Finding Freedom at Roseland Gardens

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.

You Have to Start a Thing: The South’s First Female Legislator, Lillian Exum Clement

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Lillian Exum Clement with her male counterparts in front of the NC Capitol Building in Raleigh

by Anne Chesky Smith
The results of the July 3, 1920 Buncombe County Democratic primary were not just a victory for Lillian Exum Clement, but for thousands of women across North Carolina who had been fighting for women’s suffrage. Months before the 19th Amendment was ratified on August 26, 1920, Lillian Exum Clement, a young lawyer from Black Mountain, North Carolina, was chosen by the men in the Democratic party of Buncombe County as the first female candidate for the North Carolina legislature.Lillian, or Exum as she was often know by her friends and family, would go on to crush her male Independent party opponent in the November general election by an astounding 10,368 votes to 41 and become the first female legislator in the South.But before she became a politician, before she was the first female to open her own law practice in North Carolina, and before she began working in the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office, Lillian Exum Clement played, studied, and lived in the North Fork Valley, just outside of Black Mountain.

On an early spring day, in March of 1884*, Lillian became the third child to be born to George Washington and Sarah Elizabeth Burnett Clement. George Washington Clement (1852 – 1942) came to the North Fork Valley with the railroad after Civil War skirmishes destroyed his plantation in Charleston, South Carolina. During his travels through the valley, he met Sarah Elizabeth, daughter of long-time North Fork residents, Alfred and Nancy Burnett. Sarah Elizabeth had been widowed during the war and it was love at first sight. After their first meeting, he told his traveling companions, “I’m going to marry her.”

And in the fall of 1878, George and Sarah were married. Their first child was born in 16 months later.

Lillian and her siblings attended the one-room school house on the North Fork of the Swannanoa River. Most likely, Lillian would have attended the second North Fork schoolhouse. The second school house replaced Stepp’s School House in about 1870 and educated most of the children in the valley until around 1910 when the third schoolhouse was constructed. This schoolhouse was known as the “school between the creeks,” because it was built on an island created by a parting of the river. All three schoolhouse sites would be covered with water when the City of Asheville dammed the river to create its reservoir.

In 1907, her father was hired by George Vanderbilt to work at the Biltmore Estate about 20-miles away in Asheville. The 250-room, 125,000-acre estate required a village to run, and so George Vanderbilt had one constructed.

Vanderbilt purchased the small town known as Best, leveled it, and rebuilt a new town (now known as Biltmore Village) for his employees that included English-style cottages as well as a hospital, church, and school. In was in the village’s church that Lillian was confirmed into the Christian faith and from the village’s All Soul’s Parish School that she graduated.

Though as a woman she could not attend law school, George Vanderbilt’s wife, Edith, encouraged Lillian to pursue her dream to become a lawyer and Lillian studied for her bar exam under two prominent lawyers. On February 17, 1916, she passed her exam and earned a prize for having one of the top grades.

Almost a year later, Lillian hung a shingle embossed with her name outside her new law offices in Asheville, thus becoming the first women in North Carolina to practice law unsupported by male colleagues.  Less than two months later she won her first case.

After serving as a practicing lawyer for over three years, she made her formal announcement as a candidate for the North Carolina House of Representatives on April 15, 1920, won, and was sworn in as the first female legislator in the South on January 5, 1921.

She was described by an article dated ten days later in the Greensboro Daily News as, “small in stature, modest and retiring in manner, unassuming but keenly alert to situations requiring clearness of thought, she is all that the most exacting would demand…. She wears a Norfolk jacket of green tweed with a small velvet hat, and in her modest attire is a little conspicuous as any other member of the house.”

She introduced 17 bills during her tenure – 16 of which became law, including a bill that allowed women abandoned by their husbands to get a divorce after five years rather than ten, another that called for private voting booths and secret ballots, and still another that required that dairy cattle be tested for tuberculin. Though Exum faced opposition –  once her nose was broken by an irate man and on another occasion a crowd pelted with eggs and rotten vegetables – she was generally beloved by her fellow North Carolinians.

After serving a little over two months in office, she married Elias Eller Stafford, a reporter for the Asheville Citizen, on March 8, 1921. She did not run for a second term, but continued to be active as a lawyer and an advocate for women.

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Lillian Exum Clement

Two years later, in May 1923, she gave birth to a premature baby girl – Asheville’s first incubator baby –who she named Nancy after her sister. For the next year and a half, while suffering from long bouts of illness, Exum kept a diary that chronicled her love for the child and each milestone the young girl achieved.  She would often bundle Nancy up to make the journey from Asheville to Black Mountain so they could spend the day with the Clements in North Fork.

The final entry in Exum’s diary reads, “Last night you slept with someone besides Daddy and Mother for the first time. Daddy was sick and Mother was sick and Aunt Nancy came in and spent the night with you.” Twelve days later, Exum passed away from complications of pneumonia, leaving her daughter to be raised by her godmother and namesake, Aunt Nancy.

Just shy of 41 when she died, quiet, dignified Lillian Exum Clement was able to lead the way for the many women that would serve after her. Her eulogy in the Asheville Citizen read, “A daughter of the present age, she held to the best of the old days while adopting the best of the new.”

This story was written using materials collected at the Swannanoa Valley Museum. The museum will feature Lillian Exum Clement in their 2013 exhibit, “Heart of the Valley: The People Who Made Us Who We Are,” a preview of which was featured in the 2012 Black Mountain Christmas Parade museum float.

*Most contemporary sources report her birth date as 1894, but the 1900 and 1910 census list her as being born in 1884. Though she listed her birth date at 1894 on her marriage certificate, which is where her birth date is often taken from, she may have “fudged the number” because her husband was born in 1895. It would have seemed odd for a woman to marry a man 10 years her junior at this time.

 

The Alexander Farm and Inn

The Alexander Farm and Inn

SD and Bill

Bill Alexander relates the history of the farm and boarding house built and run by his ancestor on a Museum tour of Alexander Farm.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

by Anne Chesky Smith

Soon after the first settler in the Swannanoa Valley, Samuel Davidson, was killed by Cherokees in the early 1780s, Davidson’s brother-in-law, John Alexander, followed the rough path up the mountain with several friends and relatives to form the Swannanoa Settlement on the mouth of Bee Tree Creek. John’s wife, Rachel Davidson, bore him four children—Ann, Thomas, Mary, and James H. Alexander—who all traveled with their parents to settle this unknown territory.

James H. Alexander (b. 1756, d. 1844) married Rhoda Cunningham (b. 1763, d. 1848) in 1782 and they raised nine children at their home on Bee Tree Creek. One of their children—George Couples Alexander (b. 1790, d. 1880)—decided in 1818 to build an inn on the stage coach road that was bringing travelers through the settlement. Keeping up his land had to occur during daylight hours, so George spent his nights building the inn—the dark lighted only by burning pine knots collected by his wife and children. He soon finished constructing the 2-story log house and the family opened the Alexander Inn to visitors by 1820.

Within a decade the family added a store, and, to this day, the Alexander family has preserved ledgers from as far back as 1830 that account for the items sold— a cake of soap, a twist of tobacco, and 6 yards of calico are listed among many other things.

George C. Alexander transferred ownership of the inn to his son, George N. Alexander (b. 1833) in 1869 and it was around this time that the inn doubled in size as the number of travelers to the Swannanoa Valley increased after the Civil War.

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Carrie and “Spec” Alexander

George N.’s nephew, Rufus Davidson Alexander—one son of Albertus Newton Alexander (b. 1835) and Mary Adaline Davidson—ran the inn with his wife Carrie Cornelius Davidson until his death in 1918, at which time Carrie took over care of the establishment.

Though short in stature, Carrie Davidson Alexander was a shrewd businesswoman determined to send her children to college. When a man named E.W. Grove came to Swannanoa looking for a tract of land on which to build America’s first planned community, Carrie haggled with him for months until she got the price she wanted for 275 acres of Alexander property that would become Grovemont-on-Swannanoa.

Most popular during the summer months when southern tourists would flock to the mountains to escape the heat, the inn often housed guests for months at a time. One such guest was Phyllis Dorchestor (b. 1911, d. 2002) from Tampa, Florida. Phyllis had spent the previous summer in Swannanoa at the nearby Alexander Farm, which was operated as a guest house by Charles H. Alexander, Rufus Davidson Alexander’s brother. The next summer, however, Phyllis was sent to Alexander Inn by her father. During her time in the mountains she met (and would eventually marry) Rufus and Carrie’s son, Oliver Mims “Spec” Alexander (b. 1908, d. 1973). Spec—called so either because he wore glasses from an early age or because he was covered in freckles—and Phyllis had two children, William C. “Bill” and Sally.

The inn continued to host guests without interruption until 1949, when Carrie passed away. The inn then passed to Elizabeth Alexander Deal, Carrie’s only daughter, who lived there until her death in 1982. Elizabeth passed the inn on to her daughter, Mary Deal Garner, who— upon her death in 2012—passed the inn to her granddaughter, Carrie Garner Poteat.

The original inn, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, still stands on Old US 70 as the oldest continuously lived in structure by the same family in Buncombe County. And, still sitting in the front yard, is the old dismounting stone used by visitors arriving at the inn via stagecoach.

This Was Our Valley: Taking Asheville’s Watershed

This Was Our Valley1: Taking Asheville’s Watershed

The Lodge, Burnett North Fork 1925

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nan and Will Burnett’s Lodge, c. 1925

by Anne Chesky Smith

On a mild mid-March day in 1903, North Fork Watershed’s first warden, Will Burnett, turned a newly-placed cast iron valve, opening the pipe that would send the first trickle of drinking water into the mountain town of Asheville, North Carolina, nearly 20 miles away. This water—some of the purest in the United States—would later flood the school, church, graveyard, and homesteads built by Burnett’s family and friends over the last century and a half.

Will Burnett and his brother, Bart, two of eight children born to Confederate soldier Marcus Lafayette “Fate” Burnett and Sarah Jane Allison, became the first wardens to patrol the newly formed Asheville Watershed in 1903, when the city condemned and purchased a portion of the land (a little under 5,000 acres) that makes up the present day, approximately 22,000-acre property. Over the next four decades, the Burnett brothers were allowed to live near their homeplace, but under the charge that they would keep the North Fork Valley’s native families—including their own—off their ancestral land.  Now, over 100 years later, the City of Asheville finds itself in a similar position, fighting to maintain control of the extensive watershed property that they took from North Fork’s many residents at the beginning of the 20th century.

From the creation of national parks to determining mining and timbering rights to the removal of Native Americans, those living on land throughout the Appalachian range have often experienced the pain and sacrifice of forced takings of their land. Thad Burnette, one of the many mandated to vacate the North Fork Valley during the early 1900s, wrote in a May 1934 issue of theBlack Mountain Advocate of the plight of his family and friends who had lived, hiked, and hunted on the land for over a century.

“The north end of the North Fork Valley was selected [for Asheville’s water supply], the land condemned and fenced. Notices were nailed to the trees containing a new word to the mountaineers, ‘No Trespassing.’ The trails were closed. The saddened community, bewildered, wandered away. Thousands begged for permission to pass through the forests again, but were refused.”

Will and Bart’s father, Fate, however, found an ingenious way to legally claim his birthright just as his boys had as wardens. Fate Burnett loved to hunt—especially bear. Some time after the watershed land was posted no hunting, fishing, or trespassing, Fate approached Asheville’s mayor to discuss a concern. He told the mayor about a number of deep pools within the watershed property that black bears would wallow in. Appalled at the thought of bears mudding the city’s water, the mayor gave Fate the exclusive right to chase all the bears out of the watershed by whatever means necessary.

Fate was the grandson of Frederick Thomas Burnett Sr. and his wife, who was known only as “Granny Else.” In 1800, Frederick Sr., Else, and their children stopped under the shadow of the great Black and Craggy mountain ranges and declared they would go no further west than the uninhabited forests on the North Fork of the Swannanoa River. Though the land was rocky, the game was abundant and the family soon built the first log cabin in the valley very near the spot where over 100 years later City of Asheville workers would bulldoze and shape the land into a 1309-foot earthen dam.

Many other families migrated to the North Fork Valley over the next century—Pattons, Tysons, Powers, Presleys, Bartlets, Lydas, Morrises, Hendersons, Cordells, Allisons, Hambys, Walkers, McAfees, Stepps, Connallys, and (perhaps most famously) North Carolina’s Civil War Governor Zebulon B. Vance—but the Burnetts remained a central force in the development of the North Fork Valley from an unexplored wilderness to a community that at its beginning had a population competing with the City of Asheville. Will and Bart’s great Uncle Else, named for Granny Else, organized and gave the sermons at the first church in the valley in 1823. Will and Bart’s cousin, William Henry “Champ” Burnett taught at the one-room schoolhouse that stood at the confluence of Sugar Fork and North Fork. Champ also served as the church song leader as well as the Justice of the Peace, magistrate, and constable for the North Fork Valley.

With such strong ties to the community, the Burnett family did not give up their land without a fight. On August 7, 1911, W.H. Burnett sent a handwritten letter to Mr. S. Montgomery of the City of Asheville stating,

“I learn from your notice in Asheville Citizen that you have cut timber, built houses, put up notices, and otherwise trespassed on five acres of land on Mitchell’s peak, including the summit and Dr. Mitchell’s grave. The above belongs to my wife, Mrs. Elsie E. Burnett. You have no wright [sic] title or permission to this property and [I] hereby notify you to remove the things from said lands, which I hope you may do without further … trouble.”

But, still, in 1926, W.H. and Elsie Burnett and their neighbors received a notice from Asheville’s Chief of Police that six jurors had been selected to determine a fair purchase price for their land. Soon after, the Burnetts were warned that their 183 acres had been condemned. Though the city gave North Fork’s families a fair price for their land, most lost the money when the Depression hit a few years later.

No longer able to make a living off the land as they had done in the valley, many of North Fork’s native families were left destitute and felt they had no recourse. F. Bascombe Burnette memorialized his time in the valley in the December 30, 1954, Black Mountain News:

“I was born under the shadows of Craggy Garden in January, 1882, many happy hours have I spent under azure blue of … its turbulent trout streams and eternal hills…. The many jars of cream, butter and eggs in stone jars sunken in the huge poplar log … it being the only refrigeration to us at the period with the temperature around 40 the year round. We holed up potatoes and turnips, cabbage and carrots in mother earth. The Honorable Zeb Vance and Col. J.K. Conley [sic] were about our only sources of cash income, 80 cents per day from sun up to sun down.”

A great many men lived principally by gathering wild ginseng and other herbs sold to Hines and Wilson at Cooper Station, now Swannanoa. Of course some of us had hogs that lived on chestnut and acorns and other mountain resources…. It surely grieves me to look up old North Fork at the works of man, it’s all gashed up by modern civilization…. Such is life. There is nothing we can do about it.”

And, it seems, he was right. The original North Fork Church and Schoolhouse are now under water and most other structures were simply abandoned when the land was condemned. Today, all that is left are the remnants of stone fireplaces and foundations dotting the landscape—many toppled over by time, weather, and fallen trees. Even the still-standing chimneys from the more elaborate two-story homes are missing their mantles, looted from the properties years before and used in new construction in the nearby town of Black Mountain. Though the original Burnetts have passed on, their descendants still feel the effects of the loss of their family’s land. Many crave the right to visit the valley of their ancestors.

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The Asheville Watershed as viewed from the nearby Grovestone Quarry.

Ironically, over a century later, the City of Asheville stands to lose control of this same property. North Carolina House Bill 488, “Regionalization of Public Utilities,” sponsored by Republican Representatives Mike Hager, Tim Moffitt, Chuck McGrady, and Nathan Ramsey, has the power to force the city to turn over not only the water system they built over the last 100 years, but also their 22,000-acre watershed property to a regional authority by merging it with the Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD). This bill has been controversial, to say the least, particularly because the property could be involuntarily seized without proper compensation (which would amount to approximately $57 million) to the city for its infrastructure and assets, which includes 1,200 miles of transmission and service lines, three water treatment plants, 40 pump stations, and 32 reservoirs.

In the November 2012 election, Asheville city ratepayers overwhelmingly voted “No” (85%) on the ballot referendum question, “Shall the City of Asheville undertake the sale or lease of its water treatment system and water distribution system?” Still, in only one and a half months in the spring of 2013, the measure passed through both the North Carolina House and Senate, and was ratified in May 2013. North Carolina Governor, Pat McCrory, however, allowed the bill to become law without his signature because of the “number of complicated inter-governmental issues” that it had the potential to raise. As expected, soon after the bill became law, the City of Asheville filed a suit against the State of North Carolina to resolve the issues McCrory spoke of, and the law is now under a temporary restraining order.  The final hearing for the case is set to be held in the spring of 2014.

Whichever way the case goes, the war over ownership of the land is unlikely to end. The battle between the Burnetts and the City of Asheville was not the first fight over rights to the property – the land had been in use for centuries as a Native American hunting ground prior to 1800 – and it is unlikely that the final ruling in the 2014 court case will be the last. The shift to a publicly-owned resource in the early 1900s preserved not only a source of water, but also an entire Appalachian ecosystem. The Burnetts and other valley families sacrificed a great deal so that Asheville could provide some of the nation’s cleanest water to tens of thousands of people in Buncombe County. But now, with the potential transfer of ownership, residents are concerned that development, timbering, and even fracking could occur within the boundaries of the city’s watershed, which is currently closed to the public and under a conservation easement. It is very possible that the fight for the future of the property is just beginning.2

UPDATES:
June 9, 2014 – Wake County Superior Court Judge Howard Manning Jr. found the 2013 law transferring Asheville’s water system to the Metropolitan Sewerage District to be unconstitutional. Judge Manning said that the law was an “unlawful taking” of the city’s assets. He also referred to the lack of compensation that would have been granted to the city if the law came into effect. The Republican sponsors of the law feel sure Manning’s decision will be overturned.

October 2015 – “The state filed a notice of appeal in July and a three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals decided unanimously in the state’s favor. The court’s opinion written by Judge Chris Dillon, stated that even if the statute was a local law, it did not directly deal with matters of health or sanitation. The court also found the state did not have to compensate the city for taking over the water system.”

March 7, 2016 – “The city appealed to the state Supreme Court, which in January agreed to hear the case. The court has also issued a stay on the Court of Appeals decision. If the North Carolina Supreme Court rules against the city, it could mean the end of a three-year legal battle, with roots going back decades, and the takeover of the municipal water system by a regional authority. The court could also uphold an earlier lower court decision that the Court of Appeals overruled, which found the takeover unconstitutional. That could send the matter back to a lower court for further review.”

December 22, 2016 – “Asheville will maintain control of Western North Carolina’s biggest water system following a state Supreme Court ruling handed down Wednesday. In the 5-2 ruling the court sided with the city against the state General Assembly and its 2013 law to strip Asheville of the water system. The decision overturned a Court of Appeals ruling favoring the legislature.”


1 The title of this piece comes from the wonderful book This Was My Valley by Fred Burnett.
2 This article was first published in Now & Then: The Appalachian Magazine.

 

The Cherokee Boundary

Rim Hike 3 Cherokeeby Melanie English

Prior to the American Revolution, Western North Carolina was 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 western North Carolina and eastern Tennessee, lending their names to many counties and towns, including Rutherford, Sevier, Shelby, Lenoir, and Buncombe.

In-the-Oak’s Hidden Secrets

by Anne Chesky Smith

Nestled in the Swannanoa Valley of western North Carolina sits a winding Tudor-style country manor house. Known as “In-the-Oaks,” 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 western North Carolina 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.

Estates_In the Oaks_Garage in RS Smith wing_under construction_courtesy of Ann Collins_2011.009.07The 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 3-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 360-degree views 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 only be 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. This house was built to have a good time.”

And, have a good time they did. The Terry’s 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 safe-guards 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 used 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 Terry’s were much more than just their lavish home. Lillian, born in Fayetteville, North Carolina, 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 Mt. 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.

As an industrialist, Terry was ahead of his time. He conceived the idea for America’s first industrial park in Cleveland, Ohio. Besides hosting an array of leisure-time activity spaces for employees – tennis courts, a library, baseball fields, a swimming pool, and a bowling alley – the complex served both men and women and was free from smoke fumes and other disturbances generally associated with industry at the time.

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.Estates_In the Oaks_Inside Main House_2011.009.23

The couple only had three happy years in the home before Franklin died of a stroke on August 2, 1926. Lillian continued to live at the estate until her death in an automobile accident in April 1954. The home was left to Lillian’s daughter, who 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.

 

 

Rafael Guastavino and “The Spanish Castle”

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by Melanie English

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.

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 meaning “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 eighth 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 Renaissance revival building and rose in the nation’s attention. The commission led to projects in thirty-two states. His company, the Guastavino Fireproof Construction Company opened offices in eleven cities across the county and the company 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 over 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. Highway 9 to the west, “Rhododendron” was a ramshackle three-story white washed 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 made 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.

Spanish Castle

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. Like Biltmore and other area estates including Zealandia, Seely’s Castle, and In the Oaks, the romantic landscape design of Rhododendron took advantage of the fan-shaped valley and irregular terrain to create terraces ornamented by native hardwoods, evergreens, and flowering trees.

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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 twentieth century feature the 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 also has a small collection of bricks and bottles from the estate, in addition to photographs depicting the estate. Christmount offers a walking tour and exhibit in the guesthouse open to the public year round. Click here for more information.