This post is a Table of Contents guide to what–from time to time over the next while–will become a series of four retrospective posts, each focusing on a topic central to the larger question of how “1900 Asheville” came to be the modern city it was, in such a relatively short time.
These retrospective posts will be interwoven with previous and ongoing ones on the longer-wave history of Asheville, using three families as a lens: my paternal grandparents Asbury and Ella Whisnant, maternal grandparents Pierce and Pearl Rudisill, and parents John and Mary Neal Whisnant.
NOTE TO READERS, July 28, 2022: As it turned out, my plans for the series of four posts listed here changed, and I posted only the one indicated by a link below. You can find all subsequent posts (of which by now there have been more than 40) by clicking on “Blog Posts” in the toolbar at the top of any one of them. I have not yet done the one on the infrastructural history of Asheville, but do intend to do it when a suitable moment comes. Some may consider “infrastructure” an off-putting term, but what it refers to is both important and interesting: when and how did the essential modernizing services (the inter-city railroad and the inner-city street railway, street paving, water supply, sewers, telephones, etc.),come to Asheville? Because my grandfather Asbury Whisnant came to Asheville in 1900, found a job on the street railway and kept it for nearly 50 years, aspects of that infrastructural entity figure in several already completed posts: (1) (2) (3) (4).
The Four Parts:
As items in this list are posted, they will become clickable links, and will be interlinked with previous relevant posts:
Retrospective II: The Infrastructure Boom–1870-1900
Retrospective III: Railroads, a Tunnel and Convict Labor
Retrospective IV: George Willis Pack: Philanthropist and Progressive Modernizer
Three Mileposts on the Route to Moderization:
At different points or stages in their histories, cities thrive and grow (or don’t, or slide downward) for a variety of reasons, at different rates, with different outcomes.
And so it was with Asheville. In prior posts, I have briefly attended to several early growth factors and dynamics, such as greed for land and the perennial influx of people and money to and through Asheville.
When the Civil War ended, says Asheville historian Nan Chase, the town (hardly a city yet) was
a back water . . . , a throwback to isolated rusticity and a want of advancement. Visitors . . . encountered a muddy public square crowded with wild hogs and lowing, long-horned oxen pulling wagons. Corn whiskey flowed freely and at night the square was too unsavory for polite company.
Twenty years later, when Christian Reid’s romantic local color novel named the
town and its surround The Land of the Sky, the novel’s fictional group of lowland visitors found the mountains themselves sublime and enchanting, but mountaineers–and the town itself (popn. about 1600)–a decidedly mixed bag. On a carriage ride through the countryside, they see local people who either confirm or deny long-established hillbilly / mountaineer stereotypes. At dinner at the fashionable Eagle Hotel (more
elegant than the Bank) they are careful to dress, talk and behave in such a way that no one
will mistake them for locals. And in any case, the Western North Carolina Railroad was pushing its way toward Hickory Nut Gap. And when it light finally entered both ends of the 1,800-foot Swannanoa Tunnel in early 1879, trainloads of modernizing elements chugged and smoked their way toward Asheville.
By the time Asbury Whisnant arrived in 1900, the railroad had been there for twenty years, and Asheville had become (as a prior post said) “a node of modernity” with classy hotels, streetcars, telephones, daily newspapers, a large public library and a Grand Opera House, and some 14,000 people. The hogs and mud were long since gone from Court Square (renamed Pack Square
for philanthropist and progressive modernizer George Willis Pack, who arrived in 1884), and Asheville was on a modernizing roll.
My hope is that these five retrospective posts will help to give further concreteness to the process through which that modernizing roll took form.
- Three years after I posted this Asheville Junction post, I received the following extraordinarily detailed comment from Mr. Kevin White on the signer of this pass (W. W. Rollins): “Interesting boarding pass issued by W. W. Rollins, who was also Asheville’s Postmaster for decades after the Civil War. During the War Rollins had served among the Field & Staff officers of the 29th Regiment of North Carolina Troops, but, he soon deserted, which was most unusual for an officer, who always had the option of resigning his commission. And not only did Rollins desert, he went over to the enemy, and through the last several years of the War served in the North Carolina (Union) units raised in East Tennessee under the leadership of Kirk, who for many years after the War was the bogeyman for mountain children, as his command was notorious in these parts for their raids into western NC. Rollins was rewarded by the Republicans after the War with the Postmastership of Asheville, a job he held for the next thirty-five years, during which time no Ashevillean of socially acceptable Confederate principles would speak to him. Rollins built a house on the north side of Hillside Street at the corner of Mount Clare (then North Street) and called it “Witchwood”. This was adjacent to the old hanging grounds. Today “Witchwood Acres” subdivision is on the grounds. Across the street, on the south side of Hillside, was the home of (former) Confederate Colonel James M. Ray, commander of the 60th NC, a locally raised regiment, during the war. Rollins and Ray were across the street neighbors for more than thirty years, and never exchanged one word.” I do not know Mr. White, but would like to. If you know him, or know someone who does, please let me know.