- 1 Quick Take on the Early Years: Incorporation, De-/Re-incorporation, Annexation, and Mini-Boom, 1889-1925
- 2 Edwin Carrier Comes to West Asheville (before it was West Asheville)
- 3 Carrier as Buyer (and Seller) of Buncombe County Property
- 4 The Second Sulphur Springs Hotel, 1886-1892
- 5 The Mineral Springs Competition
- 6 The Belmont Burns
- 7 The West Asheville Improvement Company: Mingling Public and Private Good, 1888-1896
- 8 The Improvement Company and West Asheville’s Aspirations
- 9 Carrier’s Post-Belmont Years
- 10 The Unbuilt Third Hotel, and the Site That Wouldn’t Quit: 1897-1913
- 11 From the Hotel Dream to Suburbia: Malvern Hills (at Sulphur Springs): 1925
- 12 References
Quick Take on the Early Years: Incorporation, De-/Re-incorporation, Annexation, and Mini-Boom, 1889-1925
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 This charter was repealed on March 8, 1897 (for reasons no one seems to know), but the town was reincorporated on March 6, 1913.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).
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.”
Edwin Carrier Comes to West Asheville (before it was West Asheville)
My previous post on Edwin G. Carrier focused upon his career as a lumberman in Pennsylvania and Michigan, about which virtually nothing had been written before. This one explores his time in West Asheville after he arrived in 1885.
On the last day of July 1885, Carrier (“of the State of Michigan,” the deed said) paid $3415.50 for 51 acres ($68/acre) on the French Broad River near what would later be called (and incorporated as) West Asheville.
It was his first and last long-distance purchase in Buncombe County. Five months later, Carrier (now “late of Bay City, Michigan”) bought a lot on Patton Avenue for $2700. And in May 1886, he and his wife Catherine (still “late of Bay City”) sold their recently bought 51 acres for $5000 ($98/acre, a gain of 44 percent). A few days later, the couple (by then “of Buncombe County”) bought a lot on Bailey Street for $650.
Three things at least seem clear from these four transactions: (1) sometime between July 31, 1885 and January 6, 1886, the Carriers came to live in Buncombe County; (2) by May 1886, they were legal residents; and (3) Edwin Carrier learned that there was money to be made buying and selling land in the burgeoning city of Asheville (then halfway between its 1880 population of 2,500 and the 10,000 it would have in 1890).
During the three decades between Carrier’s arrival in 1885 and the annexation of West Asheville by Asheville in 1915, several processes ran side by side, overlapping each other both chronologically and functionally:
- Carrier’s own activities as an entrepreneurial buyer and seller of land, hotel owner/operator, street railway and hydroelectric plant owner/operator, policy activist and broker, and civic planner/developer;
- development and operation of the West Asheville Improvement Company, and Carrier’s shifting involvements with it;
- West Asheville’s emergence as an incorporated entity and its eventual merger with Asheville; and
- the physical, economic and social development of West Asheville itself.
Carrier as Buyer (and Seller) of Buncombe County Property
A lot of land was changing hands in and around Asheville in the mid-1880s. Between August 1885 and late August 1892, Carrier was involved in sixty land transactions–twenty-seven as buyer (mostly toward the beginning) and thirty-three as seller (from there to the end).
How much land did Carrier buy, and where? What did he pay for it (and get for it if he sold it)? Only partial answers are possible. Digitized deeds are a wonderful resource, but deeds do not always specify the number of acres involved in a transaction, how much money changed hands (X thousand dollars, or sometimes “ten dollars and other valuable considerations”), or precisely where the property was (unless “beginning at an oak stump on X Creek and following Y’s old property line for Z poles to . . . ” will serve your purpose).
As nearly as I can tell from deeds, during these seven years, Carrier bought about 1475 acres for approximately $95,000 ($2.3 million in 2016 dollars). But during the twenty years following 1893, he was almost always the seller, disposing of still mostly undeveloped land, but also several city lots, for nearly $140,000 ($3.3 million), netting maybe around $1 million (in 2016 dollars–a profit of perhaps 70%).
When Carrier came to Asheville, the prime but long neglected Sulphur Springs area about five miles west of Asheville lay undeveloped. For several decades, Reuben Deaver’s hotel had stood there before it burned down in 1862 (see previous post: The Several Lives of West Asheville, Part I: Sulphur Springs as Proto-Land of the Sky, 1827-1861) .
As early as September 1869, a traveler from Wilmington thought the site had possibilities. Writing to the Asheville Pioneer, he recalled that
Before the war Asheville was a great summer resort for many of the wealthy families of South Carolina and Georgia, and the . . . handsome residences in the outskirts of the town, now in a state of dilapidation and decay . . . show that in those days it must have been . . . a very fashionable place. I trust its future prosperity may be established on a firmer basis than the whims and caprices of a pampered slave aristocracy . . . . The Spring itself is yet in good condition . . . the water cold, clear, and so strongly impregnated with sulphur that you can smell it at some distance . . . .”
By the time the old hotel site drew Carrier’s attention, it had been sixteen years since the Wilmington traveler commented on it. Perhaps attracted by the old Sulphur Springs lake that was still there, Carrier took a look soon after he came to town.
The Second Sulphur Springs Hotel, 1886-1892
It seemed like not only a good site, but maybe also a good moment, to build a mineral springs tourist hotel. Asheville’s population in 1870 had been only 1,400, but the railroad arrived in 1880, and by 1883 it was just over 4,000. The city directory of that year presented a picturesque and modernizing city, full of bustling development and upscale culture: a
recently-arrived railroad, a new water works, a telephone system, upscale shops, and on the third floor of the new court house “a handsome opera-hall, with well-arranged stage, scenery . . . [and] a seating capacity of 400.” The city, the editor said, is “is still on a boom which shows no signs of weakening, but, rather, gains strength day by day.”
The earliest evidence I have seen that Carrier intended to build a hotel at the Sulphur Springs appeared in an April 27, 1886 newspaper article. A deed two weeks later recorded his purchase of a 147-acre Civil War-era Camp Vance near the Sulphur Springs (cheap, even at the time, for $17/acre).
By early August, Carrier had bought a lot more land in the same area: 200 acres in Lower Hominy Township and 49 acres near Sulphur Springs on July 8, another 18 acres on July 23, and 61 more acres in Sulphur Springs on August 2.
Construction began promptly. A January 23 Asheville Citizen list of local improvements “contemplated and in process” included “a new and splendid hotel at the Sulphur Springs.” The new hotel opened near the end of June 1887.
In September, Gatchell’s Standard Guide to Asheville and Western North Carolina said that the hotel “is situated on an extensive tract of land, recently much improved, about four miles from town. The building is new and well equipped in every way. Before the war, this was a famous resort, and it is destined to regain its popularity.” The second season opened with promise:
The fullest description of Carrier’s hotel I have found is in Harriet Adams Sawyer’s Asheville, or the Sky-Land (1892). By then the hotel was already five years old, had recently been renovated and expanded, was no longer owned by Carrier, and was called the Hotel Belmont.The elegant hotel, Sawyer said,
is heated by steam, . . . has an electric elevator and bells; is
lighted by gas, supplied with bath rooms, [and] hot and cold water on each floor . . . . The sleeping rooms are large, airy and well ventilated . . . and a number with private baths.
The furniture was selected with a view to elegance and
comfort; the beds are unsurpassed. The [ladies’] . . . reception . . . billiard and hall parlors . . . are all handsomely furnished. . . . The 1,200 feet of beautifully carpeted and furnished halls are broad and well lighted and make a continuous parlor into which the guests rooms open, these combined with one-fourth mile of verandah, offer . . . opportunities to promenade during stormy weather . . . .
Every sanitary precaution has been observed for the health of the house. The dining room is large. bright, cheerful and tastefully furnished. The table will be maintained at the highest standard . . . .
The Belmont Jersey Dairy furnishes the richest milk,
cream and butter. A first-class laundry is connected with
the house. A well appointed livery stable is also provided.
There were two springs (one iron, the other sulphur) on the grounds. Since hydrogen sulfide makes water smell like rotten eggs, it is not surprising that the 1869 visitor reported that it could be smelled “at some distance.”
The promise was a bit shaky, however. The Sulphur Springs/Asheville White Sulphur Springs/Belmont Hotel (as it was named at various times) was not the only one in the area that could truthfully claim such elegance (or such a smell). There was in fact considerable–and growing–competition.
The Mineral Springs Competition
Commercial Sulphur Springs resorts in the eastern United States already had a 150-year history by the time Carrier decided to add a link to the chain. Virginia’s Yellow Sulphur Springs dated to the early 19th century, and West Virginia’s Berkeley (originally, Medicine) Springs hosted George Washington in 1748.
Since its earliest days, Asheville–as well as much of the rest of western North Carolina–had been a tourist destination, and hotels, inns, and boarding houses were
scattered everywhere. After the railroad came in in 1880, such development intensified. By 1890, the city directory counted “47 hotels and boarding houses” in town.
The two most elegant hotels in Asheville were the new Swannanoa (1883) and the grand and luxurious Battery Park (1886). Both were larger than Carrier’s, but since neither had mineral springs, they were not direct competitors for his clientele.
So what about the competition among mineral springs hotels and resorts, especially nearby? As early as 1869, the North Carolina Land Company’s Guide to Capitalists and Immigrants had touted the state’s springs, noting that “mineral springs of great value abound” in Buncombe County.
Carrier could hardly not have known at the outset that other such resorts were operating in the southeast, some of them fairly close to Asheville.
Just as he started building his hotel, the U. S. Geological Survey published Lists and Analyses of the Mineral Springs of the United States (1886). Within the nine south Atlantic states (Delaware to Florida) there were 1,048 springs, 152 of them develeoped as resorts, with fifty-four in Virginia and thirty-three in North Carolina.
Among North Carolina’s mineral springs resorts in the 1880s, the closest to Asheville (county indicated) were Sparkling Catawba Sulphur Springs (Catawba); Blackwell’s White Sulphur Springs (Buncombe); Warm Springs (Madison);
Haywood White Sulphur Springs (Haywood); Alum and Lewis Springs (Rutherford); Eupeptic Spring, Leinster Springs and Sulphur Springs (Iredell); Millstead’s All Healing Mineral Spring (Alexander); Piedmont Springs (in both Stokes and Burke); and Connelly’s (Burke).
Connelly’s Springs alkaline water (“equal to the celebrated Buffalo Lithia Springs of Virginia”) was advertised to cure “Gravel and Gout and other depraved diseases of the system dependent on the uric acid diathesis . . . Bright’s disease . . . Diabetes . . . [every] disease of the Kidneys and Bladder . . . all diseases peculiar to women . . . Dyspepsia and Nervous Diseases.” A final teasing euphemism promised that it “restores the vital energies.”
The two mineral springs resorts closest by–Haywood White Sulphur Springs (opened 1878) and Warm (later Hot) Springs in Madison County (open a half-century or more)–lay nearly forty miles away (Haywood White Sulphur to the west and Warm Springs to the northwest), but after 1882 both were accessible by the Western North Carolina Railroad.
Mentioned admiringly as early as 1849 in Charles Lanman’s Letters from the Alleghany Mountains, Warm Springs was an old and venerable resort long before Carrier arrived in Asheville. It had been open only two years when its owners announced a major expansion:
The capacity of the Warm Springs Hotel has been increased, by the addition of one hundred new rooms. This improvement comprises a Western Extension, 650 feet long, three stories high, verandas to every floor, extending the entire length of the new building.
An entire outfit of new and elegant furniture has been purchased for the new extension, and the Hotel throughout has been renovated and re-furnished; presenting a Hotel outfit, for accommodation of a thousand guests, unsurpassed at any Summer and Winter resort in the country.
These improvements placed Warm Springs far above anything Carrier was likely to be able to build and offer to the public.
Carrier’s most bothersome competitor turned out to be not Warm Springs, but the Haywood White Sulphur Springs Hotel, which already had about five years’ lead on him in the market. An Asheville Semi-Weekly Citizen advertisement in September 1881 toted up Haywood White Sulphur’s new offerings: number of rooms doubled to accommodate visitor demand, a big new dining hall, and room rates of $1.25 per day, $8.00 week, and $25-35 per month.
Two years later, under new management, the hotel’s attractions included billiards and bowling, a piano and a string band.
In effect, Haywood White Sulphur had jumped into the lead and defined the terms of the competition. Although building new rooms and adding physical attractions took a while, room rates could easily be altered on an almost daily basis.
By August 1887, when Carrier’s hotel opened, Haywood White Sulphur felt confident enough of its competitive position to have nearly doubled their rates to $2.00-2.50 per day, $10.00-15.00 per week, and $30.00-50.00 per month.
The earliest rates I have seen for Carrier’s hotel (then called–competitively, one assumes–Asheville White Sulphur Springs) are from its 1888 (second) season, during which rates were twice reduced:
A third rate reduction appeared in September:
But rate cuts did not solve Carrier’s problem of being crowded by the competition. Two years later, Skyland Sulphur Springs Hotel, only about ten miles away (and admittedly not in the Haywood White Sulphur class), was charging only half as much by the day:
Such competition appears to have been sufficiently discouraging to Carrier that before his fourth (1890) season opened, he was ready to sell out–land, building, furniture and all–and move on.
Whether buyers were not available, or Carrier changed his mind, he soon began maneuvering again to improve his position in the market: enlarging the hotel, extending the season, adding guest attractions, and stepping up advertising.
By December, after the 1890 season ended, the Daily Citizen reported that he was at work on a forty-room expansion, which he hoped to finish by January 1. By the beginning of the 1891 season, the hotel (newly sold to the West Asheville Improvement Company, which I explore further below), was under new management, nearby lots and acreage were for sale, and a park and race track were under construction.
These opportunities were framed within Carrier’s larger efforts to develop West Asheville, with graded streets, pure spring water, bargain buys in lands and houses, and beautiful views.
The problem with Carrier’s aggressive advertising, however, was that the Haywood White Sulphur Springs promoters were far ahead of him, and were (one gathers from the newspapers) matching his every move on the sulphur springs resort checkerboard.
A section of that board involved getting guests to the two hotels by railroad. Haywood White Sulphur had had that service virtually to its doorstep by way of the Murphy branch of the Western North Carolina Railroad (which reached Waynesville in 1882), but Carrier’s hotel did not. The Asheville depot lay several miles away on the other side of the French Broad River, leaving guests to travel by horse-drawn coach.
Carrier’s remedy for that inconvenience was the West Asheville and Sulphur Springs Electric Railway, designed to ferry hotel guests to and from the main depot, crossing the river on a new steel bridge. Dates are uncertain, but service from the hotel to the depot appears to have begun in the summer of 1891.
But as usual, Haywood White Sulphur Springs was ahead of Carrier. At least since 1887, it had advertised that it was “on the Western North Carolina Railroad,” and two years later , it was running excursion trains from Asheville to the hotel on Sunday afternoons (and some months thereafter, “double daily” trains).
Apparently the opening of Carrier’s West Asheville and Sulphur Springs Railway was not by itself sufficient to offset the competition. An August 25, 1891 article in the Asheville Daily Citizen advertised rides on the WA&SSR from the depot to the Hotel Belmont (“the old Sulphur Springs hotel”) for ten cents, and by November the Belmont (“formerly the Sulphur Springs Hotel”) was advertised as “the finest winter health resort in the South,” directed by [Dr.] John S. Marshall (“take our electric car at the Depot”).
Director Marshall doesn’t seem to have worked out, either, despite daily newspaper ads throughout January 1892.
In early February, Dr. Karl Von Ruck, noted Asheville physician who owned and operated Winyah Sanitarium, took over on a ten-year lease. Six weeks later, the Daily Citizen referred to the hotel as “Dr. Karl Von Ruck’s New Resort.”
The new proprietor aimed to raise the appeal of his new resort by a few notches, the Asheville Democrat reported on May 12: there would be an orchestra and a seven-piece band for concerts and dancing in a pavilion already under construction, new bowling alleys, “choice refreshments . . . in a shaded grove,” and an adjoining restaurant” with an appropriately elegant menu, including Potatoes Lyonnaise, Salmi of Duck with Olives, Cold Tongue, Broiled Shad, Charlotte Russe, and the like. “Special board rates” were extended to “Asheville people” who considered themselves as French-inflected as the menu.
Oddly, news articles said that “The Doctor’s new charge will not be run as a sanitarium, but as a hotel purely, [of] the first-class style.” But Von Ruck had an addtional plan: near the end of April, the Daily Citizen reported, he bought eleven acres near the hotel on which to build “a new sanitarium . . . a model in every respect . . . especially adapted for the comfort and convenience of invalids.”
The upscaled Belmont was not to be, however. On October 17, news came that together with another doctor, Von Ruck was working to reopen Winyah. What had happened?
The Belmont Burns
In the small print of the advertisement above, “open fires” [presumably fireplaces] appear–along with steam heat and an Otis electric elevator–as an attraction in the refurbished hotel. Harriet Adams Sawyer’s contemporaneous Asheville, or the Skyland (see above) also mentioned the open fires, but noted that the hotel had “perfect fire escapes, Miller chemical fire engines” (no image or design of which I have been able to discover) and in case of emergency, “telephonic communication . . . with the depot and city.”
Such precautions notwithstanding, just before midnight on August 24, 1892, the Belmont caught fire. Beginning maybe in the engine room, the flames raced up the elevator shaft. The 138 guests and numerous staff members, alerted by a pistol shot, streamed out of the building or climbed out on veranda roofs and jumped from upper floors.
Leaving expensive jewelry and clothing behind, women (some with children) showed, many thought, special “bravery and pluck.” A mother from Charlotte dropped her child into the arms of those waiting below. Within thirty minutes the building was gutted. Injuries were few and minor, and guests were taken to the Glen Rock, Battery Park, and Swannanoa hotels.
A heap of red hot bricks, burning timbers, and twisted iron, with blackened walls standing sentinel over the scene of desolation, is what remains of the Hotel Belmont.
Counter to Harriet Adams Sawyer’s assurances, no newspaper report seems to have mentioned either fire escapes or chemical fire engines. Guests’ behavior ranged from heroic and generous to self-absorbed and frantic. “It is funny now that it is all over,” one reporter observed,
to think how several people stood about . . . and conversed with only one garment on, and did it as naturally and easily as if it had been their habit all their lives to appear in undress. These experiences were not confined to people of the same sex, either.
A few days after the fire, a Pensacola physician who had been a guest sent a letter to the Weekly Citizen editor saying that Von Ruck “cannot be too severely censured” for his self-serving negligence before and during the fire: lack of a watchman, inadequate alarms, no ladders in evidence, inattention to the plight of guests, and interested primarily in saving hotel property. In the style of the Captain of the good ship USS Belmont, Von Ruck disputed the good doctor’s assertions (no one had to jump, he said unconvincingly), and claimed to have checked every guest room before attending to his family’s and his own safety.
“The Belmont must be rebuilt,” the newspapers insisted, but neither Carrier nor Von Runk would assure them that it would be. And it wasn’t. Five years later there was a plan for another, but it was never built.
From the hotel we pass now to a parallel, overlapping, and intertwined narrative: the formation and short and (more or less) happy life (to borrow Ernest Hemingway’s story title) of the Carriers’ West Asheville Improvement Company. That narrative is too softly Byzantine (the oxymoron is intentional) to tell fully here (MA thesis, anyone?), but an outline will be useful.
The West Asheville Improvement Company: Mingling Public and Private Good, 1888-1896
Interestingly, no member of the Carrier family appears in the Asheville city directory until 1900 (by which time they had been in western North Carolina for fifteen years), possibly because the location of the “fine stone mansion” the Daily Citizen reported that he was building in 1891 on “the west bank of the French Broad” was not then included within the directory’s listings.
A few details of the Daily Citizen‘s stone mansion article bear a closer look, however. One wonders, for example, why Carrier–whose previous transactions show him to have been an alert and canny trader–was willing to buy unimproved land at (assuming $2.50 is a misprint for $250) 166 to 200 percent of its value a year earlier?
A deed registered on May 9 showed that Carrier bought $5000 worth of land (ten acres at $500/acre?) from WAIC on Detroit Avenue, about 500 feet west of the river.
So what was going on with West Asheville land values? A part of the answer lay in the recent formation of the West Asheville Improvement Company (WAIC).
And what, exactly, was WAIC? Who owned it, and what did they mean to do with it? What was Carrier’s relationship to it?
First off, many such companies were scattered around the country, generally connected to railroad, harbor, river, and power investment/development companies owned (or envisioned) by wealthy businessmen. The earliest I have encountered (in eastern Kentucky) was chartered in 1866. And North Carolina had its share of them.
In the Laws and Resolutions of the State of North Carolina, Passed by the General Assembly (1889) one finds that by the late 1880s, many North Carolina developers were forming improvement companies to broaden, facilitate and legalize their aims and activities: the Morganton Land and Improvement Company; the Charlotte Land, Loan, and Improvement Company; the Pender and Onslow [counties] Land and Improvement Company; the Linville Land, Manufacturing and Mining (later just Linville Improvement Company); and the Carolina Mining, Manufacturing, and Improvement Company. Asheville itself had the Asheville Loan, Construction and Improvement Company and the Battery Park Hotel and Improvement Company. Since “improvement” was (by design) a broad term, these companies were authorized to do almost anything they were of a mind to do.
A November 3, 1888 notice by the Clerk of Superior Court announced the incorporation of
the WAIC, of which Carrier and his son J. D. were two of eight named incorporators. The company, capitalized at $500,000, received a 99-year charter and the right to engage in a broad array of activities.
Even broader, in fact, than the Clerk of Court’s characterization. Section 8 of the incorporation act includes too many activities to list here. A few surprising items: sinking mines and building mills and shops, operating “manufactories” of any variety (“including iron foundaries and steel furnaces”), promoting immigration, building and connecting roads of all sorts, building bridges and dams, stringing and operating telegraph lines, constructing aqueducts and canals, “and any other works . . . deemed necessary and convenient for the business of the corporation.” For good measure, if the WAIC decided they needed a piece of privately-owned land, they could acquire it by purchase (if the price was right) or condemnation (if it wasn’t).
Within this nearly unlimited universe of possibilities, what did the WAIC actually do, and how did West Asheville respond to what they did? A few weeks after the company emerged, the Daily Citizen published a long article, “West Asheville. What the Improvement Company Will Do.” A long subhead telegraphed the promise: Electric Railway–Iron Bridge–Broad Avenues–Extensive Park–Magnificent Hotel–Mountain Water–Gorgeous Views.
What was not to like–or to be skeptical about? As far as the subhead list was concerned, probably nothing. But beyond that, the sweeping rights granted by the actual charter opened possibilities for disagreements and problems. And some ensued.
The Improvement Company and West Asheville’s Aspirations
On April 11, 1888, the Asheville Citizen carried a small but slightly ecstatic advertisement about a “New City”rising across the river, away from the “dust and bustle” of Asheville. The ad ran a couple of times each week through early July, together with an ineptly designed one in The Daily Sun.
By late 1889 at least, WAIC was well into its commercial enterprises in West Asheville, and newspaper notices of real estate transactions gave evidence that they were having considerable success.
In an April 3, 1890 article titled “West Asheville Is Coming to the Front,” the Weekly Citizen touted some of Carrier’s recent land transactions and their broad benefits:
- bought 85 acres and a house for $17,500 (subtracting $2500 for the house, $175/acre), and sold twelve acres for $2,500 ($208/acre);
- sold the 85-acre “Strawberry Hill tract” for $8,000 ($216/acre)
“West Asheville,” the short article concluded, “is already beginning to realize the future prophesied for it. It is rapidly becoming the most attractive of the suburbs of the city.”
A year later, reporting on a WAIC stockholders’ meeting, the Weekly Citizen took stock of its accomplishments and plans:
WAIC, the article said, “has done an immense amount of good work.” The hotel, by then owned by WAIC, was adding forty new rooms, and was leased to Asheville’s prominent physician Karl Von Ruck, who intended to operate it as a hotel/sanitarium. Five miles of streets had been graded and paved, and five more laid out. Carrier’s “iron bridge” over the French Broad was nearly ready to open, and there were plans for a street railway to run from the hotel to the downtown depot.
A month later, the Daily Citizen judged that WAIC had “opened the path for the growth of the future town, providing it with all the accessories of utility, convenience and beauty. Streets have been laid out of ample width and easy grades . . . . Parks will also spread their open areas for recreation and . . . adornment.”
All of that was good news. But not all of the news about WAIC was wholly good, some of it seems (at this distance, at least) murky or troubling, and whatever public good emerged was secondary, and difficult to separate from the private good. Asheville newspaper articles of the time provided interesting–if sometimes confusing and incongruent–details:
Corporate/family boundaries were indistinct, transactions overlapped and mirrored each other, and the Company soon ceased to be locally owned and focused:
The local “incorporators” listed in the Act were E. G. Carrier, his young son J[ames] D. Carrier (b. 1865), J. P. Gaston (presumably of Carrier and Gaston) and R. J. Gaston (relationship unknown; perhaps an agriculturalist and miller from Hominy NC). The 380 acres on the French Broad he bought from J. P. Gaston and his wife Martha in April 1887 for $17,500 ($46/acre) were sold by Carrier, J. P. Gaston and their wives to WAIC in August 1889 for $40,000 ($105/acre).
On the same August day, Carrier and his wife Catherine sold $230,000 worth of land on Sulphur Springs and Sand Hill roads to WAIC. Then two years later, when Carrier wanted to buy land for the “fine stone mansion” he intended to build on the banks of the French Broad, he bought it from WAIC at the premium price of $500/acre.
To complicate the record further, early in 1892, the company’s directors sold all of its “lands and stock” to Carrier “for a syndicate . . . of northern men.” Though syndicates had many purposes, it was in this (and most) cases a group of businessmen hoping to optimize their position in a market. Thus it is well to bear in mind that a syndicate was not formed primarily for the public good.
The WAIC’s “northern men” appear to have been Boston-based General Electric Company officials. Thenceforth, it appears, the WAIC was directed from Boston, ceasing to be a locally-owned company attentive (at least partly) to local issues and the public good.
The Asheville Daily Citizen called the transaction simply “One of the largest transactions in realty Asheville has ever known.”
WAIC activities were numerous, disparate and interlocking:
The company traded in land and developing residential property; built a hydroelectric dam and power station, built a
street railway and a 250 ft. “iron” (as newspapers called it, but almost certainly at that time, steel) truss bridge so it could cross the river; lighted Asheville streets; developed a horse racing track and sold “fine Jersey cows,” as Carrier had seen members of his extended family do decades before in Pennsylvania (see previous post: The Several Lives of West Asheville, Part II: Edwin G. Carrier Before West Asheville).
I have seen no evidence that any WAIC project was shaped or marred by graft or dishonesty, but their very multiplicity made it difficult to separate public from private good. Three factors will illustrate:
Three contemporaneous and closely related infrastructure projects had intermittent problems: a hydroelectric project on Hominy Creek, a street railway, and a contract to light Asheville city streets.
Hominy Creek hydroelectric development:
Carrier’s efforts to build and operate hydroelectric generating stations on Hominy Creek occurred early in the development of the technology. Niagara Falls’s first station at went online in 1881, and Edison’s Vulcan Street plant the next year. A decade later, when Carrier began his own efforts, there were only about fifty plants in all of the U. S. and Canada, and many were quite small, including Appleton, Wisconsin’s municipal plant (12.5 kw).
The actual progress of Carrier’s Hominy Creek hydro projects–intended (at various junctures) to provide power for the Sulphur Springs Hotel, the railway and street lighting–is a bit confusing from this distance. What follows is something of a guess, since newspaper accounts lack clarity.
Recent on-site investigations (Google map) by members of the Malvern Hills community indicate that an early (1885) upstream dam was replaced (some portions moved?) by a larger downstream dam about 1890. A newspaper article on WAIC’s November 1890 director’s meeting says a(nother?) dam “has been built” across Hominy Creek–apparently to provide power for the hotel (including “the south’s first electric elevator,” it has been claimed, but the new Battery Park Hotel, opened a year earlier than Carrier’s, already had one).
How much power can (potentially, without taking turbine and generator efficiencies into account) be gotten from a hydro dam project is a function of dam height (“head”) and stream flow. Although Hominy Creek was relatively small compared to the Swannanoa or French Broad rivers, local newspapers reported in March 1892 that Carrier’s existing project was producing about 100 hp, and another station was being developed following
his purchase of “the Stevens Mill Power” site near WAIC’s own 30 ft. x 250 ft. dam. The new station would, they figured, produce an additional 200 hp. “Water wheels” (almost certainly turbines) for that dam were received in March 1893, and the dynamo installed in June.
Hominy Creek hydro projects were plagued from time to time by erratic stream flow (too high, too low, seasonal variations) and flooding, the latter of which sometimes led to complaints from nearby farmers whose fields flooded.
West Asheville & Sulphur Springs Street Railway (WA&SSR):
After several years of preparation, Asheville’s first
electric streetcar run occurred on February 1, 1889. Before long, West Asheville wanted one, too. Carrier and WAIC saw the opening, and at the November 1890 stockholders’ meeting said that “a street railway line is to be constructed.”
On January 16, 1891, they announced that they would file for incorporation, which seems to have occurred in April. Directors and officers included those of WAIC as well as others (e.g., D. C. Waddell, who was on the board of Asheville’s street railway company). The new line–from the Sulphur Springs hotel, across the new iron bridge, and to the main Asheville depot–was projected to be operating within sixty days, but that did not occur until sometime in the fall.
So far, this is congruent with the story has always been told: Carrier had a hotel west of Asheville at the sulphur springs; he wanted to get his hotel guests back and forth from the downtown depot; he built the WA&SSR to do that. But it is more complicated than that, because it turns out that the WA&SSR was neither the only nor the first West Asheville street railway in the works.
On March 11, 1889–prior to the incorporation of the WA&SSR– prominent local realtor Natt Atkinson (Civil War veteran, tourism promoter and mainstay in county Democratic
politics since the 1870s) and some associates incorporated the Asheville Fast Line and Suburban Railway AFL&SS).
Fourteen months later, AFL&SR’s request for a city charter was referred to a committee of West Asheville’s Board of Aldermen, and on April 21, 1891, a June 8 bond election was ordered to approve the purchase of AFL&SR construction bonds. The Weekly Citizen judged that “a good move.”
It was also a completely legal move. On March 4, just a few weeks before Atkinson wrote to the editor, West Asheville’s own incorporating act had been amended to allow the town to “subscribe to the capital stock in or purchase the construction bonds of . . . the [AFL&SR], or any other railway company building its road within the corporate limits” of West Asheville, provided voters approved.
But Carrier, no doubt aware of the AFL&SR, and considering it a threat to his WA&SSR, didn’t consider the bonds election a good move at all. Instead, he declared Atkinson’s plan “a scheme.”
In response, Atkinson sent a letter to the editor charging Carrier with intolerable “arrogance and self-importance” in pushing his WA&SSR project, and in implying that “the people of a town belong to him and will not vote except as he dictates” on bonds to build West Asheville’s own street railway over a different route, rather than his own.
Carrier wants to “draw everything over in the direction of his own railway,” Atkinson charged, “so as to . . . get rid of his second rate property.” Carrier may build his railway “on our [north] side of town” instead, he threatened, “or someone else will.” This was no idle threat, since Atkinson held the charter for the AFL&SR, which authorized building and operating a railway provided construction commenced within two years (i.e., before March 11, 1893).
Whether the June 8, 1891 bond election was held is a mystery. Newspaper articles on
AFL&SR ceased after May 16, most likely because the WA&SSR delay in obtaining a right-of-way for its link from Carrier’s bridge over the French Broad to the Asheville depot was resolved in mid-April, and cars were expected to roll soon. After that, the AFL&SR story line went dead. Atkinson died in August 1894.
The field was thus left to the WA&SSR, but conflicts emerged with the larger Asheville system soon after WA&SSR received permission to extend its tracks from the depot (down on the river) on up to Asheville’s central business district.
The Asheville company did not want WA&SSR’s tracks crossing its own. On at least one occasion, WA&SSR crews worked quickly in the dead of night to make the crossings secretly, and have them be fait accompli by daylight. At another needed crossing, a city lines official blocked progress with one of its own cars.
In June 1892, after the line had been operating for some months, an Asheville Daily Citizen article (excerpted in Trolleys in the Land of the Sky) complained about WA&SSR’s downtown extension: paving outside the new rails, but leaving the space between a muddy mess, and running the lines on streets where “they had no business being.” Local opposition also kept the line from extending as far as intended, and the Daily Citizen again took issue with the usurious fare up the hill to the posh Battery Park Hotel.
Whatever the merits of these objections and controversies (impossible to judge from this distance), each weighed the public good against Carrier’s personal gain–a concern which in general received scant discussion.
In any case, the WA&SSR was built as Carrier wanted it, as this 1895 map shows:
Unfortunately, the purpose the WA&SSR was built primarily to serve (to ferry passengers to and from Carrier’s Sulphur Springs Hotel to the main Asheville depot) disappeared when the hotel burned down in late August 1892.
Text for the North Carolina historical marker says WA&SSR continued to operate into 1894, but by May 1895 it had passed into receivership, and as a result of a personal injury suit was sold at a Sheriff’s sale on February 1, 1897. The buyer was D. C. Waddell, then developing a competing line from downtown to Biltmore. Some WA&SSR rails reportedly were taken up and reused during the construction of George Vanderbilt’s estate.
Asheville street-lighting project:
Shortly before the hotel burned, WAIC signed a contract (with Asheville’s People’s Light, Heat and Power Company) for what turned out to be its final project: using its Hominy Creek hydro power to run streetlights in Asheville. To provide the power, a new 30 x 250-foot dam (whose date and construction schedule was announced numerous times and with varying rationales) was to be built.
Presumably, Carrier’s preoccupation with the burning of the hotel was partly to blame, but within a month the city was complaining about slow progress.
Attempting to explain the delay to the Board of Aldermen, Carrier said “it’s not [the WAIC’s] fault.” But the Daily Citizen’s writer was not convinced. “For the present,” he said, it seems that the town will have to go along as it has been, doing generally without any lights at all.”
“The present” turned out to drag on. By mid-March, city aldermen summoned Carrier “to show cause “why the city should not declare [the lighting contract] forfeited.” To muddy the waters further, the Daily Citizen reported two weeks later that a WAIC representative had attended the Board of Aldermen meeting, but was not allowed to speak because the Board had “rushed through” its meeting “in more of a hurry than it has shown in many a day.” “Whatever one may think of the manner in which the contract was awarded,” the Daily Citizen commented, the light “is more satisfactory than it [has] been for a long time.”
As detailed in the Daily Citizen, the controversy dragged on for about two more years. Early in July 1893, seventy lights finally went on as promised, and twenty more six months later. Along the way, WAIC filed suit against the city (here and here). The validity of the “pretended contract” continued to be challenged, and WAIC refused arbitration. At length, the city reduced the number of lights and threatened to take over street lighting itself. After many months, both parties were seeking an “amicable” solution.
Somewhat mysteriously, or perhaps “viciously,” as the Weekly Citizen reported on July 5, 1895, the WAIC’s charter (through a bill sponsored by a Buncombe representative in the legislature) had been revoked. On July 27, 1895, the WAIC was placed in receivership, and in late December 1896 Carrier sold his assets in WAIC to General Electric.
Carrier’s Post-Belmont Years
Asheville’s 1925 city directory shows the Carriers still very much present in town. E. G. Carrier was living on South Liberty Street, and the Carrier building stood on East College Street. Son Ralph was an optometrist, and son Heath was an architect with the firm of Smith & Carrier. The Smith of the duo (recently deceased) was Richard Sharp Smith (1852-1924) who had come to Asheville in 1889 to work on the Vanderbilt mansion, and remained to become the most prolific and proclaimed of western North Carolina architects.
I was surprised to find E. G. Carrier still in Asheville. The years after the Belmont burned down in late 1892 had been very difficult for him. The Panic of 1893 (six years long, it turned out to be) was calamitous for nearly everyone as businesses and railroads failed, banks closed, and unemployment swelled. The Great Freeze of 1894-1895 devastated orange groves Carrier owned near Sanford FL, and the West Asheville and Sulphur Springs Railway went into receivership about the same time, partly because of damage claims against Carrier following the bursting of his Hominy Creek dam. His two year-old “fine stone mansion” (as the newspaper referred to it) burned down in 1899.
Asheville itself suffered a series of disturbing events between 1913 and 1920: a strike by street railway workers in April 1913, the great flood of July 1916 that devastated lands along the French Broad River, and the influenza pandemic of 1918-1920 (see previous post, Family Challenges in the ‘Teens: A Strike, a Flood, and an Epidemic) .
Asheville actually had begun to lose its charm for Carrier in the mid-1890s, as he turned his attention toward business opportunities in eastern North Carolina. Newspapers began to report his trips there at least by March 1895. During the next several years he seems to have ranged rather widely. The Daily Citizen reported a few days before Christmas in 1899 that he had “gone to the eastern part of the State on a business trip, . . . . [and] before
he returns he may go to Cuba–not as a prospector, but to look after lands belonging to relatives.” At some point before 1900, he bought 1,000 acres in Brunswick County’s huge Big Green Swamp (now the Green Swamp Preserve). New Hanover County deeds show that between 1911 and 1925, Carrier, his wife Catherine and their son E. G., Jr. sold about a dozen tracts in the county (two to family members).
Meanwhile, nearly 75 Buncombe County deeds between 1890 and 1910 show that Carrier and his wife were trading frequently in lands, sometimes buying, sometimes transferring within the family, but most often selling. E. G. Carrier died in Georgia in 1927, and is buried (as are numerous other family members) in Asheville’s Riverside Cemetery.
The Unbuilt Third Hotel, and the Site That Wouldn’t Quit: 1897-1913
Although Carrier bought and sold land in locations scattered through the city and county for forty years, much of it centered around his original purchases on the west bank of the French Broad River, Hominy Creek, Strawberry Hill, and Sand Hill and Brevard Roads–that is, around the old Sulphur Springs hotel site.
What happened to the Sulphur Springs hotel property after the Hotel Belmont fire does not become clear until–on orders from the U.S. Circuit Court following a “friendly suit” between the General Electric Company and WAIC–Receivers James H. Cutler and J. E. Rankin appeared on the county Court House steps on October 7, 1897 and auctioned off hundreds of acres of WAIC-owned land, “electric cars,” rights of way, engines and machinery, and “apparatus and equipment of every kind and description.” Lock, stock, and barrel, in other words.
Those assets were quickly acquired by the Asheville Electric Company (AEC; formed specifically in order to acquire them, the Daily Citizen reported). Principals of the Company–in effect the successor to the WAIC–were Cutler (GE’s official in charge of southern operations) as Secretary and Treasurer, and Rankin as President.
Barely six weeks later, Cutler and Rankin were back in the news to announce AEC’s plans to rebuild (using convict labor) the West Asheville & Sulphur Springs Electric Railway in the center of a wide boulevard (on land donated by Carrier) that would “connect the city of Asheville with the Sulphur Springs.”
The “most momentous part of the plan” they said toward the end of November, was to “establish a hotel and sanitarium at the site of the old Hotel Belmont.” The hotel, they said, would be done in “palatial style.” By March 1898, the WA&SSR rebuilding was on schedule, but the hotel plans were on hold while the city’s perennial street lighting problems were resolved. As late as September 5, 1899, the Asheville Gazette reported that the Sulphur Springs Hotel “will not be built for a while,” partly because AEC’s Hominy Creek power dam was damaging surrounding property owned by others.
Cutler met with the property owners, looking for “an amicable solution,” which proved elusive because of ongoing issues related to the power dam. Cutler was in and out of Asheville regularly into at least late 1903, involving himself in diverse issues: touring opera companies, the city telephone system, the YMCA, and city lighting and street railways. By the end of 1906, Cutler was living in Maine, serving on the state railroad commission, and conferring with regional advocates for an Appalachian park or forest reserve. But Cutler’s Sulphur Springs hotel seems to have dropped out of the news around 1900.
But the allure of another hotel on the site lingered on. On February 1, 1907, the Asheville Electric Company sold 59 acres in Sulphur Springs to Otto B. Schoenfeld and his wife Clara. Three weeks later, he bought another 50 acres (“Old Carrier Race Track”). A little over a year later, by which time he was living in New Orleans, he tried to sell the first parcel as “an ideal site for a hotel.” The display ad also offered “a tract of over 300 acres known as Sulphur Springs Farm. In July 1911 he bought a parcel “near Haywood Road.” By late September, he had decided to develop what he called a “health farm”on part of his land.
A similar ad appeared on May 26, 1912, by which time Schoenfeld–now a “Teacher of Health Culture”– was also selling enticingly labeled mineral water from the Sulphur Springs:
But try as he did, Schoenfeld just could not make a go of it at the old Sulphur Springs. By mid-July of 1913, deeds show, he had disposed of much (all?) of his land.
From the Hotel Dream to Suburbia: Malvern Hills (at Sulphur Springs): 1925
Carrier’s major competitor Haywood White Sulphur Springs became a recuperative center for World War I veterans in 1918, and never reopened as a resort. Hot Springs became a German internment camp during the war, and then a hospital for veterans. Connelly’s was still operating at least until 1924.
Deeds show that the Sulphur Springs land (and surrounding plots) continued to be sold and resold (through far too many transactions to detail here) on into the mid-1920s–not for a hotel, but for suburban residential development.
Early in 1925, Newton Anderson, owner of the adjacent Asheville School, began to buy land surrounding the old hotel site (some of it from the Asheville Electric Company, successor to E. G. Carrier’s West Asheville Improvement Company). Anderson immediately launched a $500,000 upscale subdivision, Malvern Hills, that included
concrete streets and sidewalks, underground wiring, a 9-hole golf course, and a clubhouse that incorporated the octagonal foundation of the old Sulphur Springs bathhouse. “This location,” the newspaper article promised, “may be truthfully called the birthplace of Asheville’s fame as a resort city, and it is consequently rich in historical interest covering . . . nearly a century.” Residents also had access to Asheville School’s Ashnoca Lake down on Hominy Creek.
The clubhouse is long gone, as are the lake and the golf course, but Malvern Hills thrived. Lots sold quickly, soon spurred partly by the advent of the huge American Enka Corporation (the subject of a future post) to the west in 1928. Historical materials on Malvern Hills, extending to efforts by its Community Club to help develop the nearby Hominy Creek Greenway, are available here.
When Malvern Hills opened in 1926, Asheville was in the midst of its 1920s boom, with new subdivisions spreading in all directions:
This was the booming suburban West Asheville my Whisnant and Rudisill grandparents both moved into in 1923–the subject of my next post. Asbury Whisnant was a union operator of streetcars for the Asheville Electric Company. He and my grandmother Ella bought a house, and lived in it until they died. But Pierce Rudisill was an hourly-paid construction laborer, and buying a house was beyond his reach. He and my grandmother Virginia Pearl moved from one rented house to another until she died in 1951. After that, he moved again and again to wherever work could be found.
Asheville city directories (1883-1925); Bailey, Canfield and Cox, Trolleys in the Land of the Sky: Street Railways of Asheville, N.C. and Vicinity (2000); Edward Beyer, Album of Virginia (1859; rpt. Virginia State Library, 1980; original full-text here); Nan Chase, Asheville: A History (2007); Grady Cooper, “A Shifting Identity: West Asheville’s Storied Past,” MountainXPress (April 3, 2014); Edwin A. Gatchell, The Standard Guide to Asheville and Western North Carolina (1887); Lou Harshaw, Asheville: Mountain Majesty (2007); Hinton A. Helper and Guy Cyril, Asheville, Western North Carolina: Nature’s Trundle-Bed of Recuperation for Tourist & Health Seeker (1886); J. L. Mashburn, Hominy Valley: The Golden Years (2008) and Hominy Valley Revisited (2009); Laws and Resolutions of the State of North Carolina, Passed by the General Assembly ; Stephen E. Massengill, Western North Carolina: a Visual Journey (1999); National Register of Historic Places, North Carolina – Buncombe County; Newspapers.com for numerous Asheville newspapers, 1885-1927; NCpedia; Duane Oliver, Mountain Gables: A History of Haywood County Architecture (2001); Albert C. Peale, Lists and Analyses of the Mineral Springs of the United States (USGS Bulletin No. 32; 1886); Registers of Deeds for Buncombe, Hanover and Harnett counties, Land Transactions of Edwin G. Carrier, other family members and heirs (1885-1995); Joseph Robinson [great grandson of E. G. Carrier], “Birth and Death of the West Asheville Streetcar Line”; Richard D. Starnes, Creating the Land of the Sky: Tourism and Society in Western North Carolina (2005); U. S. Federal Census (1880-1920); West Asheville Library, West Asheville History Project; Wilbur Zeigler and Ben Grosscup, The Heart of the Alleghanies, Or, Western North Carolina (1883)