In 1920, the volunteer firemen solicited the townspeople for funds to build a firehouse, and in 1921, Asheville’s premiere architect, Richard Sharp Smith, designed and built the building that now houses the Swannanoa Valley Museum.
The architecture set a model for other buildings in downtown Black Mountain built in the 1920s that today give the community its “small town, old-time charm.”
The fire house served the town for 63 years, but was vacated in 1984 when the Fire Department moved to new quarters on Montreat Road. The Town of Black Mountain leased the building to the Swannanoa Valley Museum’s governing board in 1989, and gave them the deed in 2000.
Located in the Historic District of Black Mountain, the building is listed both locally and nationally as a contributing building in the Black Mountain Downtown Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Swannanoa Valley Museum considers the building its most important artifact. Recently, structural work was completed and a new 50-year roof was installed to protect the historic structure from further deterioration and to restore the façade to the original Richard Sharp Smith design.
Further work is needed to renovate and upgrade the interior, and plans call for additions that will more than double the Museum’s space. To that end, the Museum is engaged in a Capital Campaign to raise funds to complete the project.
Richard Sharp Smith (1852-1924)
The young English architect Richard Sharp Smith, designer of the 1921 Black Mountain Fire House, came to the area in 1889 in the employ of famed New York architect Richard Morris Hunt. Hunt, a personal friend of George W. Vanderbilt, had designed Vanderbilt’s Buncombe County mansion, Biltmore House, and he assigned Smith to serve as the supervising architect for the project.
Upon Hunt’s death in 1895, Smith served as Vanderbilt’s resident architect for six years before opening his private practice in Asheville. Smith designed much of Biltmore Village, and by the end of his first decade in private practice, he was recognized as Asheville’s most prominent architect.
In 1906, Smith took on partners Ralph and Albert Heath Carrier, forming the firm of Smith and Carrier. For the next 18 years, the firm designed and built many private homes as well as the Legal Building, the Masonic Temple, the Chapel for St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, and the Young Men’s Institute (YMI) building in downtown Asheville.
The Black Mountain Fire House is one of only two remaining structures designed by Smith and Carrier in the Swannanoa Valley, the other being the gymnasium/pool addition to the Terry Estate, InTheOaks.