The Several Lives of West Asheville, Part III: Edwin Carrier in West Asheville

Quick Take on the Early Years: Incorporation, De-/Re-incorporation, Annexation, and Mini-Boom, 1889-1925

Wilbur G. Zeigler and Ben S. Grosscup, The Heart of the Alleghanies: Or, Western North Carolina (1883). Google Books.

When West Asheville–already on the way toward development and modernization–was incorporated on February 9, 1889, the language of the Act had the quaint, old-fashioned flavor of an early deed:

[T]he corporate limits . . .  shall be as follows: . . . Beginning at a stake on the east bank of the French Broad river, three rods above the county iron bridge; thence . . . crossing through the gap of a ridge to the ford of Smith’s mill creek below R. O. Patterson’s mill; thence up with the meanderings of said creek to the mouth of a small branch at the Jarrett old ford . . . thence up the dividing ridge between said branches . . . [and] crossing the county road one rod west of J. M. Jarrett’s store; thence . . .  to the head of a branch fronting said Jarrett’s store; thence down said branch with its meanderings to the French Broad river; thence down the southern and eastern bank of said French Broad river to the beginning.

Named as officers until elections were mayor R. M. Deaver (perhaps dating to the Reuben Deaver of the first Sulphur Springs hotel?) and three commissioners, from one of whom (F. S. H. Reynolds) E. G. Carrier bought land nine months later.  This charter was repealed on March 8, 1897 (for reasons no one seems to know), but the town was reincorporated on March 6, 1913.

Shortly after the centennial of this event, Mountain Xpress writer Grady Cooper schematized West Asheville’s history.  His succinct account of the 1915-1917 interval is useful here:

By 1915, West Asheville’s 4,000 residents were served by 10 stores, a mission, a volunteer fire department, a bank and an asphalt boulevard 60 feet wide and more than a mile long. Faced with growing municipal debt and increasing pressure for expansion and various improvements, however, the mayors of both Asheville and West Asheville urged annexation. . . . The merger came to pass on June 9, 1917. Voter turnout was light: West Asheville voted for consolidation 169 to 161; Asheville’s tally was 364 to 157.  In 1917 a low-turnout vote authorized annexation by Asheville, raising the city’s population by twenty-five percent (to 30,000).

Beyond this interval, development was slowed somewhat both by World War I and the influenza epidemic of 1918-1920  (see my post, Family Challenges in the ‘Teens: A Strike, a Flood, and an Epidemic), but from the mid-teens to the end of the twenties, numerous new buildings  sprang up along Haywood Road, West Asheville’s main commercial artery (see West Asheville End of Car Line Historic District).

Haywood Road, West Asheville, ca. 1924. North Carolina Postcard Collection (P052), North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives, Wilson Library, UNC-Chapel Hill.

My purpose in this post (and the one that preceded it, The Several Lives of West Asheville, Part II: Edwin G. Carrier Before West Asheville) is to examine a key actor during the period between 1885 and about 1915: Edwin G. Carrier, mentioned in many historical accounts but never examined carefully.  As Cooper said, after Carrier came, “the pace of development stepped up considerably.” Continue reading

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The Several Lives of West Asheville, Part II: Edwin G. Carrier Before West Asheville

Edwin G. Carrier, ca. 1885. Engraving by F. G. Kernan.

Edwin G. Carrier, ca. 1885. Engraving by F. G. Kernan. North Carolina Collection, Pack Memorial Public Library.  Previously appeared in West Asheville History Project and J. L. Mashburn, Hominy Valley Revisited (2009).

The Story So Far

Edwin Carrier was born in 1839, so he was in his late forties when he arrived in Western North Carolina (probably in 1885). Early discussions of his life before Asheville said almost nothing about it before then.  Arthur’s Western North Carolina (1914) said only that he “came from Michigan,” and Sondley’s Asheville and Buncombe County (1922) doesn’t mention him.  Neither the recent Dictionary of North Carolina Biography nor NCpedia offers anything.

In her 2007 history of Asheville, Nan K. Chase paid extensive attention to the quartet of wealthy developer “giants”  (George W. Vanderbilt, George W. Pack, Frank Coxe and E. W. Grove) who have loomed large in popular accounts and iconography.

Pack Square, donated and named in honor of George W. Pack. Facing west, with roof of Battery Park Hotel (1886), built by Frank Coxe.

Pack Square, 1913.  Donated by and named in honor of George W. Pack. Facing west, with roof of Battery Park Hotel (1886), built by Frank Coxe, beyond buildings at upper right.  Photo (N2352) by E. M. Ball, Ramsey Library, UNC Asheville.

But in a half-dozen early lines about West Asheville, Chase also notes that the “phantom presence of a fifth major city-builder of this time, the Northern lumberman Edwin George Carrier (1839-1927), hovers about the scene.”  She says that he came to Asheville with his “lumber fortune,” that he may have sold Jersey cows to George Vanderbilt for his showcase herd, and that he built a horse-racing track on the banks of the French Broad.  But the phantom continues to hover pretty much as a phantom.

Carrier gets somewhat more extensive treatment in Harshaw’s Asheville: Mountain Majesty  (published in 2007, as was Chase’s).  He was “engaged in a very successful lumber business” in Michigan, she says, but Michigan receives no further attention.   The rest is about his building a hotel on the long-abandoned site of Deaver’s Sulphur Springs (see previous post), his early agricultural experiments, his West Asheville and Sulphur Springs Railway and early hydroelectric dam on Hominy Creek, and his various development projects in and around West Asheville, including the race track.  One wishes to know more, but at least Harshaw’s Carrier emerges as more than “a phantom presence.”

My hope here is to give some substance to the phantom Edwin Carrier’s pre-Asheville years.

In this quest I have been aided greatly by digitized materials not available to Chase and Harshaw at the time they wrote: millions of pages of newspapers, census schedules and  genealogical materials, early city directories, some websites that offer their own digital resources, and early books and other early print materials previously accessible (if at all) only through inter-library loan, but now online at HathiTrust Digital Library, Google Books, and elsewhere.

I have not found everything I had hoped for, but a great deal nevertheless.  I invite you to join me. Continue reading

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The Several Lives of West Asheville, Part I: Sulphur Springs as Proto-Land of the Sky, 1827-1861

Mt. Pisgah with West Asheville in the foreground. Wilbur G. Zeigler and Ben S. Grosscup, The Heart of the Alleghanies: Or, Western North Carolina (1883). Google Books.

West Asheville, looking toward the west. Wilbur G. Zeigler and Ben S. Grosscup, The Heart of the Alleghanies: Or, Western North Carolina (1883). Google Books.

This post arose initially from my effort to understand the West Asheville of the early 1920s, when both my Whisnant and Rudisill grandparents moved there–the Whisnants from fifteen years in a rental house on South French Broad Avenue  (see earlier posts Working Class Family Behind the Big House, and  Family Challenges in the ‘Teens), and the Rudisills after years of frustrating textile mill and construction work in Gastonia (see earlier post, Cotton Mill Colic vs. the Land of the Sky).

My own memories of West Asheville history reach back to my childhood from the mid- and late 1940s into the late 1950s: the Whisnants’ modest but impeccably neat house at 60 Brownwood Avenue (see earlier posts Mud on the Rafters and The Land of the Sky and the End of the Line: Asbury and Ella), the Rudisills’ small and somewhat shabby rented house with its dirt-floored basement at 162 Virginia Avenue, going to first grade at Vance Elementary School, working weekends at the Winn-Dixie Store, playing tenor sax (passably) in school bands, and singing in choirs at West Asheville Baptist Church.

I have long intended to write this post when the appropriate moment arrived on the blog’s timeline, but recent unanticipated connections have also reshaped some of my understanding of West Asheville history: the recently inaugurated West Asheville History Project, a centenary symposium on the Flood of 1916, a heavily attended community gathering at the recently opened New Belgium Brewery on the banks

End of Car Line Monument, --- block of Haywood Road. Erected by West Asheville Business Association, 1998. Photo by David Whisnant (2016).

End of Car Line Monument, 700 block of Haywood Road. Erected by West Asheville Business Association, 1998. Photo by David Whisnant (2016).

of the French Broad (including “West Asheville History Moments” trading cards), a brief quest with my wife for the End of the Car Line monument in West Asheville, which in turn led to a search for surviving relics of what one might call “the Sulphur Springs century” (1827-1927) of West Asheville.

Pagoda at spring for E. G. Carrier's Sulphur Springs Hotel (1887-1891). Photo by David Whisnant, July 15, 2016.

Pagoda at spring for E. G. Carrier’s Sulphur Springs [aka Belmont] Hotel (1887-1892). Photo by David Whisnant, July 15, 2016.

So what I present here is not the or even a history of West Asheville.  I hope only to offer some fresh perspectives on parts of that history, so as to better understand the historical moment when my Whisnant and Rudisill grandparents took up residence there in 1922-1923. Continue reading

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Cotton Mill Colic vs. the Land of the Sky: From Gastonia to Asheville

Gastonia NC: Main Street looking west, 1912. Barbour Collection of North Carolina Postcards, UNC Chapel Hill.

Gastonia NC: Main Street looking west, 1912. Barbour Collection of North Carolina Postcards, UNC Chapel Hill.

The nearly two dozen posts I have published so far have focused on the Whisnant family, the first of whom entered the North Carolina Piedmont in the 1750s.  My Whisnant grandparents, Asbury and Ella, moved up the mountain to the so-called Land of the Sky from Rutherford, McDowell and Burke counties between 1900 and 1907.  My grandfather Whisnant started working with the Asheville street railway system in 1900 and continued into the early 1950s.

My most recent four posts dealt with the Asbury and Ella’s life in Asheville between 1907 and 1918–their small rented house on an in-town South French Broad Avenue estate, and some of the challenges that faced them there in the ‘teens (a streetcar strike, the devastating flood of 1916, and the influenza epidemic of 1918).  These narratives were set within the social, economic, and cultural frames of early twentieth-century Asheville.  My hope all along has been that these contextual frames and the family narratives would illuminate each other.

We now turn to the maternal grandparents, Pierce and Pearl Rudisill, and their life in the piedmont textile center of Gastonia after 1910: their work in the mills, their informal (and slightly mysterious) adoption of a daughter in 1916, Pierce’s draft/induction into World War I less than a year later, and after that several years of unstable employment for Pierce as a construction laborer until they moved to Asheville in 1922.

By then they had spent more than a decade moving from job to job and place to place–as were so many working class families–in pursuit of a perennially elusive stability and modest comfort.  Meanwhile, they followed  the patterns and practices that reflect both denial and hope: visiting families, cultivating friends, going to church, birthday parties and Christmas, and trying again and again to have a child. Continue reading

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Family Challenges in the ‘Teens: A Strike, a Flood, and an Epidemic

Omnibus, Paris, 1828. State Library of Victoria via Wikipedia.

Omnibus (“bus for everyone”), Paris, 1828. State Library of Victoria via Wikipedia.

In my previous post, focused on the daily life of the Whisnant family at 44 South French Broad Avenue from about 1910 into the early 1920s, I noted that–owning to their complexity–three episodes would be held for a subsequent post.

This is that post, and the episodes are:

  • The Asheville Street Railway strike of 1913.  I treat it at some length here because it was Asheville’s first real strike, and  Asbury voted for and participated in it.
  • The flood of July 1916.  I treat it briefly here because it has been commented upon (usually briefly) many times before (e.g., here), because I dealt with it in three earlier posts (herehere, and here), and because Anthony Sadler’s Appalachian State University M.A. thesis, which analyzes it far more thoroughly than anyone previously has, is soon to be available online.
  • The influenza pandemic of 1918-1920, in which Asbury and Ella’s youngest child–my father, then four years old–almost died.  Also treated at length here.

Continue reading

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A Document Answers Some Questions (and Raises New Ones)

Lenoir NC, 1874. Caldwell Heritage Museum.

Lenoir NC, 1874. Caldwell County Heritage Museum. Ella Austin Whisnant was born just outside of Lenoir, on Lower Creek, in 1869.

In writing this blog so far, I have consulted and presented many kinds of documents: photographs, census records, newspaper articles and advertisements, printed catalogs,

Western North Carolina Insane Asylum, Inebriate Admission form ca. 1885.  Morganton Public Library

Western North Carolina Insane Asylum, Inebriate Admission form, ca. 1885. Morganton Public Library

maps, postcards, government reports–whatever I have been able to find that seemed useful.

Much of the time, a document ties down some fact or answers some question.  Not infrequently, however, it can be opaque, misleading, tantalizing but unyielding, frustrating in its incompleteness.  It can raise more questions than it answers.

This is a brief account of a single document sent to me recently by a member of the Whisnant family, and my effort to understand what it says (or does not) and what questions it answers (or does not).

Here is the document.  Click to enlarge it, and take a look:

Ella Austin's "Nurse's Certificate of Registration," December 19, 1903. Private collection.

Ella Austin’s “Nurse’s Certificate of Registration,” December 19, 1903. Collection of Sarah McGinnis.

My first reaction to receiving this 100+ year-old piece of paper was “Great!”  It seemed to answer a question I had wrestled with for months: Was my grandmother Ella Austin trained–and did she work–as a nurse at the State Hospital at Morganton sometime around the turn of the century (maybe between 1880-something and 1907)?  Its answer to that question, posed in that way, was a simple “yes.”  But there was, it turned out, much more (and less) to it than that.

Nurses' training class, State Hospital at Morganton, probably 1895 (note on back says "first" class, 1905; almost certainly in error). Patrick L. Murphy Papers, Southern Historical Collection, UNC Chapel Hill.

Nurses’ training class, State Hospital at Morganton. Note on back says “first” class, 1905.  Even before seeing the certificate under consideration here, I was almost certain that “first” and the date were in error. By comparing this photograph with others of Ella, I am confident that she is fourth from the left in the second row.

Patrick L. Murphy Papers, Southern Historical Collection, UNC Chapel Hill.

Where the Blog Stood When the Document Came to Me

By the time this document came to me, I had already written about my grandmother Ella Austin [Whisnant] several times:

  • Her and Asbury’s years at State Hospital [for the Insane, it was originally called] at Morganton.

    Asbury and Ella Whisnant with children, ca. 1916

    Asbury and Ella Whisnant with children, ca. 1916.  Nurse’s watch pinned to bodice of dress.  Click for larger image.

What I Had Already Learned About Early Professional Nursing, and Nursing at the  State Hospital

Not a whole lot.  Mostly I had learned some things about the nursing program as a whole:

  • The hospital itself opened in February 1883, when Ella was fourteen years old.  It (and consequently its staff) grew very quickly.
  • A nurse-training program that combined lectures and clinical practice was established  in October 1895, when Ella was twenty-six (Streeter thesis, p. 86).  On March 3, 1896, the Morganton Herald mentioned (in a weekly series “At the State Hospital”) that eight (unnamed) nurses were in training.  Thus the 1896 class, and not the “1905” one in the photograph above, was likely the first one.
  • Early training of nurses included at least “bathing, use and effects of medicines, control of hemorrhages, applications of surgical dressings, and use of the catheter and clinical thermometer” (Streeter thesis, pp. 91-92)  Mental asylum nurses were also trained to identify and treat mental disease. What additional training they may have had is unclear.
  • The 1900 manuscript census of Burke County listed the occupation of Ella and 51 other women and men at the State Hospital as “nurse,” but (as Streeter notes) this census did not distinguish between trained and untrained nurses.  The 1910 census did so, but by then Ella was living in Asheville.

    Federal census of 1900, Burke County NC, State Hospital at Morganton

    Federal census of 1900, Burke County NC, State Hospital at Morganton

What I Did Not Know

  • When Ella first came to the hospital.  A Lenoir Topic article of August 21, 1895  said she was returning after a visit home to Lenoir, and another of March 30, 1897 says she had been “employed at the hospital for some time.”  Born in 1869, she could perhaps have been there as early as 1887, when she was eighteen years old. At least one eighteen year-old nurse was listed in the 1900 census; the oldest was sixty-eight. Ella was then  thirty-one.
  • When Ella actually left employment at the hospital.  A Morganton Herald article of August 18, 1904, says she went home (for how long, it doesn’t say) to Lenoir to help take care of her sick brother.  By late 1907, she was living in Asheville.

What the Certificate Makes (Sort of) Clear

  • However much formal training Ella had in nursing, and however long she worked as a nurse, her certificate of registration was entered by the Burke County Clerk of Superior Court on December 19, 1903 as “No. 30,” which may indicate that at least twenty-nine Burke County nurses had been certified as trained by then.  But there could have been more than the twenty-nine others, and some could have been working outside the State Hospital setting.  And in any case, December 19, 1903 was Ella’s registration date–probably not the date when  the hospital doctors certified her as trained.
  • When she came to register, she presented either a “Diploma from State Hospital, located at Morganton” or “a Certificate signed by the following Physicians: P[atrick] L. Murphy, Isaac M. [Taylor], John M. Campbell.”  On a first glance, I had hoped this might provide a clue to exactly what training Ella actually had. But upon closer examination, the document disappoints. All of the handwriting (including the doctors’ names) is the same, indicating that the clerk simply wrote down the names of the doctors who had signed whichever other document (Diploma or other hospital-issued Certificate) Ella presented to them. We still don’t know what that might have been.
  •  The photograph of the nursing class above cannot be first or 1905 if I am correct about the fourth-row nurse being Ella, as I am confident that I am.

What Studying the Certificate Led Me to Inquire About Further

What about the program of study?

Having learned that Ella had been in some program of study, I tried again to discover what a program for nurses might have been at the time.  But as before, I discovered no actual curriculum for the State Hospital program.  What I did find was that a training school for nurses opened at Rex Hospital in Raleigh at about the same time offered an eighteen-month course, the main texts for which were “[Lavinia L.] Dock’s Materia Medica for Nurses (1890), Clara Weeks-Shaw’s A Textbook of Nursing (1892), and “Hutchinson’s Physiology.”

Since Superintendent Murphy was widely recognized as competent, progressive, and knowledgeable about current best practices, his program likely would have been similar to the one at Rex Hospital.

A recently-passed state law

Trying to find out about the legal status of the Certificate and its relationship to whatever certificate or diploma had earlier been issued by the hospital, I learned that on March 3, 1903, North Carolina became the first state to pass a law requiring the registration of nurses.  That key fact suggested a probable sequence: After the law was signed, blank certificates had to be printed and distributed to clerks of Superior Court in all North Carolina counties.  The clerks presumably put out the word (through notices in local newspapers would be my guess) that nurses whose training and experience their supervising physicians were willing to vouch for should present a “Diploma”  or “Certificate” signed by those physicians, and be registered by the clerk.  To put such a process into place would probably have required at least a few months.

After reading the text of the law, I began to consider the likelihood that Ella’s Nurse’s Certificate of Registration No. 30 might in fact reveal little except that during some undefined period, she passed through a training process of some description and length, that she had learned enough to assure the hospital Superintendent and two other physicians that she met the legal standard suggested (but not defined) by the Nurse’s Certificate of Registration.  They gave her a “certificate or diploma,” she took it (after how long a time we don’t know) to the clerk, and he gave her official registration certificate No. 30 on December 19.  That date was perhaps determined (it occurred to me) more by the new state law than by anything else.

As it turned out, my “perhaps” was not necessary.  A short search on Phoebe Pollitt’s North Carolina Nursing History website brought me to the text of the law.  Here is the relevant part of Section 1:

[A]ny nurse who may present to the clerk of the Superior court in the State on or before December 31, 1903 a diploma from a reputable training school for nurses conducted in connection with a general hospital, public or private, in which medical, surgical, and obstetrical cases are treated, or in connection with one of the three State Hospitals for the insane [at Morganton, Raleigh, or Goldsboro], or who shall exhibit a certificate of attendance upon such training school for a period of not less than two years, or who shall present a certificate signed by three registered physicians stating that he or she has pursued as a business the vocation of a trained nurse for a period of no less than two years, and is in their judgment competent to practice the same, shall be entitled to registration without examinations, and shall be registered by the clerk of Court in the manner hereinafter provided.

So Ella may or may not have had a formal training course, because the three-doctor certificate vouched for her knowledge and skills.  I suspect, however, that she had had the State Hospital training course (whatever it was and whenever she took it), since by 1903 she likely had been working at the hospital o perhaps as long as fifteen years, first (maybe) as an “attendant,” and then (it seems logical to assume) as a nurse for something like a decade, and was going on thirty-five years old.

Had she waited another two weeks to register, however, Ella would have had to appear before the newly created State Board of Examiners of Nurses (in Raleigh, one would guess), undergone an examination in “elements of anatomy and physiology, in medical, surgical, obstetrical and practical nursing, invalid cookery and household hygiene,” and returned to present a license from the Examiners to the Burke County Clerk of Court.

OK, now I finally get it.  I now know what this Nurse’s Certificate of Registration proves, and doesn’t.  It answers a couple of my prior questions, but leaves others unanswered. It raises still others that it had not previously occurred to me to wonder about. It led me to a key contextual factor (the law) that then allowed me to avoid a tantalizing but incorrect assumption (that the Certificate proved she had had formal training).

What I Am Still Trying to Determine

I would like to know why Ella’s work as a nurse (and perhaps earlier as an “attendant”) in the State Hospital for a decade was lost to memory in the family, as it seemed to be.  That work was betokened proudly by the watch she wore daily, recorded on a certificate in the court house of her home county, and verified by a few documents (including at least one photograph) buried in family records.

I would like to know whether there was some sort of de facto nurse training program prior to October 1895, and whether Ella was a part of it.  Several bits of evidence make that seem likely:

  • Prior to working at the hospital (as I discovered accidentally in the 1940 census while
    Lenoir Topic, June 23, 1886

    Lenoir Topic, June 23, 1886

    working on this blog some sixty years after her death), Ella seems to have attended college for a year, probably at Davenport College in her home town of Lenoir (see previous blog post). Whether other women (or men, for that matter) in her group of nursing trainees had had a similar experience, I have no idea.  But anyone who had, likely would have been an especially valued prospect for the hospital’s first formal nursing class.

  • A long and detailed article in the Asheville Daily Citizen on December 27, 1892 following an on-site visit by at least one reporter (conducted by the Superintendent) noted that among the many laudable features of the hospital were “skilled nurses [who were] on hand to look after the wants of the people under their care.”
  • Even by 1892 when the Daily Citizen article appeared, the hospital had been operating nearly ten years, had a capacity of at least 500 patients, and had a program of patient care and rehabilitation that had attracted
State Hospital at Morganton, 1896. Documenting the American South.

State Hospital at Morganton, 1896. Documenting the American South.

national attention.  It seems inconceivable that the hospital had no trained and experienced women and men who were doing the work of nurses.  But “skilled” (the Daily Citizen reporter’s term) would certainly have connoted “experienced,” and likely also some kind of systematic training–“on-the-job,” “in-service,” or something equivalent.

What I Came Out With

This document wasn’t all I hoped it would be, but it did offer a key fact or two: Ella did become a registered nurse during her time at the State Hospital, and her  registration occurred at the county level.

Checking into the document also expanded my framework and knowledge significantly: A state law requiring nurses to register was passed in 1903.  During the final months of that year, there were several possible  paths to registration.  And the timing of Ella’s just-before-the-deadline registration probably was significantly influenced by the cut-off date specified in the law.

And finally, a document doesn’t have to provide the precise facts you are seeking in order to serve usefully to expand and redirect inquiry.



Phoebe Pollitt, North Carolina Nursing History (Appalachian State University); Carrie Anne Streeter, Let Me See Some Insane People”: Progressive-Era Development of the State Hospital at Morganton, 1883-1907  (M.A. thesis, Appalachian State University, 2011); “Thirteen Nurses Graduate” The Charlotte Observer, June 15, 1904; “Training School for Nurses,” Raleigh News and Observer, July 24, 1896.

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