Christmas Cards from Asheville’s Past

Currently on view in the entrance case at Pack Memorial Library you will discover a variety of vintage Christmas cards from individuals and businesses in Asheville. On view on the lower level is a recently acquired photo album made by photographer William Barnhill as a Christmas gift to his sister Laura Barnhill who was visiting with him in the fall of 1915. They took a trip with friends on the Mount Mitchell passenger train to Mount Mitchell. Come visit.

Brooks Howell

Brooks-Howell Home, 29 Spears Avenue, Asheville, NC

Our Crib

“Our Crib….St. Joseph’s Hospital, Asheville, NC.”

These three Christmas postcards are the only ones I’ve discovered in my years of collecting postcards. They are now a part of the North Carolina Room Collection. If you have others, please consider donating them to the collection.

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St. Lawrence


Post by Terry Taylor, Board Member of the Friends of the North Carolina Room.



A Christmas Mystery, Asheville 1950 to 1958


Xmas front

Several years ago I stumbled upon an amazing find and immediately shelled out cash to purchase it. Here is a truncated scan of the collaged cover of a  Christmas scrapbook. Between 1950 and 1958 an anonymous crafter lovingly documented the Christmas season in Asheville. Bound with recycled shoelaces and festooned with metallic pipe cleaner curlicues; the pages are brown paper bags, holiday wrapping paper, and other recycled papers. And each page is jam-packed with articles cut out from the Asheville Citizen-Times. Doubtless using non-archival paste or glue, the creator of this unique artifact gives us a unique view of Asheville.

The clipped articles range the gamut from the arrival of Santa in the annual Christmas parades to fast-breaking news of Santa’s crash in a helicopter in 1952. “Oh, pawpaw, what happened to Santa Claus?”


David Burnett, age 4, son of Mr. and Mrs. Thad C. Burnett, Jr. of Grovemont, happened to see a helicopter carrying Santa Claus slam sharply to the ground by a downdraft near the new North Fork Dam. A landing gear was crumpled. As Santa got out, David asked Santa if he was hurt. Something was wrong with his face. Santa had to readjust his beard. From there, Santa boarded another chopper and headed of to the Mountain Orphanage where he greeted 59 children.


Before Facebook and Instagram, the local newspaper functioned as hard-copy social media. Family photos and, of course, pictures of children with their eyes-all-aglow comprise many of the articles in the scrapbook. Here, Dave Mallet, founder of the Weinhaus at 86 Patton Avenue is shown with his children.


1955 was Hunt Mallet’s first Christmas. Pictured here is Mr. and Mrs. David Mallet. David Mallet, reads a Christmas story to his children, Sally, Davey, Hunt and Tina.

School activities and the ever-pressing holiday shopping quandaries are also included. Who can resist either of the headlines below?

The scrapbook is on view in the North Carolina Room at Pack Library. If you ask nicely, the elves behind the desk may allow you to carefully page through the scrapbook.  If you know the anonymous creator of this holiday artifact,  you will receive a special present from Santa Claus.


Happy Holidays!


Post by Terry Taylor, Board Member of the Friends of the North Carolina Room



Asheville’s First Motor Mile was downtown’s Coxe Avenue. A new motor mile has emerged in recent years along Brevard Road in West Asheville, but in the 1950’s and 1960’s, the peak years of the American automobile industry and the years remembered for the hype of the annual model change, Coxe Avenue was the place for checking out the latest automotive wares. It is hard to describe the excitement that the annual introduction of the new cars produced. The model changeover was always timed for the early fall. The so-called “Big Three,” General Motors, Ford and Chrysler, invested millions of dollars in making each year’s model appear substantially different from the year before. Often, this was just a change of sheet metal, but every few years, the entire platform of an automobile would be changed. The best remembered change of the era was the introduction of the 1955 Chevrolet, described as “The Hot One”, and hot it was, especially when compared with the now stodgy appearing models of 1954.


View of Coxe Ave towards Parkland Chevrolet Company (located in the Richbourg Motors Building) and Parkland Used Cars & Trucks. Odd Fellows Temple in the right background. Estimated date 1950s.

Let’s pretend it is the fall of 1957 and we are taking a stroll down Coxe Avenue. One of the master automotive stylists of the era, Dick Teague, called this the “the age of gorp.” Chrome trim and tail fins were being applied in vast quantities to automobiles and then re-arranged the following year to create the impression that there was something new underneath the pizzazz. Heading south from the Patton Avenue intersection and past the Trailways bus terminal on the right and the Sears department store on the left, we enter automobile row and something resembling a small-town carnival. Banners and pennants were flying, and the sidewalks crowded, especially if it were a Friday evening or a Saturday.  The big automotive news of the 1958 model year was Ford’s introduction of the Edsel. Asheville’s Edsel dealership was Sam’s on North Market Street. The reaction to the new marque was immediate and harsh. My father, who never missed the new model introduction in spite of being a man who usually kept a new car for close to a decade, described the Edsel as much too ugly to sell. He proved right about that; Edsel was dead and gone in three years. He also found little to like in the new Chevrolets at the Parkland dealership at 50 Coxe Ave. “Tortured sheet metal” described that one.


Parkland Chevrolet at 54 Coxe Ave., in the former Richbourg Motor Company building. Cars can be seen in the windows. Estimated date 1953-1954.


The new Fords, from Matthews Motors, still at 100 Coxe, before the company’s move to Biltmore Avenue in 1960, were more to his liking. Not that he bought one; there would be no new Ford in the Sheary driveway until 1963. The Plymouth-Dodge and Oldsmobile dealers were around the corner at 226 and 196 Hilliard Avenue. The lower end of Coxe Avenue was home to used car lots and a variety of automobile repair shops. The best known of the used car dealers was Bob Ledford’s at 185 Coxe Avenue.

MS184.003C Coxe Ave. 2 00090

Coxe Avenue, east side parking lot, across from Harry’s Used Cars. Parkland Auto Center Sales also in view, as are houses and a gas station on Ashland Avenue, 1979. Photo from the Alan Butterworth, Real Estate Appraiser Books.


MS184.003C Coxe Ave.

Coxe Avenue, east side parking lot, 1979. Photo from the Alan Butterworth, Real Estate Appraiser Books.


There were a few outliers from Coxe Avenue among the new car dealers. Glover Chrysler – Plymouth at the corner of Valley and College Streets, Ed Orr Motors was at 90 Biltmore Avenue selling Ramblers out of the building that currently houses the French Broad Food Co-op.


Slide from MS116 Robert Fortune Collection, “History of Asheville” slide series – Asheville History I – No. 11. In 1890 this was a street car barn. Date of photo, April 1979.

Sam’s Lincoln – Mercury was on North Market Street, and the best known dealership of them all, Harry’s Cadillac – Pontiac was on Haywood Street, the current site of Pack Memorial Library.


Harry’s Pontiac-Cadillac showroom (#69 Haywood St), with Arthur Murray dance studio (#71) upstairs, and a neon sign for Harry’s (Motor Inns) Storage (#3 Vanderbilt Place) at the corner. Car in window is identified as 1957, probably a Vauxhal, imported by Pontiac which dates the photo, 1957.

Coxe and nearby Hilliard Avenues were the center of the automotive action, and all of the dealerships were within easy walking distance in downtown. By the mid-sixties, times were definitely changing.   The Ford dealership was by then well established on Biltmore Avenue. Dorato Dodge could be found on Tunnel Road and the permanent end of the dominance of Coxe Avenue and downtown Asheville as the region’s automotive marketplace was marked by the move of Harry’s to the West Asheville end of Patton Avenue in the 1970’s. It was great fun while it lasted. J L Cannon Motors opened on Tunnel Road selling Volkswagens in the building that is now the site of Prestige Subaru and end of the annual model change was at hand to be presaged by the arrival of Ralph Nader, pollution controls and a tidal wave of imported cars that all looked the same.

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“Asheville Citizen-Times” ad September 23, 1956.


Post by Ed Sheary, former Library Director.

Tourist Homes: Hanging Out Places

We have been posting on this blog about Tourists’ Camps and Tourists’ Courts. In case I dismissed Tourist Homes too quickly, I decided to make amends. They existed longer than I first thought, and probably did a lot to help with boarding for tourists. And besides that, they most likely provided a very good income for women who were willing to work very hard.

It appears that the terms “boarding houses” and “tourist homes” are currently used interchangeably, though boarding house was the term used in the early 1900’s city directories. Both terms refer to homes, sometimes expanded for the purpose, that allow quests, whether for a day or two, or for longer periods of time. Generally all sections of the home are opened and meals are taken in a shared dining room.

Looking through our database at photographs of tourist homes, most of what we have were from the turn of the 19th century, such as Oakhurst, a boarding house at 244 E. Chestnut Street at the corner of Charlotte Street. Note the woman in hat and long dress standing on the front porch and the people on second floor porch. Mrs. Ellen V. Glaser was the proprietor. The city directory for this year listed 71 boarding houses. Of those 71, women owned or managed 55 of them or 77.46%. There were a surprising number of unmarried women among them.


Oakhurst Boarding House, 244 E. Chestnut Street, listed in city directories 1899-1906.

One fellow from Starksville, Mississippi found Mrs. M.E. Alston’s boarding house, The Chatham, as his “hanging out place” in 1911. He wrote on the back of this postcard, “This is my ‘hanging out’ place. I am not feeling the best in the world but hope you all are. I like the place fine, but consumptives are plentiful. . .Don’t forget my cows if you possibly have the time. Joe.”


The “Chatham” boarding house operated by Mrs. M.E. Alston, at 72 College Street, H.W. Pelton photographer, copyright 1910.

The most famous Asheville boarding house, made so by the proprietor’s son, was The Old Kentucky Home.


The Old Kentucky Home at 48 Spruce Street. Sign hangs at entrance. Photo not dated.

In this photo taken around 1914, Thomas Wolfe stands for a picture with boarders at the Old Kentucky Home. The proprietor, Julia Wolfe, did not use income from the boarding home as family income, but to further her real estate investments, all of which she lost in the 1929-1930 closing of the Central Bank and the ensuing depression.


Thomas Wolfe with a group of boarders on the side lawn of Old Kentucky Home, 1913-1915. Mrs. Clarence Trim, seated directly in front of Thomas, is the only other person identified.

Moving on into the 1930s-1950s, the number of boarding houses seems to have declined from the early 1900s, but they were still prevalent, and still helped house Asheville’s guests. One popular boarding house was The Belvedere at 73 Merrimon Avenue. Jacqueline A. Ward Britton, a former librarian at Pack Memorial Library, wrote an informative  documentary on the house owned by her family: Remembering the Belvedere: Celebrating 50 years of the Ward family in Asheville, North Carolina 1949-1999. Jackie wrote this documentation in 1999 as her family was selling “one of the last of Asheville’s old-style tourist homes.” She sited the City of Asheville’s “stricter building occupancy codes which made compliance difficult, even with liberal tax credits for restoration work.”


From, “Asheville and Western North Carolina Accommodations, 1956-57″ brochure from MS036.001AA.

In researching the history of this house, she found that it was designed by Richard Sharp Smith and built in 1905 for Captain Thomas Johnston, a former Asheville mayor. When the Ward family, William Henry and Nellie Byers Ward, purchased the house in 1949 it was “already functioning as a rooming house with at least six rooms to let, and had recently been named “The Belvedere.” The author points out that the Belvedere represented an opportunity for an astute woman to support herself and her family. As a great window into tourist homes, she adds, “There were always some long-term residents; people who either rented by the week while they worked in Asheville and returned home on the weekends, or those who lived there full-time, sometimes until their deaths. But there were always one or two rooms kept available for the more profitable tourist trade.”

The Belvedere still stands and as of 2009 houses the Secret Spa and Salon.

Post by Zoe Rhine, Librarian




Tourist Court Expedition Taken by Library Staff

Fearing that tourist courts were fast disappearing, Library Director Ed Sheary and North Carolina Room staff Ann Wright, Zoe Rhine, and Peggy Gardner made a Tourist Court Expedition in August 2000. Our aim was to document as many tourist courts and their signage as we could in the day. Major roads coming into Asheville were surveyed for remaining motor or tourist courts from the 1940s and 1950s. We made a pretty good run of Tunnel Road, Weaverville Highway and Patton Avenue. Ed Sheary, always the one to be in appropriate automobile attire, chose his 1971 Ford Torino GT convertible ‘Rosalita’ for the drive.


Rosalita pictured here with Library Director Ed Sheary and head of Special Collections Ann Wright. Photo by Peggy Gardner, August 31, 2000.

Rosalita pictured below at the Rockola Motel. The tourist court was built in 1946 by Gladys and J.W. Haynes.


Rockola Motel, at 1655 Patton Ave.

Tourist Courts did not really take off in Western North Carolina until after W.W. II. They came to replace the old “tourist camp,” typically a cabin or shack. The Asheville City Directories do not have a subject heading for “Tourists’ Courts” in the business section until the 1948-49 directory. With families hitting the new highways, there was an ever-growing need for all-year-round accommodations, with central heat, private baths, hot and cold water, radios in each room, and easy parking. (Asheville numbered quite a few Tourists’ Homes, but they were insignificant to the number of people they could serve.)


A 1950s postcard from the North Carolina Room’s postcard collection, published by Thomas B. Kehoe Co. of Atlanta, Georgia.

One newspaper article quoted a leading hostelry executive as saying that the tourist court industry saved the tourist industry in this area. In the mid 1940s he said, “visitors and vacationers were staying away from Asheville in droves because word had gotten around that our hotel facilities were inadequate to meet the seasonal demand.” Once tourist courts began to spring up “word went back around that it was safe to come to Asheville again without bringing your own cot to sleep on.” In 1950, the motor court industry banked just short of a million dollars from rents alone. [“Motor Courts Become Big Business Here,” Asheville Citizen July 8, 1951.]


 The Rockola was razed in 2008.


Library Director Ed Sheary retired September 2014 after almost 25 years. Thanks Ed, it was a fun ride.

Post by Zoe Rhine, Librarian

Tourists’ Camps

Who were the early tourist pioneers and where did they stay?

Before there were tourists’ courts, there were automobile tourists’ camps. They were most typically, in this area, cabins or shacks. “Tourists’ Camps” found its own subject listing in the business section of the Asheville city directories in 1936, which listed three camps:”Babblin Brook” on the Weaverville Highway at Newbridge, the Beaucatcher Tourist Camp on Tunnel Road, and the Asheville Mineral Springs Cabins also on Tunnel Road. Could the buildings in the two photographs below, which we have been told were on Tunnel Road, possibly be of the Beaucatcher Tourist Camp?

tourists' camps200065


tourists' camps00065

One of the nicest tourists’ camps, and surely the longest lived is Homeland Park Cabins and Cottages. Begun in 1947, Homeland offered a large, central dining room for guests who wanted to dine there. Many of the vegetables served were from their own garden.


Known for its large metal coffee pots at entrance.



Homeland Park development, four miles east of Asheville on U.S.70. Homeland offered modern, deluxe cabins.

Malvern Springs Park was laid out with a nice entrance and a winding drive.


Malvern Springs Park, West Asheville, NC.



Entrance to Malvern Springs Park in West Asheville

A unique take on the tourists’ camp, someone had the idea to use defunct street cars.


“Fortune’s Street Car Tourist Camp, Asheville NC,” on Hendersonville Rd/US Hwy 25.

Post by Zoe Rhine, Librarian.

The Emporium Department Store Fire, July 25, 1923.

The Emporium Department Store Fire

The current photo exhibit in Pack Memorial Library’s North Carolina Room pictures some of the city’s most noteworthy fires. Among them is the Emporium Department Store fire of July 25, 1923.

The Emporium fire was, according to a later, undated Asheville Citizen article, “one of the most spectacular if not the most disastrous fire” in Asheville’s history.   The spectacle began when smoke and flames were discovered around 11:30 a.m., a time when the department store was open for business and the area around its 2 Biltmore Avenue location was bustling. The fire began in the alterations department in the rear of the second floor. In 15 minutes, the structure “was a seething mass of flames,” the Citizen reported the following day. “Fanned by a draft through the building, the fire spread with such speed that the store was doomed almost before the firemen could lay the hose.”   The spectators who had gathered watched as two women employees fell from upper windows to be caught by the large crowd of men below. A third employee, manager O.P. McArthur, fractured his leg when he jumped from the second floor to the sidewalk. Others “were not a minute too soon in leaving the building for great tongues of fire were leaping high into the air.”

Those flames threatened other downtown buildings. The Citizen reported that “for about 30 minutes, it appeared that the Library Building and the Legal Building were endangered. The rapid spread of the flames was one of the greatest sources of alarm.” Indeed, the entire downtown business district appeared to be threatened.   Fire departments from West Asheville, Oteen and Kenilworth were called in to help fight the fire. “Every available piece of fire-fighting apparatus was brought into play,” and “scores of citizens volunteered their services in assisting the firemen.” One volunteer, former fireman Ernest Davis, climbed to the roof of the Library Building to “direct a line of hose” toward the flames.   Eventually, their efforts prevailed and the flames were subdued. The Emporium Building was a total loss, but other buildings were saved from destruction.


Volunteers at the Emporium Department Store fire on July 25, 1923. Photo taken by George Masa.

The Citizen paints a lively picture of the spectacle that afternoon. Street car traffic was held up for two hours. No trolley was allowed to come within a block and a half of Pack Square. “The eager crowd and the lines of hose stretched across the tracks hampered the schedule.” The police placed ropes across the south side of the Square and the police chief assigned a detail to prevent the crowds from drawing too near the Emporium. “Quite a few onlookers were wet by the great streams of water when the firemen shifted the position of the lines.” The Central Bank and Trust Company was forced to suspend business for a time while thousands of dollars in cash and securities were locked into a vault made of steel and concrete.   Judge Pender A. McElroy adjourned Superior Court to permit his deputy clerk, a volunteer firefighter, to lend his assistance. A huge telephone cable that ran down the alley behind the Library was damaged. As a result, “about 120 telephones, including all in the Legal Building, the City Hall, and the stores on Biltmore Avenue, were placed out of commission. “ Pack Memorial Library was closed at 12:30 while the librarians and volunteers scrambled to relocate cabinets of card indexes, book and borrowers cards, the shelf list, more valuable books, and oil paintings of George Willis Pack and Robert E. Lee to City Hall for safe keeping. As water began to seep through the roof, “cases containing the encyclopedias were dragged from the reading room where water was coming down and all exposed books elsewhere placed under cover.”

The damage to the Emporium Department Store was estimated to be $200,000. It was a terrible blow to manager Jack Blomberg who had canceled two fire insurance policies one month earlier. The cause of the fire was unknown; the walls that remained standing were deemed unsafe and razed. Asheville City Directories show that a new tenant, the Plaza Theater, subsequently took residence in a new building erected at 2 Biltmore Avenue.


Note the furniture that had been carried out of Pack Library sitting around Pack Square.


post by Laura Gaskin