Asheville Junction: A Blog by David E. Whisnant

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.

During the past twenty years or so, West Asheville has come to serve as the western flank of Asheville’s turn of the 20th/21st century renaissance.  Almost daily, there is news of preservation, revitalization, adaptive reuse, reconfiguration, and (inevitably) gentrification (a term more widely used than carefully defined).

West Asheville Fire Station, 721 Haywood Road (1922).

West Asheville Fire Station, 721 Haywood Road (1922).

New coffee shops have sprung up in old filling stations. A stained glass shop operated by Anne Mitchell Whisnant’s Asheville cousins occupies the 1922 fire station.  The Isis Theater (1937)–where I saw my first singing cowboy movie for 12 cents–has lately reopened as a restaurant.  A wholesale glass and mirror company does business behind the arched front of the Buckner Building (1924).  Of late, bakeries and music venues have multiplied, and parks and bicycling trails adorn the banks of the cleaned up French Broad River.

Buckner Building (1924), --- Haywood Road.

Buckner Building (1924), 415 Haywood Road. Photo by Clay Griffith (2006).

During this transformation, history has come to the forefront.  In 2006, the West Asheville Business Association managed to get the 700 block of Haywood Road on the National Register of Historic Places as the End of Car Line Historic District, and another area to the east became the Aycock School Historic District (where I spent a high school summer pushing wheelbarrows full of concrete up ramps to help pour the school’s footings and walls).

Much of this history rests on careful documentation, but some of its popular presentation is also overlaid with an at once nostalgic, progressive, and mildly utopian aura. Earthiness and class.  Old pressed-tin ceilings, artisanal food and craft beer.  The West Asheville phoenix.

On the one hand, one could hardly be other than pleased by these new energies, new opportunities, and new directions.  On the other hand, one must be aware (as many of the current movers and shakers, public agencies and public officials, and entrepreneurs clearly are), that this is only the most recent appearance of the West Asheville phoenix.  Many-layered Haywood Road (200 years of service as drover’s road, western turnpike, trolley line, bus line, commercial thoroughfare, spine of the current renaissance) is far from the only artifact of a long historical process whose evidence lies everywhere on the land.

The vine-engulfed Sulphur Springs pagoda pictured above was repurposed from the 1880s (Carrier’s hotel, built in 1887, burned down in 1892) to function as the base of the entrance to the Malvern Hills Country Club around 1927:

Malvern Hills Country Club, Date Unknown.

Malvern Hills Country Club (photographer and date unknown)

After the club house was torn down in the 1980s, weeds, vines, and saplings reclaimed the pagoda.  And currently, Malvern Hills residents are working on Canie Creek and Hominy Creek greenway proposals that would route greenways through the sites of two prior hotels, the Sulphur Springs pagoda site, and the long-disappeared golf course. Layer upon layer. Phase after phase.

West Asheville’s Phases: An Attempt at Order

I have few new details to contribute to West Asheville history.  I hope only to be able to order some of those details into something better than the usual year-by-year timeline.  By focusing on important demarcating events and salient dynamics, once can usefully segment such timeline data into phases or stages that differ significantly (and usefully) from one another.

As I have done some of this segmenting for myself, it has become clear that a single post can’t possibly cover all of West Asheville history.  So there will in fact have to be four segments, of which this is the first.

Pre-Civil War: Deaver and Henry’s Sulphur Springs as a Proto- Land of the Sky

The “Land of the Sky” rubric for Asheville derives from Christian Reid’s “The Land of the Sky,” or, Adventures in Mountain By-Ways (1875).   In three previous posts, I explored how that came to be:

It turns out, however–as I did not know at the time–that there was a proto-Land of the Sky before the phrase ever appeared in print for the first time and became attached to the city of Asheville.  This current post presents what I have subsequently learned about West Asheville’s (more or less) thirty-four year long  status as this proto-Land of the Sky.

Grady Cooper’s 2014 Mountain Xpress article contains one of the earliest details:   William Moore, having participated in Gen. Griffith Rutherford’s (infamous, it is necessary to call it) 1776 campaign against the Cherokees, returned the next year with some slaves and built a “blockhouse fort” on Hominy Creek, adjacent to the future site of West Asheville.

What happened during the next half-century in what was to become  “West Asheville” no one appears to have much idea, but in 1827 (by which time Asheville was three decades old) Revolutionary War veteran Robert Henry and “a slave boy” (the consensus seems to be) discovered a sulphur springs within the boundary of present day Malvern Hills.

The Mineral Spring, Central Europe, ca. 1650. Wenceslas Hollar. University of Toronto Wenceslaus Hollar Digital Collection, via Wikipedia

The Mineral Spring, Central Europe, ca. 1650. Etcbing by Wenceslas Hollar. University of Toronto Wenceslaus Hollar Digital Collection, via Wikipedia.

The history of mineral springs and popular beliefs that they would cure what ails you goes back a very long ways.  They had long been widespread in Europe, and the lore and practices associated with them was part of the cultural baggage brought by early immigrants to North America.

To the north of Asheville, as Cohen notes in Historic Springs of the Virginias, there had been springs-based resorts from the 1720s onward.  Indeed, contemporaneous with Deaver’s developments at Sulphur Springs, Philip Nicklin published Letters Descriptive of the Virginia Springs: the Roads Leading Thereto, and the Doings Thereat (1834).  But whatever the “doings thereat” to which Nicklin somewhat tantalizingly referred, most of Virginia’s mineral springs resorts were located on the western slope of the Blue Ridge and into the Great Valley, far from Buncombe County and the turnpike.  They were nevertheless advertised regularly in the Carolina Watchman in Salisbury NC in the mid-1830s.

Sulphur Springs historic marker (P-53), located on US 19/23 at Old Haywood Road

Sulphur Springs historic marker (P-53), located on US 19/23 at Old Haywood Road

Pasting together the most usually offered details about what happened next around the springs Henry discovered, one can say little more than that between 1830 and 1832 he and his son-in-law Reuben Deaver built a lodging house or hotel of some description at the springs. The hotel (variously named, and of which I have discovered no image, though the brief online essay for the North Carolina historic marker says it was “L-shaped”) eventually came to accommodate several hundred guests (some say 500; Lou Harshaw says 200), many of them low-country planters moving in stagecoaches or their own carriages or along the new Buncombe Turnpike (1827).  But until recently, the story of how the Henry-Deaver sulphur springs site actually developed, and what at its height it came to be, has been sketchy.

In any case, at such an early date the  hotel would have had little local competition.  Although Warm Springs (later renamed Hot Springs) on the French Broad (discovered in 1778) had been a health resort since 1800, and would come to be quite large and elegant by mid-century, it lay nearly forty miles north northwest of Asheville.  Another nearby destination that was attracting tourists by the 1820s, Flat Rock in Henderson County, lay more than thirty miles south, and had no mineral springs.

These are the few easily available details (springs, hotel, turnpike), but they are still not a lot to go on if one wants to understand the growth and importance of these particular  sulphur springs.

Fortunately, Robert Russell’s recently published Robert Henry: A Western Carolina Patriot (helpfully brought to my attention by Pack Memorial Public Library’s North Carolina Room staff) offers a great deal more, including a chapter on the early tourism enterprise Henry and Deaver built up the hill a ways from Hominy Creek three decades before the Civil War.  Much of my brief account here is drawn (if not otherwise attributed) from Russell, whose fuller treatment is well worth reading.

As Russell presents him, Henry himself was a dynamo of energy and enterprise: veteran of the battle of King’s Mountain, surveyor, land speculator, lawyer, planter, and public official in western North Carolina.  Online deeds show that he had bought land on Jonathan’s Creek in Buncombe County as early as 1799, 200 acres on Erwin Creek a dozen years later, and 640 acres on Hominy Creek in 1816.

In 1830, twenty-three year-old surveyor Reuben Deaver married Henry’s fourteen year-old daughter Polly.  Since waters from the sulphur spring were already being sold in Asheville, Henry thought the site had commercial potential, and offered to give it to the couple if they would develop it.

Assisted by Henry’s slaves, Deaver went at it with energy–clearing and draining fields, building fences, opening the family house to boarders, growing crops to feed them, hand-sewing linens for the rooms, and opening a general store to attract still more guests.  By mid-1832 he had built (with lumber sawed at the family’s new sawmill on Hominy Creek–to which project slave labor was crucial) a two-story, 4,500+ square-foot boarding house (the “Corner House”), staffed mostly by family members.  It is not clear to me whether this is the same building, or an earlier version of it, or something else entirely, that is mentioned on the historic marker for “Sulphur Springs.”

The Carolina Watchman, July 16, 1836.

The Carolina Watchman, July 16, 1836.

Toward the end of 1833, a detailed legal agreement with his father-in-law in hand, Deaver upped his investment and redoubled his energies.  By June 8, 1836, he advertised in the Carolina Watchman that the season would open on July 1 with expanded accommodations.

“Over time,” Russell says,

a barn, cribs for grain storage,  house, a machine shop, a well and well house, a smith shop, a poultry house, a smokehouse and a threshing machine were added.  A gristmill was built down at the creek in 1840.  Additional outbuildings were built for the comfort and enjoyment of visitors and boarders, including log cabins–the “lower cabins” near the spring, upper cabins and a family cabin with kitchen . . . [all with] brick chimneys. Slave cabins . . . [had] chimneys constructed of rock, wood and clay.

A [2500 square foot] . . . horse stable was built, as well as a carriage shelter with an open stable. Slave Sam served as the ostler [hostler], meeting and greeting weary travelers and . . .  caring for their horses.  A spring house . . .  down the hill from the hotel complex at the Sulphur Springs . . included a bathhouse outfitted with two copper boilers, five partitions with bathing tubs, a water wheel and a reservoir.

Russell quotes an 1837 visitor as saying that “The House is built on a high hill between
two branches about 200 yards from each other in the form of an L, one side
about 150 feet long, the other 120.  [It has] two stor[ies] with piazzas running all
around outside to each story; [the] upstairs is divided into 29 or 30 lodging

The favorable location and the accessibility of the resort are evident in an 1839 map:

Sulpher [sic] Springs on NC-SC map by David H. Burr (1839). David Rumsey Historical Map Collection. Also in Russell, Robert Henry: A Western Carolina Patriot, p. 89.

Sulpher [sic] Springs on North Carolina-South Carolina map by David H. Burr (1839). David Rumsey Historical Map Collection (full version online). Small version in Russell, Robert Henry: A Western Carolina Patriot, p. 89.

This map shows four-horse post or coach roads running north and south from Asheville (including the 1827 Buncombe Turnpike).  A 4 1/2 mile road for a one-horse mail coach or sulkey road led straight west from Asheville to the Deaver Sulphur Springs resort before turning south southwest toward the South Carolina line.  Thus Deaver’s establishment benefitted from Asheville’s location at the junction of major thoroughfares.

During the 1840s, Deaver’s Sulphur Springs acquired all the trappings of a full-fledged resort:

bowling alleys, billiard tables, shuffle-boards . . . a large ball-room, and a string band composed of free negroes from Charleston and Columbia . . . [to provide] music for dancing . . . . [A] Frenchman named Cache [served] as . . . confectionery and pastry cook.

Although Deaver was clearly in charge of the operation (per the 1833 agreement), Robert Henry continued, Russell says, to be involved as a promoter (and sometimes funder) of the broader enterprise of developing not only a resort but also a community.  He donated land for a cemetery (still existing near the entrance to Asheville School), and built the Sulphur Springs Academy/Meeting House nearby.

As word spread, travelers came by the hundreds, and some wrote about what they saw.   Letters from the Alleghany Mountains by Charles Lanman (1849), a Michigan-born artist, journalist, biographer, and travel writer, referred to Asheville itself (condescendingly?) as “a very busy and pleasant village” and “a little town.”  But Deaver’s Sulphur Springs was, he said, “one of the most popular watering-places in the South,” because of both its remarkable scenery and the fact that “the style in which people are entertained is well worthy of even such places as Saratoga [NY].”

There were “several buildings,” Lanman reported, accommodating “about two hundred families,” mostly from Charleston and Savannah.  Dwellers in eastern North Carolina, he said, “seem not to know that they have such a delightful retreat within their borders.”

The eastern North Carolina vs. Charleston/Savannah contrast set up a provincial vs. sophisticated dichotomy, suggesting that those who knew of Saratoga and the numerous mid-Atlantic and northeastern elite watering places were best able to appreciate the offerings of Deaver’s Sulphur Springs.

The Carolina Watchman (Salisbury), November 8, 1849, p. 3.

The Carolina Watchman (Salisbury), November 8, 1849, p. 3.

Coinciding with the appearance of Lanman’s book, a Carolina Watchman article at the close of the 1849 season detailed for potential tourists from Salisbury how many visitors came (and from where) to Deaver’s Sulphur Springs during the season just concluded.

Ten years after Lanman’s visit (and seven years after Deaver’s death in 1852), Henry Colton’s  Scenery of the Mountains of Western North Carolina (1859) offered an updated report, characterizing the Sulphur Springs hotel as very much a going concern.

There were only three “good” hotels in Asheville, Colton said: the Eagle–perhaps open summers only, the Buck, and Buncombe House.  But a few miles to the west of town, at what he referred to as White Sulphur Springs, there were

Buildings, amply sufficient to accommodate a large number of persons . . . and . . . during the next summer, the establishment will be kept in a style which a place of its value deserves.  The waters oaf these Springs are of a valuable medical nature.

There are actually two sulphur springs, Colton said, one blue and the other white.  The latter

is said to be equally efficacious with any of the Virginia Springs.  . . . It is very cold and pleasant to the taste.  It is said to have no superior in cases of dyspepsia, and it certainly gives one a most excellent appetite. . . . [It] can be carried to the house for bathing . . . .  The position of these Springs makes them a delightful summer resort.  There is always a . . . cool breeze stirring . . . .  The view [of Mt. Pisgah and the Blue Ridge] is fine. . . . [and] the town of Asheville, about seven miles distant, is to be seen.  The traveler who visits Asheville will almost certainly go to the Sulphur Springs.

From Colton’s description, Deaver’s hotel seems likely  larger than the three downtown hotels, and certainly better situated. It was also closer to town than any of the small inns and drovers’ stands strung out along the Drover’s Road / Buncombe Turnpike and the

James Smith's Buck Hotel (1825), on site of later Langren Hotel. Smith-McDowell House Museum.

James Smith’s Buck Hotel (1825), on site of later Langren Hotel. Smith-McDowell House Museum.

later (1854) Western Turnpike (a.k.a. Asheville and Greenville Plank Road), parts of whose routes corresponded with later Haywood Road.

John Preston Arthur’s 1914 history of western North Carolina offers a comparative recollection by a Col. James Ray of 1850s Asheville and its two very modest hotels:

“Well, what of Asheville in these long past years? It was about like Leicester or Marshall—a very small village on the ‘turnpike,’ midway between the two Greenvilles. The two ‘hotels’, Eagle, and Buck [were] . . .  not doing near the business of many of the country inns or stock stands on the Warm Springs road. For anyone to stop at either of these two hotels longer than for dinner or for the night was not thought of; though a few summer visitors would sometimes
make a short stop in passing through to Deaver’s Springs or
to Warm Springs.

Thus it seems fair to view Deaver’s hotel at the sulphur springs as a key early part of what later became Asheville’s drive to situate itself as western North Carolina’s major tourist “draw.”

But alas, the Civil War came, the hotel burned in 1861 (Russell makes a plausible case for arson), and–as Plemmons’s thesis noted in 1935–the Western Turnpike/Plank Road deteriorated and was little used after its state charter was repealed in 1866.

Thus ended the first phase of West Asheville’s development.  The curve had worked its way slowly upward for thirty years, but the hotel fire and (more importantly) the Civil War put an end to that.  It seems justified, in any case, to consider those thirty years as encompassing the emergence of a proto-Land of the Sky.

When Deaver’s hotel opened,  publication of Christian Reid’s phrase-defining The Land of the Sky (1875) still lay over forty years in the future.  And the single most dominant Land of the Sky icon before George Vanderbilt’s voluptuous French chateau opened in 1895–Asheville’s grand Victorian Battery Park Hotel (1886)–was more than five decades away.

If the hotel had been rebuilt close upon the end of the Civil War, could much of the prewar clientele have been regained?  The war and its turbulent aftermath in western North Carolina presented overwhelming obstacles. Two competing sulphur springs establishments down the mountain postdated Deaver’s: one in northern Catawba County that opened in 1850, survived the war and was expanded in 1869.  Eupeptic Springs near Statesville flourished in the 1860s and 1870s.

But additionally, as Russell explains, things between Deaver and his father-n-law had never really gone well.  Decades of wrangling between them began soon after their 1833 agreement.  As early as 1839, Deaver tried (unsuccessfully) to sell the whole enterprise, lock, stock and barrel.  There were lawsuits and counter suits, complicated by repeated disagreements between Deaver and Henry over who owed whom for what, and how much (down to and including a $1.00–or should it be valued at $2?–razor).  One of the lawsuits was ultimately decided by the state Supreme Court.  To make matters worse, Henry’s drink-fueled descent into divorce and erratic behavior made productive cooperation in a business venture impossible.  And in any case, after Reuben Deaver died in 1852, one of Robert Henry’s sons took over the hotel.

A Jug of (Sulphur) Water from the (Abandoned) Sulphur Springs, 1875: Three Cultures in (and Around) Asheville

Though another hotel at the Sulphur Springs site was not built until the late 1880s, in Christian Reid’s The Land of the Sky Deaver’s hotel is still lodged in memory, and the springs that brought it into being still flow.

The low-country travelers in The Land of the Sky stay at the Eagle Hotel in downtown Asheville.  An old stagecoach hotel built around 1825,  it offered some elegance to travelers.  What its status and character had been at the end of the war I do not know, but by 1875, Reid’s travelers waxed poetic about the “full to overflowing” Eagle.  Its lights  “blazing out . . . are more cheerful than the beauty of the great constellations shining overhead,” one said.

In the hallways and dining rooms of the Eagle, guests negotiated their way back and forth between two cultures: elite European culture, and the travelers’ own low-country culture. The latter was aspiringly analogous to and conversant with the former, and both were marked as reassuringly superior to the rural culture in the mountains outside of Asheville. 

Guardian Angel, Eagle Hotel, Asheville (1874). Digital Collection, New York Public Library.

Guardian Angel, Eagle Hotel, Asheville (1874). James Champney.  The New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Coinciding with the appearance of Reid’s novel was the (many times reprinted) “Guardian Angel–Eagle Hotel” image, redolent at once of  pre-war  plantation elites and obsequious enslaved servants, as well as of British colonialism.  An elegantly gowned and coiffed lady sits in a Windsor chair at the dining table and writes in her (one imagines) travel journal, pitcher and water glass at hand, flies whisked away by a Simian-featured black servant.

A favorite pastime for Eagle guests (perhaps weary of the constant cultural negotiations) was to take a carriage or horseback ride into the surrounding countryside–to Beaucatcher, the Swannanoa or French Broad rivers, Mt. Mitchell or Pisgah, Caesar’s Head, Paint Rock or similar attractions.

Drawing of Paint Rock. In William Cullen Bryant, Picturesque America; or, the Land We Live In (1872). Wikimedia Commons.

Drawing of Paint Rock. In William Cullen Bryant, Picturesque America; or, the Land We Live In (1872). Wikimedia Commons.

Discussing what afternoon jaunts they might consider, Reid’s travelers lament the “provincial ignorance” of the locals who intrude into the picturesque scene.

The Eagle was a place (as was Asheville itself) where one could get out into the mountains, close enough to a few picturesque mountaineers to marvel at (and/or condescend to, as the moment required), while distinguishing oneself from them and buttressing one’s elite (actual or aspirational) cultural standing.

One such destination for several of Reid’s group of travelers, it turns out, was the by then ghostly remains of Deaver’s Sulphur Springs–as I  failed to note when I read the novel two years ago, because at the time I had never heard of Deaver’s Sulphur Springs.

My inattention was the more marked because, having grown up in Asheville, I knew where Deaverview Road and Sulphur Springs Road were.  This time, though (having recently read Russell’s biography of Robert Henry), a word search in the novel for Eagle Hotel  brought me also to the Deaver/sulphur springs reference.

The group of low-country travelers in The Land of the Sky consists of Eric Markham, eldest son of “Aunt Markham,” Sylvia and her sister Alice (“orphan nieces” of Aunt Markham), and Eric’s cousin Charley Kenyon–romantically linked to Sylvia.  From the Eagle’s piazza they gaze upon Mt. Pisgah to the west and remind each other of their cultural sophistication.

“[This] place, even now,” says Charley of the Eagle (and Asheville),

might be a great summer-resort —counting its visitors by thousands, instead of by hundreds — if it would arouse to a sense of its own interest, and provide a proper place to lodge them. A modern hotel, with fine grounds — And a band of music, says Sylvia. Of course a band of music, a good table, and good servants, would realize your American Baden in short order.

“Baden” is a deep cultural signal, referring to baths in Germany that date from Roman times.  To inject that signal locates the user among the cultural cognoscenti.  Other such signals are prominent.  They describe another mountain sojourner, Victor Dupont, as “a creole from New Orleans . . . a slender, dark-eyed [musician] with a great deal of French grace in his manner” and a predilection for speaking French, which “like all creoles, he falls into . . . whenever he wants.”   As they enter the Eagle’s parlor, they hear Mr. Dupont’s sister Adele’s “light, silvery voice . . . singing a French song.”  The Eagle’s Creole pianist–aware that guests were eager to reinforce their cultural standing–accommodated them by playing “the Cradle Song, and perhaps a strain or two of Mendelssohn.”

Through such signals, bona fides are safely established:  Don’t mistake us for provincial locals.  We know about ancient European baths, and this is not the only watering place we are familiar with.  We can distinguish instinctively between good servants and bad, good tables and bad, dinner with or without music. We know about creoles, and how those cultural exotics speak and comport themselves.  We are at least

bilingual, recognizing French when we hear it.  And for good measure, we recognize Brahms’s “Cradle Song” (not only elite culture, but even up-to-date elite culture) and “a strain or two of Mendelssohn” when we hear them.

On one afternoon jaunt, an abrupt cultural shift is in store for the party.  At dinner, having just returned from a drive into the mountains with Mr. Dupont, “orphan niece” Sylvia comes in “bearing a large stone [stoneware, one assumes] jug.  “Can you imagine what I have here,” she asks the group,

You must taste it at once. — Mr. Dupont, please make somebody bring a glass!  Mr. Dupont darts away, and . . . returns with a glass.  He holds it while Sylvia uncorks the jug.  “Is it mountain-dew?” [Sylvia] asks . . . [as] the liquid flows clear as crystal into the glass.  Mr. Dupont presents it, with a bow, to Aunt Markham who receives and tastes it.

Aunt Markham knows immediately what it is: “Sulphur water!” she says, as one might say “Champagne!”

Christian Reid, The Land of the Sky (1875), p. 19. HathiTrust.

Christian Reid, The Land of the Sky; or, Adventures in Mountain By-Ways (1875), p. 19. HathiTrust.

Yes, sulphur water,” says Sylvia, exultantly,”quite as good–I mean as bad–as that in Greenbrier, Virginia, of which you are so fond!”

“I tasted it,” Sylvia adds, “and thought it so abominable that I determined to bring you some at once.”

And whence came this good / bad sulphur water/champagne?  Well, Sylvia explains, after they had been driving  in the mountains for a while, Mr. Dupont

said that he remembered having been here when a child, and staying at a place called Deaver’s Springs, a few miles from Asheville.  “It was a very pretty place,” he said,”if I could remember where it was.”

Following another helpful person’s suggestion to “Drive straight on,” they see several (appropriately barefoot, tattered, overalled) children rush out from a

Christian Reid, The Land of the Sky, p. 20. HathiTrust.

Christian Reid, The Land of the Sky, p. 20. HathiTrust.

house across the road.  That road, Sylvia says, led us past a log-cabin, in front of which two or three stout men were lazily smoking and gossiping” (as indolent mountain men are wont to do, is  the implication).

Borrowing a “green glass tumbler” from the generous mountaineers,

Mr. Dupont pointed out a hill on the left as the site of the hotel which was once quite a place of resort. 

“I have heard of Deaver’s Springs,” says Aunt Markham.  “The hotel was burned, I believe.” 

“Yes, burned and never rebuilt; but the springs are still there, with a pavilion over them.”

We drove down the hill  . . . for, having come so far . . . we felt it incumbent on us to drink some of the water.–As soon as I tasted it . . . I sent Mr. Dupont back to the house to get a vessel in which we could bring some to you.  He returned with the jug you have seen, and I filled it myself.”

Epigraph: The Next Phase

I have used the qualifier “proto-” here to suggest that the pre-Civil War Sulphur Springs development prefigured much that happened in post-1875 Asheville–Reid’s Land of the Sky: natural wonders, widespread advertising  and marketing of “attractions,” crowds of tourists, a vital social scene, complex cultural jockeying, diverse and aggressive commercial activity.

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

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

The jug of sulphur water Reid’s travelers brought back from their afternoon junket came from the same vine-covered and long abandoned springs my wife and I managed to find again 141 years later.

In the meantime, those springs had served a second hotel built in 1887 by Michigan lumberman (and Florida orange grove developer) Edwin G. Carrier, who–with his own vision for a western extension of that Land of the Sky–began buying land near the French Broad, Hominy Creek and Sulphur Springs in 1885.

Carrier is the subject of my next post on West Asheville.


John Preston Arthur, Western North Carolina: A History (1914); Alicia Chapman, “The Buncombe Turnpike and Its Impact on Western North Carolina’s Drovers and Economy” (senior thesis, UNCA, 2009); Nan Chase, Asheville: A History (2007); Stan Cohen, Historic Springs of the Virginias (1981); Henry Colton, Mountain Scenery: The Scenery of the Mountains of Western North Carolina and Northwestern South Carolina (1859); Grady Cooper, “A Shifting Identity: West Asheville’s Storied Past,” Mountain Express (April 3, 2014); Lance Freeman, “Five Myths About Gentrification,” Washington Post (June 3, 2016); Lou Harshaw, Asheville: Mountain Majesty (2007); Malvern Hills Community Club, Malvern Hills; Gordon B. McKinney, Zeb Vamce: North Carolina’s Civil War Governor and Gilded Age Political Leader (2004); National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places Travel Itinerary: Asheville NC: Index; David A. Norris, “Rutherford’s Campaign” (NCpedia 2006); William H. Plemmons, City of Asheville: Historical and Institutional (M.A. thesis, Duke, 1935); Robert Russell, Robert Henry: A Western Carolina Patriot (2013); Richard D. Starnes, Creating the Land of the Sky: Tourism and Society in Western North Carolina (2005); West Asheville Library, West Asheville History Project (2011ff.)


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

  1. Richard Whisnant

    Very enlightening. I’m going to to try to find the spring next trip to Asheville. I had no idea of the history of these hotels. The Civil War obviously wreaked havoc on Asheville as well as the rest of the South.

  2. Pingback: Tuesday History: The sulphur springs of West Asheville | Mountain Xpress

  3. Gordon Clark

    Thank you, David, for this great overview of the Deaver Hotel and Sulphur Springs. Everytime I drive through that area, I wonder what — if anything — remains of the springs. Did they dry up (as so many of our local old springs are wont to do, like Gum Springs in Biltmore Village)? Beyond that question, I wonder if the Hotel was actually considered to be a Stock Stand on the Buncombe Turnpike? I have seen it listed as such, but your map shows it to be several miles west of the Turnpike. Your thoughts?

  4. David Whisnant Post author

    Thank you for your comment, Gordon. My wife Anne and I located the remains (foundation wall) of the springs several years ago, and took some photographs. Those are included in the post. They might still carry the GPS metadata for the location, but I don’t know for sure that they do. You might try to dope that out. In general, the location is on the back, lower side of Malvern Hills, down near Sand Hill Road. You might enjoy poking around down there when the weather is better. I have never seen any reference to the old hotel (the 1830s-1860 Deaver one) being a Buncombe Turnpike stock stand, since it was not even on the BT. But it was on what was then called the Western Turnpike, which I have seen numerous references to, none of them including stock driving. The NCpedia online entry on turnpikes says: “Finally, in 1854 the General Assembly approved the construction of the Western Turnpike, which ran through Buncombe County from Asheville across the French Broad River to Waynesville, Webster, Franklin, and Murphy, then west to Ducktown, Tenn., across the Stansbury Mountain chain.” This was at least 20 years after Deaver opened the hotel, and only about 8 until it burned down. They did keep horses there for pleasure rides.

  5. Carolyn Henson Baity

    What a fine piece of history for me to recognize many of my own limited tracings from Salola Street (1948), Clinton Avenue, Vance School, Hall Fletcher, Sulphur Springs Road, City Buses to Lee Edwards High School (1960)! SO VERY INTERESTING, thanks to a friend of a later generation neighbor in Malvern Hills who passed it along to me. Please do keep up the good work and keep me on your list! (I do remember Johnny Wisnant on the bus and in the band!)

    1. David Whisnant Post author

      Hello, Carolyn:
      Thank you for your comment (which I also received by email). Yes, the places and memories overlap! My youngest brother was John(ny), but I don’t recall that he ever played in the band, though I did. I’m so glad you are finding the blog interesting, and hope you have subscribed (email address in the SUBSCRIBE box, and reply to the followup email will do it, and you will receive notification of all future posts; that is the way to “keep on the list”). I’m working on one now on my Whisnant grandparents’ move to W Asheville in 1923 (Brownwood Avenue), and there are a good many more to come. Obviously you can can all of the 25 or so previous ones from links within the blog. Best to you–David

  6. Carolyn Henson Baity

    Thank you for your special efforts preserving the pride we have in what Asheville and West Asheville meant to us in the years of honorable mention!! The small town pleasures of changing buses at Pritchard Park, dinner at the S&W before games at McCormick Field or hanging out at Woolworth’s with friends for a Cherry Coke after school! Looking back and coming home after 14 years living in Southern California.

  7. Anita Chitwood

    Mr Whisnant, I am a descendant of Robert Henry and have been researching the Sulpher Springs Cemetery. I wonder if you have any info about that property?

    1. David Whisnant Post author

      Anita: I’m sorry, but I can’t help you with this. Don’t know where you are located, but Special Collections at UNC Asheville might be of some help–online or in person. I’m glad you are enjoying the blog, and hope you are a subscriber (not on that screen at present, so I can’t tell.) Best to you– David

  8. Malvary Gamble

    The spring cover is still visible at the bottom of the hill on School Road in Malvern Hills. I live nearby. In the early 1960’s there was still a little water there, but, alas, no more.

  9. Gary T. Alston

    I am interested in gaining access to the property, my ancestors may have been some of those Southern planters. I’ve got a metal detector and maybe some of them dropped some things.

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