- 1 Who Invented the “Land of the Sky” Phrase?
- 2 Beyond the Novel
- 3 Other Lands of the Sky, or Only One?
- 4 The Moment
- 5 Photographers
- 6 Hotels in the Newspapers
- 7 Railroads and Hotels
- 8 Big money movers and shakers: George W. Pack (1831-1906), Edwin W. Grove (1850-1927), and George W. Vanderbilt (1862-1914)
- 9 The Stereoscopic View
- 10 “The Land of the Sky” on Postcards: The Genre and the Phrase
- 11 Other actors and other means:
- 12 References:
One of a three-part series, best read in order:
3. “The Land of the Sky”: How a Phrase Went So Far, So Fast, and Lasted So Long
This post presents what I have learned so far about how, why, as a result of what circumstances, and through what means, “The Land of the Sky” designation for Asheville diffused so rapidly, widely, and remained so durable for so long.
Who Invented the “Land of the Sky” Phrase?
It is always asserted that the original source of the phrase was the title of Reid’s novel. At least according to the contemporary website AshevilleNow.com, that is that: it “quickly caught the attention of thousands and the area’s fame spread like wildfire.” Unfortunately, no historian of Asheville or North Carolina I have encountered has pushed beyond this single-source/single-cause explanation.
My own relatively limited effort to test that explanation, however, turns up a couple of earlier instances, at least. By presenting them here, I do not mean to imply that Reid “got,” “appropriated,” “borrowed,” or “used” one of them. Indeed she may have been completely unaware of their existence. Nevertheless:
The earliest instance I have found is in Jerusalem (1857), a volume of religious poems:”The Death Song of Logan,” written (by whom is not specified) in Plainfield NY in 1825. Both “land of the sun” and “land of the sky” appear, but Asheville is neither named nor alluded to. Thirty years later (January 1855), the poem “Two Edens” appeared in the popular magazine The Ladies’ Repository:
I am dreaming, dreaming of Eden–
That Eden of love that lies
Far over the shadowy waters–
The quiet land of the skies–
Tantalizing as a possibility, maybe, but the Eden referred to lies beyond death, not in western North Carolina (however often referred to as Edenic by travelers).
Closer in subject but less so in phraseology was Henry Hartshorne’s 1865 poem “Fairy Land,” which referred to “All the golden hills that lie / In the cloud-land of the sky.” Having been born in 1846, Reid would have been old enough to have encountered this poem, but we lack evidence that she did.
One final possibility: In his massive anthology Heaven in Song, published the year before Reid’s first chapter appeared in Appleton’s Journal, the Rev. Henry Fish D.D. (1820-1877) included the poem “The Better County.” The relevant lines are these:
Here the phrase is exactly Reid’s, and the timing is correct. Reid’s lifelong Catholicism might also have made the Rev. Fish’s book appealing, but again we have no evidence that she encountered it.
Beyond the Novel
The earliest print references I have found to the phrase as Reid used it in her title occur in newspaper notices of, and advertisements for, the novel itself. They began to appear almost simultaneously with the Appleton’s Journal serialization in September 1875.
A bit more poking around suggests, however, that although Reid’s novel supplied the phrase, it did not long remain its sole referent.
Several examples show that the phrase moved quickly beyond the boundaries of fiction. The earliest use of the phrase after 1875 that I am aware of dates from a summer 1878 article in The American Naturalist concerning an upcoming Butler University scientific expedition through the Great Smoky Mountains and thereabouts. It referred participants to Reid’s novel. A few weeks after the Swannanoa Tunnel opened the next year, a headline in the Atlanta Daily Constitution proclaimed “The ‘Land of the Sky’ Opened to the World.”
Early diffusion had a lot to do with the social and cultural circumstances at the moment the novel appeared, and also with the motives and devices used by those who had something to gain from appropriating and employing the phrase.
It also appears that in the service of many aims, the vast number of images that came to be associated with the phrase have morphed continuously over the years. One finds layer upon layer of additions, deletions, new highlights, shadings, and re-configurings. So who in fact used, promoted, and disseminated the image/phrase? For what purposes? How has it changed over the years? And especially, what forms did it have during the developmentally crucial 1920s and 1930s?
I caution that this post is tentative; even the evidence I have seen so far makes it seem probable that much more remains to be said.
Other Lands of the Sky, or Only One?
Just to clear up one matter that troubled me at the outset: Did any other area or region or city use the phrase early on (that is, from the 1870s), or was it Asheville’s own?
The closest non-Asheville referent I have found (not very close, it turns out) is classical composer and orchestra conductor Charles Wakefield Cadman’s “From the Land
Cadman’s song became popular and was recorded many times (in 1911 by classical soprano Alma Gluck, by pop idol Rudy Vallee in 1932, and as late as 1957 by Lee Wiley). The title came (exactly when, I don’t know) to be associated with Minnesota, as countless postcards attest. In any case, the song post-dated Reid’s novel by nearly thirty-five years, and the homeland the maiden longs for is a long way from Asheville.
So Asheville had the phrase all to itself, it appears, and it also had the moment of opportunity.
When the “Land of the Sky” phrase first appeared in the mid-1870s, several factors contributed to its rapid and wide diffusion:
- Reid’s novel was published at the beginning of what turned out to be a rising tide of local color fiction that reached new markets–both for stories about exotic locations, and (hence) for travel to them.
- The Civil War–which, as historians John Inscoe and Gordon McKinney have shown, devastated western North Carolina–had been over for a decade, and movement toward normalcy and new popular concerns and expectations was under way.
- Less than four years after the novel appeared, the Swannanoa Tunnel punched through the Continental Divide east of Asheville, inaugurating Asheville’s first major boom.
- The phrase provided a convenient way for what remained for some years a jumble of mostly uncoordinated development to be touted as an already accomplished fact, linked to a resonantly romantic, multi-valent image that was appealing to tourists, health seekers, and moneyed entrepreneurs.
Since considerable attention has already been paid in a previous post to local color fiction as a mechanism for making “The Land of the Sky” a familiar and attractive phrase, we pass directly to hotels and railroads–and the synergy between them, and to other forms such as postcards and tourist-oriented photography that helped disseminate graphic images of the area and tie them to the “Land of the Sky” label.
By the time Christian Reid published her novel–and unintentionally named Asheville and its surroundings for decades to come–practical photography was about thirty-five years old (though recognizable antecedents came on the scene much earlier). Stephen Massengill’s excellent compendium of early WNC photographers includes W. T.
Robertson, who had a studio in Asheville before 1872. A decade later, the city directory contained advertisements from both Robertson and [Nathaniel W.] Taylor & Folsom, and Massengill mentions other Asheville photographers of the period. All of these photographers, it seems, focused substantially on images of local scenic attractions, aimed at tourist audiences.
A surviving copy of [Thomas H.] Lindsey & [Edward E.] Brown’s 24-page catalog (ca. 1890) offers a detailed record of these two photographers’ production, which, like that of Robertson, Taylor, Folsom and others, was directed to tourists. A table of railroad distances to cities as far away as Los Angeles and Portland OR and costs was included, as was a list of “Places of Interest in and around Asheville and their distance.”
This catalog opened with a three-page, rather gushing introduction to the enticing features of “The Land of the Sky”: hills of majestic beauty, sparkling rivulets, the bluest
and most transparent of skies, the most healthful and delicious of atmospheres, and other incomparable delights that extend “a silent invitation to the sojourner to stay.” A sixteen-page numbered list of photos (upwards of 1000 of them, in sizes up to 14 x 17 inches) included birdseye views of the city, street scenes, hotels, notable buildings, dramatic views of outlying attractions, picturesque rivers and falls (several dozen of the Swannanoa, more than sixty of the French Broad), and multiple views of local spas and watering places (seventy or so of Hot Springs). A nearly fifty-item “Characters and Comic” series presented views of blacks, mountaineers, tillers of the soil, and others (most of them heavily stereotyped, one gathers from titles).
This catalog offers ample evidence that Asheville photographers were cooperating with hotels–both in the city and beyond–to lure tourists: the Battery Park, Swannanoa Hotel, the Winyah House, Hotel Buck Forest, Logan’s at Hickory Nut Gap, Hotel de Patton on Mt. Mitchell, and others.
Hotels in the Newspapers
Turnpikes leading into Asheville had generated clientele for early inns (e.g., Sherrill’s Inn near Hickory Nut Gap and Patton’s Hotel in Warm [Hot] Springs) since the 1830s at least. Asheville got its own first hotel in 1814, and by 1890 it had no fewer forty-seven of them.
At least as early as June 1881, some hotels had already begun to use Reid’s “Land of the Sky” phrase in newspaper advertising.
In its Atlanta Constitution ad, Caesar’s Head Hotel, sixty miles or so south of Asheville, quoted the novel’s assurance that “The air is like a tonic . . . . [It] stimulates like an elixir of vitality, and is more brilliant in its clearness than can be imagined.” Like Caesar’s Head Hotel, others in or near Asheville quickly seized the opportunity to “Land of the Sky” themselves.
At first, coverage was spotty. In an ad published adjacent to the Caesar’s Head Hotel ad, a hotel in Warm [now Hot] Springs, only a few miles south of Asheville, had not yet thought to situate itself within the Land of the Sky orbit, elastic though that orbit proved to be. By April 1888, in another Atlanta Constitution ad, the city of Gainesville GA–150 miles southwest of Asheville and 600 feet of sky lower–proclaimed itself “An Ideal Summer Resort in the Land of the Sky.” During the decades thereafter, the geographical area expanded steadily, and the number of included municipalities and opportunity-conscious businesses and institutions multiplied rapidly.
But since the history of the hotels themselves has already been covered extensively elsewhere, what demands attention here is the promotion of hotels by railroads, and vice-versa: hotels in need of paying guests urged people to catch the train to Asheville; trains needing paying passengers put out countless newspaper advertisements, brochures and illustrated booklets for the Land of the Sky and its hotels.
Railroads and Hotels
The first hotel/railroad reciprocity centered on the Western North Carolina Railroad (established 1855),which wended its way from Salisbury to Morganton in 1858, on to
Marion in 1870, to Old Fort three years later, and reached its new Asheville station at Best (later site of Biltmore) in October 1880.
The WNCRR became part of the Southern Railway system in 1894. By 1896, Asheville was well connected to all of North Carolina, as well as to neighboring states, by rail lines.
A 1913 postcard titled “Scene on the Murphy [NC] Line” offers a rare early image of railroad promotion and its tie to the Land of the Sky phrase:
An especially elaborate Southern Railway “Land of the Sky” brochure published about 1915 employed very romantic language to lure passengers:
Autumnal tints which glorify the mountains in the “Land of the Sky,” and the increased ozone in the atmosphere for the autumn and winter months make the joy of living each day greater than the day before. . . . Throughout this glorious region the facilities for the enjoyment of out-door life in the autumn and winter are incomparable. The hotel facilities are improved by many important most modern and unique structures, notably the new Grove Park Inn at Asheville.
Page after page of this and other brochures offered photos of hotels and inns in western North Carolina along the Southern’s lines, thus expanding the boundary of “The Land of the Sky” from which paying passengers and paying hotel guests might be drawn:
Waynesville, Brevard, Hendersonville, the old elite summer colony at Flat Rock, and on down the mountain to Tryon and Saluda, westward from Asheville to the Sapphire Country in the far western counties, and beyond to the feeder metropolises of Atlanta GA, Washington DC and Montgomery AL.
Stretching on into the ‘teens, Southern Railway newspaper advertisements lured summer passengers on special fast $6.00 round-trip “mountain excursion” trains:
Diversifying its appeal, the Southern also targeted golfers, tennis players, auto site-seers, canoeists, and others seeking outdoor activities. Some ads targeted holidays such as Easter.
Surprisingly, what has not yet come to my attention is new business names that included or referenced the phrase (Land of the Sky Ice Company or Livery Stable, maybe?), or local non-hotel advertisements that included it. Checking a few Asheville city directories between 1883 and 1926 yielded no examples of either, though Mountain City, Carolina, and Asheville were present in business names. Even a four-page, small print description of Asheville in the 1926 directory did not include the Land of the Sky phrase.
Big money movers and shakers: George W. Pack (1831-1906), Edwin W. Grove (1850-1927), and George W. Vanderbilt (1862-1914)
Much has been written about the three most influential big-money movers and shakers ever to appear in Asheville. And images abound of Pack Square, the Grove Park Inn, Biltmore Village and the Biltmore House.
I will eventually write more about these men, but all I wish to raise here (briefly) is how important they were in popularizing and disseminating the “Land of the Sky” phrase in connection with their grand monuments and buildings.
Important as George W. Pack was to Asheville (Pack Memorial Public Library, Pack Square, the Montford Ave. area), I have encountered no evidence that his public beneficence was marked with the phrase.
E. W. Grove’s Grove Park neighborhood (1905-08), Grove Park Inn (1913), new Battery Park Hotel (1923-24), and Grove Arcade (1926-29) all became iconic in Asheville. But the original Battery Park was much more tied to the phrase, it appears, and no Grove Park Inn postcards I have yet seen include it.
The Stereoscopic View
The last quarter of the nineteenth century witnessed a slow move toward what came to be known as postcards. An intermediate step was the development of stereographic images: photographs viewable in three dimensions with the aid of a special viewing device.
These devices emerged in the 1830s with the mirror-based Wheatstone stereoscope. The improved Brewster model (with lenses), led toward new handheld devices (exhibited in
Great Britain in 1851), expanding the market greatly. Ten years later, the great American jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes produced a form of stereoscope that became the prototype for
the huge 19th century popular market. Vast numbers of stereoscopes were sold during the latter half of the century, which in turn expanded the market for stereoscopic images. Those inexpensive and endlessly varied images offered visual access to previously inaccessible subjects and locales.
One subject and locale was Asheville, “The Land of the Sky,” as the city’s Taylor & Folsom advertised, though only a small percentage of the stereographs carried (so far as I have seen) the key phrase. Many were just scenic images, as is the Taylor & Jones example below.
The most remarkable stereographic images of Asheville and western North Carolina by far were those Rufus Morgan (1846-1880) produced when he was only in his mid-twenties (1869-73). Many are available in the Stereograph Collection at UNC-Chapel Hill; I have space for only two or three here. When he assembled his images, Morgan labeled them “Southern Scenery,” not “Land of the Sky.”
Unfortunately, Rufus Morgan had withdrawn from photography by 1880, when he was only thirty-four years old, nearly twenty years before the flourishing of the next major popular means of distributing images widely: postcards.
“The Land of the Sky” on Postcards: The Genre and the Phrase
Dipping into the huge online collections of Asheville “Land of the Sky” postcards, it seems that they must have been produced in great numbers, in more or less the same format, over many decades, and featured an almost endless array of images. Searching “Land of the Sky” brings Asheville’s official city and county buildings, hotels, school buildings, businesses, neighborhoods, endlessly photographed iconic bldgs (e.g., Grove Park Inn), nearby scenic spots and views, outlying religious assemblies, and virtually anything else the mind could imagine.But the postcard publishing situation was much more complicated than that. The first postcards appear later than one might have thought, and production has been shaped and limited by many factors: government postal regulations, World War I (yes), markets, more than a hundred years of changing technology, and much else. A more detailed account of this history than I have space for may be found in this excellent (anonymous) article. From that source, I will outline very briefly, with a few examples, how “The Land of the Sky” phrase and associated images were disseminated on postcards.
Early government postal regulations did not allow anything like what we have come to think of as a “postcard.” But on May 1, 1873 the regulations changed, and the first one appeared. Only the government could print “Postcard” on such cards, however, and writing was not permitted on the (still undivided) address side until 1907. Privately printed ones had to be called something else (e.g., “souvenir cards”).
The popularity of such cards got a boost from the Columbian Exposition of 1893. Beginning in 1898, new regulations allowed all such cards to be mailed at the one-cent (“penny postcard”) government rate, increasing their popularity greatly. After 1901, any privately printed card could be designated as a “Post Card.”
During the “Golden Age of Postcards” (1901-1907), picture postcards were wildly popular. Over 677 million of them, the great majority printed in Europe (mostly in Germany, where lithography was a high art), were mailed during the 1907-08 fiscal year. White borders reduced ink usage during World War I, but the war destroyed the German postcard printing industry, and it was not rebuilt afterwards. And the U.S. industry that replaced it never matched German quality except in Eastman Kodak’s white or sepia-toned “reality cards.”
Not surprisingly, some of the American companies that filled the production gap were located in Asheville: large ones such as Asheville Post Card Co., Asheville Book Co., Brown Book Co., and Hackney and Moale, and smaller ones such as Deuel News Co. and Herbert W. Pelton’s Southern Postcard Co. Other companies such as S. H. Kress (a “five and dime” store founded in 1896; neoclassical building in Asheville, 1929) issued a few postcards as a sideline.
Relatively few “Land of the Sky”-imprinted cards in the extensive online collections at UNC Chapel Hill and UNC Asheville are dated, but the two below appear to come from the pre-White Border Era (1915-1930), though the quality of the photography and printing might signal a somewhat earlier time.
A postmarked card dated February 23, 1918 and addressed to Rochester NY comes from early in the White Border era:
Another card, undated but apparently from the same period, was printed by the E. C. Kropp Company in Wisconsin:
On its back this card carries an unusually elaborate and insistent “Land of the Sky” advertising message:
Asheville, the Capital of western North Carolina, where every scene is a picture, the most perfect all-year playground and pleasure resort in America. Placed within the swing of a circle 100 miles around Asheville are one hundred peaks a mile high, sixty-four over 6,000 feet and lofty Mt. Mitchell 6,711 feet, all clothed with forests of hardwood, spruce, balsam; with rivers, sparkling mountain streams; cascades, falls, and a climate unsurpassed in all the world for any season.
A final example, dating from about 1930:
Clearly, postcards were an important transmitter of “Land of the Sky” messages and images (there are many more where these came from, as they say), but from early on they were challenged by changing technology and new media. A telegraph line reached Asheville in 1877, telephones arrived in 1885, and radio station WWNC went on the air in 1926. In the post-Depression era, postcards remained (especially in fold-out souvenir form), but were never as popular as before.
Other actors and other means:
Parallel with the flourishing of postcards beginning at the turn of the century, promotion of the “Land of the Sky” fell increasingly to organized city actors and promoters such as the Asheville Board of Trade (active at least by 1898, and perhaps earlier), the Asheville Chamber of Commerce, and the Asheville Real Estate Board.
These entities employed a variety of tactics and formats to promote Asheville. As early as 1905, the Board of Trade published a 32-page promotional booklet, Asheville, North Carolina: The Land of the Sky: Health, Pleasure, Business, Opportunity, and they followed up with similar publications for at least another dozen years.
The Chamber of Commerce (successor to the Board of Trade) was active at least by 1922, the year in which its six-page brochure Asheville’s Growth: Capital of the Land of the Sky appeared, and at about the same time it collaborated with the Real Estate Board on a
striking 44-page “Live and Invest in the Land of the Sky” booklet. Library searches indicate that the Chamber continued to use the phrase in its advertising during at least the next four decades. By 1996 it had renamed itself the “Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce”), and on its current (2014) web site the phrase occurs only as a link to the Land of the Sky Barbershop Chorus (not affiliated with the Chamber, presumably), and in reference to Land of Sky [“the” has been omitted] Regional Council. The Council’s own web page includes a four-county (Madison, Buncombe, Henderson and Transylvania) map of its service area .
Southern Railway Historical Association; A History of Picture Postcards; The American Naturalist 12 (6): 412; Proceedings of the New York Entomological Society 13 (49): 99; Catherine W. Bisher, et al., A Guide to the Historic Architecture of Western North Carolina (1999); Nan Chase, Asheville: A History (2007); John C. Inscoe and Gordon B. McKinney, The Heart of Confederate Appalachia: Western North Carolina in the Civil War (2000); Stephen E. Massengill, Western North Carolina: A Visual Journey Through Stereo Views and Photographs (1999); North Carolina Postcards Collection, UNC Chapel Hill; LeComte Postcard Collection, UNC Asheville.