Dr. Irma Smathers

Irma Henderson Smathers was born in Madison County in 1910 to Carlene “Jenny”and Logan Henderson.
Growing up in Marshall, “Irma painted her dolls with Mercurochrome and did surgery and suturing on their sawdust bodies. She told everyone she was going to be a doctor. They said, “No, dear, you mean you are going to be a nurse.”
The child, corrected them. “No,” she insisted, “a Doctor.”


Marshall, N.C. on the French Broad River, right before the turn of the century.

As fortune would have it, Dr. J.N. Moore, a family doctor in Marshall boarded with Irma’s parents. Irma idolized the man and accompanied him on house calls. Irma said he did not encourage her in the least, saying the work was too hard for a woman, and the hours too long. Irma’s parents moved from Marshall to Woodfin and after graduating from Woodfin High School she entered Mars Hill College. Dr. Moore had said he would pay her tuition through college and medical school if she could earn her own room and board. She made her own clothes, taught piano and was a student teacher. Graduating first in the class, she went on to the U.N.C. Chapel Hill and from there to Tulane University’s School of Medicine. As a medical student, she wrote “bad” fiction under another name to support herself. She graduated in 1933, one of five female students in a class of one hundred and the youngest medical school graduate in the South that year. Dr. Henderson was 5 feet tall and weighed 100 pounds.

MS095.001I Irma Smat00005

Dr. Irma Smathers on right with an unidentified woman.

Irma arrived in Asheville in June 1933, deep in the middle of the depression, and a month too late to take her state board examination. She worked for a year without salary at the Aston Park Hospital, and in 1934 opened her office in the New Medical Building on Market Street for practice of general medicine, accepting only women and children as patients. She had the destinction of being the first native Western North Carolina woman to practice in Asheville.


Aston Park Hospital.

The federal government was opening a cannery in Asheville, to employ 1,000 people and to preserve food to give to the hungry. Dr. Margery Lord, city health officer, saw to it that beginning doctors got the contracts to examine, at 75 cents each, the people hired for the cannery. She examined all 750 women workers. “I was paid all in one check and it was about my biggest check ever — or for a long time. I paid my office rent with it, put some down on a car, some down on instruments. It just helped, that’s all.”

Dr. Irma Smather’s life and her contributions to Asheville will be continued.

We have a little information on canneries during W.W. I but none on a federal cannery in Asheville in the early 1930s. If you have information we hope you will share it with us. Add a comment on this blog or email us at packnc.buncombecounty.org.

[Information from, "Dr. Irma Smathers Winds UP 42 Years of Practice Monday" Asheville Citizen-Times by Nancy Brower , June 29, 1975.]

Post by Zoe Rhine, Librarian

Beacon Manufacturing Co., Baseball Team Starring Wade Martin

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the Swannanoa native Wade Martin, who was known nationally for his woodcarving abilities.

Click here if you haven’t read it.

While I was writing about Wade Martin, I was surprised to read that he was also known of as a great baseball player. Because I was staying focused on Wade’s Smoky the Bear story, and his carving skills, and also because I know nothing about baseball–unless my father taking me when I was little to the Cleveland Indian’s games counts–I decided to leave that part of his story out.

North Carolina Room staff have mentioned on this blog in the past about various woo-woo moments. Times when the word ‘synchronicity’ just doesn’t account for it all. Well, the photograph album that documents Wade Martin, on loan to us by Swannanoa resident Bob Ruiz, had been sitting around with several others in our work room for at least a couple months while we scanned them.

So one day I picked one up and wrote about Wade Martin. Last week I was looking at some photographs that had just been indexed. We had bought them from a vendor who looks out for things we’re interested in. One of the photos was of the Beacon Baseball team, 1940. Beacon Manufacturing Company expanded their blanket manufacturing business into the Swannanoa Valley from New Bedford, Massachusetts in 1925. The company first purchased a 160 acre farm and later added on some 1,600 acres. In 1933 the company moved their whole operation to the Swannanoa plant.

At the time we first got them, just when I was writing the blog, I remembered thinking, “Hmmm. . .Beacon. . . Swannanoa. . .baseball. –Surely Wade Martin was not in it?


Beacon Manufacturing Co. baseball team, Champions of Industrial League, 1940. Photograph taken by Wolcott, Black Mountain, N.C.

On the back of the photo, with the frame and the backing off, there was a list of the players. Wade Martin is on the left end of middle row. His brother Wayne is third from right on center row and another brother Quentin Martin is fourth from right on back row. All of the players as listed are:

Front row L to R: Melton Ellis, Bassie Moore, Harley Fox, Smokie Mascot, Henry Burell and Rex Bryant.

Second row L to R: Carl Pateat, Bill Harne, Wayne Martin, Mark Ferguson, Ray Nicholas, Woodrow Patton and Wade Martin.

Back row L to R: Bill Barnwel, A.G. Magent, Superintendent, Jack Share, Plant Manager, Quentin “Peppers” Martin, Charles Talent and Bill Rhymer. Also part of the team but not pictured was Earl Bailey, Business Manager.

Wade Martin00015

From, “Swannanoans Woodcarving Mountaineer Style with a Barlow Pocket Knife.”

In Wade Martin’s book, Swannanoans Woodcarving Mountaineer Style with a Barlow Pocket Knife, he includes a newspaper article from June, 1953 when he was playing for Mooresville in the Tar Heel League All-Star team, an outfielder who the “previous week had a 26-game hitting streak. He obtained 75 hits in 199 times at bat in games played through early last week. His hits included three triplets, three home runs and 17 doubles. He had 20 runs batted in and had scored 58 runs.”

It would seem to me that Wade Martin preferred to have his athletic abilties included along with his woodcarving talent, as he did in the book he wrote about himself, so I did, too.

Post by Zoe Rhine, Librarian

Do you know (or remember) what a Fire Alarm Box is?




When it was not common for people to have telephones in their homes, if your house caught on fire, you would run to the nearest fire alarm box and pull the handle. Using electric impulses, the box would send a number of tolls on a bell to the fire station where a fireman would translate the number, in this case #39, and know where the fire was. This box would send in 3 tolls, then a short pause and then 9 tolls, a long pause, and repeat itself four times. Register tapes also printed out the number for visual verification.


Interior view of the Asheville Fire Department’s alarm equipment room. Circuit boards for alarm circuit on back wall; tape registers on left and on the two smaller tables at back; the repeater is box on the left and the alarm station to center left where a fireman could stand and call out, note phone at station and at center desk. This was before two-way radios existed. Photo probably was taken when the new equipment was installed in 1924.

The fire box system was installed here in the early 1890s, upgraded in 1924, and some monitoring equipment was added in the 1960s. It wasn’t until 1987 that the city removed the 114 public fire alarm boxes in the city citing they were too unreliable and their upkeep was too expensive.

This 1968 street scene shows a fire alarm box on the pole to the right.


Photograph of the intersection of Broadway and Walnut Streets, Asheville, 1968. Photo by Andrea Clark.


The fire alarm box is on display along with a photograph exhibit:

Some of Asheville’s Most Famous Fires.


Firemen fighting fire near Tingle’s Cafe at#27 Broadway, June 1, 1953.

Firemen can be seen in this photograph climbing to the third floor of the building as the smoke followed an upward draft. Firemen from at least seven companies battled the blaze for about an hour. The fire was caused by burning grease on a kitchen stove, which damaged the building to the extent of several thousand dollars. Tingles’ Cafe was at the current location of Strada Italiano.


Also on display are early photographs of the Asheville Fire Department and Asheville Fire Department Record Books starting in 1893.


Photograph of a long horse-drawn fire wagon and Asheville firemen, in front of the 1892 Asheville City Hall in December, 1900. Photo by A.B. Pope.

If you haven’t been to the North Carolina Room in awhile, this is a nice exhibit to see.

Swannanoa Woodcarver Wade Martin Carves One Last Piece

Wade Martin

Feature article in “The State” magazine on the Southern Highlands Handicraft Guild with woodcarver Wade Martin on the front cover, July 12, 1952.

Wade “Gob” Hampton Martin was born in 1920, the son of Marcus Lafayette and Callie Holloway Martin. He had four brothers, Edsel, Wayne, Fred and Quintin and one sister, Zenobia. All of them carved. In the early 1930s the family moved from Andrews, N.C. to Swannanoa, N.C. Wade was nine at the time and grew up in Beacon Village. After serving in W.W. II, Wade got a job at the Beacon Manufacturing Company. In 1950 he took some carvings to Margaret Roberts, the manager of Allanstand Craft Shop in Asheville. When she sold those, Wade carved more. In her article, “The Carvings of Wade Martin” in May We All Remember Well, Vol. 1,  Maggie Lauterer wrote that when Wade got laid off at Beacon he started carving full-time. He found he could make more money selling three carvings a week than working in the mill.


Wade Martin in plaid shirt standing inside the Allanstand Mountain Craft Shop at 16 College Street with shop manager Margaret Roberts far left, Gertrude Bader in black and William Bader to far right, 1952. Gertrude Bader was a salesperson at Allanstand and William Bader worked in marquetry and was also a member of the guild.

Martin, a master craftsman sold his pieces all over the country and won national acclaim. “Fiddin’ with Wood” by Carol Mallett Rifkin, Asheville Citizen-Times April 29, 2007 mentioned that Wade Martin’s “original carvings sold for $25 or less and were often given as gifts or bartered in exchange for medical or dental care. Many sell for thousands of dollars today. A set of four small musical figures recently sold at Brunk Auctions in Asheville for close to $4,000.”


On the back of this print is written, “Woman with rolling pin…Allanstand retail $35.00.” Photograph donation from Robert Brunk, via Jerry Israel, via Margaret Roberts.

Wade started carving less and less in the late 1980s and had basically stopped by 1993. And then Algene “Genie” Larae Ott asked Wade if he’d make one more carving, a carving of Smokey the Bear signing “I love you?”

And, so, he did.

MS256.002C PHOTO D

Algene “Genie” Larae Ott, owner of Smokey the Bear, October 15, 1993.


MS256.002A PHOTO A

Wade Martin holding his carving Smokey the Bear standing beside his wife Francis Stuart Martin, July 26, 1993. Wade Martin died October 26, 2005.

Swannanoa resident and photographer Bob Ruiz took the Smokey the Bear photos. Through Swannanoa Library branch manager Carla Hollar, Ruiz loaned the prints to the North Carolina Room, Pack Memorial Library for scanning. They are a part of the Bob Ruiz Photograph Collection MS256 which contains hundreds of photographs documenting Swannanoa, that he has so generously allowed the library to copy and add to our collection.

You might look for Smokey the Bear when you travel around Western North Carolina. He’s likely to show up in the most appropriate places.

MS256.002B PHOTO A

Smokey the Bear at Ridge Junction Overlook, Milepost 355 on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

MS256.002B PHOTO B

Smokey the Bear at Mount Mitchell.

MS256.002B PHOTO C

Smokey the Bear with a smaller bear carving posing at the French Broad Ranger Station of the Pisgah National Forest.

For more information see:

May We All Remember Well, Vol. 1, 1997, “The Carvings of Wade Martin” by Maggie Lauterer.

Woodcarving Mountaineer Style with a Barlow Pocket Knife by Wade Martin, 1986. [Ref. NC  736.4 MAR]
Post by Zoe Rhine, librarian


Pack Memorial Library Reference Staff 1990

Library Reference Staff 1990: Spring Chicken Laura Gaskin in back row 3rd from left. Lewis Buck front row on left. Top Row L to R: Philip Banks, Jan Jenkins, Laura Gaskin, Anna Yount (then head of Reference). Middle Row L to R: Miranda McLoughlin, Buffy White, Carol Flemming, Rosalie Carter. Front Row, Lewis Buck and Chuck Cady.

Our fearless leader, Laura Gaskin, is retiring from Pack Memorial Library after 24 years of dedicated service.  Laura has been the Head Librarian here for most of that time, but she cut her teeth as the first Special Collections Librarian at Pack.

It’s staggering to think about the work and dedication it must have taken to process, organize, and catalog the North Carolina Special Collections.  The collection as it stood was an impressive one full of books, maps, clipping files, newspapers, manuscripts, etc. Laura and her trusted co-worker, Lewis Buck, believed that the collection deserved more recognition. With a lot of hard work and dedication, and a fair dose of gumption, they took a behemoth amount of material and turned it into one of the finest Special Collections in the state.

Thank you, Laura, for being a great librarian. We will miss you!

She’s funny too! Laura has co-workers tickled.

Eighteen current and past staff celebrated Laura’s retirement Friday, September 26, 2014 at Zambra’s Tapas Bar. Above, L to R Laura’s husband Bill Flynt, Laura Gaskin, Margaret Dahm and Eva Carter in view.


Zoe Rhine, Jennifer Stuart, Betsy Murray, Ann Wright and Cathie Osada.


Phlip Banks, Cathie Osada, Sherry Roane, Michael Clark and Bill Flynt.

Posted by Lyme Kedic with dates and library lore help from another great Special Collections Librarian, Ann Wright

The United States Weather Bureau in Asheville

A friend and loyal supporter of our HeardTell blog sent last week’s post on the Pack Square weather kiosk to Frank Quinlan, a retired professor from UNCA’s Atmospheric Sciences Department.

Mr. Quinlan, who was one of several people writing us back saying that the kiosk was new information to them, also sent us back one of our photographs in the North Carolina collection, marking the edge of the kiosk as well as the weather equipment that was then located on the top of the legal building.

1917 Red Cross meeting and send off of troops for W.W.I.

All of which made me want to document it all further. Information like this, visible information, is invaluable for helping to date photographs.
The United States Weather Bureau first established a station in Asheville in 1902 and it was first located in the Drhumor Building on Patton Avenue and Church Street. The Asheville Gazette in June of 1902 teased, “In another month or so Asheville will have a government weather bureau and then the world will be kept informed where the really fine weather is to be found.”
A Dr. R.M. Gedding was sent to Asheville to be in charge. Congressman James Montraville Moody of Waynesville was responsible for the establishment of a bureau here.  Previously residents had to rely on reports from the Charlotte or Raleigh bureaus which were totally inadequate for the mountain section. By 1904 the weather station was moved into the library building, the castellated building also seen in the above photo and in the postcard below.
A typical “weather report” preceding the Weather Bureau’s establishment in Asheville looked like this:
The following weather report appears to be the first published in The Asheville Gazette by the newly established Weather Bureau:

Asheville Daily Gazette, August 29, 1902

The Weather Bureau moved into the Legal Building around July, 1910 and it was there through 1929. A closer look at the weather equipment can be seen in this photo below. The weather kiosk is in view between Vance Monument and the band stand in the center of the square. At the time the weather kiosk was placed here in 1909, there were only 29 other U.S. cities that had one.

Circa 1920 photo showing “Welcome Home” banner at the Vance Monument by “War Camp Community Service”

 In 1930 the Weather Bureau moved into the new Federal Building on Otis Street.


*A note to researchers: Prior to these last two posts, we had very little, well, next to no, information on the weather bureau or the weather kiosk. Pack Memorial Library recently subscribed to Newspapers.com. Staff have found it to be one of the most helpful aids in researching early newspapers. It is available for use in the library if you would like to use it.
Post by Zoe Rhine, Librarian

The Weather Kiosk on Pack Square

One day recently, a traveler from Switzerland came into Pack Memorial Library to talk about Asheville’s weather kiosk. Weather kiosk? Sure enough, the gentleman pulled out several photos of Pack Square that he’d printed from the library’s web site and there it was. As familiar as those photos were, I had never noticed the blocky white structure in the center of the square, a United States Weather Bureau kiosk hidden in plain sight.



Herbert Pelton: photographer. NC Collection Pack Library: B440-8

The Weather Bureau began building kiosks in 1909, equipping them with meteorological instruments, and placing them around the country. The kiosks were identical, standing four feet square and nine feet in height. Made of solid cast iron and plate glass, they were set on a solid granite base. The instruments included a thermometer to record dry temperature as well as a hygrometer to show the degree of humidity. A mechanical barograph drew a line registering barometric variations as they occurred. A rain gauge measured total precipitation while recording the time when the rain fell. The daily official weather map was also displayed.



Pack Square circa 1910. NC Collection Pack Library: L744-4

Asheville wasted no time in setting up its kiosk. The Asheville Citizen reported on July 3, 1909 that “the kiosk will be ready for us in the next few days.” It assured readers that it “much improves the square and is centrally located making it available to everyone in the city.” Civic pride in the kiosk was short lived, however. City boosters were outraged to discover that its thermometer registered uncomfortably high temperatures in summer.

Asheville, North Carolina, published by the Asheville Board of Trade in 1914, reported that the average maximum temperature in both July and August was 81 degrees. Therefore, visitors to the city could escape the “oppressive, enervating conditions accompanying warm weather at lower altitudes.” When the readings provided by the new kiosk failed to support this appeal, the Board began a campaign to discredit it.



Weather kiosk amid Barnum & Bailey Circus 1909 NC Collection Pack Library: B109-4

“Weather Kiosk is an Automatic Liar,” read a headline in the Citizen on August 30, 1909. The high temperatures were blamed on its placement on Pack Square’s paved surface without the benefit of shade. “High Temperatures from Radiation Deceptive,” the Citizen reported on June 6, 1911 before going on to write that “visitors noting temperature readings would be led to believe the city is hot.” Critics further faulted the kiosk for its “beautifully colored pictures of clouds and various explanations, all of which are calculated to catch the eye of the stranger” who would then note the discrepancy. The local weather bureau agreed to put up a disclaimer on the kiosk that read, “On account of local radiation from the pavement and surrounding buildings and from other causes the maximum temperatures recorded here are frequently considerably higher than those of the free air from which official readings are made.”



ca 1917. NC Collection Pack Library: L335-DS

On August 2, 1912, the aldermen discussed whether to move the kiosk to a new location. News coverage of the controversy becomes scarce after this, however, and apparently the weather kiosk remained in its Pack Square location until December 12, 1919. At that time, the Citizen reported that a contract had been issued for the construction of restrooms underground at Pack Square. To clear the construction area, arrangements were to be made “for the removal of the kiosk from the site on which the station will be built. The kiosk probably will be put in some other portion of the square.”

No further mention of the weather kiosk appears in the Citizen. One can only imagine what became of it after that. Did it move on to a more hospitable city? Was it returned to the Weather Bureau? Was it disassembled by its detractors?   We can thank the Swiss traveler for leaving us with this puzzle.


Blog post by Laura Gaskin, Pack Memorial Library