Who were the remarkable people and communities who shaped the Swannanoa Valley? Who built the railroads, and how did tourism develop? When catastrophe has struck, how have communities banded together to continue on?

The Swannanoa Valley History Café Series explores these questions with monthly evening lectures, taking place March thru November at the Education Room of the Black Mountain Public Library (105 N. Dougherty Street). These hour-long meet-ups engage the many stories that have shaped the Swannanoa Valley as a place — from the history of early Cherokee towns, to the development of drovers roads and railways, to the histories of local institutions like the Black Mountain Public Library. Each presentation ends with a Q&A discussion bringing our shared history into context with contemporary issues.
Learn more about our cafés and register below.

When & Where: Cafés take place once a month, March thru November on Monday evenings from 6:00pm-7:15pm at the Education Room of the Black Mountain Public Library (105 N. Dougherty St.).

Cost: Swannanoa Valley History Cafés are FREE for museum members, but attendees must register for all events. Cafés cost $5.00 for the general public. Some fees apply.

Covid Policy: Attendees are highly encouraged to wear masks over the nose and mouth while in the Education Room. If circumstances do not allow for meeting in person, the event will be moved to an online format and registrants will receive a zoom link.

2022 Series: Details and Registration

Monday, May 23, 6:00pm – 7:15pmEarly Drovers’ Roads and Stagecoach Roads in Western North Carolina, with Peter Koch Scroll down for details, or click here to register.
Monday, June 20, 6:00pm – 7:15pmAfrican-American Women’s Midwifery and Doula Work in Buncombe County: Then and Now, with Kelly Dunbar and Cindy MacMillanScroll down for details, or click here to register.
Monday, July 18, 6:00pm – 7:15pmThe Black Mountain Tyson Library: The First 100 Years, with Tom StilesScroll down for details, or click here to register.
Monday, August 15, 6:00pm – 7:15pmThe Railroad and Incarcerated Labor (RAIL) Memorial Project, with RAIL Scroll down for details, or click here to register.
Monday, September 19, 6:00pm – 7:15pmGreat Floods of the Swannanoa Valley and Western North Carolina, with Anne Chesky Smith and SVM StaffScroll down for details, or click here to register.
Monday, October 17, 6:00pm – 7:15pmThe Bloody Summer of Independence: The Cherokee War of 1776, with Jonathan BennettScroll down for details, or click here to register.
Monday, November 14, 6:00pm – 7:15pmGetting My Kicks Clogging: Clogging and Flatfooting in WNC, with Rodney SuttonScroll down for details, or click here to register.

May 23rd: Early Drovers’ Roads and Stagecoach Roads in Western North Carolina

Peter Koch will present a program from the early days of drovers stands, hog and turkey drives, and stagecoaches. These means of travel and places of accommodation seem quaint when viewed through a modern lens dominated by Interstate 40 and the multi-story hotels in Buncombe and the surrounding counties. Yet western North Carolina has historically had a strong economy dominated by agricultural products. The methods these products were taken to market the routes that were used will be Mr. Koch’s topic for discussion. Using period images, maps, and stories, Mr. Koch will shed light on the connections western North Carolina had to the other southern states and beyond. REGISTER HERE

About the Peter Koch (click here)

Education Associate Peter Koch holds an M.A. in public history from North Carolina State University and is on the boards of the WNC Civil War Roundtable and of Civil War Trails. He has also had a long involvement in the North Carolina Museums Council. He has been employed at the Mountain Heritage Center since 1998 where he helps coordinate the education programs including the K-12 group visits. He is also heavily involved in managing and guiding the various student workers employed by the MHC each semester.

June 20th: African-American Women’s Midwifery and Doula Work in Buncombe County: Then and Now

A collaborative presentation exploring historic and contemporary Black women’s midwifery and doula work in Buncombe County. Researcher Kelly Dunbar will present a historical analysis of Black midwifery in Buncombe County from 1865 to 1930. Her presentation will focus on several prominent women from the area: Tempie Avery, Mary Stepp Hayden and Annie Daughtery. Afterwards, Cindy MacMillan, Executive Director of Sistas Caring 4 Sistas Doula Services, will talk about her organization, the need for improving birth outcomes for families of color, and how the public can support this work. REGISTER HERE

About Kelly Dunbar and Cindy MacMillan (click here)

Kelly Dunbar: A native of Western North Carolina, Kelly Dunbar was born in Valley Crucis, North Carolina where her parents both worked for the North Carolina Outward Bound School. At thirteen she moved to Asheville and graduated from Reynolds High School in 1999. She attended the University of NC at Asheville where she ran Division I track and x-country and played cello in the UNCA String Ensemble. In 2004 Kelly graduated with a BA in history and a teaching license. Following graduation she served for two years in the United States Peace Corps in Uganda. After returning from Uganda, Kelly took a job working for Buncombe County Middle College and then transferred to Owen High School in 2012. Currently she teaches 10th and 11th grade American History and AP U.S. History. In the spring of 2021 Kelly finished her MA in American History through Pace University, NY. The focus of her research was on black women as pioneers in community building and racial uplift in Buncombe County from 1865 to 1930.

Cindy MacMillan: Cindy is a certified birth doula, a certified breastfeeding peer counselor, a Lamaze-trained childbirth educator, and a certified peer support specialist for mothers with substance use disorders. She endeavors to help women feel supported, heard, and valued during pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum while giving them the freedom to make informed decisions about their care and their birth journey. Cindy is the proud mother of four children.

July 18th: The Black Mountain Tyson Library: The First 100 Years

In this presentation, researcher and Black Mountain resident Tom Stiles will provide an overview of the founding and growth of the Black Mountain Public Library from 1922 to today. It will introduce the key players including the Friends of the Library and highlight their significant contributions. This event is co-sponsored with the Black Mountain Public Library, and is free to all members of the public. REGISTER HERE

About Tom Stiles (click here)

Tom Stiles was born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland. After earning a BA in History and a commission in the Air Force at Colgate University in Hamilton, New York, he became a C130 navigator, flying both Tactical Airlift and Special Operations missions. Tom earned a Masters of Public Administration from Auburn University. His Air Force assignments included tours in Vietnam, Germany, Alaska and Turkey. After his retirement he worked as the head of Corporate Services for the Okaloosa Gas District in Niceville, Florida. He and Robin moved to Black Mountain in 2016. Their two sons gave them their five grandchildren.

August 15th: The Railroad and Incarcerated Labor (RAIL) Memorial Project

The construction of the Mountain Division of the Western North Carolina Railroad in the late 19th century is widely considered one of the greatest human accomplishments in regards to both engineering and construction ever undertaken at the time it occurred. Many people are aware that the railroad provided the first dependable access to and from much of WNC for the rest of the state as well as much of the nation. However, most people are unaware that at least 95% of the labor which built the railroad across the Blue Ridge Escarpment was completed by inmates from the North Carolina State Penitentiary… and approximately 98% of those inmates were African American men, the majority of whom were unjustly imprisoned. In this presentation, members of the steering community of the Railroad and Incarcerated Labor (RAIL) Memorial Project, will discuss this history, the goals of the project, and discuss current and ongoing initiatives and fundraising needs. REGISTER HERE

September 19th: Great Floods of the Swannanoa Valley and Western North Carolina

Anne Chesky Smith, director of the WNC Historical Association, and Swannanoa Valley Museum staff will discuss some of the largest flooding disasters in Western North Carolina’s history- including the floods of 1916, 1940 and 2004. Museum staff will also share photographs of these floods as they occurred in the Swannanoa Valley and talk about efforts to mitigate flood damage in the present day. REGISTER HERE

About Anne Chesky Smith (click here)

Anne Chesky Smith is the Executive Director at the Western North Carolina Historical Association in Asheville. She lives in Riceville with her family.

October 17th: The Bloody Summer of Independence: The Cherokee War of 1776

While the ink was drying on the Declaration of Independence as it sat on a wooden table in the hot, stuffy Pennsylvania State House soon to be known as Independence Hall, war cries were echoing through the coves and hollows of the Blue Ridge Mountains.  War had broken out on the frontier between the Cherokee Nation and Americans settling the frontier.  The Cherokee turned to war in a desperate attempt to save their ancestral homeland and traditional way of life from the ever-increasing number of white settlers encroaching farther and farther into their territory.  Their raids spread terror throughout the region and even swept into the Catawba River Valley.  Those raids triggered brutal campaigns of reprisals by the newly independent states of North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia leaving more than 50 Cherokee towns in flames and ashes.  One of those reprisal campaigns led by General Griffith Rutherford left from what is today known as Old Fort and passed through the Swannanoa Gap and Valley on their way to the Cherokee towns further west.  His route known as Rutherford’s Trace can still be followed today and is marked with silver and black historical markers.  Come to this program and learn what led to this tragic war, stories and details of some of its more infamous incidendents and what the results of all this fighting produced. REGISTER HERE

About Jonathan Bennett (click here)

Jonathan Howard Bennett is an Interpretative National Park Ranger. He has worked for the Blue Ridge Parkway and the National Park Service presenting lectures on historical and scientific subjects for nearly 20 years.  A native of Yancey County, he graduated from Wake Forest University where he double majored in history and archaeology.  He also has done graduate work at East Carolina University in military history. Jonathan has work experience as both an archaeological lab and field technician with Wake Forest University Archaeological Laboratories. He has participated in several archaeological excavations and field surveys dealing with the American Revolution in the South as well as Cherokee history.  He is the coauthor of Mount Mitchell which is part of Arcadia Publishing’s Images of America Series.  He has also served as the Incident Commander of the Blue Ridge Parkway’s largest annual special event known as the Overmountain Victory Celebration since 2006.

November 14th: Getting My Kicks Clogging: Clogging and Flatfooting in WNC

Rodney Sutton, a member of the World Famous Green Grass Cloggers for 50 years, will delve into the history of percussive dance in Western North Carolina, including the Swannanoa Valley! The origins of Appalachian Clogging can be traced back to the first Mountain Dance and Folk Festival held in Asheville in 1928. This lecture/demonstration will compare and contrast the different styles of clogging and flatfooting found here in the mountains of WNC and throughout the United States and world-wide! Rodney’s presentations are filled with him demonstrating his amazing footwork and he offers the audience a chance to join in the fun! REGISTER HERE

About Rodney Sutton (click here)

Rodney Sutton is a prominent and highly respected representative of the dance and music traditions of his home state of North Carolina. He is particularly known as a traditional step-dancer, adept at both flatfooting and clogging, and also as a dance caller. In recent years, Rodney has expanded his presentations to include both storytelling and ballad singing. Rodney was an early member and director (’77-’79) of the Green Grass Cloggers who have danced in recent years at the Smithsonian Folk Life Festival, the Philadelphia Folk Festival, Lake Eden Arts Festival, the Appalachian Stringband Music Festival, and MerleFest. Rodney was co-founder and principal dancer with the Fiddle Puppets Dance Company – now known as Footworks – from 1979-1990. Rodney recently retired as the Director of Joe Shannon’s Mountain Home Music Concerts in Boone, North Carolina, producing over 90 traditional music concerts from 2014-2021. In 2019, Rodney was one of 9 artist selected to receive a first ever Folk and Traditional Arts Master Artist Fellowship from South Arts. He currently is participating as a mentor on a yearlong NC Appalachian Folk Life Apprenticeship Grant where he is teaching Willard Cline Watson III dance steps that Rodney learned from Willard Watson Sr. back in the 1970’s.

March 21st: Exploring Black Mountain College’s History through Archival Photographs, with Heather South

Though in existence for only a few decades, Black Mountain College (1933-1957) had a deep impact on the arts. Many students who spent time at the school became highly influential artists in the latter half of the 20th century, and the school’s educational model has helped to shape the liberal arts up to the present day. In this presentation, Heather South will share photographs from the Western Regional Archives that highlight the college’s history, and discuss the ongoing fascination with the college today. REGISTER HERE


About Heather South (click here)

Heather South is the lead archivist for the Western Regional Archives, a branch of the State Archives of North Carolina, located in Asheville,  She earned a B.A. and M.A. in history from Winthrop University and is a member of the Academy of Certified Archivists and a National Heritage Responder. 

April 11th: A Fifteenth-Century Swannanoa Valley Cherokee Village: Mississippian Culture at the Warren Wilson Archaeology Site

In his talk about the multiple Pisgah phase (ancestral Cherokee) settlements at the Warren Wilson archaeology site, Dr. Moore will explain what is meant by Mississippian culture and how it relates to Cherokee history. He will describe the origins of the excavations at Warren Wilson in the 1960s and talk about what archaeologists have learned about the local expression of MississIppian culture. He will also briefly describe how the Warren Wilson site is related to other western North Carolina Mississippian and Cherokee sites. REGISTER HERE


About Dr. David Moore (click here)

David Moore teaches archaeology at Warren Wilson College. He received a BA from the University of California at Berkeley and his MA and PhD in anthropology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He has conducted archaeology in western North Carolina since 1978 and worked for the NC Office of State Archaeology for 18 years prior to coming to Warren Wilson in 1999. He also serves as the principal archaeologist for the Exploring Joara Foundation in Morganton. Since 2000 he has directed major excavations at the Berry site, the location of the Native American town of Joara and the sixteenth-century Spanish Fort San Juan, the earliest European settlement in the interior of the United States, 1567-1568. He is the author of Catawba Valley Mississippian: Ceramics, Chronology, and Catawba Indians (University of Alabama Press, 2002), and Fort San Juan and the Limits of Empire (co-authored with Robin A. Beck and Christopher B. Rodning, University of Florida Press, 2016). In 2019, Moore and his colleagues received a Discovery Award at the 4th Shanghai Archaeology Forum in Shanghai, China, for their discovery and investigation of Fort San Juan.