Lakey Gap, over Ridgecrest and Montreat, up to the Blue Ridge Parkway and down to Cedar Cliff above Camp Rockmont.

Over the course of the year, the series ultimately covers a distance of more than 50 miles. Led by veteran hikers who share their knowledge about the history, topography and ownership of the land, each hike ranges from 3 to 8 miles over elevations ranging from 2,316 to 6,462 feet and are considered challenging as much of the terrain is rugged and steep.

At the beginning of their first hike, each hiker is issued a “Passport to the Swannanoa Rim” to keep track of their personal progress as the series proceeds. Those who finish all the hikes in the series are awarded a custom embroidered Patagonia jacket during a celebration held at the end of the year.

Sam Shirey, who completed the Rim Hikes in 2015, says that he wears his jacket often around Black Mountain and beyond.

“People around me take note of the jacket when I wear it and frequently someone will ask what it’s all about. It gives me the perfect opportunity to tell them about the program and to point to any of the ridgetops and say that I have been up there looking down into the valley,”  Shirey said.

 

“It’s a good way for newcomers to the area to get to meet people who live here and to really see where they are living now,” said Rim Hike finisher Bonnie Nache. Several participants point to the beautiful overlooks and panoramic views of the mountains from locations such as Weatherford Heights on the Blue Ridge Assembly grounds. Many parts of the hikes are on private property and are not accessible to the general public.

Joe Standaert, Swannanoa Valley Hiking Committee Chairman, points out that some participants travel to the area to participate – the furthest making the trip from Alabama, Texas and Michigan.

“The thing we have found from the previous seven years of the hikes was that being out there, being in the woods, builds a sense of camaraderie among the hikers. They really bond together in a way we never expected, especially among those who have hiked several times. The other volunteers and I have watched them building a community that goes far beyond the museum.”

Nache commented on watching the new participants grow in confidence as the series progressed. “They start out being kinda wide-eyed at the prospect of being so far out in the forest, but by the end of the hikes, they have a new confidence and connection with each other and the area.” To date, more than 125 hikers have finished hiking the entire rim, and one intrepid hiker, Charles Jolley, has completed every rim hike since the series’ inception in 2009.

The seven hikes in the Valley History Explorer Hiking Series take participants to some of the small communities that make up the Swannanoa Valley and delve into the unique history of the each of them. These hikes are informative for natives seeking a connection with their heritage and newcomers hoping to gain insights into the region’s past.

Each hike is about three miles long over moderate terrain and is led by an experienced guide.

“The leaders are very well-informed about the area,” says Juanita Bruce. “I’m not from here so the history of the area is very important to me. Stories about the first settlements, the water systems and how the settlers maintained their lives on the farms in these mountains, stories about the assemblies and the people are all wonderful parts of these hikes.”

The Rim Hikes take place every third Saturday from January to November and the Valley History Explorer Hikes are held every second Saturday from March through October.  There is a participation fee for these hikes, which helps sustain the nonprofit Swannanoa Valley Museum as Buncombe County’s primary museum of general, local history.

For the fourth year in a row, the museum will offer two donation-funded scholarships toward the cost of a hiking series to ensure that events are accessible to all who wish to participate. The scholarship is funded by donations from past finishers and community members interested in keeping history alive. To apply for a scholarship, applicants are invited to mail or email the museum a 500-word essay explaining why they want to participate in the program, which series they would like to hike, and how the scholarship would help them participate, along with their contact information.

The first Rim Hike of 2017, Rhododendron Rim, will be Jan. 21. The hike passes through property once owned by Spanish architect Rafael Guastavino, best known for his innovative system of self-supporting arches and vaults using interlocking tiles in some of New York’s most famous Beaux-Arts landmarks, as well as Asheville’s Basilica of St. Lawrence. He retired in Black Mountain and built an eclectic estate called Rhododendron and known locally as the “Spanish Castle.”

Learn more:

Prospective hikers can learn about the museum’s hiking programs at the following informational meetings:

  • Jan. 10 at 6:30 p.m.at the Swannanoa Valley Museum, 223 W. State St., Black Mountain.
  • Jan. 11 at 7 p.m. at Black Dome Mountain Sports on Tunnel Road in Asheville.
  • Jan. 12 at 7 p.m. at REI in Biltmore Park, Asheville.

For descriptions of each hike, visit www.swannanoavalleymuseum.org. For more information, call 828-669-9566 or email info@swannanoavalleymuseum.org.

 


A look back at Swannanoa High School

 

An exhibit coming to Swannanoa Library will give visitors a chance to learn more about the history of the community’s old school – or relive their experiences there.

The Swannanoa Valley Museum’s exhibit, “The Swannanoa High School … Past and Future in Pictures,” goes on display Monday, Jan. 2.

The display will provide a look back at the history of the school, which served as the high school for children in Swannanoa until it merged with rival Black Mountain High School to form Owen High School in 1955.

“We’re going to look at the school’s chronology,” museum assistant director Katherine Cutshall said. “We’ll also look back at how schooling really started in the area and how Swannanoa High School came to be.”

In September, the Buncombe County Board of Education approved a contract with Hickory Construction Co. to renovate the old school building, now home to the Community High School. The renovation plans call for the school to keep its historic facade and gymnasium.

Swannanoa Library manager Carla Hollar thought the timing couldn’t be better for the exhibit.

“The idea behind it was, since they’ll be redoing the building, we knew it may be something that was in the news a little more in the coming months,” she said. “We wanted people to bring out any items they have from the old school to help keep the memory of that school alive.”

Among the items being displayed are copies of the school’s newspaper, The Swann, which ran from 1919 until the school closed.

“We’re going to also look at some of the sports and other extracurricular activities that went on there,” Cutshall said. “We have a lot of pictures, papers and cards and things like that, but not a lot of memorabilia.”

An exhibit at the library “gets the museum out of the museum,” according to Cutshall, who said that kind of community outreach can prompt community members to remember artifacts that they may still have in their possession.

“It helps give the museum a presence in the Swannanoa Valley outside of downtown Black Mountain,” she said. “We do a small exhibit like this and people remember that they have a small trophy, or jacket, or whatever, that belonged to their grandparents and then they ask us if we’d like to display it.”

The exhibit will remain on display until April.


January 2017 e-Newsletter


‘Hike and history’ museum meetings set in stone

The Swannanoa Valley Museum & History Center will hold three free “interest” meetings during the second week of January about its annual Rim Hike Series and Valley History Explorer Series.

These hikes offer hikers unique opportunities to improve their knowledge of the landscape and the communities that form eastern Buncombe County.

Now in its eighth year, the popular Rim Hike series is composed of 11 hikes that reveal not only the geography of the Swannanoa Valley, but its history as well. Each hike explores a different section of the 31-mile long Swannanoa Rim, terrain that spans from Jesse’s High Top, across Lakey Gap, over Ridgecrest and Montreat, up to the Blue Ridge Parkway and down to Cedar Cliff above Camp Rockmont.  Over the course of the year, the series covers a distance of more than 50 miles.  Led by veteran hikers who share their knowledge about the history, topography and ownership of the land, each hike ranges from three to eight miles over elevations ranging from 2,316 to 6,462 feet. Since much of the terrain is rugged and steep, the hikes are considered challenging.

At the beginning of their first hike, each hiker is issued a “Passport to the Swannanoa Rim” to keep track of their personal progress as the series proceeds. Those who finish all the hikes in the series are awarded a custom embroidered Patagonia jacket during a celebration held at the end of the year.

 

“People around me take note of the jacket when I wear it, and frequently someone will ask what it’s all about,” said Sam Shirey, who completed the Rim Hikes in 2015. “It gives me the perfect opportunity to tell them about the program and to point to any of the ridgetops and say that I have been up there looking down into the valley.”

“It’s a good way for newcomers to the area to get to meet people who live here and to really see where they are living now,” said Rim Hike finisher Bonnie Nache. Several participants point to the beautiful overlooks and panoramic views of the mountains from locations such as Weatherford Heights on the Blue Ridge Assembly grounds.  Many parts of the hikes are on private property and are not accessible to the general public.

Joe Standaert, chairman of the Swannanoa Valley Hiking Committee, noted that some participants travel to the area to participate – the farthest coming from Alabama, Texas, and Michigan.

“The thing we have found from the previous seven years of the hikes was that being out there, being in the woods, builds a sense of camaraderie among the hikers,” he said. “They really bond together in a way we never expected, especially among those who have hiked several times. The other volunteers and I have watched them building a community that goes far beyond the museum.”

 

New participants grow in confidence as the series progresses, Nache said.  “They start out being kinda wide-eyed at the prospect of being so far out in the forest. But by the end of the hikes, they have a new confidence and connection with each other and the area.”

To date, more than 125 hikers have finished hiking the entire rim. One intrepid hiker, Charles Jolley, has completed every rim hike since the series’ inception in 2009.

The seven hikes in the Valley History Explorer Hiking Series take participants to some of the small communities that make up the Swannanoa Valley and delve into the unique history of the each of them.  These hikes are both informative for natives seeking a connection with their heritage and newcomers hoping to gain insights into the region’s past.

Each hike is approximately three miles long over moderate terrain and is led by an experienced guide.  “The leaders are very well-informed about the area,” hiker Juanita Bruce said.  “I’m not from here, so the history of the area is very important to me.  Stories about the first settlements, the water systems and how the settlers maintained their lives on the farms in these mountains, stories about the assemblies and the people are all wonderful parts of these hikes.”

Participants who complete all hikes in the Valley History Explorer Series receive an embroidered Patagonia fleece at the end of the series.

The Rim Hikes take place every third Saturday from January to November and the Valley History Explorer Hikes are held every second Saturday from March through October.  There is a participation fee for these hikes, which help sustain the nonprofit Swannanoa Valley Museum as Buncombe County’s primary museum of general, local history.

For the fourth year in a row, the museum will offer two donation-funded scholarships towards the cost of a hiking series to ensure that events are accessible to all who wish to participate. The scholarship is generously funded by donations from past finishers and community members interested in keeping history alive. To apply for a scholarship, applicants are invited to mail or email the museum a 500-word essay explaining why they want to participate in the program, which series they would like to hike, and how the scholarship would help them participate, along with their contact information.

The first Rim Hike of 2017, Rhododendron Rim, will take place on Saturday, Jan. 21. The hike passes through property once owned by Spanish architect Rafael Guastavino, best known for his innovative system of self-supporting arches and vaults using interlocking tiles in some of New York’s most famous Beaux-Arts landmarks, as well as Asheville’s Basilica of St. Lawrence. He retired in Black Mountain and built an eclectic estate called Rhododendron and known locally as the “Spanish Castle.”

Space on the hikes are limited, and hikers are encouraged to register early. Information about each series and hike is available at swannanoavalleymuseum.org. For more, contact the museum at 669-9566 or info@swannanoavalleymuseum.org.

Want to learn more?

Learn more about the museum’s 2017 hike series at these meetings.

  • Jan. 10, 6:30 p.m. at the museum
  • Jan. 11, 7 p.m. at Black Dome Mountain Sports, Asheville 
  • Jan. 12, 7 p.m. at REI Asheville

Museum celebrates hike series finishers

Weatherford Heights. Rhododendron Ridge. Grey Eagle Rock. Do you know what these names have in common? You do if you are one of the 119 hikers who have now completed the Swannanoa Valley Museum’s Swannanoa Valley Rim Explorer Hiking Series.

For the rest of us, these names are three of the high and historic locations traversed during the 11 hikes that make up the museum’s popular hiking program, now ending its seventh year.

On Saturday, Dec. 10, the museum held its annual Hike Series Finishers Banquet and Reunion to celebrate those who finished the Rim Hike series or the newer Valley History Explorer Hiking Series.

This year 24 hikers completed the challenging Rim Hike series, which traverses the 31-mile circumference of the Swannanoa Valley’s ridgelines. Along with the satisfaction of completing the year-long hiking challenge while supporting the museum’s operating fund, those who finish the series also received a commemorative Patagonia jacket, purchased at a reduced price from Black Dome Sports by Wendell Begley, the museum board’s chair and president of the Black Mountain Savings Bank. The jackets feature the series logo, which was designed by Mary Begley, Wendell’s wife, who is a graphic designer.

Mary also donated her time in 2016 to design a logo for the Valley History Explorer Hiking Series, which is now in its third year. This series explores the seven communities of the Swannanoa Valley – Riceville, Bee Tree, Swannanoa, North Fork, Black Mountain, Montreat and Ridgecrest – on eight moderate three-mile hikes throughout the year. This year seven hikers completed this series – June Advincula, Juanita Bruce, Marie Drum, Sherry Riley, Cheryl Ward, Ron Wester and Pat Young. These hikers received a Patagonia Better Sweater embroidered with the new series logo and also funded by the Black Mountain Savings Bank.

“Our hiking program is really a labor of love that would not be possible without the hard work of our volunteer hike leaders,” museum director Anne Chesky Smith said. “Alongside memberships and donations, the income generated by our hiking and event programs is what keeps our doors open. I can’t properly express my gratitude for all our volunteers do.”

Nineteen hikers completed the series in 2015 for the first time – June Advincula, Marilyn Augustine, Tom Bush, Leslie Carreiro, Andrew Clancy, Marc Eden, Emma Hodson, Jim King, John Koon, Rebecca Schorr, Carla Sharpley, Robert Sharpley, John Stickney, Pris Stickney, Steve Swanberg, Mary Werner, Peter Werner, Duke Woodson and Mike Wren. And five intrepid hikers completed the series multiple times. Jane Basford and Martha Miller finished for the second time; Ron Jandebeur finished for the third time, Joe Standaert finished for the fifth time, and Charles Jolley, who has never missed a Rim Hike in the seven years the museum has been leading them, finished for a seventh time.

The museum will be offering both hike series again in 2017. For more information, the museum will host three hiking interest meetings in January. The first interest meeting will be held at the museum at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 10. Then on Wednesday, Jan. 11, Black Dome Mountain Sports in Asheville will host an interest meeting at 7 p.m. REI Asheville will host the final interest meeting at 7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 12. All interest meetings are free to attend.

The first Rim Hike of 2017, Rhododendron Rim, will take place on Saturday, Jan. 21. Information can also be found online at swannanoavalleymuseum.org or by calling 669-9566.


Museum hike series ends in Blue Ridge Assembly borders

The Swannanoa Valley Museum concludes the 2016 Swannanoa Rim Hike Series on Dec. 10 with a rescheduled hike to Weatherford Heights, named for the founder of Y.M.C.A. Blue Ridge Assembly. The strenuous, six-mile long hike, rescheduled from Jan. 23, follows the original boundary line of the conference center’s grounds, surveyed in 1906 by educator, author and religious leader Willis Duke Weatherford.

Roger Hibbard, who served as Blue Ridge Assembly’s director for 33 years, will lead the hike, which departs from Swannanoa Valley Museum, 223 W. State St. at 8 a.m. Hikers should wear sturdy hiking boots, pack a lunch and bring plenty of water. The cost is $30 museum members and $50 nonmembers. Advanced registration is required at swannanoavalleymuseum.org or 669-9566.

As a student at Vanderbilt University, Weatherford became involved in the student Young Men’s Christian Association. Traveling to the Blue Ridge Mountains by horse and buggy in 1906, he sought a permanent location for student training sessions he arranged. When he reached the present site of Blue Ridge Assembly, between two steep forested ridges of the Swannanoa Mountains two miles from Black Mountain, he exclaimed, “Eureka, we have found it!” The enterprising educator raised half a million dollars to finance the construction of the Blue Ridge Assembly.

In addition to acting as the conference center’s president until 1944, Weatherford was the president of the Y.M.C.A. Graduate School and faculty member at Fisk University and Berea College. Weatherford’s travels to college campuses across the South in the Jim Crow era made him acutely aware of race relations, and in 1910 he published the widely distributed “Negro Life in the South.”

In subsequent years, he organized interracial conferences on social issues attended by college students, faculty, clergy, and politicians from both the North and the South. In 1964, Weatherford reflected on the inroads initiated during his tenure and the legacy of Blue Ridge Assembly.

“We were doing something about the whole race problem,” he said. Slavery “left a dirty mark on Southern life … We set ourselves deliberately to break that prejudice down. Blue Ridge has been one of the forward-looking institutions … willing to take a step forward, even though sometimes it might not be popular … We knew it was right.”

In a fitting tribute to the social justice ideas promoted by Blue Ridge Assembly’s founder, Robert E. Lee Hall, the architectural centerpiece of the grounds, was renamed Eureka Hall in 2014. Designed by New York architect Louis Jallade, the three-story neo-classical revival building hosted the experimental Black Mountain College from 1933-1941.

After the hike all past and present museum hike series finishers are invited to a celebration of their accomplishments at Lake Tomahawk’s Lakeview Center. Those who have completed one of the museum’s two annual hike series will receive jackets commemorating their achievement. The museum will provide the dinner. It’s free to all 2016 finishers; there is a $10 suggested donation for all others.

The museum’s hiking series begins again in January.

Swannanoa Valley Rim Hike

Hike: Weatherford Heights

When: 8 a.m. Dec. 10

Meet: Swannanoa Valley Museum, 223 W. State St.

Difficulty: Strenuous, 6 miles

Cost: $30 museum members, $50 nonmembers

Register: swannanoavalleymuseum.org, 669-9566


 December  e-Newsletter


Take a hike in the Garden of Eden

On Nov. 19, the Swannanoa Valley Museum & History Center will host its second-to-last hike of its 2016 Swannanoa Rim Explorer Series. This eight-mile, strenuous hike treks to the Garden of Eden, a summit one mile northwest of Lake Eden and gains approximately 3,000 feet over the course of the hike.

Edwin Wiley “E.W.” Grove originally developed Lake Eden as “an amusement center for Asheville as well as Grovemont,” his planned community in Swannanoa, according to an early promotional brochure. The summer resort property offered guests, “ideal natural surroundings … with all the gaiety of a modern resort” and included rustic bridges, artistic nooks and two spring houses providing water piped directly into the houses.

It also had a beautiful lake, a cheery dining room, a dance floor, mountain trails and drives, tennis and golf, bathing and canoeing, and “good, fresh, wholesome food of vegetables, chickens, and dairy products from the adjoining farm … attractively served by a trained dietitian.”

Born in Tennessee in 1850, Grove began his career as a drug store clerk and established the Paris Medicine Company, where he developed “Grove’s Tasteless Chill Tonic” and other popular patent medicines. The self-made millionaire, suffering from a bronchial ailment, first visited Asheville in 1897, upon the recommendation of his physician.

In Asheville, Grove’s interests turned from pharmaceuticals to land development, and he built many structures, most notably The Grove Park Inn, which opened in 1913.

While building his famous hotel, he established a rock quarry in Swannanoa on Old Route 70 to gather, sort, wash and load the stones onto rail cars for transport to the inn and his other building sites. The museum’s hike will circle to an overlook within Grovestone Quarry where hikers can enjoy a historic account of the surrounding mountains and the valley below while observing dramatic views.

The rest of the hike continues downhill along logging roads and to several viewpoints before returning to the Lake Eden property, directly adjacent to the quarry.

In the 1930s, Lake Eden became the site of Black Mountain College and now serves as Camp Rockmont for Boys. The site still features several of Grove’s distinctive river rock buildings as well as Black Mountain College’s Studies Building, built by students in the Bauhaus style.

The final hike of the Rim Series loop, Weatherford Heights, one that navigates the terrain and history of Blue Ridge Assembly, is usually the first hike of the season. But because the January hike was postponed due to weather, it will occur on Saturday, Dec. 10.

People who have finished the entire 11-hike, 50-plus-mile series, are invited to attend the museum’s annual Hike Finisher Celebration, where they will receive coveted Rim Hike jackets. These Patagonia jackets are embroidered with the Rim Hike logo and are sponsored by Black Mountain Savings Bank.

Swannanoa Valley Rim Hike #11

Hike: Garden of Eden

When: 8 a.m. Nov. 19

Meet: Swannanoa Valley Museum, 223 W. State St.

Difficulty: Strenuous, 8 miles

Cost: $30 museum members, $50 nonmembers

Register: swannanoavalleymuseum.org, 669-9566

 

Museum tour takes in old hunting club and Vance estate

As part of the region’s celebration of the centennial of Mount Mitchell State Park, join the Swannanoa Valley Museum & History Center on an exclusive historic driving tour of the west side of the Burnett Reservoir to explore part of the once thriving North Fork Valley community.

The tour takes place inside the city of Asheville watershed and, to protect the watershed, is limited to 25 participants.

On a balmy March day in 1903, the North Fork Reservoir’s newly-appointed warden, Will Burnett, turned a brand-new cast iron valve to emit the first trickle of drinking water for Asheville, located more than 20 miles away. The water, some of the purest in America, would soon flood the school, church, graveyard and homesteads built by Burnett’s family and neighbors over the last centuries.

With permission from the Conservation Trust of North Carolina, the will lead two tours through the Asheville watershed on Saturday, Nov. 12. The driving tours will highlight several historic sites on the watershed’s west side and allow participants to walk amid the ruins of the formerly thriving settlement. Historic interpreters and descendants of the community’s earliest settlers will share stories about the North Fork Valley.

After the city of Asheville purchased roughly 5,000 acres in the North Fork Valley, Will Burnett and his brother Bart, the sons of Confederate veteran Marcus Lafayette “Fate” Burnett, were selected as the first wardens to patrol the newly established municipal watershed.

As wardens for four decades, the Burnett brothers guarded the land from trespassers (including other fellow North Fork Valley natives and members of their own family) that their great-grandfather Frederick Burnett helped settle in the 1790s.

Much of the history of the North Fork Valley was lost when the residents were forced out by eminent domain and the city of Asheville flooded the valley.

Much like the Cades Cove, one of the most popular attractions in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the archaeological remains of the isolated North Fork Valley offer clues about daily life in a 19th and early 20th Century close-knit Appalachian community.

Today, the public-use restricted watershed encompasses 22,000 acres. The museum’s tours will focus on the history of the west side of the reservoir (on April 29, 2017, two additional tours will focus on the east side of the reservoir).

The trip on the west side of the watershed will begin with a talk from the old Rod & Gun Club overlooking the valley. The Rod and Gun Club formed in 1894 and was chartered in 1907 to promote hunting, fishing and other outdoor sports in Black Mountain. Though primarily (and almost exclusively) a men’s organization, two women who owned the property they met on in 1907 insisted, as part of the club’s lease, that they be allowed to join.

For at least 90 years, until 1998, the Rod and Gun Club — consisting of top Asheville city officials, politicians, doctors, lawyers, and businessmen – met in the North Fork Valley. After the city acquired the land in the 1930s, the club had the city’s tacit (if unwritten) permission to meet there, rent-free. At the time, no other private groups were allowed access to the 22,000-acre property. The club was exempted, however, as they had a lengthy history of meeting on that land by the time the city foreclosed on the property in 1927-28.

In 1998, the Asheville City Council voted to end the Rod and Gun Club’s privileges at North Fork, as well as the privileges of all other groups – including the City Council, which had summer retreats at the lodge. The lodge will be demolished in 2017 to make way for a new spillway.

The lumber used to build the Rod and Gun Club lodge was part of a small house built and occupied by Joseph Elcany “Caney” Allison (1835-1908), his wife, Mary Jane Burnett, and their four children.

The tour will continue to a second stop at the Judge Lancaster Bailey Law School. The school was established by Judge J.L Bailey in 1856 and was apparently successful, reportedly operating until the beginning of the Civil War. The school closed, however, when many of its students volunteered or were drafted to fight for the Confederate Army. Later, the property became a part of Governor Zebulon Vance’s Gombroon Estate.

From here, the caravan will stop for participants to view the entrance to Gombroon as well as the Gombroon wall. Vance employed locals to build the impressive, miles-long stone wall, offering them fair pay for steady work during a time when paid jobs were scarce.

Following that, the tour will pass the Left Hand Fork Intake and head to the Dan Burnett Place. Dan Burnett was a famed hunter in the North Fork Valley and was said to have once killed a large bear with nothing but an ax.

The tour will end with the ruins of Gombroon and will include the foundation, heart-shaped pool, spring house and the McGinnis cabin. The Gombroon estate was built as a summer retreat for Vance and his second wife, Florence Steele Martin of Kentucky, after they were married in 1880. The home boasted all of the most modern amenities of the time and impressive craftsmanship. Unfortunately, in 1936 the home burned, apparently struck by lightning.

Because the tours involve some  moderate walking on rough terrain, participants are advised to wear hiking boots and dress for the weather.

Asheville Watershed, west side

Hike: Historic North fork Valley Tour

When: 7:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Nov. 12

Meet: Swannanoa Valley Museum, 223 W. State St.

Difficulty: Moderate

Cost: $50 museum members, $75 nonmembers

Register: swannanoavalleymuseum.org, 669-9566


November e-Newsletter


From Depot to Mountain House, explore the trail intrepid travelers did

In celebration of Mount Mitchell State Park’s centennial this year, the Swannanoa Valley Museum & History Center will help hikers experience firsthand the journey that those before them made to Mount Mitchell’s peak. The museum has permission to small group of hikers on daylong hikes through the off-limits Asheville Watershed along the Old Mitchell Trail to the Mountain House. The hikes will be on Friday and Saturday, Nov. 4-5.

The strenuous, 6-mile round trip will ascend almost 2,000 feet to an elevation of 5,240 feet at the Mountain House. That’s a steep climb, especially on a rocky trail that hasn’t been kept up in 113 of its 180 years.

One early account of the trek to Mount Mitchell was recorded in 1901 in a journal by Mrs. S.P. Taber Willets. Mrs. Willets came from New York City to the “wild backwoods” of Western North Carolina specifically to take a trip from Black Mountain to the top of Mount Mitchell.

To begin the journey up the Old Mitchell Trail, many tourists stayed with Jesse Stepp and his family. Mrs. Willets was no exception. Stepp, a local farmer with a good deal of land, built cabins in the 1850s on his property at the upper end of the North Fork valley to accommodate the many tourists to the area.

Mrs. Willets was greeted by the Stepps with “generous hospitality,” she wrote, adding that the “traditionary courtesy of the Southland had not vanished. … After the generous supper of biscuit and new butter, applecrust and apple jam, fried chicken, and coffee, we sat upon the front steps watching the stars and exchanging views of matters and things until the chilly night air warned us into the house.”

As Stepp’s visitors acquired guides and horses to make the strenuous trek up the mountain, Mrs. Willets wrote, “My host had kindly offered to furnish me with a sure-footed mule and himself as escort to conduct me to the foot of Mount Mitchell, five miles beyond — from which place the ascent is made.”

From the Stepps, Mrs. Willets traveled to a cabin known as the Depot. The museum will start its hike there, among its ruins. The cabin was one of two erected in 1850 by William Patton, a merchant from Charleston, South Carolina. To reach the cabin by horse and buggy, Patton had his men – most likely slaves from his South Carolina plantation – extend the primitive road cut through the North Fork Valley.  Enslaved people, such as Samuel Drymond, also served as a tourist guides for Patton.

The 20-by-50-foot, two-story cabin was a rustic structure built from rock and balsam logs readily available around the property. Though the cabin was most likely originally built for his personal use, by 1854 Patton had opened it to tourists. Over the course of a summer and early fall season, several hundred guests would pass the threshold and secure a bed for 35 cents a night. For a time, French champagne and Scottish salmon were popular menu items.

William Patton died in 1858 and the Mountain House fell into disrepair. Years later, Alf Tyson would take over operations. The Tysons were famous for the variety, quality and quantity of their “vitals” most of which were homegrown and processed on the place – canned, dried, preserved or salted down.

“Mr. Tyson, the proprietor of the Mountain House,” Mrs. Willets wrote, “furnished me a guide on short notice, as I was anxious to reach the summit in time to see the sunset, remain overnight for a view of the sunrise, and return to the Mountain House next day in time to reach Black Mountain Station for the return to Asheville.”

For several years, the trail from the Mountain House extended only to Clingman’s Peak. But the trail was extended an additional three miles to Mitchell’s summit in 1855, when the peak was beginning to be discussed as perhaps the highest peak in eastern North America. It was this trail that Mrs. Willets followed in 1901.

“Guide Joseph Allison and I had been joined in our upward climb by two gentlemen, who had intended spending the night on the summit,” she wrote. “One was Senator Vance’s stepson, Mr. Martin, owner of Gombroon (in the North Fork valley), the other Mr. Bryant from a Charlotte, NC, paper. So they shared with us (a) cave-like shelter across whose front were laid the fir logs that crackled and blazed and sent showers of sparks against the black rock ceiling.”

Unlike the Mountain House, food on the mountain was brought and prepared by the visitors, and though Jesse Stepp built a small, primitive cabin in the late 1850s to accommodate guests near the summit, many travelers chose to instead sleep under a large overhanging cliff like Mrs. Willets and her companions.

She continued, “The coffee pot steamed over the coals, and its contents soon added comfort to the inner man, for the night dews were falling and made us draw near the campfire. Guide Joseph laid the resinous balsam limbs across the ground for beds.”

Sleeping near the summit was necessary for visitors to awaken at dawn to journey the short distance to the peak to watch the sun rise over the distant mountains that could be seen to the north, south, east and west.

Preregistration is required for the hike both days.

Mountain House Hike
When: 8 p.m. Nov. 4-5
Meet: Swannanoa Valley Museum, 223 W. State St.

Difficulty: Strenuous, 6 miles
Cost: $50 museum members, $75 nonmembers
Register: swannanoavalleymuseum.org, 669-9566


Voices from railroad’s past haunt Halloween house tour

Just a few hundred feet beyond where the man-made fountain, known as Andrews Geyser, sends water spewing 80 feet into the air lies the Round Knob Lodge. Built in the 1930s by Southern Railroad executives as a rustic mountain retreat, the 6,500-square-foot lodge replaced the ritzy Round Knob Hotel, which served railroad passengers and employees from the 1880s until it burned in 1903.

During the Swannanoa Valley Museum & History Center’s fifth annual Historic Haunted House Tours Friday-Saturday, Oct. 28-29, the lodge will be the backdrop for the compelling story of North Carolina’s quest to lay track up the steep grade from Old Fort to Asheville.

During the two-hour guided tours that start on the half hour, costumed tour guides will escort guests from one lavishly decorated room to another to eavesdrop on actors re-enacting historic scenes from before, during, and after the coming of the railroad.

There will be stairs and some uneven surfaces (an elevator is available). Admission include refreshments. Pre-registration is required.

Before the railroad carved its steely path to the crest of the Blue Ridge, the mountains had to be conquered by foot trails or by mule and horseback over rough roads. Despite difficult conditions, tourists flocked to the region from the southeastern Charleston area, seeking a respite from sweltering temperatures, biting insects, and tuberculosis. But the mountains often deterred visitors from eastern North Carolina from making the trek.

The haunted house tour’s first stop inside the lodge will feature a few early travelers plotting their trip up the mountains on a tourist excursion. Antique railroad items adorn the walls, ledges and mantles throughout the lodge, nicely complementing lavish seasonal decorations and setting the stage for dramatic retellings of some of the spookier aspects of area railroading and tourism history.

As guests make their way from room to room, they’ll enjoy roaring fires, roving spirits and floating orbs surrounded by original Pullman sleeper car benches, antique lanterns, and vintage telephone boxes.

The tour of the lodge will continue down an antique cast-iron spiral staircase (or interior elevator) into the rock-walled basement below for refreshments served by a ghostly bartender where guests can relax and imagine what it would have been like to be a railroad executive vacationing at the lodge in the 1930s. Guests will then journey down a narrow passageway to listen to more historical stories before venturing down the “haunted” hallway, where several of the lodge’s past guests have photographed ghostly orbs, often thought to be the souls of people.


Museum leads hike to a ‘stolen’ mountain

One of the great privileges of participating in the Swannanoa Rim Hike series is visiting places off-limits to the general public. The Swannanoa Valley Museum & History Center’s hike on Saturday, Oct. 15 is one such example as the group will walk along the Bee Tree Mountains, also known as the Little Craggy Range.

Neither name is marked as such on a map, as this long ridge represents the southern end of the Great Craggy Mountains. While they bump up against the publicly held Blue Ridge Parkway and Mountains-to-Sea Trail, they remain in the hands of private property owners.

With permission from the Ridge Youth Camp in the Laurel Ridge community of Black Mountain, the Swannanoa Valley Museum provides a tour of these mountains from White Oak Flats, just south of Brushy Ridge, to the gap near Eden Rock, above the Granny and Laurel Branches. The Bee Tree Mountains run south from the Blue Ridge Parkway to Grovemont and Swannanoa, separating the North Fork drainage from the Bee Tree Creek drainage.

On the east side lies the Asheville Watershed and the Burnette Reservoir, while the west side holds the Bee Tree Reservoir.

Neither area is open to the public, as they hold the drinking water for the city of Asheville.

This is a sore topic for hike leader Van Burnette, whose ancestors once owned large swaths of land on both sides before Asheville began acquiring their properties.

“I’ll tell you the story of the evil city of Asheville and their menace to Western North Carolina and the families that inhabited these valleys,” Burnette said recently in what might have been mock indignation. “It’s a sad story, but I’ll tell it and try to hold the tears back.”sd

As has been revealed in previous Swannanoa Rim hikes, Burnette’s ancestors came to the area 210 years ago. They were among 50 families who were displaced by the acquisition of the Asheville watershed and its reservoir, and the 16 families displaced by the Bee Tree Reservoir.

The city acquired the land in the early 1900s, often through eminent domain. Their families and the public are otherwise forbidden from entering the reservoir area, which together encompass 22,000 acres.

So, Burnette took it upon himself to name a 4,900-foot knob along the ridge, “Burnette Knob.”  Over the last six years leading the hike, when the group reaches the so-named summit he reads a proclamation.

“Whereas the evil empire of Asheville began taking the land … and not dedicating anything to the Burnette family,” he reads, taking a few more jabs at his archnemesis.

There are many views of the Burnette Reservoir through trees wearing their colorful autumn leaves. A few wildflowers, such as aster, goldenrod, and bottle gentian, should still be blooming.

Along the way, the group may even spot some American chestnut, a tree once dominant throughout the forests of eastern America before a blight wiped out the trees in the first decades of the 20th Century. Now, saplings sprout from old stumps, reaching 10-15 feet before dying.

There was a time when the Bee Tree Mountains were likely covered in chestnut trees.

“They were so abundant that this time of year, you wouldn’t want to walk barefoot because of all the burrs on the ground,” Burnette said.

He was referring to the tree’s seed, so named for the nut’s prickly husk. Burnette knows of a burr-producing chestnut in the area. He sent a burr to the American Chestnut Foundation, which is breeding blight resistant chestnuts. Perhaps some day, chestnut trees will once again be seen on the Swannanoa Rim.

The difficult, 6-mile hike will begin at the youth camp and work its way to the Swannanoa Valley Rim above Laurel Ridge.  After a short detour up the rim to White Oak Flats, the hike will follow the rim southwards over “Burnette Knob” and to a lunch spot on an open helipad. After lunch and a steep, brushy downhill section, the hike will end at the Laurel Ridge water tank.

Reservations are required.

Swannanoa Valley Rim Hike #10

Hike:  High Top of Bee Tree 

When: 8 a.m. Oct. 15

Meet: Swannanoa Valley Museum, 223 W. State St.

Difficulty: Difficult, 6 miles

Cost: $30 museum members, $50 nonmembers

Register: swannanoavalleymuseum.org, 669-9566


October 2016 e-Newsletter


What happens when the coal runs out?

On Sunday, Oct. 9, the Center for Appalachian Studies at Appalachian State University in partnership with the Swannanoa Valley Museum & History Center will screen an hour-long documentary entitled “After Coal” at White Horse Black Mountain.

The film profiles individuals who are building a new future in the coalfields of eastern Kentucky and south Wales. The film will be accompanied by several short documentaries produced by students in the Appalachian Studies program at Appalachian State University.

The featured documentary seeks to answers the questions: What happens when fossil fuels run out? How do communities and cultures survive? “After Coal” invites viewers to the front lines of the transition away from fossil fuels. Coalfield residents who must abandon traditional livelihoods share stories from the front lines of the transition away from fossil fuels.

Viewers will meet ex-miners using theater to rebuild community infrastructure, women transforming a former coal board office into an education hub, and young people striving to stay in their home communities. Music plays a major role in this documentary essay, linking eastern Kentucky and south Wales providing cultural continuity that sustains communities through rapid change.

The film’s roots reach to 1974, when Appalachian scholar Helen Matthews Lewis spent two years in Wales researching coalfield communities. She, sociologist John Gaventa and filmmaker Richard Greatrex made more than 150 videotapes of daily life in South Wales. The Center for Appalachian Studies at Appalachian State University has facilitated more than three decades of exchange between the two regions.

The Welsh coalfields were shut down in the 1980s, eliminating more than 20,000 jobs.  Meanwhile, the Appalachian coalfields lost more than 20,000 mining jobs between 1994 and 2014. Both regions have survived disasters associated with mining production and waste disposal, and each have explored strategies for remembering the past while looking to the future.

“To explore the challenges facing communities in transition, I traveled to South Wales, where most coal mines shut down after the 1984-85 miners’ strike,” Hansell said. “I met inspiring individuals who have fought to rebuild their communities. Their commitment to place reminded me of my friends in central Appalachia. During my travels, I learned that there is not a simple solution to rebuilding coalfield communities. However, the places that survive have diverse leadership, democratic institutions, and support local culture.”

Throughout this documentary, music from the mountains of central Appalachia and the valleys of South Wales reveals the deep bonds that have allowed these two cultures to survive in the harshest of conditions. Hansell believes that comparing the Welsh and Appalachian experience with coal will help people see a future beyond fossil fuels.

Hansell’s documentary work has been broadcast nationally on public television and has screened at international film festivals. Hansell’s documentary “Coal Bucket Outlaw” was broadcast on public television in 30 states. His most recent documentary, “The Electricity Fairy,” screened at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 2010 and was selected by the SouthArts for the Southern Circuit tour of independent filmmakers.

“After Coal” is a project of the Center for Appalachian Studies at Appalachian State University.  Fiscal sponsorship for the film was provided by The Southern Appalachian Labor School and the Southern Documentary Fund. “After Coal” is funded in part by the Chorus Foundation, West Virginia Humanities Council, and United States Artists.

The documentary will be screened along with student films from the Appalachian Studies Program at Appalachian State University at the White Horse Black Mountain, 105c Montreat Road at 3:00pm on Sunday, October 9. Admission is free and donations are accepted for the Beaver/White Scholarship Fund, which provides support for Appalachian Studies students to research topics related to the Appalachian region.


 Valley Rewind

Once the railroad began running service to and from Asheville to the eastern portion of North Carolina, tourism to the area boomed and businesses sprang up around train depots to cater to the many tourists flocking to the area. As part of the effort to attract and accommodate them, in the 1880s private investors built the five-story Round Knob Hotel, pictured here, within one of many secluded coves looped by the railroad track. Above the lodge they dammed a large pond and piped water down the mountain to feed the manmade Andrews Geyser, built as a tourist attraction and memorial to those who died building the railroad. The geyser could be seen by railroad passengers seven times as the cars looped around the tracks.

Now, just a few hundred feet beyond where Andrews Geyser shoots water 80 feet into the air lies the historic Round Knob Lodge. Built in the 1930s by Southern Railroad executives as a rustic mountain retreat, the 6,500-square-foot lodge replaced the ritzy Round Knob Hotel, which burned in 1903.

On Oct. 28 and 29 during the Swannanoa Valley Museum & History Center’s fifth annual Historic Haunted House Tours, the lodge will be the backdrop for the incredible story of North Carolina’s quest to lay track up the steep grade from Old Fort to Asheville.


Hike what used to be higher than the Himalayas

The Swannanoa Valley Museum & History Center will lead a hike overlooking the historic North Fork Valley on Saturday, Oct.8. This moderate, three-mile hike on Grove Stone and Sand Quarry roads will feature guest hike leader Jason Connor, one of the managers of the site who will apply his geological expertise to the Appalachian Mountains, the oldest mountain chain in the world.

“At one time they were higher than the Himalayas,” he said, “but erosion over time has rounded our mountains down. The material we mine is between 600-800 million years old.

“This is part of the Ashe metamorphic suite, which covers most of this valley and it’s pretty consistent around the whole area. You can even see it in the outcrops at the Craggy Gardens visitor center and all up the Blue Ridge Parkway.”

Grove Stone and Sand Quarry was founded by Edwin Wiley “E.W.” Grove in the 1920s. Born in Tennessee in 1850, Grove began his career as a drug store clerk, purchased a drugstore at age 29, and soon established the Paris Medicine Company, where he developed “Grove’s Tasteless Chill Tonic” and other popular patent medicines. The self-made millionaire relocated to St. Louis in 1889, and suffering from a bronchial ailment, first visited Asheville in 1897, upon the recommendation of his physician.

As Grove’s interests turned from pharmaceuticals to land development, he envisioned a residential suburb centered on a resort hotel nestled on the side of Sunset Mountain in Asheville. The Grove Park Inn opened in 1913, surrounded by elegant Arts & Crafts-style residential homes along Kimberly Avenue.

Grove established his rock quarry east of Asheville on Old Route 70 to gather, sort, wash and load the stones onto rail cars for transport to the inn and his other building sites. The quarry, still in operation today, features winding roads that lead to sweeping vistas of the North Fork Valley and city of Asheville Watershed.

In 1924, just after opening the quarry, Grove acquired land, adjacent to the quarry, to found his model community, Grovemont-on-Swannanoa. As the advertisements boasted, Grovemont was “located just 12 miles from Asheville, in the center of much coveted surroundings of natural beauty.”

In this community, Grove sought to recreate on the banks of the Swannanoa River the English village his grandparents had lived in. Located on a broad plateau, set against a backdrop of mountains, the idyllic residential village was to include homes, shops, a post office, library, a hotel, a country club, two lakes, and town hall, all centered on a green, linked by a web of roads and sidewalks.

Grovemont was billed as America’s first planned community, where Grove extolled, “people of moderate means could secure large lots at reasonable prices.” Expansive residential lots, typically measuring 80 feet wide and 160 feet deep, offered ample space for lawns, gardens, and garages. With the exception of one residence, the English Tudor-style and Arts & Crafts-style homes were constructed from river rock and stucco, a distinguishing characteristic of all of Grove’s properties in the Asheville area. The exception is the residence of a Beacon executive, who insisted on covering his home in brick. Grove managed to construct 19 residences. Today, 15 homes still stand.

Grove also developed Lake Eden as “an amusement center for Asheville as well as Grovemont.” The property, which later became the site of Black Mountain College and now serves as Camp Rockmont, still features two distinctive river rock buildings, one which served as a dance and recreation hall. Grove passed away in 1927, before Grovemont’s completion.

Though still named for Grove, the quarry has changed hands since E.W.Grove started it in the 1920s. “Grovestone, we believe, was started in 1923 by E.W. Grove to produce and supply material for his Grovemont community,” Connor said. W.G. Northcott owned and managed the property. Hedrick Industries bought the property in the early 1950s. Connor works for the company.

“We first mined the alluvial deposit of the Swannanoa River, which is the creek gravel, and we made construction material for highways,” he said. “Then about 1984 we depleted that deposit and moved up the mountain to mine the granite material, making it mainly for the Department of Transportation and for asphalt in the local area.

“At this facility we employ over 30 individuals, and our asphalt plant employs another dozen. We also keep much of our land in forest. In the last few years we’ve had thousands of students come through to educate them on geology, wildlife habitat, plants and streams.”

Hike participants will learn more geology and cultural and natural history during the museum’s hike. The hike is the seventh destination in the museum’s Valley History Explorer Series, North Fork. These excursions visit historic sites throughout the Swannanoa Valley.

Hikers will meet at the museum at 9 a.m. Pre-registration is required.

Valley History Explorer Hike #7

Hike: North Fork (Grove Stone Quarry)

When: 9 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 8

Meet: Swannanoa Valley Museum, 223 W. State St., Black Mountain

Difficulty: Moderate, 3 miles

Cost: $20 museum members, $30 nonmembers

Register: swannanoavalleymuseum.org, 669-9566


Swannanoa Valley Museum has new assistant director

The Swannanoa Valley Museum has undergone many changes since closing for renovations earlier this year. One of those changes has been bringing aboard a new Assistant Director.

Katherine Calhoun Cutshall joined the Swannanoa Valley Museum in late June, just as the museum began moving its offices and collections back into the renovated building.

Cutshall is a recent graduate of the University of North Carolina Asheville, and is working toward receiving her MA in Public History at Western Carolina University.

“We’re so excited to have Katherine on board,” said museum director Anne Chesky Smith. “She brings with her an astounding knowledge of the local area and a passion for history. Besides coordinating our volunteers who staff the Museum on a daily basis, Katherine has been instrumental in setting up our new exhibits for our reopening.”

Cutshall began her career in museums while still studying at UNCA. From 2013-2016 she took on internships and employment with the Governor Zebulon B. Vance Birthplace state historic site in Weaverville and the North Carolina Civil War History Center in Fayetteville.

Cutshall is most passionate about studying the history and culture of Western North Carolina, particularly in the 19th century.

Her undergraduate research titled, “In the Grip of Slavery: The Development of a Slave Society Surrounding the Establishment of Stock Stands on the Buncombe Turnpike 1790-1855” charts how a slave-labor driven economy developed along the major trade road that cut through Buncombe, Madison and Henderson Counties.

In addition to African-American and economic history, she is also interested in Appalachian arts and culture.

Cutshall looks forward to the opportunity to learn more about this part of the region.

“Being here at the Swannanoa Valley Museum gives me the opportunity to further explore one part of Western North Carolina that has an immensely rich history,” she said. “From the earliest Native American settlers to the development of the New South industrial economy; the Swannanoa Valley has seen it all.”

Katherine’s main duty at the museum is as the volunteer coordinator; a very important position to the Swannanoa Valley Museum whose main workforce comprises of volunteer docents.

This year, the Museum’s major temporary exhibition features the work of local photographer and woodworker, Edward L. DuPuy. Displayed in the Museum are never-before-seen images from DuPuy’s 1967 publication, Artisans of the Appalachians. Included are photographs of local artisans Edsel Martin, Hardy Davidson, and May Ritchie Deschamps along with samples of their work.

Cutshall is available during the museum’s regular operating hours Thursday-Saturday. Those who may be interested in serving the museum as a volunteer may contact her by phone or e-mail at (828)-669-9566 orvolunteer@swannanoavalleymuseum.org.


North Fork Reservoir dam to get major improvements

FAILURE IS NOT AN OPTION: This rendering of the planned North Fork Dam improvements shows the new auxiliary spillway to the right of the center of the dam. Photo courtesy of Asheville Water Resources Department

FAILURE IS NOT AN OPTION: This rendering of the planned North Fork Dam improvements shows the new auxiliary spillway to the right of the center of the dam. Photo courtesy of Asheville Water Resources Department

Posted on September 8, 2016 by Virginia Daffron (https://mountainx.com/news/north-fork-reservoir-dam-to-get-major-improvements/)
Much of the responsibility for the safety of those who live and work below the Bee Tree and North Fork Reservoir dams rests on the shoulders of Swannanoa Fire Chief Anthony Penland. Ever watchful for the possibility of flooding, he and his staff keep one eye on long-range weather forecasts even as they train for and manage other emergencies.

At a public meeting on the evening of Aug. 25, as the setting sun tinted the sky over the Swannanoa Valley in shades of rose and gold, the chief spoke of forecast of heavy rainstorms that could affect the area in a week’s time.

While flooding in low-lying areas is a constant concern, the chief’s nightmare scenario is a dam breech. “If a dam fails, get to high ground,” Penland advised Swannanoa residents who attended the public meeting to discuss planned improvements to the North Fork Reservoir dam. “There will be a wall of water 28 feet high coming at [emergency responders],” he said. “We won’t get there in time.”

Avoiding that scenario is one of the goals of a $30 million to $35 million plan to update the North Fork Reservoir’s dam to current state standards, Leslie Carreiro told residents who attended any of four information sessions held Aug. 22-25. Asheville’s Water Resources Department manages the North Fork dam under a flood operations plan developed in collaboration with the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality Dam Safety Division, but the time has come to bring the dam up to current standards, explained Carreiro, a division manager in Asheville’s water department for the past 11 years. The Bee Tree dam, she says, was upgraded in the early 2000s.
Designed by Greensboro-based Schnabel Engineering in partnership with Asheville’s McGill Associates, the improvement project will add 4 feet to the height of the dam, update electronic instrumentation and monitoring systems, protect against earthquake damage, replace aging release gates at the main spillway and add a new auxiliary spillway designed to safely handle a 50,000-year rain event. A new bridge along the top of the dam will allow vehicle access from one side of the reservoir to the other, even if the road below the dam washes out due to flooding.

Latest in 1950s technology
When the North Fork Reservoir opened in 1955, it represented the latest in dam technology, Carreiro told citizens at the information sessions. But technology has changed over the last 60 years, and the state’s goal is to bring every high-hazard dam — that is, every dam whose failure could cause the loss of human life or significant property damage — up to current standards. The North Fork dam, Schnabel engineer Mark Landis said, falls short in a number of categories and requires significant improvements to meet regulatory requirements.

Today, the North Fork dam stands 130 feet tall and 1,200 feet long. Constructed from earthen fill excavated on the site, the dam creates a reservoir that provides 70 percent of the water in Asheville’s system. The city owns 22,000 acres surrounding and comprising the reservoir, which is the catch basin for a 20-square-mile watershed extending up the slopes of the Black Mountains.

A WORLD APART: The pristine natural environment surrounding the North Fork Reservoir protects some of the highest-quality water in the country. Photo courtesy of the city of Asheville

A WORLD APART: The pristine natural environment surrounding the North Fork Reservoir protects some of the highest-quality water in the country. Photo courtesy of the city of Asheville A 36-inch pipe carries untreated water from an intake tower in the reservoir to a water treatment plant below the dam. From there, treated water is piped to Asheville water system customers.

 

In addition to the main dam, a 55-foot-tall, 600-foot-long “saddle” dam fills in a low spot in the topography at the mouth of the valley. The saddle dam is also an earthen structure.

Judgment call
Under the current flood operation plan, the water level in the reservoir is managed by water department employees in coordination with weather services and state regulators. When forecasters predict rain, water managers release water to lower the reservoir’s level and increase its capacity. But in the wake of the severe flooding that resulted from the one-two punch delivered by tropical storms Ivan and Frances in 2004, many local residents questioned whether dam releases had contributed to the flooding.

Those storms hit Biltmore Village particularly hard. Floodwaters reached depths of 4 feet in some areas. How much of that flooding should be attributed to water released into the Swannanoa River at the North Fork Dam still seems to be open to debate. At the Aug. 22 information session in Biltmore Village, Carreiro stressed that downstream flooding can result from water entering the system from the many tributaries that flow into the Swannanoa River below the dam. Additionally, in a post on the city’s blog, Carreiro explains that “the dam was never designed for flood mitigation,” since its purpose was to supply water to Asheville.

The Grand Bohemian Hotel in Biltmore Village has an extensive flood emergency plan, John Luckett, the hotel’s general manager, told city water and emergency officials at the Aug. 22 meeting. Other Biltmore Village businessfolk said they were looking for more help from the city in keeping storm drains clear, especially when rainy weather is on the way. “We had $50,000 in damage from a 3-inch rain in December,” said Katie Avant of Surface Gallery.

The business owners aren’t afraid to roll up their sleeves, said Danielle Vaeth of MTN Merch on Lodge Street. She has volunteered on several Asheville GreenWorks projects aimed at clearing storm drains in the area and improving the system’s ability to handle stormwater. “We don’t expect the city to do it all,” she explained, “but we want guidance from them on how we can work together.”

“We’ll commit to getting those answers from [the] stormwater [department],” pledged Jade Dundas, the city’s Water Resources director. “They will follow up.”

Passive system
The city’s current water release practices, Landis said, are “not an exact science.”

But the new dam design will change that. The three massive, 18-foot-tall gates that water department employees now raise to release water from the dam into the primary spillway will be replaced with two concrete weirs. Water will flow freely into the spillway once the reservoir reaches a certain level. Only one operable gate will remain; its function will be to lower the water level for scheduled maintenance. Otherwise, the system will function without human control.

It’s a very different approach than the hands-on management strategy the water department now uses. Landis explained that a new auxiliary spillway will automatically release water in a controlled manner during extreme rain events.

The new 600-foot-wide auxiliary spillway will sit between the main dam and the saddle dam. Its design uses fusegates, a technology developed and licensed by Hydroplus of Paris, France. In normal conditions, the fusegates look and function like concrete dams. Under extreme flood conditions, the gates are designed to tip forward and break free of the spillway, allowing a larger amount of water to be released, easing pressure on the dam.

Each of the eight fusegates in the new spillway will be set to release at a different water level. Combined with a 4-foot increase in the overall height of the main dam, the fusegate system will allow the reservoir to handle the probable maximum precipitation for the area. A new study commissioned by the Tennessee Valley Authority set the PMP for the North Fork Reservoir watershed at 28.6 inches of rainfall over a 24-hour period. “The new spillway will safely pass the rainfall from the [PMP], which in this case is a storm with a return period well over a 50,000-year event,” Landis said.

For comparison, the highest rainfall amounts in the flooding that recently inundated parts of Louisiana totaled 24 inches over a two-day period.

Using the fusegate design, Landis explained, will allow a smaller spillway than would otherwise be needed to manage the same water storage capacity. A conventional design, he said, would be two to three times as wide and would have a significantly greater impact on the natural environment of the reservoir.

Moving and shaking
Rock excavated during the construction of the auxiliary spillway will be used to buttress the downstream side of the main and saddle dams, increasing their ability to withstand an earthquake.

The state adopted new seismic standards in 2014, partly in response to a 5.8 magnitude earthquake that hit Mineral, Va., in 2012. While no deaths and only minor injuries resulted from that quake, it damaged an estimated $200 million to $300 million in property, including the Washington Monument in Washington.

While weather forecasting provides some advance warning for situations like the flooding of 2004, Landis pointed out, the effects of earthquakes on major infrastructure occur almost instantly.

Carreiro and emergency personnel described the city’s Emergency Action Plan, which she said was first created in the early 1990s and was updated in 2006 and again this spring. The EAP details the procedures for detecting a potential problem at the dam, formally initiating an emergency action (which allows resources to be mobilized), notifying various partners, responding to the emergency and, finally, determining when and how the emergency operation should end.

Water department staff inspect the dam on a daily basis, Carreiro explained. Workers are trained to detect a wide range of potentially hazardous conditions, including overtopping, embankment cracking, seepage, structural problems and sabotage or vandalism.

Carreiro and emergency personnel encouraged citizens to sign up for emergency notification services offered by the city (at www.ashevillenc.gov) and Buncombe County (text “BCALERT” to 888777). They also asked residents to stay alert during severe weather events and to cooperate with emergency services if asked to evacuate.

Under construction
Residents of areas surrounding the North Fork reservoir who attended the information sessions expressed support for the dam improvements, as well as concerns. Liz Stillwell, the president of the homeowners’ association at Laurel Ridge, a residential community that overlooks the North Fork reservoir, was one of several residents who asked how construction activities will affect roads leading to the reservoir.

“It’s one way in and one way out,” Stillwell said of the road to her community. “We know there will be a lot of wear and tear on that road associated with this project.”

The city has already begun pre-qualifying specialty building contractors, and it expects to send the project out for bids in the spring, Carreiro said. Construction should begin next June. The city’s target for completion is late 2019. Throughout the 26 months of construction, Carreiro and Landis told residents, most of the equipment used for the project will remain on-site, which will reduce construction traffic. Blasting for the auxiliary spillway will produce the rock needed for reinforcing the main and saddle dams. Depending on the selected building contractor’s methodology, concrete may also be mixed at the site, further minimizing daily construction traffic.

Additional information meetings for property owners and residents in the immediate area of the reservoir will be held closer to the beginning of the construction project, Carreiro said.

HOT SPOT: A popular pool below the dam attracts swimmers and kayakers to the North Fork of the Swannanoa. Photo by Virginia Daffron

HOT SPOT: A popular pool below the dam attracts swimmers and kayakers to the North Fork of the Swannanoa. A pipe carrying water from the reservoir runs alongside the bridge. Photo by Virginia Daffron

Water system operating revenues will finance the $30 million to $35 million project price tag, Carreiro explained. “The city Water Resources Department is an enterprise fund. So our budget comes from our revenues,” she said. “One of the things on your utility bill is called a capital improvement project fee,” she continued; that money has financed design and engineering fees up to this point. Closer to the start of construction, the water department will secure bond financing. Paying back those loans will “all be based on water revenue and not on city tax,” she said.

In response to a resident asking whether the North Fork Dam improvement project could be affected by the outcome of the state’s bid to transfer the ownership of Asheville’s water system to the Metropolitan Sewerage District, Carreiro said the project and the money to pay for it will stay with the water system. “If we stay with the city, if we merge with MSD, it’s still our money for that function,” she explained.

The North Fork Dam improvements, Carreiro concluded, are not discretionary. “The projects we have, we have because we need to do them,” she said. “It’s not just our preference.”

That’s probably welcome news to Swannanoa Fire Chief Penland. Come the end of 2019, his department will still be watching the weather. “As soon as it starts raining, we check these low-lying areas about every hour,” he told residents at the Aug. 25 information session. Even after the improvements, Penland’s teams will still be honing swift-water rescue skills and urging residents to plan ahead. But the chances of a dam failure will be significantly reduced, which ought to help the chief and his colleagues — not to mention the residents whose homes lie along the North Fork of the Swannanoa River — breathe a bit easier when the sky darkens and rain begins to fall.

SWEET RETREAT: The former home of the Black Mountain Rod and Gun Club sits between the North Fork dam's primary spillway and its saddle dam. The structure will be demolished to make way for a new auxiliary spillway. Photo courtesy of the Swannanoa Valley Museum

SWEET RETREAT: The former home of the Black Mountain Rod and Gun Club sits between the North Fork dam’s primary spillway and its saddle dam. The structure will be demolished to make way for a new auxiliary spillway. Photo courtesy of the Swannanoa Valley Museum

Paradise lost

While today the North Fork Reservoir is cordoned off to ensure the security and quality of the city’s water supply, the area was once home to a bustling mountain community. According to an article on the Swannanoa Valley Museum’s website, the family of Frederick Thomas Burnett Sr. and his wife, “Granny Else,” first entered the rugged valley five miles from Black Mountain in 1800. Over the next century, many European settlers joined the Burnetts, establishing a church, school, graveyard and homesteads throughout the valley. In 1911, however, residents received word via a newspaper announcement that thousands of acres at the base of the Black and Craggy mountain ranges had been condemned by eminent domain. Though property owners received compensation for their land, residents mourned the lost community for decades.

The old church and school buildings now lie under the waters of the lake, while remnants of old homesteads crumble in the protected forests. With the planned improvement project, one relic that survived the dam’s construction — a cabin that served as the headquarters of the Black Mountain Rod and Gun Club from the turn of the century until the late 1990s — will be demolished.

“Before becoming the headquarters for the Rod and Gun Club, the lumber that was used to construct the lodge was part of a small house [that] was built and occupied by the family of Joseph Elcany “Caney” Allison (who died in 1908), his wife, Mary Jane Burnett, and their four children,” writes Anne Chesky Smith, director of the Swannanoa Valley Museum in an email.

At the Aug. 25 information session, Black Mountain resident Monroe Gilmour explained that the club had consisted of top Asheville city officials, politicians, doctors, lawyers and businessmen. Though the reservoir property was officially off-limits to other visitors, the group had the city’s tacit permission to meet there, rent-free, for 50 years.

The group was apparently an all-white, all-male institution, formed in 1894 and chartered in 1907 to promote hunting, fishing and other outdoor sports, then-City Attorney Bob Oast told Asheville City Council members during a March 24, 1998, meeting.

Gilmour led the charge to oust the club from its roost, objecting to the discriminatory nature of its membership and the preferential access it enjoyed to an otherwise off-limits city-owned preserve. His effort succeeded, and the cabin has sat mostly unused since Council’s 1998 decision to end the club’s use of the building. The Water Resources Department received word from the North Carolina Historic Preservation Office on Aug. 24 that the structure was not considered historic, Leslie Carreiro said on Aug. 25.

“That means we won’t have to transport it to another location,” Carreiro added. She noted that, while a few relics may be preserved and donated to local historical organizations, the city has no plans to salvage or make available to the public the majority of the building or its contents.

 


Swannanoa Valley Museum reopens

The Swannanoa Valley Museum & History Center reopened after major interior renovations on Sept. 6 with a special temporary exhibition in their new first floor gallery entitled, “Edward L. DuPuy’s Artisans of the Appalachians.”

The new exhibition features the work of local photographer, Ed DuPuy. Born in Blacksburg, Virginia, in 1914, DuPuy moved to Black Mountain as a teenager. From the 1950s until the 1980s he made a living photographing weddings, special events, conference groups, real estate and commercial subjects, but he would also capture everyday life and landscapes around Black Mountain out of pure interest.

DuPuy was also an artisan woodworker whose antique reproductions are still in use in many homes. He taught classes at Black Mountain College, was a dedicated member of the Southern Highland Craft Guild, and published a book in 1967, Artisans of the Appalachians, about regional craftsmakers. Never before seen photographs of the artisans featured in the publication are exhibited alongside their wares in the exhibit.

Two smaller temporary exhibitions will also open the same day.

The first, “Voting in the Valley,” will feature historic ballot boxes, one of the first automatic voting machines and a 1960s paper dress worn to promote Roy Taylor’s congressional campaign. As part of the exhibit visitors will have the opportunity to register to vote in advance of the November 2016 elections.

Celebrate Mount Mitchell State Park’s Centennial will showcase over a dozen mid-century souvenirs from the gift shops that used to surround the park.

Installation of the museum’s new permanent exhibit, “Pathways from the Past” is almost complete in the new gallery on the second floor and guests will be allowed to view the behind-the-scenes work that happens as curators bring the exhibit to life.

Along with the new exhibit opening the museum will host two special events on Saturday, Sept. 10 – the first Saturday it will be open to the public in 2016.

The newly remodeled Swannanoa Valley Museum will be

The newly remodeled Swannanoa Valley Museum will be open on Saturday, Sept. 10, the first Saturday it’s been open in 2016. (Photo: SPECIAL TO BMN)

First the museum will host a moderate, two-and-a-half mile hike in the eastern-most community in the Swannanoa Valley, Ridgecrest. The sixth hike in the museum’s popular Valley History Explorer Series will meet at 9:45 a.m. at the museum. Hikers will then carpool to the trailhead to follow the Kitsuma Trail to a viewpoint boasting sweeping vistas of the Swannanoa Valley, including a breathtaking view of Mount Mitchell, which is visible on clear days.

The museum’s Valley History Explorer series consists of seven hikes, each about three miles long, that revisit the past of the unique, small communities that comprise the Swannanoa Valley – including Riceville, Bee Tree, Swannanoa, North Fork, Montreat, Ridgecrest and Black Mountain.

The hikes are led by knowledgeable historians and natives with deep family ties. Experienced hike leaders will take you on a half-day journey of discovery. The hikes will reveal undisclosed secrets of Swannanoa Valley history while forging new friendships and galvanizing community bonds.

The cost of each hike is $20 for museum members and $30 for non-members. Preregistration is required for all hikes.

Email info@swannanoavalleymuseum.org or call 669-9566 to register.

At 10 a.m. on Saturday the museum will host local author Ben Fortson, for a presentation on his new book, A Nutshell History of North Carolina. Fortson will stay after his talk to sign copies of the book.

From its dubious beginnings as a pirate-filled colony to a popular tourist destination, North Carolina has an amazingly colorful history. In A Nutshell History of North Carolina, author and illustrator Ben Fortson presents that history in the form of off-the-wall anecdotes, poignant insights and sublimely silly illustrations.

Take a hilarious look at Daniel Boone’s larger-than-life Carolina personality. Peruse an uproarious account of the Andrew Jackson birthplace controversy or politically astute commentary on the power of tobacco in the state.

Fortson takes readers on a side-splitting and educational ride through the annals of Tar Heel State history. Ben Fortson lives in Black Mountain with his wife and three children.

For more information about the museum or its hikes and events, please call 669-9566 or email info@swannanoavalleymuseum.org.



Beneath a giant cross, a hike rises above Ridgecrest

The Swannanoa Valley Museum & History Center will host a moderate, 2.5-mile hike in Ridgecrest, the easternmost community in the Swannanoa Valley on Saturday, Sept. 10.

The sixth hike in the museum’s popular Valley History Explorer Series will meet at 9:45 a.m. at the museum. Hikers will then carpool to the trailhead to follow the Kitsuma Trail to a viewpoint with sweeping vistas of the Swannanoa Valley, including a breathtaking view of Mount Mitchell, visible on clear days.

Today, Ridgecrest is best known as the home of the Lifeway Ridgecrest Conference Center. The center is marked by a large white cross visible to drivers on Interestate 40 on their way to and from Old Fort. The conference center was first founded as the Southern Baptist Assembly by Bernard Washington Spilman in 1907.

In the decades before Ridgecrest became home to Baptists, the area hosted a toll booth that collected fees from those traveling west on the stagecoach road. In the 1880s, the coming of the railroad up the steep grade from Old Fort brought more tourists and residents. Springing up soon thereafter was a small telegraph office named Terrell after William Pitt Terrell. Terrell was the first engineer to bring a train through the seven, newly-constructed tunnels between Old Fort and Ridgecrest.

Spilman, field secretary for the Sunday School Board of the North Carolina Baptist Convention, attended a training conference in 1902 in Montreat. Admiring the Christian Conference Center, he decided the Baptists ought to have something similar to Montreat. Over the next five years, he would search for the perfect site.

In August 1906, Spilman met Asheville attorney James A. Tucker at Terrell station to inspect 940 acres of undeveloped land above Swannanoa Gap. Less than a year later, the Southern Baptist Assembly was incorporated; with a mayor and a tax collector, it was called Blue Mont. One hundred and forty of the 500 available lots on the property were sold for $100 each – primarily to Baptists.

More about the history of Ridgecrest and all the Swannanoa Valley communities can be found in “Swannanoa Valley: Postcard History Series” by local historians Mary and Joe Standaert, who will be leading the Kitsuma hike on Sept. 10 with Bill Alexander, a direct descendant of Samuel Davidson, the first settler to cross the Swannanoa Gap.

The hikes, led by knowledgeable historians, natives with deep family ties and experienced hike leaders, take hikers on half-day journeys of discovery. The hikes reveal undisclosed secrets of Valley history, while enabling participants to forge new friendships and galvanize community bonds.

The final hike in the series, on Oct. 8, will explore trails through the Grove Stone quarry in the North Fork community and will include a dramatic view of the Asheville Watershed. Preregistration is required for all hikes.

Hike:  Ridgecrest (Kitsuma)

When: 9:45 a.m., Saturday Sept. 10

Meet: Swannanoa Valley Museum, 223 W. State St., Black Mountain

Difficulty: Moderate, 2.5 miles

Cost: $20 museum members, $30 nonmembers

Register: swannanoavalleymuseum.org, 669-9566


Walker’s Knob hike named for a ‘first family’

Walker’s Knob, this month’s segment of the Swannanoa Valley Museum’s Rim Explorer Series, will take hikers along the Mountain to Sea Trail from the Balsam Gap Overlook to the Greybeard Overlook.

This moderate, one-way hike on the Mountain to Sea Trail will start at Balsam Gap on the Blue Ridge Parkway’s Walkers Knob Overlook and head south, heading up and over Locust Knob.  Lunch will take place at an exposed rock area on the rim with breathtaking views north and south.  The hike will continue over Bullhead Mountain and end at Greybeard Overlook.  There are some ups and downs, but elevations will range only from 5,100 to 5,800 feet over the 4-mile distance.

This is truly a unique opportunity for hikers eager for an adventure to learn about the geography, early settlers, and fascinating history of the area within the Swannanoa Valley.

Hikers should bring their lunch and plenty of water. Wear good hiking shoes and socks and long pants. It is also best to bring sunscreen, bug spray, a hat, hiking poles, rain gear, and any personal medications that may be needed. All gear should be in a day pack to keep hands free while hiking.

Swannanoa Valley Rim Hike #8

Hike: Walker’s Knob from Balsam Gap to Greybeard Overlook

When: 8 a.m. Aug. 20

Meet: Black Mountain Savings Bank, 200 E. State St.

Difficulty: Moderate, 4 miles

Cost: $30 museum members, $50 nonmembers

Register: swannanoavalleymuseum.org, 669-9566

 


 

Wonder why smoke wafts from Watch Knob Mountain?

The Swannanoa Valley Museum & History Center’s fifth Valley History Explorer Series hike on Saturday, Aug. 6 will visit the mysterious smoking Watch Knob Mountain in the Bee Tree community.

The Valley History Series’ second hike in Bee Tree, the first permanent settlement in western North Carolina, will venture to the mysterious smoking Watch Knob Mountain. While known to Native Americans as Swift Water, the community earned its present name from a massive oak tree.

One of the earliest settlers noticed the corn stockpiled in his corn crib slowly disappearing, according to legend. The farmer eventually discovered the culprits – a team of squirrels. He tracked them to an oak tree said to be so tall, he couldn’t see the top. Unable to shoot the squirrels from the towering haven, the farmer decided to chop the tree down. He assembled a crew of men and after several days, the men notched the last cut, revealing a hollow core entirely filled with corn. They filled 120 bushels.

Finally, the crew toppled the tree which fell over the creek, and honey poured from the cut, the legend asserts. People came from miles to fill buckets, pails, pots and pans with honey. Once everyone had their fill, the sticky liquid continued to flow into the creek until the water ran sweet as honey all the way to the river. The community decided Bee Tree Creek had a better ring to it than Corn Creek.

Hikers will hear more stories about this rural locale during the museum’s tour, which will probe the enigma of Watch Knob. Like the famed Brown Mountain Lights, theories abound of the origins of the smoke that is occasionally spotted wafting from this mountain.

The Valley History Explorer Series consists of seven hikes, each about three miles long, that revisit the past of the unique, small communities that comprise the Swannanoa Valley, including Riceville, Bee Tree, Swannanoa, North Fork, Montreat, Ridgecrest and Black Mountain.

The hikes, led by knowledgeable historians, natives with deep family ties and experienced hike leaders,  take participants on half-day journeys of discovery. The hikes reveal facts about Valley history and prompt new friendships while galvanizing community bonds.

As with the museum’s popular Rim Hike series, participants in the Valley History Explorer Series are encouraged to sign up for the entire series and will receive a punch card to track their progress. Most hikers complete the series over the course of two or more years.

The full series is available for $140 for members and $170 for nonmembers. Hike series finishers will be awarded a embroidered fleece during the museum’s annual hiking program celebration in December.

The sixth hike in the series, on Sept. 10, will explore historic sites along the Point Lookout Greenway in the Ridgecrest community. For more, visit swannanoavalleymuseum.org. Preregistration is required for all hikes. Email info@swannanoavalleymuseum.org or call 669-9566 to register.

Valley History Explorer Series Hike #5

Hike: Bee Tree’s Watch Knob

When: 9 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 6 

Meet: Black Mountain Savings Bank, 200 E. State St., Black Mountain

Difficulty: Moderate, 3 miles

Cost: $20 museum members, $30 nonmembers

Register: swannanoavalleymuseum.org, 669-9566


July E-Newsletter


Museum stamps history into alley bricks

If the Swannanoa Valley Museum’s vision is realized, pavers in the new alley between it and the Dripolator will one day tell the history of the Swannanoa Valley.

The museum recently placed more than 4,000 bricks in the alley. Already, people and businesses are buying the bricks, as well as  the 600 granite pavers that will draw the outlines of the Valley’s famous ridgelines.

“Valley in the Alley,” as the project is called, will spark interest in local history, project organizers believe, and allow purchasers to honor their friends and family while pointing observers to the Valley’s most important geographical features.

More than 100 sites are available along the granite paver outline for personal recognition or dedication. Some of the sites are key Valley features such as Roaring Gap, Sheep Ridge, Sourwood Gap, Sawyers’ Saw Mill, Toe River Gap, Walker Cove, White Oak Flats and the waterfalls at Fall Branch Falls, Glassmine Falls and Dry Falls. People can request pavers that note features not included on the museum’s list.

My Father’s Pizza and Ewing & McConnaughy building contractors are among the early purchasers of the large granite pavers.

“The project has been popular because it allows participants to honor people in locations around the Valley that are special to them,” museum director Anne Chesky Smith said. The project was conceived by museum board member John Corkran.

A brick-covered alley is consistent with the museum’s building, which was the town’s firehouse as designed in 1921 by Richard Sharp Smith, a consulting architect to Biltmore Estate owner George Vanderbilt. Smith chose bricks to line the paths and drives of his many projects.   

“When the Valley in the Alley project is complete, it will be a primer for children, acquainting them with the geography and history of the Swannanoa Valley,” Smith said. “It will also quickly orient visitors to what they are seeing around them.  It will allow generations of families to recall and tell of their place in the Valley’s history, and it will be an aesthetically pleasing walkway, complementing both the museum building and Black Mountain’s historic downtown.”

The museum is planning for permanent seating in the alleyway, she said. Wendell Begley, chairman of the Swannanoa Valley Museum board of directors, thinks sitting in the alley and looking at outlines of the local ridges will stimulate people’s interest in Valley history.

“The Valley has North Carolina’s highest and most historic skyline,” Begley said.  “The museum has sponsored the Swannanoa Valley Rim Hikes for the past 7-8 years, and you can see all the historical places from the rim surrounding the Valley. When Valley in the Alley is finished, you can sit in alley and identify all those places by looking at the outline on the pavers. This project is helping develop appreciation for the Valley’s history.”

“I hope local businesses are as excited as we are about the project,” Smith said.  “We’ve also repaved the lot behind the museum, as well as the lane connecting the upper and lower parking lots.  We hope that it will make parking more accessible, which should also benefit businesses in the area.”

One of the goals of the Valley in the Alley is to raise enough money to cover the cost of improving the alleyway.  Remaining funds will help to pay off a small loan that the museum had to take out to pay for the museum renovation.  Ideally, Smith hopes to raise enough money to propel the museum into the next phase of renovation, one that would entail installing an elevator.

“Valley in the Alley is a fabulous project,” said board member and retired kindergarten teacher Cindy Medlock. “It will be a venue that will take our largest artifact, the old firehouse, now the museum, outside its walls. It will also allow new and old residents of the Swannanoa Valley to become more vested in the museum, our local history, and our heritage here in the Valley.”

For more, email info@swannanoavalleymuseum.org or phone 669-9566.


 Introducing: Valley in the Alley


Museum hosts annual July 4th sunset fireworks hike

Oh say, can you see?

Black Mountain News 2:02 p.m. EDT June 22, 2016

This year, celebrate the Fourth of July with family, friends, guests and the Swannanoa Valley Museum on a one-mile, moderate hike to the peak of Sunset Mountain. Museum guests will enjoy an old-fashioned watermelon-cutting and stay to watch the sun set and the fireworks explode over the town of Black Mountain. Wendell Begley, the hike’s leader and native of Black Mountain, will share the history and vintage photographs of this most historic place over dinner.

Towering more than 700 feet above downtown Black Mountain, Sunset Mountain (known in the 1920s as Miami Mountain) is the town’s nearest, highest and least-developed mountain. Even as Black Mountain expanded over the last half century, Miami Mountain received little development. In fact, except for the CP&L transmission lines crisscrossing the face of the mountain, the more than 100 privately owned acres have remained undeveloped.

During the first quarter of the 20th Century, however, Sunset Mountain was a busy tourist attraction. It was not until a devastating 1920s fire destroyed the mountaintop hotel, commonly referred to as the Peabody Hotel, that the town’s most scenic tourist destination slipped back into time. The ruins of the hotel still sit undisturbed at the peak of the mountain.

Interestingly, a large wooden lookout tower perched along the ridgeline behind the peak was called the Mount Mitchell Observation Tower. During the 1920s, hundreds of tourists traveled the narrow, switch-back road that the museum will hike on July 4 to get a glimpse of the spectacular mountain scenery that compliments Black Mountain.

From the peak on a clear night, visitors are still able to view the skyline of Asheville, the Newfound Mountains and the Great Smoky Mountains. Many of Black Mountain’s older residents still remember the large white-washed rocks spelling out the word “Miami” that identified the panoramic mountaintop. Those rocks not only branded the summit, but drew special attention to the famous hotel situated nearby. From the late 1910s to the outbreak of World War II, “Miami” was Black Mountain’s most well-known sight.

The rocks themselves are still embedded in the mountain, but now are buried under almost 60 years of decaying leaves. The famous white rocks created quite a stir in Black Mountain shortly after World War II broke out. Town folk believed that in the event of an air attack, the highly visible marker would serve as a strategic landmark from the sky and draw attention to the valley. As a result, Mr. W.D. Hyatt, the caretaker of the mountain, painted the rocks black and discontinued his annual maintenance trips to Black Mountain’s most memorable landmark.

To visit Miami Mountain and hear the history of this most historic place, the museum’s Fourth of July hikers will meet at the Black Mountain Savings Bank, 200 E. State St. in Black Mountain at 6 p.m. Please bring your dinner, water, a folding chair, a flashlight, poncho (just in case), camera, and warm clothes (it can get chilly after dark even in July). The museum’s team will transport chairs up the mountain and will provide watermelon and soft drinks.

Independence Day Sunset Fireworks Hike
When: 6 p.m. Monday, July 4
Meet: Black Mountain Savings Bank, 200 E. State St., Black Mountain

Cost:  $35 members, $50  nonmembers,  $25 under 18

Register: 669-9566, info@swannanoavalleymuseum.org


Rim Hike explores Grey Eagle, named for an Indian chief

Black Mountain was known as Grey Eagle until 1893 when the town officially incorporated and changed its name.

On Saturday, June 18, find out one possible source of the town’s original name on the Swannanoa Valley Museum’s annual Grey Eagle Rock Hike, the sixth hike in the museum’s Rim Hike Explorer Series.

This strenuous 3.1-mile hike takes its name from the impressive rock outcropping that resembles a Cherokee chief, Grey Eagle, seated on the mountainside overlooking Black Mountain. The hike begins at Black Mountain Gap off the Blue Ridge Parkway. During the trek, hikers will cross the summit of Potato Knob, a 6,400-foot elevation.

The toughest part of the entire trip will be the steep ascent up the historic southeast face of Potato Knob.

“Potato Knob sits right above you as you enter Highway 128, the entrance to Mt. Mitchell State Park from the Parkway,” Van Burnette, one of the museum’s seasoned hike guides, said. “It is the highest point in Buncombe County at 6,420 feet. And to get there, one has to endure a 1,200-foot elevation gain in one mile where literally, at times, you can hold your hand out perpendicular and touch the trail in front of you.”

In addition to being the roughest section of the Swannanoa Rim, Potato Knob features the highest elevation, most spectacular environment, and the most incredible vistas on the entire Swannanoa Rim.

“We traverse three major climatic zones and go through forests that are usually found as far north as Ontario, Canada,” said Wendell Begley, who typically leads the hike.

Burnette remembered the year he made the trek. “There were beech, red spruce, balsam, and Norway spruce trees,” he said, “carpeted in spent purple rhododendron blossoms, native grasses, fields of tiny blue flowered ‘Bluets’ and the infrequently found Purple Fringed Orchids. Blueberries, and St. John’s Wort were there in abundance as well as about a dozen more blooming plant species.

“At times,” Burnette said, “we would venture out from the dark canopy of trees into the wide open vista of the Burnett Reservoir surrounded by the Blue Ridge and Craggy Mountains. One such vista framed the legendary rock known as Grey Eagle with all of that in the background. Grey Eagle was a famous Cherokee chief. His seated image was thought to be silhouetted in the rock cliffs that were traditionally the boundary between the Catawba and Cherokee nations, overlooking his ancient domain.”

“After the top of Potato Knob,” Burnette continued, “the trail meanders through a forest of red spruce mainly on the old Mount Mitchell Trail used in the 1800s to gain access to the high mountains from the North Fork Valley below.”

The final mile follows the historic roadbed that was initially built to the summit of Clingman’s Peak 75 years ago. The hike ends at Stepps Gap, the entrance to Mount Mitchell State Park.

“(The year I completed the hike),” Burnette said, the hike out along the gravel road that leads to the entrance to Mount Mitchell State Park was like a stroll in the park. The one-mile walk was full of smiles and recollections of the already forgotten pains of the previous few hours.”

Due to the elevation, this hike will be like spending a day in southern Canada. Weather permitting, hikers will experience the most scenic and unique environments, such as Fraser fir forest, on the entire Swannanoa Rim.

Swannanoa Valley Rim Hike #6
Hike: Grey Eagle Rock
When: 8 a.m. Saturday, June 18
Meet: Black Mountain Savings Bank, 200 E. State St., Black Mountain
Difficulty: Strenuous, 3.5 miles
Cost: $30 museum members, $50 nonmembers
Register:swannanoavalleymuseum.org, 669-9566


Explore grounds of house ‘built to have a good time’

The hike is the fourth in the Museum’s year-long Valley History Explorer Series which explores the seven distinct communities located within the bounds of the Swannanoa Valley. Participants can register for one hike or the entire series. Pre-registration is required.

Nestled in the Swannanoa Valley of Western North Carolina sits a winding Tudor-style country manor house. The 24,000-square-foot home was built in the early 1920s for Franklin Silas Terry, the first vice-president of General Electric, and his second wife – and first cousin – Lillian Estelle Slocomb Emerson. The couple were well-known around WNC for their festive parties uninhibited by the confines of Prohibition.

Originally spelled “Intheoaks” and named for the oak leaf entwined in the Slocomb family’s coat of arms, the manor, located just 15 miles down the road from America’s largest home, George Vanderbilt’s Biltmore House, boasts many of the same features as Biltmore – an indoor swimming pool, bowling alleys, and a wine cellar – but sees far fewer annual visitors.

The similarities between the two estates are not surprising. Frank E. Wallis, who worked with Richard M. Hunt in New York, and spent two years making drawings for the Biltmore Estate, designed In-the-Oaks. And Richard Sharp Smith, Biltmore’s supervising architect, was hired to design the recreation wing addition in 1923.

The similarities between the two homes do not end there. The 80-acre property included a three-hole golf course, putting green, stables and an extensive natural landscape designed by the same man who landscaped the Biltmore property and New York’s Central Park – Frederick Law Olmstead.

At the time, the meticulously landscaped estate allowed for a 360-degree view of the surrounding mountain ranges from the second floor of the house. Now, surrounded by rhododendrons and shrouded by oaks and maples, the home seems to be miles into the wilderness, though it parallels Interstate 40 as it passes the town of Black Mountain.

Unlike Biltmore, the house is unimposing, molded to fit the rolling landscape. And though it boasts 67 rooms, it appears to be only two levels, when, in fact, it is four.

In a 1994 interview, Terry’s niece, Marion Perley Casstevens, summarized the difference between the two homes. “Biltmore was built to show-off,” she said. “This house was built to have a good time.”

And, have a good time they did. The Terrys were known for their parties. And the most interesting aspects of the home were constructed specifically not to be seen. Built during the Prohibition Era, the Terrys included many safeguards in the home to protect their guests – and their expensive liquor collection—from nosey revenuers.

Hidden behind a trick panel in a main hallway is a dumbwaiter, which even if discovered, would appear empty unless the officers attempted to pull up the dumbwaiter. The space was designed to mimic similar secret English closets during the Reformation to hide Catholic priests.

But the real parties were held in what was known as the Dutch Room. Built to resemble a Danish tavern, the room – located partially below ground—is still concealed behind two large doors in an oversized frame, which softened the party noises from the rest of the house. The centerpiece of the room – a blue and white Delft tile fireplace – monopolizes the far wall and once warmed a large bearskin rug on its hearth.

Mr. Terry often held late-night card games in the Dutch Room because its opaque leaded-glass windows concealed the room from prying eyes. The built-in wet bar was supplied from the estate’s secret wine cellar.

From inside a Dutch Room closet, Mr. Terry could release the closet’s false back with a hidden latch to reveal a few shelves holding a couple inexpensive bottles of liquor. But much like the dumbwaiter, this was merely meant to trick anyone investigating into not looking further.

For those who knew its secret, the shelves would move aside to reveal a locked sliding iron door. Behind the door were slots to hold 744 bottles of liquor. Each bottle was meticulously catalogued by Mr. Terry with its name, date, and cost. Mentioning the wine cellar, Casstevens remember Mr. Terry having liquor delivered in boxes marked “books,” and remarking that he “really believe(d) that everyone should get drunk at least once a year.”

Though their estate was spectacular, the Terrys were much more than just their lavish home. Lillian, born in Fayetteville, in 1880, had fiery red hair and a personality to match. She was known as a first-class hostess and made history in 1920 as the first woman to drive an automobile to the top of Mount Mitchell, the highest peak in the eastern United States.

Her first husband died in 1909. After moving back to the United States from Paris with her young daughter – who would one day become a dancing sensation – at the outbreak of World War I, Lillian began to plan the construction of In-the-Oaks with her cousin, and close correspondent, Franklin Terry. In 1920, construction on the home began. The same year, Franklin Terry and his first wife, Grace, divorced.

In 1878, as a high school student working as an office boy in a small electrical manufacturing company in his hometown of Ansonia, Connecticut, Franklin Terry sat in on a meeting about electric lighting between the plant’s owner, William Wallace, and Thomas Edison. Their conversation inspired Terry and rather than attend college, he stayed on to manage Wallace’s company.

Over the next 40 years, Terry became a pioneer in the electric lighting industry, most notably developing a longer-burning incandescent light bulb. Eventually, with the understanding that his small company based out of Chicago could not continue to compete with the large corporations like Westinghouse and Thomson-Houston, he established a conglomerate of small companies under the auspices of the National Electric Lamp Company (NELA). NELA was absorbed by General Electric in 1912. In 1923, Terry was elected its vice-president.

Terry was also well known for some of his philanthropic work. During World War I, Terry established a fund to aid French children orphaned by the conflict. The organization sent money for food, clothing and housing to the young people and also provided aid to help the orphans obtain higher education. Terry personally “adopted” 57 children, with a total of 625 orphans receiving aid through his program overall.

In 1923, despite his busy work schedule with NELA in Cleveland and General Electric in New York, Franklin and Lillian tied the knot in New Jersey and then relocated full-time to Black Mountain to oversee construction of their estate.

The couple only had three happy years in the home before Franklin died of a stroke on Aug. 2, 1926. Lillian continued to live at the estate until her death in April 1954. Lillian’s daughter donated the estate to the Episcopal Diocese of Western North Carolina as a retreat center in 1957. Montreat College purchased the property in 2001 and maintains it for classroom and athletic facilities today.

Black Mountain’s In-the-Oaks

When: 9 a.m. Saturday, June 11

Meet: Black Mountain Savings Bank, 200 E. State St., Black Mountain

Cost: $20 museum members, $30 nonmembers

Register: swannanoavalleymuseum.org, 669-9566

 


Swannanoa Valley Museum reopens after renovations

The Swannanoa Valley Museum will celebrate the completion of the interior renovation of Black Mountain’s 1921 Fire House with an open reception on Friday, June 17 from 6:30-8:30 p.m. and an open house on Saturday, June 18 from 10 a.m.-5 p.m.

At both events, Museum board members and staff will offer free tours of the renovated building. They will highlight some of the more impressive aspects of the original building unveiled during construction, including large box trusses supporting a cathedral ceiling, the original pine flooring, and the location of the fire pole. Refreshments will be served at the reception on Friday evening.

The reception will also be the first opportunity for the public to purchase bricks designating locations across the Swannanoa Valley for placement in the museum’s  outdoor exhibit, Valley in the Alley. Part of the restoration and renovation of the historic Black Mountain Fire House, Valley in the Alley is intended to  educate and entertain residents and visitors to the Swannanoa Valley.

The Valley in the Alley exhibit will be located, fittingly, in the alley owned by the museum between the museum and the Dripolator Coffee House, just off West State Street in Black Mountain. The  asphalt surface has been removed and the alley has been resurfaced with brick pavers. This is not only consistent with the fire house, designed in 1921 by Richard Sharp Smith, who was the consulting architect to George Vanderbilt. It also reflects Smith’s choice of brick for paths and drives at many of his projects.

The exhibit is based on the sale of engraved brick pavers, but with an approach distinct from the usual random placement of pavers. Purchasers of all engraved bricks within the alley will have the opportunity to honor or memorialize friends and recognize special achievements as in other paver programs. Through the purchase of a variety of special granite pavers, individuals, families and businesses will own “a piece of history” by forming the geographic outline of the Valley, one that locates major points of  interest, such as communities, dwellings and landscape features.

The result will be a mosaic which will show the north and south ridgelines of the Swannanoa Valley, as well as the major geographic features on and within the ridgelines. The points will trace the evolution of the settlement to the vibrant community it is today.

When the Valley in the Alley is complete, it will be a primer for children, acquainting them with the geography and history of the Swannanoa Valley. It will quickly orient visitors to what they are seeing around them. It will allow generations of families to recall and tell of their place in the Valley’s history. And it will be an aesthetically pleasing walkway, complementing both the museum building and Black Mountain’s historic downtown.

Regular 4- by 8-inch brick pavers holding three lines of text will sell for $100. Engraved granite pavers that form the special features of the mosaic start at $200 for one 4- by 8-inch paver with three lines of text, increasing in cost and available text depending on the size of paver chosen. About 4,000 pavers make up the alley, of which nearly 600 will form the outline of the Valley. Along the outline and within the Valley, more than 100 sites are available for special recognition or dedication.

Once the initial cost for acquiring and placing pavers is recovered, all proceeds from the Valley in the Alley purchases will be devoted to completion of the renovation and the operations of the Swannanoa Valley Museum, including exhibits, on- and off-site programming, outreach to schools, preservation and research.

For more about the Valley in the Alley opening reception or the museum open house, visit Swannanoa Valley Museum , call 669-9566, or email info@swannanoavalleymuseum.org.


Old Town Swannanoa Tour – Photo Gallery

Swannanoa historian Bill Alexander leads a tour of “Old Town Swannanoa,” on Saturday, June 4. The tour, which was sponsored by the Swannanoa Valley Museum, provided a look at the history of the heart of Swannanoa and the influence of Beacon Manufacturing.

Photos by Fred McCormick – Black Mountain News – Saturday, June 4, 2016

Swannanoa historian Bill Alexander leads a tour of

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Swannanoa historian Bill Alexander leads a tour of

Swannanoa historian Bill Alexander leads a tour of

Swannanoa historian Bill Alexander leads a tour of

Swannanoa historian Bill Alexander leads a tour of

Swannanoa historian Bill Alexander leads a tour of

Swannanoa historian Bill Alexander leads a tour of

Swannanoa historian Bill Alexander leads a tour of

Swannanoa historian Bill Alexander leads a tour of

Swannanoa historian Bill Alexander leads a tour of

Swannanoa historian Bill Alexander leads a tour of

Swannanoa historian Bill Alexander leads a tour of

Swannanoa historian Bill Alexander leads a tour of

Swannanoa historian Bill Alexander leads a tour of

Swannanoa historian Bill Alexander leads a tour of

Swannanoa historian Bill Alexander leads a tour of

Swannanoa historian Bill Alexander leads a tour of


Finding freedom at Roseland Gardens

“Black Mountain Blues”

I’m bound for Black Mountain, me and my razor and my gun
I’m gonna shoot him if he stands still, and cut him if he run
Down in Black Mountain, they all shoot quick and straight
The bullet’ll get you if you starts a-dodgin’ too late
Got the Devil in my soul, and I’m full of bad booze
I’m out here for trouble, I’ve got the Black Mountain blues.

Many around Western North Carolina have speculated that the song “Black Mountain Blues,” first recorded by Bessie Smith in New York City in 1930 and later covered by Janis Joplin and Nick Drake, was written by Smith after she played a gig at Roseland Gardens, a small juke joint in the African-American community of Brookside, just outside of downtown Black Mountain.

In reality, though Smith performed it, the song was written by composer J. C. Johnson in New York City.¹

Then the only town in the United States bearing the name “Black Mountain,” the town and its independent-minded people may have inspired Johnson to pen the song after he visited in the 1920s. It stands to reason that if Johnson, an African American, did visit Black Mountain, he would have spent an evening – and perhaps a night – at Roseland Gardens, the town’s popular juke joint, one of the only places around that provided entertainment, food, drink and a place to stay for African-American tourists, locals, and performers during segregation.

Roseland Gardens was owned and operated for almost 60 years by Horace Chamber Rutherford. Rutherford was born in 1896 in Swannanoa to a Cherokee mother and an African-American father. He inherited the land on which he built his club from his mother’s Native American relatives.

Rutherford built Roseland Gardens around 1920, possibly as early as 1918, when he saw a need for a social gathering place for his friends and neighbors during a time when segregation prohibited the black community from patronizing area restaurants, bars, pools, lakes and music venues.

“People were coming here from all over, working at Montreat, Ridgecrest and Blue Ridge and of course those people had no way of socializing other than church,” said Rutherford’s granddaughter, Katherine Debrow, then 67, said in a 2006 interview with Sally and Garry Biggers. “That’s why my grandfather built the juke joint. But he was also a businessman, and so he just came up with all these ideas of ways to make money.”

Roseland Gardens’ reputation for lively entertainment spread quickly, something Debrow understood from watching the activity from her house next door (though she was rarely allowed inside the dance hall). Soon folks from as far away as Asheville, Old Fort and Marion were regularly making their way up the narrow dirt road to Brookside, at the intersection of what are now Flat Creek and Padgettown roads. Taking advantage of Roseland Gardens’ popularity, at least two other small juke joints would open in the Brookside community during the next 50 years. None had the patronage or longevity of Roseland, however.

Brookside was also home to a church, school, beauty parlor, corner grocery and filling station. The singer Roberta Flack was born not far from Roseland Gardens, though she never performed at the venue.

“Just going through some of his personal things, we know that he (Rutherford) went to New York and visited the Roseland (Ballroom) there,” Debrow recalled. “I think that’s probably how he got the name for his place here … because if you look at some of the old pictures of the Roseland in New York, he had some of the same features in the building, one of them being that chandelier that he had in the dance hall area. I mean, no one else in the area had anything like that.”

A short article in The Asheville Citizen, as it was known then, in 1950 identified Roseland Gardens as “the largest private recreation center for colored people in Western North Carolina.” The center was open for the summer and held twice-weekly dances and movies and provided “facilities for picnics, croquet, horse shoe pitching, barbecues, and other forms of entertainment.”

“The other thing about the juke joint is that the churches would hold their annual picnics here,” Debrow remembered. “He (Rutherford) had little benches all over the woods. He also had little grills set up so they could grill things if they wanted to.”

The main building at Roseland Gardens provided a large, open space with a wooden dance floor and stage. A smaller cement block building was added in the 1940s and served as a bar. “He had a little concession stand … made out of concrete block,” Debrow said. “He did sell beer. He also had those big jars of pig feet and crackers and all kinds of snacks. All the things that they sold in little country stores then.”

Cut into the wood above the door of the concession stand, visible from the road, were two crescent moons. Similar to those typically seen on an outhouse door, the moons indicated that moonshine was available on premises, according to local folklore enthusiast Don Talley.

Debrow described her grandfather as “a very colorful man” who carried two .45-caliber revolvers. “That was his way of controlling what he called ‘riffraff’ that would come through and want to start fights,” she said.

Roseland Gardens was one of the first public, integrated spaces in Western North Carolina.

“As a matter of fact there were always Caucasian people in and out of my grandfather’s juke joint,” Debrow said. “They came to listen to the music. They came to drink beer. So this was probably about the only place that anybody could come in and sit down in the afternoon and get a cold beer. So I imagine that’s why everybody in Black Mountain remembers Roseland Gardens.”

In the 1930s, a theater opened in Black Mountain for whites only, so Rutherford obtained a used film projector and began showing movies at Roseland Gardens in the evenings and on Saturday mornings.

“My grandfather did that thinking of the children in the Valley not having any entertainment,” Debrow said. “There was no other black theater in this area. Not in Asheville. Not in Black Mountain. Not in Hendersonville. Not in any area.”

Roseland Gardens closed in 1976. Its buildings stood until just a couple of years ago. Before it was bulldozed, Debrow donated many items to the Swannanoa Valley Museum, including the movie projector.

“To me it is a very important part of the history of this Valley for the black community, and for the white community as well, because they all socialized in that building together, even though there was segregation during that time,” she said. “Everybody always says to me ‘your grandfather had the best music in town.’”

1 On the double CD set called “The Essential Bessie Smith,” the composer is listed as one “H. Cole.” Hazel Kay Cole and her husband Grady were a country and blues songwriting team who lived in both Tennessee and Georgia.  They wrote songs for many of the greats of Southern Country Music in the 1930s and 1940s.  However, Black Mountain Blues was recorded in NYC in 1930, which may have been earlier than Cole was composing.

 


Historical significance of old Swannanoa school looms large

Buncombe County school officials are considering a $12 million renovation to the school that once housed Swannanoa School. And Bill Alexander is recounting its past.

From first- through eighth-grade, Alexander attended the school, which now houses Community High School. The building’s historical significance goes way beyond Alexander’s years there, he said in a recent interview.

School facilities and planning director Tim Fierle recently told the county school board that Community High School needs new infrastructure such as a roof and heating system. The school board is scheduled to vote on the improvements in June. Any improvements would not be made until 2018, according to Fierle’s report.

Swannanoa history is important to Alexander. His ancestors became the first white settlers in Western North Carolina 232 years ago when they settled the area.

“The first white settlement was in 1797 where Bee Tree Creek flows into the Swannanoa River,” he said. “The original name of the Swannanoa River was the Shawno, which means ‘beautiful river’ in Cherokee.”

Alexander’s tours of Swannanoa, like the one of “Old Town” Swannanoa Saturday, June 4 (tickets and info at swannanoavalleymuseum.org), offer details about the history of his hometown. Swannanoa School and its predecessor come up often.

“There was a schoolhouse located where the Ace Hardware store in Swannanoa is now,” he said. “We don’t know for sure, but we know around 1923 it burned down. And they needed a new school.”

Two years later the building that is now home to Community High School was finished. Alexander’s father, Oliver “Spec” Alexander, was one of eight members of the high school’s first basketball team.

Swannanoa School served children that lived west of Lake Eden Road and as far east as Riceville, according to Alexander. It accommodated the children of Buncombe County’s largest employer at the time, Beacon Manufacturing.

“Mr. (Charles) Owen, the owner of the plant, created three separate villages, the old village, the new village and Swannanoa Heights. These houses were rented for 25 cents a room, and that was taken out of your pay.”

Throughout its 30-year history, Swannanoa School received backing from a thriving community composed of businesses that thrived among the economic stimulation created by Beacon. Advertisements in the school’s yearbook, “Cygnet,” were a virtual directory of businesses like Buchanan’s Five and Ten Cents Store, which stood on Depot Street.

“(The Cygnet) contains every piece of information you would want to know about the school itself,” Alexander said. “A cygnet is a young swan. They had to come up with a name for the yearbook so they used “Cygnet,” which was a play on the first few letters of Swannanoa.”

The school developed a fierce rivalry with nearby Black Mountain High School.

“The kids that went to Black Mountain would be considered more ‘urban’ today, even though that word wasn’t really used back then,” Alexander said. “We wanted to beat those city slickers every time when played them in football, or any other sport.”

The Swannanoa High School Warriors and the Black Mountain High School Dark Horses became the Warhorses when the two school merged. But the students at Swannanoa were not excited about joining forces with their nearby rivals.

“We didn’t like it,” Alexander said. “We felt like we were losing our sense of community. There was not going to be a separate Swannanoa and Black Mountain anymore. I’m glad I wasn’t in that first group of kids that was forced to go to school together.”

In retrospect Alexander, who was the emcee of his 55-year high school reunion, looks back on his experience at Owen with fondness.

“I graduated Owen in 1960, and after four years of being there with everyone from Black Mountain and Swannanoa, everything was fine,” he said.


June 2016 E-Newsletter


Tour surveys Swannanoa’s rich history

By the 1830s, tourists, known locally as “summer people,” began to arrive in Swannanoa to escape the sweltering summer heat and insects of towns to the east and south. During this time, they arrived by stagecoach, wagon or horseback at the many inns and boarding houses that opened to accommodate them.

Even with the burgeoning tourist industry in Swannanoa, the area remained primarily a rural, farming community until the late 1870s. When the railroad was finally completed in 1879, after being stalled by the Civil War and by the difficulty of laying track up the steep grade from Old Fort to Black Mountain, it connected the western part of North Carolina with the eastern part, and new businesses began to spring up near the railroad station. Many of these businesses will be featured on the museum tour.

During the first 16 years of its existence, the Swannanoa train station was known as Cooper’s Station, the name of the old stagecoach stop at the Alexander Inn. On Feb. 6, 1895, a petition filed by the residents of Swannanoa requested a name change so that the station and the town would have the same name.

Swannanoa really began to grow and prosper when, at the beginning of the 20th Century, Charles D. Owen II, the son of a blanket manufacturer from Massachusetts, saw a 160-acre farm beside Swannanoa’s railroad tracks that was well suited for a new southern branch of the Beacon Blankets Manufacturing Co. Between 1924 and 1933, the entire New Bedford, Massachusetts plant was moved via freight train to Swannanoa. Once the plant began operations, the Owen family provided housing in mill villages, paved roadways, laid water lines, created sanitation services and offered fire and police protection to employees. Beacon also more fully developed the downtown Swannanoa business district – during the early years of the mill, a grocery and general merchandise store, a drugstore, clothing stores, a movie theater and a bank opened.

By the 1970s, the textile industry in Swannanoa began to decline, and Beacon laid off workers. With improved transportation, more people began shopping at chain stores in Asheville rather than at Swannanoa’s independent businesses. At the same time, the Owen family sold all of its stock in Beacon to a company called National Distillery. The company changed hands again the 1980s and the 1990s. Changes in ownership brought more layoffs, as more of the business was moved offshore.

By 2000, Beacon employed only a couple hundred people, far less than the 2,200 employed there in the 1940s. After years of losses, the Beacon plant closed its doors for good in the spring of 2002.

On September 4, 2003, an arsonist set the vacant Beacon Manufacturing Co. plant on fire, and it burned to the ground. The blaze, which made national headlines, brought out more than 500 firefighters from 32 different fire departments. Today, the lot that was once home to America’s largest blanket manufacturer – and in many ways the lifeblood of Swannanoa – lies vacant.

As Wade Martin, a former Beacon employee, said in a 2002 interview after the plant closed, “My name for Beacon was ‘the big red heart of Swannanoa,’ and when that heart was beating good, the community thrived, and when there were times when it was suffering a little, some people didn’t do so well.”

Still, the Swannanoa community carries on. A number of new businesses have opened in Swannanoa since the plant closed. According to Bill Alexander, old and new residents alike continue to be active forces in Swannanoa, daily working “to rebuild the economic base of our community, and explore avenues for the growth and rebirth of the town.”

To hear more about the past, present and future of downtown Swannanoa, join Alexander and the Swannanoa Valley Museum on this two-hour walking tour through the heart of the village. The walk will be easy, on paved, level ground. For information, visit swannanoavalleymuseum.org.

Old Town Swannanoa Tour

When: 10 a.m., Saturday, June 4

Meet: Parking lot across from First Baptist Church of Swannanoa, 503 Park St., Swannanoa

Cost: $20 museum members, $30 nonmembers

Register: swannanoavalleymuseum.org, 669-9566

 


Greybeard, Graybeard – hike seeks to settle the question

In the mid-1800s, the North Fork Valley was the main way people got to Mount Mitchell and the Black Mountains.

Adventurers in and visitors to the Swannanoa Valley would ascend the North Fork Valley to stay at the upper “Mountain House” high up on the ridge, just below Potato Knob, said Joe Standaert, who is leading a hike encompassing superlative views of the valley on May 21. From there, they would climb into the higher mountains.

“This is also the route Dr. Elisha Mitchell took in 1857,” Standaert said, “when he ultimately fell to his death at what is now known as Mitchell Falls.”

Standaert is leading the Pinnacle of the Blue Ridge hike, the fifth segment of the Swannanoa Valley Museum’s Swannanoa Valley Rim Explorer Hiking Series. The 8.3-mile strenuous hike runs from Toe River Gap to the summit of Greybeard Mountain and returns via the historic Mount Mitchell Scenic Auto Road.

The Swannanoa Valley Rim encompasses the ridgelines of the upper Swannanoa Valley that surround Black Mountain. This exclusive hike by the museum offers experienced hikers the opportunity to explore remote and little traveled territory while learning much about the history, geography, hydrology and environment of the Swannanoa Valley.

Over the course of a year the Swannanoa Valley Rim Explorer Hiking Series hikes, offered the third Saturday of each month and repeated annually, cover the entirety of the 30-plus-mile circumference of the Swannanoa Rim.

This hike will start at the Blue Ridge Parkway, one mile north of Black Mountain Gap, the entrance to Mount Mitchell State Park. Hikers will begin by climbing the first summit and the hike’s namesake, Blue Ridge Pinnacle, made famous by F.M. Burnett in his book, “This Was My Valley.” At 5,665 feet, the summit sits squarely on the intersection of Buncombe, Yancey and McDowell counties. It is also the geographical point of departure from the valley for the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains. From this point the Blue Ridge continues south and east towards Black Mountain.

The views from Blue Ridge Pinnacle show the relationships of Mount Mitchell, Clingman’s Peak, Potato Knob and the Black Mountain range. Also visible are the Craggies and the west rim of the Swannanoa Valley, forming the western border of the North Fork Valley and the Asheville Watershed.

The North Fork Valley is one of the most historic areas in our region.

“This area one of the earliest areas settled in Black Mountain,” Standaert said. “It was also one of the most controversial, as much of the North Fork Valley was taken over by the city of Asheville by the 1920s for the watershed. The displacement of the earliest residents is documented by Burnett’s book.”

The hike descends from Blue Ridge Pinnacle to the historic road bed of the Mount Mitchell Railroad (1912-1921) and the Mount Mitchell Scenic Auto Toll Road (1922-1939). It then follows the Swannanoa Rim to the summit of Rocky Knob, elevation 5,240 feet, for more superlative views of the North Fork Valley.

“Rocky Knob was originally acquired in 1900 by Dr. Isaac J. Archer, a Montreat resident,” Standaert said. “Dr. Archer operated the Royal League Tuberculosis Sanatorium on North Fork Road at the present location of Camp Dorothy Walls.” The Montreat Cottagers, Inc. acquired the property in 1997 through a grassroots fundraising campaign. The 200-acre tract is now in a conservation easement administered by the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy.

From Rocky Knob, hikers continue to follow the rim to ascend to the summit of Greybeard Mountain, elevation 5,408 feet, the northern apex of Montreat (Greybeard has been variously spelled “Graybeard” and even “Grey Beard”).

Swannanoa Valley Rim Explorer Hike No. 5
Hike: Pinnacle of the Blue Ridge

When: 8 a.m. Saturday, May 21
Meet: Black Mountain Savings Bank, 200 E. State St., Black Mountain
Cost: $30 museum members, $50 nonmembers
Register: swannanoavalleymuseum.org, 669-9566

 


Hike explores site of Valley’s first European settler

Those who know local resident Bill Alexander know he has many stories to tell. One of his most popular stories relates the tragic tale of his ancestor, Samuel Davidson.

Davidson’s grave marker, along with Alexander’s stories, will be featured in the Swannanoa Valley Museum’s third hike in its Valley History Explorer Hiking Series to the Samuel Davidson grave marker and the Alexander Farm Ruins on Saturday, May 14.

In a December 2011 interview, Alexander related part of the exciting story of the first European settler in the Swannanoa Valley.

“In the spring of 1784, Samuel Davidson and his wife Rachel – who was an Alexander – came across the Swannanoa Gap, built a cabin, and tilled the land,” Alexander said. “He was only there four or five months before an Indian hunting party came by and saw the smoke from the cabin and his horse wandering nearby with a bell around its neck.

“Davidson had tied the bell on his horse so that he could find it easily, and the next morning he decided he needed to take his horse to Old Fort to get supplies. He heard the bell and stepped out of the cabin. What he didn’t know was that the Indians had taken the bell off the horse and were luring him to the top of Jones Mountain,” Alexander said. “When he got there, they jumped out and killed him. His wife heard the shot and looked up above the door and there was Samuel’s rifle hanging in its place.”

She ran from the house with her child and their slave, Eliza. They strayed from the trail so as to not be discovered and hiked more than 16 miles across the mountains back to their old home at Davidson’s Fort.

“The next day, a group of kin, Alexanders and Davidsons, my kin, came cross the gap and began searching for Samuel and found his body where he had been shot,” Alexander said. “Immediately, they dug a grave and buried him. There was a big oak tree a short distance away, and so they carved the initials ‘SD’ in the tree.”

In 1913, a group of his surviving descendants gathered on the top of Jones Mountain to place a grave marker, which still stands and reads, “Here Lies Samuel Davidson, First Settler of Western North Carolina, Killed Here By Cherokees, 1784.” Though the grave is now surrounded by privately owned homes, the Swannanoa Valley Museum has special permission to take tour participants to the site. There is a short, somewhat steep walk up a paved drive to arrive at the marker.

After Davidson’s ill-fated attempt at settling the valley, another group of his relatives came and founded the Swannanoa Settlement at the head of Bee Tree Creek. Alexander proudly stated, “…my immediate family has been here since, and were inn owners. We owned two inns actually. Alexander Farm, which is now nothing but ruins and Alexander Inn that’s on the Old 70 Highway, and still in existence today.”

The second part of the museum tour will feature Alexander Farm, which was one of the earliest inns to provide housing for tourists in Swannanoa. Bill Alexander’s great-great-uncle, Charles H. Alexander, built the farm in 1879. It operated continually until 1956. Much of the farm’s foundation can still be seen, and the museum will provide several vintage photographs that can be used to identify what structures stood on each foundation and will help participants visualize what the farm looked like during its heyday.

After viewing the ruins, participants may continue on an optional self-guided hike to the top of Jones Mountain, along the path that may have been used by Samuel Davidson before he met this untimely end over 200 years ago.

Valley History Explorer Hike No. 3

Hike: Samuel Davidson Grave Marker and Alexander Farm Ruins
When: 10 a.m., Saturday, May 14
Meet: Black Mountain Savings Bank, 200 E. State St., Black Mountain
Cost: $20 museum members, $30 nonmembers
Register: swannanoavalleymuseum.org, 669-9566

 


May 2016 e-Newsletter


Museum seeks donations like Fire Department did in 1921

The first one begins with its construction.

In February 1921, the Black Mountain Fire Department purchased the lot between the present-day Dripolator and Black Mountain Center for the Arts. It bought it from George Adams for $425, putting $25 down and then paying $80 a year for the next five years until the lot was paid in full.

About a month later, the fire department appointed a building committee and began fundraising to erect a building on the lot. Most fire department members pledged between $25 and $50 towards the project, dropping off $5 each week toward paying off their pledge. On top of their financial contributions, many members also volunteered their labor or donated materials.

To encourage donations and keep the community abreast of their progress, leaders of the building fund drive placed a blackboard in the window of the nearby Commonwealth Bank. Each day they chalked in incoming monies.

The advertising may have worked. Just two weeks later, Franklin Silas Terry, who was finishing construction on his lavish 24,000-square-foot, wood-built (and flammable) estate In-the-Oaks, a half mile from the fire department site, donated $1,000. Terry was promptly elected an honorary lifetime member of the fire department.

Donations continued to role in, enough so that the department was able to purchase the adjoining lot from W.B. Gregg for $600. On July 4, the fire department put on the first of a series of fundraisers. The townwide festival included a parade, sporting competitions, music, dancing, a picnic lunch and a number of booths — all set up to raise money for the project.

Each week throughout the summer, ticket revenues from a series of plays and concerts bolstered the building fund — so much so that the Gregg lot was paid off.

With $2106.82 in the building fund, it was time to design the town’s new fire house.

In October, Richard Sharp Smith, the supervising architect for the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, was commissioned to draw up the plans for the building. The cost of the project was estimated at $6,000 (Smith provided the windows for the station in the “approved patterns” at no markup). But because of rising construction costs, ground needed to be broken as soon as possible. With only $2,100 on hand and an additional $1,300 in subscriptions, the department took out a loan of $2,500 from Commonwealth Bank.

W.C. Greene was placed in “absolute charge of construction,” according to fire department meeting minutes. Volunteers who wished to donate their labor reported to him for their assignments.

Fire Chief Robert E. Currier was put in charge of procuring a brass pole for the station and even flew to Asheville from Black Mountain’s airport to purchase the cornerstone engraved “1921.” Today, rumor has it, when the station was vacated, the brass pole was taken down to be used as a banister in an area home.

Construction on the building began Dec. 9 and continued until March 1922. On March 21, 1922, Smith came for one final inspection of the building and pronounced his “thorough approval of the structure and declared it to be absolutely OK in every particular.”

On May 2, 1922, the first anniversary of the fundraising drive, approximately 400 people celebrated the formal opening of the building. For the next 65 years, the building housed the town’s fire department.

In 1987, the fire department moved to its present location on Town Square. Two years later, the town board voted to let the newly formed Swannanoa Valley Museum utilize the vacant station to preserve and display the history of this unique valley.

Nearly 95 years later, the Swannanoa Valley Museum is renovating the fire house’s interior – a project that has many similarities to the original.

Thanks to Richard Sharp Smith’s original blueprints, which are archived through a partnership with the Asheville Art Museum and the N.C. Collection at Pack Library in downtown Asheville, much of the current project is an effort to restore the building to its original design.

Drawn into the plans was the original window design. Using these sketches, energy-efficient windows similar to those provided by Smith at no cost to the station in 1921 were located and installed, many in areas that had previously been sealed off.

The original brick walls, which at some time were covered with plaster, drywall and wood paneling, have revealed to have three large wooden box trusses in the second floor’s cathedral ceiling. Behind the walls were windows and a door opening that had to be bricked up in 1923 when the city hall was built abutting the fire house.

Besides working to restore the building to its original design, the museum’s fire house renovation has relied on community donations to fund the bulk of the project, much as was done in 1921.

To date, hundreds of people have given gifts ranging from $25 to $50,000 to support this much-needed renovation. Building the original fire house cost about $6,000. Renovation of the same space in 2016 is more than 100 times that amount.

Much like the members of the fire department who made the leap of faith to begin construction with only a portion of the needed funds, the Swannanoa Valley Museum’s board of directors made its own leap of faith. With almost $500,000 in hand, the museum is seeking to raise $100,000 to complete the renovation debt-free.

To find out more about the project or to donate, visit swannanoavalleymuseum.org. Or send a check to PO Box 306, Black Mountain, NC 28711.



Museum offers exclusive tour of Asheville Watershed

On a balmy March day in 1903, the North Fork Reservoir’s freshly-appointed warden, Will Burnett, turned a brand-new cast iron valve to emit the first trickle of drinking water for Asheville, located more than 20 miles away. This water, some of the purest in America, would soon flood the school, church, graveyard and homesteads built by Burnett’s family and neighbors over the last centuries.

With special permission from the Conservation Trust of North Carolina, the Swannanoa Valley Museum will lead two exclusive tours through the Asheville watershed on Saturday, April 30. These driving tours will highlight several historic sites on the watershed’s east side and allow participants to walk amidst the ruins of the formerly thriving settlement. Historic interpreters and descendants of the community’s earliest settlers will share stories about the North Fork Valley.

Will Burnett and his brother Bart, sons of Confederate veteran Marcus Lafayette “Fate” Burnett, were selected as the first wardens to patrol the newly established municipal watershed, after the city of Asheville purchased roughly 5,000 acres in the North Fork Valley.

As wardens for four decades, the Burnett brothers guarded the land from trespassers (including other fellow North Fork Valley natives and members of their own family) that their great-grandfather Frederick Burnett helped settle in the 1790s.

Much of the history of the North Fork Valley was lost when the residents were forced out by eminent domain and the city of Asheville flooded the valley.

Much like the Cades Cove, one of the most popular attractions in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the archaeological remains of the isolated North Fork Valley offer clues about daily life in a 19th and early 20th Century close-knit Appalachian community.

Today, the public-use restricted watershed encompasses 22,000 acres. The museum’s April 30 tours will focus on the history of the east side of the reservoir (on Nov. 12, two additional tours will focus on the west side of the reservoir).

The April tours will stop at Will Burnett’s homestead, as well as the moss-covered massive stone walls of Sunnalee Lodge and William Henry “Champ” Burnett’s home. A cousin of the first wardens, Champ was a sawmill operator and the schoolmaster of the one-room schoolhouse that stood at the confluence of Sugar Fork and North Fork. He was a justice of the peace, and served as Sunday school superintendent for nearly 50 years. Champ was short in stature and wiry, with fiery red hair and a full red mustache. While soaking wet he might have weighed 150 pounds.

He was all dynamite and earned his nickname by fighting, not in the boxing ring but by wrangling bears. Champ built his sprawling lodge in the 1880s in the upper east end of the present-day watershed, situated in the lower Chestnut Cove.

The lodge was a well-known community gathering place and in the summers hosted boarders, including several nationally known writers and artists. The home was condemned by the City of Asheville for the watershed in 1927.

The tours will also highlight the ruins of Col. John Connally’s home site. Connally, the commanding officer of the 55th Regiment and the Confederacy’s youngest colonel, lost an arm leading forces under Longstreet against the Union at Gettysburg. Connally built a summer retreat, possibly the largest structure in the upper North Fork Valley, on the western slope of Walkertown Ridge at the foot of Greybeard Mountain.

Tour-goers will see the extensive ruins of the main house’s chimney, a second house, a smokehouse and swimming pool. Connally’s main residence in Asheville, overlooking the French Broad River, was an equally impressive brick Italianate home. “Fernihurst,” named after Kerr Castle in Scotland, is now part of the A-B Tech campus.

After a short break at the Connally site, the caravan will stop at the home sites of Will Burnett and visit a slave cemetery. The tour is a rare chance for the public to walk amidst the ruins of one of the earliest Swannanoa Valley settlements.

The museum will offer two tours, at 7:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Advanced registration is required, and space is limited to 25 participants per tour.

The cost is $50 for museum members, $75 for nonmembers and $25 for children under 12.

The tour includes some walking on rough terrain. Participants are advised to wear sturdy hiking boots and dress for the weather.

Each tour will last several hours, so participants should pack water and snacks. The tours will depart from Black Mountain Savings Bank at 200 E. State St. in Black Mountain.

Preregister at swannanoavalleymuseum.org or 669-9566.



Volunteer keeps the books for numerous community groups

Yolanda Smith moved to Black Mountain in 1995 and began volunteer work in the community almost immediately.

“I moved from the New York City area and didn’t have the time to volunteer like I do now,” she said. “I became disabled and moved to the mountains and had time to do volunteer work.”

Smith has been the treasurer for the Swannanoa Valley Museum for the past 15 years.

“Yolanda volunteers countless hours with the Swannanoa Valley Museum every year,” director Anne Chesky Smith said. “Besides serving as treasurer, last year she covered more docent shifts, allowing us to remain open to the public for more hours. She volunteers more than anyone else on our roster. She’s extremely dedicated. Also, every August at the end of our fiscal year, she holds an enormous rummage sale of items collected throughout the year, which helps us to always remain operating in the black.”

Organizing and coordinating the annual museum rummage sale is something Smith has done for 10 years.

“It takes a lot of work, but I enjoy it and have a lot of fun during the sale. I also donate the storage space for all the things we collect throughout the year for the rummage sale. I also kept the books for the capital campaign for the Swannanoa Valley Museum, which required a set of books all its own.”

The language of numbers and to do something meaningful to help others motivates Smith to volunteer with local organizations.

“I love numbers and working with them,” Smith, who works seasonally for H&R Block, said. “Even when I was in New York I used to help people with their taxes. Since living in Black Mountain I found that my love of numbers and bookkeeping was needed by several different organizations. I have been the treasurer for the PEO (Philanthropic Educational Organization) that sends women back to school, and the district treasurer for the Black Mountain Woman’s Club. Being the district treasurer meant keeping books for five different women’s clubs.

“I have also been the treasurer and president for the Church Women United and kept the books for the Town Square project. I have served as a member of the board of directors for the Swannanoa Valley Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Corporation. When I served with the group that helped start the Black Mountain Beautification Committee, I felt that we were doing something that really mattered to the town.”

Smith said she donates an average of 32 hours a week of work for organizations in the Valley. She spends more than two hours weekly at the front desk at the Black Mountain Chamber of Commerce serving as a volunteer receptionist. She also helps with the town’s Christmas Parade and Sourwood Festival.

“The personal reward that I get from volunteering my time is that I feel like I make a difference and at least help the community,” she said. “Volunteering makes me feel that I have a real purpose living here.”

Smith said that although she retired because of a disability, her health has improved. She believes that volunteering is responsible for that.

“When you volunteer your services, it takes your mind off yourself and what is bothering you,” she said. “Sometimes I say that I had to get a job so that I could rest from volunteering.”



Museum hikes explore Montreat’s history and terrain


In April, the Swannanoa Valley Museum will lead two hikes that explore the history of Montreat. Located in the Flat Creek valley on the eastern border of Buncombe County, Montreat is rimmed by mountains on three sides.

The township’s name is a portmanteau of the words “mountain” and “retreat,” named so by a group of Northern interdenominational clergy and lay leaders. Led by Congregational minister John C. Collins who purchased 4,500 acres northeast of Black Mountain for a Christian retreat in 1897, they founded the Mountain Retreat Association “for the encouragement of Christian work and living through Christian convention, public worship, missionary work, schools, and libraries.”

Nearly 400 people pitched tents to attend Montreat’s first “Christian Assembly” that summer. By the turn of the century, candy tycoon John S. Huyler financed finer accommodations at the Montreat Hotel. In 1907, a group of Presbyterians, sanctioned by the Presbyterian Church of the United States, purchased the Montreat Retreat Association.

In 1911, the Mountain Retreat Association elected Dr. Robert C. Anderson as president. Serving until 1946, he was instrumental in the evolution of Montreat as a conference center and educational institution. He proposed that the Montreat Normal School for Women to make use of the ground during the academic year to train young women as teachers. Opening in 1916 with eight students, the school was renamed Montreat College in 1933. It became a coeducational junior college in 1959 and began offering baccalaureate degrees in 1986.

While Montreat’s picturesque setting and Christian focus attracted thousands of conference attendees and students, its isolated setting and accommodations proved to be historically significant on two occasions. During the Second World War, Montreat’s Assembly Inn housed 264 Japanese and German diplomats and businessmen and their families awaiting repatriation in exchange for Allied diplomats and missionaries held by the Axis powers. During the civil rights movement, Montreat was the ideal secluded location for the Christian Action Conference where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke at Anderson Auditorium on Aug. 21, 1965. Montreat is also home to the Rev. Billy Graham.

A 2004 conservation easement on 2,460 acres assured the protection of the scenic wilderness that has attracted visitors and residents to Montreat for more than a century. The Swannanoa Valley Museum’s April guided hikes will undercover Montreat’s rich natural, social, and cultural history.

On Saturday, April 9 the museum will host a Valley History Explorer hike through Montreat. Led by historians Joe and Mary Standaert, author of “Montreat (Postcard History Series)” (Arcadia Publishing, 2009) this moderate, three-mile hike will cover the history of the Montreat community and travel passed the ruins of the Montreat hydroelectric facilities, in use from 1913 to 1947. The hike meets at 9 a.m. at Black Mountain Savings Bank at 200 E. State St.in Black Mountain. Advanced registration is required. The cost is $20 for museum members and $30 for non-members.

On Saturday, April 16, the museum will offer another hike along Montreat’s East Ridge as part of the Swannanoa Valley Rim Hike Series. On this hike, the Standaerts will share the history of the town of Montreat, Montreat College and the Montreat Conference Center, as well the Mount Mitchell Railroad and Toll Road, Ridgecrest Conference Center and the Swannanoa Gap. The six-mile hike is mostly moderate, with easy stream crossings and a few fairly precipitous descents. The hike follows established trails with the exception of a short, 300-foot off trail section.

Starting at Montreat’s Graybeard trailhead, the hike will cross four streams to reach 3,913 feet at Pot Cove Gap. Hikers will follow the old Mount Mitchell Railroad bed, known as the Trestle Road around Thunder Knob and begin to follow the crest of the Blue Ridge marking the Continental Divide at Long Gap.

The hike will then follow the Blue Ridge to the famous Swannanoa Gap at Ridgecrest, ascending and descending Rocky Head at 4,019 feet, Brushy Mountain at 3,879 feet and Bogg’s Bunion at 3,800 feet. From Bogg’s Bunion, hike leaders will shepherd hikers through a short off-trail segment to the start of the Rhododendron Ridge Trail for a sharp descent to the Ridgecrest Conference Center.

The hike will end at the Swannanoa Gap at an elevation of 2,600 feet. Hikers should allow about six hours to complete the hike. Hikers are advised to wear sturdy hiking boots and bring plenty of water and snacks. Hiking sticks are recommended for the slippery stream crossings and sharp descends. The hike meets at 8 a.m. at Black Mountain Savings Bank. The cost is $30 for museum members and $50 for non-members. Pre-registration is requested.

To sign up for the hikes, visit swannanoavalleymuseum.org or call 669-9566.


April 2016 E-Newsletter


Museum tour takes trip up Old Mount Mitchell Toll Road

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the North Carolina State Parks system. On March 3, 1915 a bill passed the state legislature to establish Mount Mitchell as the first state park in the Southeast (and one of the oldest in the nation). At 6,684 feet, Mount Mitchell is the highest peak in the eastern United States.

Today, thousands of visitors travel to the summit via the Blue Ridge Parkway. But when the park opened, tourists came by railroad along the legendary Old Toll Road. On Saturday, April 2, the Swannanoa Valley Museum will host a hike enabling participants to travel back in time on the historic toll road.

Each year, the Swannanoa Valley Museum organizes an exclusive four-wheel drive caravan from Black Mountain up the historic Mount Mitchell Motor Road to Camp Alice. Led by volunteer historians, the day-long driving tour will include stops for historical interpretation and photo opportunities. The museum will cater lunch at the former site of Camp Alice and provide snacks along the way. The caravan departs at 7:30 a.m. from Black Mountain Savings Bank at 200 E. State St., Black Mountain.

The cost is $75 for museum members and $100 for nonmembers. Proceeds benefit the nonprofit Swannanoa Valley Museum. Drivers with high-clearance four-wheel-drive vehicles who can carry other passengers will be able to attend for free. Registration and prepayment for the trip is required at swannanoavalleymuseum.org or 669-9566.

“Now open!… the motor road to the top of the world!” proclaimed an early 20th Century brochure for the Mount Mitchell Motor Road. Prior to the opening of the Blue Ridge Parkway in 1939, the toll road was one of the only routes to Mount Mitchell from Buncombe County.

The mountain was named for geologist and educator Dr. Elisha Mitchell, who fell to his death attempting to prove the peak was the highest east of the Mississippi. The U.S. Geological Survey confirmed Mitchell’s measurements in 1881-1882 and officially named the mountain for him.

In Mitchell’s days, travel to the summit was treacherous and required the aid of mountain guides along a trail that was said to have curved like a sinuous reptile. Despite the difficulty of the journey, the marvel of the soaring peak enticed tourists throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries.

In the decade thereafter, transportation improved markedly when the Dickey and Campbell Logging Co. laid a 21-mile railroad from Black Mountain to the Clingman Logging Camp, located just below Clingman’s Peak near the trestle at the head of the right prong of the South Toe River. Eager tourists hitched rides on logging cars to the peak.

Fred A. Perley and W.H. Crockett purchased the railroad in 1913 and completed the final 3.5 miles of the railroad from the Clingman Logging Camp to Camp Alice. They added three passenger cars by 1914 and even hired Sandford H. Cohen to boost tourism to what was then quickly becoming known as the “Land of the Sky.”

Civic boosters and business leaders in nearby Black Mountain were also ardent promoters of tourist access to the mountain. An advertisement in a 1915 Asheville Citizen newspaper invited visitors on “America’s Greatest Scenic Trip” to Mount Mitchell at the cost of $2.50 round-trip. Between 1915 and 1916 alone, more than 15,000 passengers traveled to the summit on a bumpy three-hour-long train ride to the peak, followed by a 3.5 hour long trip downhill.

To accommodate tourist needs, promoters constructed Camp Alice in 1914 or 1915 and it was opened to tourists in May 1916, three-quarters of a mile from the mountain’s apex. The bustling tourist destination featured a kitchen, 250-person dining hall, lunch counter, souvenir stand and cabins and tents for overnight camping. By this time, logging activity had denuded much of the Black Mountain range. Visitors voiced alarm about the environmental destruction. Gov. Locke Craig listened to these concerns and endorsed a bill to designate Mount Mitchell as the first state park.

Passenger rail service ended in 1919, when World War I increased the demand for lumber. The war depleted timber resources, and logging ceased in the Black Mountains. Cashing in on the tremendous growth of automobile ownership, tourist boosters in 1922 smoothed, straightened and paved the railroad bed with rock and cinders into an 18-mile toll road from Black Mountain to Camp Alice.

Once a major tourist attraction, the “Old Toll Road” made the “apex of Appalachia accessible” for the cost of $1 per person. As many as 150 cars drove the road each day. The single-lane road required motorists to depart for the mountain before noon and begin their descent by 3 p.m.

The opening of the modern, paved Blue Ridge Parkway in 1939 provided free access to Mount Mitchell and led to the road’s closure. Today, the remnants of the former toll road remain undisturbed and the lands around them undeveloped.


Black Mountain News
Letters to the Editor
March 16, 2016

Museum is among the Valley’s best assets

Crown jewels.

Those words often come to my mind as I think of the many positive and inviting features that make Black Mountain such a unique place to live and to visit.

There are, of course, many such jewels in our town that each of us could name. One, among the others that stands out for me, is the Swannanoa Valley Museum.

Now under renovation, the museum not only houses the memories and dramatic events of the past that chronicles the social, artistic, cultural and economic structure of the valley. But it also breathes life into the notion that those who shaped our region are beckoning all of us to a future filled with a heritage just as rich as that we now treasure.

I invite everyone to join in celebrating this marvelous jewel in Black Mountain’s crown and contribute to its success so that we may leave our own imprint for future generations enjoy.

Olson Huff
Black Mountain


Museum hike to follow Revolutionary war path

On Saturday, March 19, the Swannanoa Valley Museum will lead a hike to the Revolutionary War-era easternmost boundary of the Cherokee nation. The hike is the third in the museum’s popular Swannanoa Rim Explorer Hiking Series, a sequence of monthly hikes around Eastern America’s highest and most historic skyline.

This moderate/difficult, 3.8-mile hike traverses part of the boundary between the Cherokee and American colonists, as well as the Eastern Continental Divide at the crest of the Blue Ridge Range south of Black Mountain, continuing to near the Swannanoa Gap. Following the boundary overlooking Black Mountain’s 465-acre watershed, the hike ascends to elevations between 2,600 and 3,600 feet and scales Evans Knob and Jobs Peak.

The hike meets at Black Mountain Savings Bank, 200 E. State St., at 8 a.m. Hikers should allow all day to complete the trek. Due to the rugged terrain, hikers should wear sturdy hiking boots (rather than tennis shoes) and long pants, bringing lunch, snacks, water, rain gear, a hat, sunscreen, bug spray and hiking poles with them. The cost is $30 for museum members and $50 for nonmembers. Advanced registration, required, can be done at swannanoavalleymuseum.org or by calling 669-9566.

Straying from marked trails, the hike involves many ups and downs across steep knobs and fallen leaves. The hike also requires some bushwhacking and crossing of downed timber. While strenuous, the hike rewards hikers with 360-degree views of the upper Swannanoa Valley, the Black Mountain Range, and the Great Craggy Range. Participants will also be able to see the most remote sections of the Catawba River’s headwaters. The hike is led by volunteer historians and experienced hike guides.

Prior to the American Revolution, Western North Carolina ws a frontier occupied by the Cherokee, the largest group of Native Americans in the Southeast. In the mid-18th Century, the Cherokee numbered 36,000 and controlled 140,000 square miles from the Ohio River to Alabama.

Throughout the colonial period, white settlers continued to advance west, encroaching upon Cherokee territory. In 1766, provincial Gov. William Tryon entered negotiations with the Cherokee to extend the boundary of the western frontiers of the Carolinas into Cherokee hunting grounds. Tryon mounted a personal military expedition to engage in the talks. The Cherokee were flattered by the governor’s visit and deemed him the “Great Wolf of North Carolina.”

The Cherokee Boundary, signed on July 13, 1767, called for the removal, by Jan.1, 1768, of white settlers west of the boundary running north to south from Virginia to South Carolina and required traders west of the line to obtain a license. Following geographic features, the boundary ran from the Reedy River, south of Greenville along the border between Greenville and Spartanburg counties to the top of Tryon Mountain; it also followed the crest of the Blue Ridge to the New River in Virginia. The treaty proved difficult to enforce.

Ever since the infamous 1622 attack on Jamestown, colonists feared Indian raids. With tensions strained on the eve of the Revolutionary War, colonists suspected the Cherokee of colluding with the British. The Declaration of Independence even remonstrated the British for inciting borderland insurrections.

As a result, in September 1776, Irish-born, middle-aged, recently appointed brigadier general Griffith Rutherford led 2,400 white men and Catawba Indians, Cherokee foes, from Davidson’s Fort (today’s Old Fort) against the Cherokee in an attempt to punish the Cherokee for allying with the British. They destroyed more than 50 villages – including sacred council houses – and plundered livestock and burned acres of crops. The brutal raid, known as “Rutherford’s Trace,” has been compared to General William Tecumseh Sherman’s Civil War march across the South.

The militia crossed the Blue Ridge east of Black Mountain and followed the Swannanoa River to present-day Biltmore Village before crossing the French Broad River behind what is now the Asheville Outlets. From there, Rutherford led his men west to Jackson and Macon counties, destroying between 50 and 70 Cherokee towns with their “scorched earth” policy.

Rutherford’s Trace was lasting blow to Cherokee domination. Hundreds of Cherokee refugees risked starvation during the following winter. Rutherford ordered another militia raid against the Cherokee in November 1776 led by Capt. William Moore. Many of his men fought in the 1780 Battle of Kings Mountain and following the war settled in WNC and eastern Tennessee, lending their names to many counties and towns, including Rutherford, Sevier, Shelby, Lenoir, and Buncombe.


Valley Rewind

Black Mountain News
Thursday, March 10, 2016

BMHS 1934 basketball womens

This year Black Mountain Elementary School celebrates its 20th anniversary. The school, located on Flat Creek Road, sits on the footprint of the old Black Mountain High School, originally built in 1927. While most of the original school could not be salvaged when the new elementary school was built in the 1990s, the gymnasium still stands. In this image from the Swannanoa Valley Museum’s extensive collection of historic photographs, six members of the 1934 BMHS women’s basketball team pose on the steps of the old high school gym. Pictured are Margaret Suttle, Cornelia Brown, Lila Sanford, Dot Green, Ruth Laner, and Agnes Dalton.
Courtesy of the Swannanoa Valley Museum.


Want to join the Valley History Explorer hikes?

Attention Asheville hikers! Is this lovely spring weather making you antsy to get out on the hiking trail?? Then you should check this out.

The Swannanoa Valley Museum will hold a free interest meeting about its moderate Valley History Explorer Hike Series at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, March 10, at the Black Mountain Center for the Arts before the series begins on Saturday, March 12.

The meeting will provide an introduction to the program offerings, details about the individual hikes, and advice for hikers. The Valley History Explorer Hiking Series offers the opportunity to revisit the past of the unique communities that make up the Swannanoa Valley through seven moderate hikes. The hike leaders are local experts and aficionados of Swannanoa Valley history.

The Black Mountain Center for the Arts is at 225 W State St, Black Mountain, NC 28711. The interest meeting is free, but there is a fee for the actual hikes;

Entire Valley Explorer Series: $140 for Swannanoa Valley Museum members, $210 for non-members (includes a $20 credit for an additional “Hiker’s Choice” 8th hike to complete the series)

Each Valley Explorer Hike: $20 for members, $30 for non-members

New this year: When you complete the series you’ll receive a fleece embroidered with the series logo.

The Saturday, March 12 hike starts at 9 a.m. and will explore the Warren Wilson College trails in the Riceville community along the Swannanoa River. From the museum’s hike description: “Warren Wilson College went through many phases before becoming what it is today. Its property, situated along the Swannanoa River, was purchased in 1893 by the Women’s Board of Home Missions of the Presbyterian Church, which was concerned that many Americans in isolated areas were not receiving a proper education. On Nov. 30, 1894, the Asheville Farm School officially opened on 420 acres, with 25 students attending and three staff members offering the first three grades of elementary instruction.”

For more information on the hike series or the interest meeting, call 828-669-9566, email info@swannanoavalleymuseum.org, or visit www.history.swannanoavalleymuseum.org/.

 


 

Museum hike explores history of Asheville Farm School

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All students received agricultural training on the school’s farm. Between 30 to 40 boys spent their summer vacations maintaining the farm to earn their tuition.(Photo: Photos courtesy of the Warren Wilson College Archives/SPECIAL TO BMN)

By Melanie English
Special to the Black Mountain News
Thursday, March 3, 2016

Today, the Asheville area is home to a growing number of institutions of higher learning. But before compulsory education laws of the 1920s, few schools existed in rural Appalachia, especially around Riceville and Swannanoa.

The first hike in the Swannanoa Valley Museum’s Valley History Explorer Series on Saturday, March 12 will examine Warren Wilson College’s origins as a mission school. The two-mile hike, led by Warren Wilson College’s archivist Diana Sanderson and forestry professor David Ellum, as well as museum director Anne Chesky Smith, will interpret both the human and natural history of the college, once known as the Asheville Farm School.

Concerned with the lack of proper educational opportunities in isolated rural areas, the Women’s Board of Home Missions of the Presbyterian Church in 1893 bought 420 acres in Swannanoa. The following year, the Asheville Farm School opened officially with 25 teenage boys in attendance for instruction in first through third grades. Because the students had no prior formal education, the mission school had a nonconventional grading system. By the turn of the century, the school offered instruction through eighth grade, and enrollment increased to nearly 150 students.

From its inception, the boys school emphasized academics, work and Christian service. Like other schools, the Asheville Farm School had a baseball team and marching band, but students also attended Sunday school, baled straw, drove mule-driven plows and gutted hogs. In addition to academic buildings and dormitories (many built with student labor), the campus had a sawmill, dairy barn, and piggery.

In 1910, the students dammed Bull Creek to supply electricity to the campus. Unfortunately, the dam was destroyed in the infamous flood of 1916. The following year, America’s entrance into the First World War caused enrollment to plummet as older boys enlisted in the armed forces. During the Great Depression, as students felled pine trees from the campus to construct a log cabin library, the legacy of learning, labor, and service endured. The school’s “Gospel Team” traveled around the region conducting religious services in rural churches too financial strapped to employ a minister.

Against the backdrop of the Second World War, the Dorland-Bell School in Hot Springs, and the Mossop School in Harriman, Tennessee closed, and the staff and students merged with the Asheville Farm School in 1942 to become the co-educational Warren Wilson Vocational Junior College and Associated Schools, named for social reformer and minister Warren H. Wilson (1867-1937).

The coeducational institute’s increasing inclusivity was an extension of the Asheville Farm School’s original mission to serve the disadvantage, despite its setting in the segregated South. Following President Roosevelt’s signing of Executive Order No. 9102, the students voted to admit two Nikkei students whose families were relocated to an internment camps out west. In 1952, two years before the Brown v. Board of Education school desegregation verdict, the school admitted Alma Shippy as the first African-American student, based on the recommendation of students who had worked along side him during a service project at a local church.

By the 1950s, nearly one-quarter of the student body was international, recruited from ravaged post-war Europe through the foreign missions of the Presbyterian Church.

The school graduated its last high school class in 1957 and became a four-year college in 1967. The mission school’s tradition of service learning continues at Warren Wilson College today. Students are required to perform at least 15 hours of service each week. The school continues to operate a 275-acre mixed-crop and livestock farm, as part of its 1,100-acre campus.

While locals enjoy the campus’ many scenic trails year-round, the Swannanoa Valley Museum’s exclusive guided hike will explore the college’s history off the beaten path and will begin in the 120-year-old sanctuary of the Riceville Valley Community Church.

Space on the hike is limited, and hikers are encouraged to register early by calling 669-9566, emailing info@swannanoavalleymuseum.org, or signing up at swannanoavalleymuseum.org.

The cost of the hike is $20 for museum members and $30 for nonmembers. The proceeds benefit the nonprofit museum, founded in 1989 as Buncombe County’s primary museum of local history. More information about the museum and the Valley History Explorer Hiking Series is on the website.

The museum will hold an informational meeting on the full series at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, March 10 at the Black Mountain Center for the Arts.


March 2016 E-Newsletter


Museum launches Valley history series with meeting

bee tree train

 

 

 

 

 

Logging was one of the engines that drove Bee Tree’s economy decades ago.

By Melanie English, Special to the Black Mountain News
February 25, 2016

The Swannanoa Valley Museum will host a free interest meeting about its Valley History Explorer Hiking Series at 6:30 p.m. March 10 at the Black Mountain Center for the Arts.

Nestled in the shadows of the Blue Ridge, Black and Craggy mountains to the east of the confluence of the Swannanoa and French Broad Rivers, the Swannanoa Valley has historically served as a major pathway to Western North Carolina.

A Native American hunting ground for centuries, the area and its natural resources lured the first white settlers to Buncombe County following the American Revolution. As the population of Asheville eclipsed the rural Swannanoa Valley, the area’s agricultural fertility and abundant forests sustained small self-sufficient communities throughout the eastern portion of the county.

The arrival of the railroad buttressed an already flourishing tourism and manufacturing industry, and the Valley’s inspirational vistas led to the establishment of numerous religious conference centers. Like many frontiers and tourist enclaves, the Swannanoa Valley is replete with legends and lore, so much of it forgotten as generations pass on that residents passing a road sign for Bee Tree might wonder what a “Bee Tree” is.

In 2014, the Swannanoa Valley Museum organized the Valley History Explorer Hiking Series to showcase the region’s storied past and delve into the history behind names like Bee Tree and Swannanoa. Drawing on the popularity of the museum’s Swannanoa Rim Hike Series, this more moderate hike sequence familiarizes natives and newcomers with the natural, social, and cultural history of the Valley.

The hiking series visits seven communities that dot the landscape of eastern Buncombe County, including Riceville, Bee Tree, Swannanoa, Black Mountain, Ridgecrest, Montreat and North Fork. Each hike highlights the unique history of a specific community. Led by experienced hikers and historians, the hikes over gradual terrain range between 2 to 3 miles long.

Hikes are held Saturdays from March through September, with the exception of July. Participants can hike a single hike or complete the entire series (series finishers are awarded a prize during a hike celebration in December).

The cost of each hike is $20 for members and $30 for nonmembers. The cost of the full series is $140 for members, and $210 for nonmembers. Proceeds benefit the nonprofit Swannanoa Valley Museum, established in 1989 for the preservation and interpretation of the Valley’s history. For more, visit swannanoavalleymuseum.org.

To register for a hike, email info@swannanoavalleymuseum.org or call 669-9566.


 

Explore the ruins of the ‘Spanish Castle’ in Black Mt.

Guastavino328sm

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Melanie English
Special to the Black Mountain News
Wednesday, February 17, 2016

On Saturday, Feb. 20 the Swannanoa Valley Museum will pass above the ruins of the “Spanish Castle,” the estate of architect Rafael Guastavino just south of Black Mountain.

Examples of the internationally renowned architect’s craftsmanship grace many of America’s most famous Beaux-Arts landmarks, including the Boston Public Library, Grand Central Terminal, Grant’s Tomb, the Great Hall at Ellis Island, Carnegie Hall, the Smithsonian, and the U.S. Supreme Court, as well as the Biltmore Estate and Basilica of Saint Lawrence in Asheville.

This moderate 3.8-mile hike is the first hike in the 2016 Swannanoa Valley Rim Hike series. The series visits the highest peaks encircling the Swannanoa Valley. Over the course of a year, hikers traverse the highest and most historic skyline in eastern America. Participants can sign up for a single hike or complete the whole series.

Born in 1842 in Valencia, Spain, Rafael Guastavino y Moreno abandoned a promising musical career to pursue architecture, which he studied in Barcelona alongside modernist Antonio Gaudi. Guastavino was bestowed the title “mestre d’obres” (“master builder,” analogous to an architectural engineer) for his revival of a Catalan masonry technique of layering thin tiles to produce lightweight and fireproof self-supporting arches. The method may have been a region variation of Roman arches or introduced through the Islamic invasion in the 8th Century. Guastavino was awarded high-profile commissions, such as Barcelona’s largest textile factory, but after his first marriage failed, he packed up his youngest son and immigrated to New York in 1881.

Language proved a barrier as Guastavino struggled to secure commissions, finally landing the contract for the vaulted ceilings of the Boston Public Library in 1889, from the prominent firm of McKim, Mead, and White. The library’s holdings included rare books and the papers of John Adams, and thus the architects were willing to risk awarding the commission to a relatively unknown foreigner because of his fireproof masonry.

Guastavino created seven vaults for the Renaissance revival building and rose in the nation’s attention. The commission led to projects in 32 states. His company, the Guastavino Fireproof Construction Co., opened offices in 11 U.S. cities and eventually received 24 U.S. patents.

As Guastavino’s reputation grew, George Vanderbilt commissioned him to supervise the construction of vaults at the Biltmore Estate, visible in the entrance vestibule, the Winter Garden and the swimming pool. Guastavino relocated to North Carolina in 1891. In 1894, Guastavino started investing in land in eastern Buncombe County and across the ridge in McDowell County. Guastavino acquired additional acreage in 1897 and 1901, amassing more than 600 acres, most of which was never developed. In 1895, he built a home for himself and his second wife, Francesca, in a cove south of Black Mountain. The estate served as his primary residence for the last years of his life.

Situated on an east-west axis extending up into Brittin Cove and bounded by Lakey Creek to the south and N.C. 9 to the west, “Rhododendron” was a ramshackle, three-story whitewashed wooden house with a central bell tower. Through grander than local farmhouses, the house did not exhibit the cohesive construction technology that made the architect famous. Locals called the house the “Spanish Castle.” Guastavino did employ tile vaulting in the construction of a hillside wine cellar. He make cider from apple trees on the property. He had special bottles made, embossed with the estate’s name, and shipped cases of cider to friends and family during the holidays.

Guastavino continued his experiments with tile technology from the grounds of Rhododendron, taking advantage of North Carolina’s abundant clay and waterpower supplied by Lakey Creek and two manmade ponds. Guastavino built a gazebo overlooking the picturesque ponds. Although no formal landscape plans exist, the grounds show the influence of Frederick Law Olmstead, the designer of Central Park and the Biltmore Estate grounds.

Guastavino built at least two kilns, one which still survives, complete with its 60-foot tall chimney fully intact. The kiln could fire thousands of tiles at a time, including those used in the Basilica of Saint Lawrence, completed a year after Guastavino’s death in 1908. The proximity of the railroad in Black Mountain enabled Guastavino to run his business from the estate (company letterheads from the turn of the 20th Century feature Rhododendron’s address). Rafael Jr. took over the business following his father’s death and in 1910 executed one of the largest domes in the world for New York’s Cathedral of Saint John the Divine.

Guastavino’s widow continued to reside at Rhododendron. Living as a recluse, she survived fire started by an old stove until her health declined and she passed away in 1946. The dilapidated estate was razed in the late 1940s. Today, the brick foundations of the “Spanish Castle” are visible on the grounds of Christmount, a national retreat, camp and conference center for the Disciples of Christ. The bell from the house’s tower was given to the Swannanoa Valley Museum.

The museum’s guided hike will travel from Sunset Mountain across Evans Knob through the Spanish Castle’s grounds to N.C. 9. The cost of the hike is $30 for museum members and $50 for nonmembers. Advanced registration is required by emailing info@swannanoavalleymuseum.org or calling 669-9566. The hike will meet at 8 a.m. at the Black Mountain Savings Bank at 200 E. State St.


Hike the Seven Sisters peaks with the museum

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The Seven Sisters are a range of mountains leading from west to east to Greybeard Mountain. Together the seven peaks and Greybeard compose the Walkertown Range.(Photo: SPECIAL TO BMN)

Melanie English, Special to the Black Mountain News
Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The Seven Sisters mountain range ascends in the backdrop of Black Mountain and Montreat. A familiar sight from Lake Tomahawk, the seven peaks form a northwestern wall between the Asheville Watershed and the Swannanoa Valley.

Known in common parlance as the Seven Sisters, the mountains are referred to as the Middle Mountains in U.S. Geological Survey maps. As distinguished as the seven sisters of Greek mythology and the women’s liberal arts colleges that form the “seven sisters” in the Northeast, the local Seven Sisters have their own names.

Historically, the seven peaks have been called, from west to east, Tomahawk (or alternately, Solomon Morris) at 3,680 feet, Little Piney (or Stomping Knob) at 3,960 feet, Big Piney (or Brushy Knob) at 4,180 feet, an unnamed peak at 4,360 feet, Forked Ridge Knob at 4,511 feet, Little Slaty at 5,000 feet, and lastly Big Slaty (or False Greybeard) at 5,260 feet.

While the Seven Sisters span an expanse of only three and a half miles, hiking up to and across the range is a strenuous distance of 8.5 miles. On Saturday, Feb. 13, the Swannanoa Valley Museum will lead a daylong hike across all seven peaks.

The hike will commence at an elevation of 5,177 feet and follow the Old Mount Mitchell Motor Road to the Rocky Knob trailhead. After scaling Rocky Knob at 5,240 feet, the hike will progress to Greybeard Mountain at 5,408 feet before scaling each of the Seven Sisters.

Along the way, the museum’s experienced hike leaders will share historical anecdotes about the peak’s nomenclature, social history, geography and ecology. For instance, Stomping Knob’s name derives from the mountain’s purported connection with moonshining. Solomon Morris was the name of a dairy farmer on the eastern slope of the mountain, on property now owned by Billy Graham, who owns much of Little Piney Cove to the east.

Indeed, much of the landscape surrounding the Seven Sisters is privately held. The Asheville Watershed encompasses the western side of the range, while the Mountain Retreat Association, the parent organization of Montreat Conference Center, owns the east side. The hike will afford 360-degree panoramas of these impermissible areas, including the North Fork Valley on the northern side of the range, and the Craggy Mountain Range and the Swannanoa Valley on the south side.

From the summit of Little Piney at 3,960 feet, the hike will proceed across the ridgeline to the Tomahawk’s peak before descending into Montreat.

Although many recognize the Seven Sisters, few have hiked the range due to the difficulty of terrain and distance. But the hike is personally gratifying and bucket list-worthy for a locals. As hike leader Marilyn Kaylor said, “The ridge is rugged, wild, scenic, and challenging. On my first Seven Sisters hike, we scared a bear off its mid-trail resting place. It will take all day, and at the end you will be ready for a hot shower.

“You will also know that you have hiked the ridge that you see every day on your drive through Black Mountain.”

The hike is recommended for experienced hikers. The cost of the hike is $20 for members of the museum and $30 for nonmembers. Advanced registration is required. Proceeds benefit the nonprofit museum. Participants should wear sturdy hiking boots, dress in layers, and pack a lunch, snacks and plenty of water.

The hike will meet at the Black Mountain Savings Bank at 200 E. State St. at 8 a.m. To register, visit swannanoavalleymuseum.org or call 699-9566.


February 2016 E-Newsletter


 

Swannanoa Valley Museum shows secrets during renovations

Museum Renvation

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Renovations have revealed an arched doorway, hidden for some 90 years.(Photo: Tom Flynn)

By Tom Flynn, Special to the Black Mountain News
Wednesday, January 27, 2016

During this brief winter period when the Swannanoa Valley Museum is closed for work, the people doing the renovations are learning a quieter portion of the Valley’s history. But getting there, literally and figuratively, hasn’t been easy.

With the museum’s front doors locked, entering the building – the town’s old firehouse – on a recent bitterly cold day meant going through the space where once stood its back doors. That approach from the south quickly revealed the break in time between the original 1921 brick structure and a major 1964 (or so) expansion.

“There was enough additional room here for two fire truck bays,” said Bill Hamby, the chair of the museum’s construction committee. The floor and foundation temporarily removed, an angry upheaval of dirt and concrete sat where, for about two decades, the fire trucks were housed.

“The original doors out front that we had replacements made for, they were pocket doors,” Hamby said. “We assume that was the case here for the back doors as well. Next door was the town hall. It had the town administration. The library was over there,” he said, pointing to his left. “The police – and the jail – were there in the basement.”

Once the museum’s renovations are finished, people will be able to see the building “much as it would have been in 1921 when it was first built as a firehouse,” museum director Anne Chesky Smith said. “We’re doing our best to restore the building to as close to Richard Sharp Smith’s original design as possible,” she added.

The Smith to whom Smith alludes was the overseeing architect on the Biltmore Estate. Along with an addition that included a bowling alley and a pool to what is now Montreat College’s Manor House, the firehouse is the accomplished architect’s only known work in the Valley. “He had blueprints for some other houses, but to my knowledge they were never built,” said Smith.

Walking from the 1960s addition to the main part of the museum, Hamby revealed a feature of the firehouse that never made it as far as Smith’s blueprint.

“Those were the original windows that were west-facing,” he said, pointing to window openings long ago bricked over and now part of the wall adjoining the Black Mountain Center for the Arts (the center is housed in the old town hall, constructed in 1923). Because of the addition, the former windows to which he pointed had less than three years of active duty.

“Now, here’s the surprise,” he said. “The town basically used this wall and built a three-walled addition around it, which we knew. But there’s a doorway here that wasn’t on the original plans.”

Clearly outlined, much like the windows, is an arched doorway. It revealed a decision made, maybe by a foreman on a warm afternoon in 1921, and then conveyed to a mason and carpenter. Plastered over for the town hall, the results of that decision have been lost for nine decades.

It’s a small piece of history, but it reveals something about the lives of the building’s former inhabitants – corked beer bottles, a billiard ball (#2) and the stump of a fireman’s pole that once whisked the Valley’s firefighters down from the second floor.

Workers found where the old pole had been when they tore up the floor to re-pour the concrete. “There’s a length of it in the trunk of my car right now,” Smith said, laughing.

John Corkran, the chairman of the museum’s capital campaign, also braved the cold during the recent visit. He pointed out a metal vertical brace near where the fireman’s pole was mounted. “That brace was not something that we knew was here, either. The inside of the building is going to be re-braced, so this will not be a structural member. But the feeling is we’ll leave it as emblematic of what was here before,” Corkran said.

As part of the re-pouring of the floor, new posts and beams will be added to relieve the original post of active service. “The problem was that before we started the renovation we were only able to have exhibits on this level,” said Hamby. The museum could not use the upstairs for exhibits, as it didn’t meet the state’s building code.

Along with the structural improvements will come both expanded exhibit space and new exhibits for visitors.

“When it’s reopened, the museum will have updated the permanent ‘Pathways’ exhibit that explores the Valley’s human inhabitants and the pathways they once used to travel into the area and settle it,” Smith said. The exhibit will be housed in the new upstairs gallery space.

Additional new exhibits will greet guests this summer, including one showing the connection of Mount Mitchell State Park to the Swannanoa Valley. The park celebrates it 100th anniversary this year.

“Another will include the photography of Edward DuPuy, showcasing never-before-seen photos taken for his book, ‘Artisans of the Appalachians,’” Smith said.

Yet another “exhibit” will be a visual extension of the renovation into the history of the museum. Artifacts, like the mount for the original fire pole, will be on display. There are also plans for hosting traveling exhibits from across the state and region as well.

“The exhibits will continue to change so visitors can visit all year, including through the winter,” Smith said. “We used to be closed in the winter, pretty much from the end of October until the beginning of to mid-April because it was very cold in this building. But now with the upgraded heat systems and insulation, we’ll be able to be open most of the year.”

Unlocking the front door to exit on West State Street, Hamby and Corkran pointed out that the current work is a continuation of an ongoing upgrade of the building.

“We put in the door and the windows on the front, plus the mahogany door,” Hamby said. “I like to think it’s the best-looking door in Black Mountain. That was in 2008, and a local guy, Mike Roberts, made it for us.”


Hiker Sharon Stenner has a trifecta of firsts

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Layered for the cold, Sharon Stenner hikes in Montreat on Jan. 17.

by Suzanne Money, Special to the Black Mountain News
Wednesday, January 27, 2016

In his introduction to the initial series of the Rim hikes sponsored by the Swannanoa Valley Museum, hike leader Wendell Begley suggested hikers bring along toboggans for the winter hikes. And Sharon Stenner thought, “what in the world are we going to do with a sled?”

Stenner, a transplant from the north, completed those hikes, all in the same year – 2010. She also completed the museum’s Rim Explorer Hiking Series, in 2014. Add to those feats completion of the museum’s Seven Sisters one-day hike in 2013, and you have a person – the only person – who has accomplished all three hiking experiences during the first year they were offered.

You might assume Stenner ended up in Swannanoa Valley because of its many hiking opportunities. Wrong. Stenner led a very sedentary life living in New Jersey and working in New York City. Her move to the Valley was first to Asheville where she joined the Asheville New Friends Hiking group as a newbie. A friend outfitted her, and off she went on hikes that were, at first, grueling 6- and 10-mile hikes that only later became pleasurable.

“It was the small things like finding a painted trillium that made it all worthwhile,” she said during a recent interview. Happenstances like that got her going and kept her going until she joined the Asheville Amblers, part of the American Volkssport Association, walking 10 kilometers once a month and then with individual groups during the week.

Stenner moved to Black Mountain and learned about the Swannanoa Valley Museum hikes while volunteering as a museum docent. She saw the Swannanoa Rim Hikes as her next challenge. And a challenge the first hike was. She was already to go, then the weather had its say. So the first hike did not actually become a reality until March 2010, and even then it happened on mushy trails beneath icy trees. Conditions did not deter the hardy guides from providing plenty of local lore on that hike, as well as the ensuing ones.

There were 10 other hikes, and in December Stenner proudly lined up with 11 hikers who completed the hikes in one year. She feels good about what she accomplished.

“It is a great source of pride to me to look up and know I have hiked the Swannanoa Rim,” she said. “And I did it within the one year.”

In 2013 Stenner participated in the Seven Sisters Hike, which was a one-day hike guided by museum female volunteers. “All of us have most likely walked Lake Tomahawk, gazed up at the Seven Sisters and thought, ‘hmm, wouldn’t it be nice to hike these?’” she said. She did, and she has a lovely medallion to prove it.

In 2014, museum leaders created a series of hikes less physically challenging that focused on providing a sense of the valley and the influences of its many families. The hikes were loaded with family connections and descriptive information about the area. (Just get Bob Watts started on the Asheville Watershed or Van Burnett on his family’s homestead, and you will have a hike to remember.) Eight hikes and one special mug are proof that Stenner participated on those adventures.

As the interview concluded, I asked Stenner two things. First, were there any unexpected outcomes?

Without hesitation she said, “Yes, most of the good friends I have made here are hikers, and I know that is the reason I will be here for the rest of my life.” Secondly, I requested her list of must-haves in order to be ready for anything and everything as a hiker. Broken-in boots, she said, as well as plenty of water, knowledge of layering, snack food for energy and, most of all, a “can do” attitude.

Where will you find Stenner today? Most likely you will see her walking in and around town with her dog, Abby, awaiting the next challenge dreamed up by the Swannanoa Valley Museum.



Museum resumes popular Swannanoa Rim Hikes

Swannanoa Rim Hikers by Joe Standaert

 

 

 

 

 

 

This photograph taken on the fifth hike of the series to the Pinnacle of the Blue Ridge showcases the breathtaking views available on the museum’s hikes on private land. Photo: Joe Standaert

Melanie English, Special to The Black Mountain News
January 20, 2016

Beginning Jan. 23, the Swannanoa Valley Museum will kick off its Rim Hike Series, a sequence of monthly exclusive hikes that showcase eastern America’s highest and most historic skyline.

The first hike, on Saturday, is to Weatherford Heights. Register at swannanoavalleymuseum.org. Hikers will meet at 8 a.m. at Black Mountain Savings Bank, 200 E. State St., Black Mountain.

Now in its seventh year, the popular series consists of 11 hikes across the peaks of Swannanoa, Blue Ridge, Black and Craggy mountain ranges that encircle Black Mountain. The majority of the hikes take place on private lands with special permission. Led by experienced local historians, the hikes provide an experiential way to learn about the social cultural, and natural history of the Swannanoa Valley while making new friends.

Held on the third Saturday of the month through November (with the exception of January), each hike explores a different section of the Swannanoa Rim beginning south of Black Mountain at YMCA Blue Ridge Assembly and continuing to Ridgecrest and Montreat, up the Blue Ridge Parkway and finishing at Camp Rockmont in the North Fork Valley to the northeast. The Swannanoa Rim measures roughly 31 miles as the crow flies, but hikers ultimately cover 55 miles while ascending elevations ranging from 2,316 to 6,462 feet at an average grade of 14 percent.

The hikes ranges from three to seven miles in length and are recommended for those in reasonable shape. The moderately paced hikes stop at many places for leaders to point out natural features and historic sites.

“For a lot of people it’s strenuous enough that when they finish it, they feel like they’ve accomplished a life goal,” museum director Anne Chesky Smith said. The museum issues each hiker a passport to track of their progress as the series proceeds. Hikers who finish all the hikes of the series are awarded with a Patagonia jacket, emblazoned with the Swannanoa Rim logo, during a celebration held after the last hike. To date, nearly 100 hikers have completed entire rim. While some hikers complete the entire series in one year, others take several years to finish.

While there are many hiking clubs in the area, the museum’s Rim Series provides more than just a chance to stay in shape. Hiking the Swannanoa Rim, grants hikers a sense of personal accomplishment.

“I viewed the Rim Hikes as a huge challenge,” hiker Suzanne Money said. “As my passport book gathered more stamps, I realized how fortunate we all were to hike with informative leadership who arranged many treks on private land.”

As participants hike together over the course of the year, the series also instills a spirit of camaraderie.

“The museum’s hikes introduced me to many special people whom I will always treasure as friends,” Money said. Participants also experience community pride. Jane Basford moved to the area three years ago and finished the series in 2015. “This experience has opened up new doors for me,” she said, “as I realize how much more I feel a part of this wonderful community and that there is so much more I want discover in our beautiful area of Western North Carolina mountains.”

The hikes help the nonprofit Swannanoa Valley Museum fulfill its mission to “preserve and interpret the social, cultural and natural history of the Swannanoa Valley” beyond the museum walls. The museum’s historic 1921 building, Black Mountain’s former firehouse designed by renowned local architect Richard Sharp Smith, is currently undergoing extensive renovations and will re-open this summer.

Half of the museum’s operating costs come from hike participation fees, which allow the museum to continue to offer dynamic programs and engaging exhibits.

Each hike costs $30 for museum members and $50 for nonmembers. Participants can purchase the entire series for $280 for members and $500 for nonmembers, and receive $50 off when they pre-register for the series. Membership to the museum is $30 for individuals and $50 for families and affords members discounts on museum events year-round.

“There’s basically no reason to pay full price,” Smith said. “If you’re going to do more than one hike, it’s a good idea to become a member.”

Space on the hikes is limited, and hikers are encouraged to register early. Each hike meets at 8 a.m. at Black Mountain Savings Bank, 200 E. State St., Black Mountain, until the museum reopens. Details are at swannanoavalleymuseum.org.

The museum is offering a scholarship to cover the cost of the hiking series, funded by donations from past finishers and museum supporters. To apply, applicants are invited to mail or email the museum a 500-word essay explaining why they want to participate in the program, which series they would like to hike, and how the scholarship would help them participate, along with their contact information. Entries should be sent to PO Box 306, Black Mountain, NC 28711 or info@swannanoavalleymuseum.org.

To learn more about the hiking programs and to register, visit the website or contact the museum at 669-9566 or info@swannanoavalleymuseum.org.

 


January 2016 E-Newsletter


 

Learn about museum’s hike series

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Photo Courtesy of Joe Standaert.

December 30, 2015
Black Mountain News
FROM STAFF REPORTS

Learn about the Swannanoa Rim Hike Series and Valley History Explorer Series during a meeting at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 7 at the Black Mountain Center for the Arts, 225 W. State St. Attendees will learn about the hikes and receive advice from hikers.

Carolyn Miller, who completed both series this year, highly recommends the hikes.

“I can’t think of a better way to learn the history of the region that I now call home and to meet some of the most interesting and adventurous people,” she said. “I can truly say that I have made some wonderful friendships that I will always cherish and have seen some of the most pristine landscapes that have been absolutely breathtaking.”

Another hiker, Jane Basford, has called Black Mountain home for three years. “This experience has opened up new doors for me as I realize how much more I feel a part of this wonderful community and that there is so much more I want discover in our beautiful area of Western North Carolina mountains,” she said.

The Swannanoa Valley Museum’s strenuous Swannanoa Rim Explorer Hiking Series consists of 11 monthly group hikes of three to seven miles that reveal the history and geography of the Swannanoa Valley. The more moderate Valley History Explorer Hiking Series offers seven guided hikes that focus on the history of the unique communities that make up the Swannanoa Valley.

Hikers may register for a single hike or an entire series. The cost of a single Rim hike is $30 for museum members and $50 for nonmembers. The entire Rim Hike Series is $280 for members and $500 for nonmembers. A single Valley Explorer Hike is $20 for members and $30 for nonmembers. The Entire Valley Explorer Series is $140 for members and $210 for nonmembers.

Proceeds benefit the Swannanoa Valley Museum. For more, call the museum at 669-9566.


 

Record number of hikers complete museum’s hikesRim Hike Celebration

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo Courtesy of Joe Standaert

December 23, 2015
Black Mountain News
FROM STAFF REPORTS

Weatherford Heights. Rhododendron Ridge. Grey Eagle Rock. Do you know what these names have in common?

You do if you are one of the 37 hikers who completed the Swannanoa Valley Museum’s Swannanoa Valley Rim Explorer Hiking Series this year. For the rest of us, these names are three of the high and historic locations traversed during the 11 hikes that make up the museum’s popular hiking program, now in its sixth year.

On Dec. 12, the museum held its annual Hike Series Finishers Banquet to celebrate those who finished the Rim hike series or the new Valley History Explorer Hiking Series. This year, a record number of hikers completed the challenging Rim series, which traverses the 31-mile circumference of the Swannanoa Valley’s ridge lines.

Along with the satisfaction of completing the year-long hiking challenge while supporting the museum’s operating fund, those who finish the series also receive a commemorative Patagonia jacket, purchased at a reduced price from Black Dome Sports by Wendell Begley, the museum board’s chair. The jackets feature the series logo, which was designed by Mary Begley, Wendell’s wife, who is a graphic designer.

Mary is also donating her time to design a logo for the Valley History Explorer Hiking Series, which is now in its second year.

This series explores the seven communities of the Swannanoa Valley – Riceville, Bee Tree, Swannanoa, North Fork, Black Mountain, Montreat and Ridgecrest—on moderate 3-mile hikes throughout the year.

This year, four hikers completed the series – Rebecca Schorr, Andrew Clancy, Cary Miller and Dave Foster.

“Our hiking program is really a labor of love that would not be possible without the hard work of our volunteer hike leaders, museum director Anne Chesky Smith said. “I can’t properly express my gratitude for all that they do.”

The banquet was held at the Lakeview Center at Lake Tomahawk, and more than 60 hike leaders, past and present hike series finishers and their family members attended.

My Father’s Pizza catered the event, providing pizzas at a discounted rate and donating a large salad.

The 37 hikers who completed the series in 2015 are Mike Baldwin, Martha Baldwin, Jane Basford, Janet Blanchard, Charlie Brown, Juanita Bruce, Pam Casey, Georgia Cheek, Judy Davidson, Marie Drum, Kiersten Edwards, Kathy Eison, Jane Faulkner, Tim Faulkner, Shelley Galvim, Becky Huck, Kevin Huck, Charles Jolley, Drew Jorgensen, Ann Lutz, Manny Maladono, Cary Miller, Melzer Morgan, Pat Morgan, John Pajak, Sarah Lee Polk, Sherry Riley, David Scott, Jim Schmid, Sandy Schmid, Sam Shirey, Margaret Stone, Mark Stone, Joe Tyson, Ron Wester, Lee Wilcox and Julie Wilcox.

The museum will be offering both hike series again in 2016. For more, it will host three hiking interest meetings in January.

The first interest meeting will be at the Black Mountain Center for the Arts at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 7.

On Tuesday, Jan. 12, Black Dome Mountain Sports in Asheville will host an interest meeting at 7 p.m.

REI Asheville will host the final meeting at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 13. All interest meetings are free to attend.

The first Rim Hike of 2016, Weatherford Heights, will take place on Saturday, Jan. 23. Information can also be found online at swannanoavalleymuseum.org or by calling 669-9566.


Museum year-long series ends with Blue Ridge Assembly hike

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Young girls swim in front of Robert E. Lee Hall, now Eureka Hall, in this early photograph of the Blue Ridge Assembly, founded by Willis Weatherford in a cove near Black Mountain.

December 9, 2015
Black Mountain News
Melanie English, Special to The Black Mountain News

The Swannanoa Valley Museum concludes the 2015 Swannanoa Rim Hike Series on Dec. 12 with a hike to Weatherford Heights, named for the founder of Y.M.C.A. Blue Ridge Assembly. The strenuous, four-mile long hike follows the original boundary line of the conference center’s grounds, surveyed in 1906 by educator, author and religious leader Willis Duke Weatherford.

Roger Hibbard, who served as Blue Ridge Assembly’s director for 33 years, will lead the hike, which departs from Black Mountain Savings Bank at 200 East St. at 8 a.m. Hikers should wear sturdy hiking books, pack a lunch and bring plenty of water. The cost is $30 museum members and $50 nonmembers. Advanced registration is required at swannanoavalleymuseum.org or 669-9566.

As a student at Vanderbilt University, Weatherford became involved in the student Young Men’s Christian Association. Traveling to the Blue Ridge Mountains by horse and buggy in 1906, he sought a permanent location for student training sessions he arranged. When he reached the present site of Blue Ridge Assembly, between two steep forested ridges of the Swannanoa Mountains two miles from Black Mountain, he exclaimed, “Eureka, we have found it!” The enterprising educator raised half a million dollars to finance the construction of the Blue Ridge Assembly.

In addition to acting as the conference center’s president until 1944, Weatherford was the president of the Y.M.C.A. Graduate School and faculty member at Fisk University and Berea College. Weatherford’s travels to college campuses across the South in the Jim Crow era made him acutely aware of race relations, and in 1910 he published the widely distributed “Negro Life in the South.”

In subsequent years, he organized interracial conferences on social issues attended by college students, faculty, clergy, and politicians from both the North and the South. In 1964, Weatherford reflected on the inroads initiated during his tenure and the legacy of Blue Ridge Assembl.

“We were doing something about the whole race problem,” he said. Slavery “left a dirty mark on Southern life … We set ourselves deliberately to break that prejudice down. Blue Ridge has been one of the forward-looking institutions … willing to take a step forward, even though sometimes it might not be popular… We knew it was right.”

In a fitting tribute to the social justice ideas promoted by Blue Ridge Assembly’s founder, Robert E. Lee Hall, the architectural centerpiece of the grounds, was renamed Eureka Hall in 2014. Designed by New York architect Louis Jallade, the three-story neo-classical revival building hosted the experimental Black Mountain College from 1933-1941.