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: Continue reading

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Glimpses into the Daily Lives of the Whisnants

Pack Square, 1910. Pack Memorial Public Library

Pack Square, 1910. Pack Memorial Public Library

My previous post conveyed as much as I have been able to discover about the “little house behind the big house” setting of the Whisnant family’s life on Asheville’s South French Broad Avenue during the second decade of the century.  This present post focuses on the life Asbury, Ella, and their three children (Azile, b. 1910; Bertha, b. 1913; and John, b. 1914) actually lived there. Continue reading

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Working Class Family Behind the Big House: Asbury, Ella, and Their Children: 1907-1918

Asbury Whisnant and Ella Austin on their wedding day, Avery Building, State Hospital at Morganton, November 6, 1907. Image enhancement by Evan Whisnant.

Asbury Whisnant and Sarah Ella Austin on their wedding day, Avery Building, State Hospital at Morganton, November 6, 1907. Image enhancement by Evan Whisnant.

Living Large and Small: Class and Difference on an In-town Estate

This post examines the place where Asbury and Ella lived with their family for fifteen years after 1907, and seeks to employ the resulting narrative–which arches across race, class, and culture–to understand a few elements of working class and upper class life, popular culture, and the aesthetics of domestic spaces, in Asheville during the first and second decades of the twentieth century. Continue reading

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Our Mountain Home: Asbury’s Encounter with a Changing Asheville, 1900-1907

Our Mountain Home, December 1, 1906

Our Mountain Home, December 1, 1906.  Semi-monthly newspaper published in Asheville by Jewish (?) merchant J. M. Stoner

Several previous posts have focused upon Asbury’s and Ella’s earlier lives and work, some key choices that faced them as they contemplated marriage (for more than a dozen years, it seems), and the general character of Asheville between 1900 (when he came) and 1907 (when she arrived).

What I did not address in these posts was the growing multicultural nature of Asheville (it had been biracial for its entire 100+-year history) and Asbury’s encounter with the racial, cultural, and other dynamics of the growing, bustling city where he had chosen to live and work.   This post focuses on some of those change dynamics–partly by using Asbury as a lens. Continue reading

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Retrospective I: A Primer on the Sad Truths of Slavery in Asheville, Buncombe County and Western North Carolina

In a previous post (How Did 1900 Asheville Happen?: A Retrospective in Five Parts–1850-1900), I indicated that over the next while I would be intermittently preparing a series of retrospective posts looking at a question about pre-1900 Asheville:  How did Asheville move from being a small mountain town of fewer than 1,000 people in 1860, through a Civil War that was devoid of major local battles but no less devastating for that, to being a modern (and still rapidly modernizing) city by 1900?

Asheville in 1854. Foster A. Sondley, Asheville and Buncombe County (1922), p. 121.

Asheville in 1854. Foster A. Sondley, Asheville and Buncombe County (1922), p. 121.

This is the first of those posts. My intent here is to be synoptic and suggestive–to collect and put “out there” a few key items about slavery that are by now well documented and overdue for incorporation into (or put in the place of) the customary narrative.

So here is my primer: Continue reading

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How’s That Again?: Some New Angles on Asheville and Western North Carolina History

 

19290000AshevillefromBeaucatcherWNCHeritageMA117-8

Asheville from Beaucatcher Mountain, 1929. George Masa. Courtesy of Western North Carolina Heritage. Click for enlarged image and full data.

Perennial Problems with “Land of the Sky” History

Since it first appeared in 1875, the “Land of the Sky” descriptor for Asheville has been perennially present, enticing and marketable. At the same time, however, it is important to realize that the phrase has also been shorthand for a certain version of Asheville’s history–partly true, partly romantic construction, and partly misleading in its treatment and/or omission of some important and easily documentable (if one takes the time) aspects of the city’s actual character and development.

From its opening page, one aim of this blog has been to shed new light on some of these problematic aspects of the  popular and long familiar history of “Land of the Sky” Asheville.  Among those that seem to me to need reconsideration and illumination are: Continue reading

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