The Swannanoa Valley Museum – “where history comes to life” – was founded in 1989 when descendants of original settlers became concerned that the Swannanoa Valley’s rich natural and cultural heritages were becoming obscured by growth and development.
Today, the Museum is housed in our most precious artifact – the historic Back Mountain Fire Station, designed in 1921 by Richard Sharp Smith, consulting architect to George Vanderbilt and considered one of four seminal architects to shape architecture in North Carolina. From boxes and artifacts housed in basements, the Swannanoa Valley Museum’s collection has grown to more than 10,000 items chronicling the history of the gateway to Western North Carolina. Beginning with Native American settlements to present day, our collection comprises personal items, biographies, oral histories, and thousands of photographs. We have materials of international interest on Black Mountain College, the Reverend Billy Graham, religiously-affiliated camps and conference centers, and Appalachian artisans. Through our collaboration with Museums in Partnership and the Western Office of the North Carolina State Archives, we provide access to a vast array of additional resources.
The Swannanoa Valley Museum is the primary museum of general history in Buncombe County. Our services include permanent and topical exhibits, educational programs for public schools, offsite tours and hikes which take participants into homes, communities, and geographic features of critical importance in shaping the life and spirit of the Valley. The Museum has received two Griffin Awards for Historic Preservation and accolades from “Our State” magazine, “Southern Living,” and UNC-TV.
In 2006, the Swannanoa Valley Museum initiated a process to renovate and expand the historic Black Mountain Fire Station. Phase I construction included preservation of the original 1921 building envelope, new roof, brick exterior, and front façade. This work was completed debt-free in 2008 at a cost of $215,000, entirely underwritten by donated funds and garnering the Museum’s second Griffin Award.
At the end of 2015, Museum began Phase II renovations which entailed restoring the original interior, increasing first-floor space, installing a support system for the second floor to add a second gallery, and remodeling the 1964 concrete block addition to provide educational and administrative space, handicap accessible restrooms, archival storage, and climate control equipment.
The Swannanoa Valley Museum employs a full-time executive director and part-time curator/volunteer coordinator. More than 80 volunteers serve as members of the governing board, docents, event coordinators, and hike leaders. Throughout its 27-year existence, the Swannanoa Valley Museum has been an exemplary steward of community resources, including its finances as well as archival treasures. We have balanced our operating budget each and every year while generating funds for contingency reserves.
We now proceed to fundraising for Phase III – installing a lift in the Museum to make the 2nd floor accessible to all.