posted by Lyme Kedic
One of the benefits of working in the North Carolina collection is the discovery of new imagery and information on Buncombe County and Western North Carolina. Recently I’ve been scanning a large group of images of students who were in the Adult Education Program in the mid-1920’s. But these aren’t typical students. These photographs document individuals who persevered to learn to read and write, often at an advanced age, or with weighty family responsibilities.
Beginning in 1919, Elizabeth Morriss, a native of Alabama directed a program of adult education in Buncombe County. The classes were called Night Schools and were also known as the Moon Light School program, yet based on the photographs numbers of these classes were also taught during the day. They operated in various school buildings throughout the county and at private residences. By 1922, Elizabeth Morriss had four assistants including Ethel Ray, Eva Edgerton, Maud Worley and Della Day. In 1930 Elizabeth Morriss resigned and Della Day served as director until 1942. By 1930 over 12,000 adults had been taught to read and write although approximately 3,000 to 4,000 individuals were still defined as illiterate. Three years later the program was taken over by the Works Progress Administration. Later adult education became part of the school system and Buncombe County who led the state in working with literacy was used as a model across the nation. This group of photographs and newspaper articles is a documentation of Buncombe County during the mid-1920’s and will be important to genealogists who are researching Buncombe County family members.
It was difficult to choose just a few photographs from the hundreds taken by the teachers, but those that follow exhibit a strong sense of poignancy and are typical of the individuals who are clearly proud of their accomplishments.
Obidiah Washington Surrett, 81 and his wife Julia, 71 of Sandy Mush had fourteen children and sixty-two grandchildren when they learned to read and write. They were featured in an article and photograph in the Asheville Sunday Citizen, September 16, 1923.
Mrs. McCurry, mother of eight and the photograph states “the youngest is held this way while she does her lessons.” Instructor Della Day stands behind her.
“Class at Mrs. Taylors, Thurs. a.m. 321 Biltmore Ave. 1925.”
“F. G. Wilson, Winner of 1st prize in Group 4 Spelling – 1925”
“Tent in which Mrs. Downs lived. Here is where I had a day class. 1925” (Della Day)
This collection was recently donated to the library by the Buncombe County Schools Administration.
Post by North Carolina Room volunteer Lynne Poirier Wilson.
The Asheville Citizen, 11/16/1934, reported that “Nearly 40 teams of men and women began a walkathon-marathon at an arena at 63 Biltmore Avenue shortly after 9 o’clock last night that is scheduled to continue 24 hours a day for two to three weeks – until there is only one team remaining on the floor.” The endurance contest actually lasted for an entire month.
We were inspired to learn about Asheville’s depression era Walkathon by this intriguing photo, one of a group of black and white prints donated recently by patron Michael Reid. The caption printed on the photo is “Wedding of Evelyn Cooper & Frankie Sharabba / Couple no 25 / Harry H. Cowl Walkathon / Asheville, N. C. / Dec. 10, 1934.”
Walkathons were popular during the Depression but were outlawed in some places. Articles in The Asheville Citizen on December 7, 11 and 14 show that Asheville City Council deliberated several times about taking action to stop the Walkathon-marathon due to concerns about “immorality” and possible danger to the health of the participants. Asheville Mayor Wickes Wamboldt was a deciding vote in defeating attempts to halt the contest. In newspaper coverage on December 11, Wamboldt was quoted as being “unable to find anything seriously wrong” with the Walkathon. Although he called it “a low order of entertainment,” the mayor added, “If our people can get a little entertainment they should have it. There’s propaganda behind this, not the people.”
An Asheville Citizen article of 12/03/1934, with the caption “Walkathon has Great Thrill,” describes contestant Bob Scott’s unsuccessful attempt to break the world’s record of staying enclosed in ice for 21 minutes. An “ice cave” was built on the stage out of 16 three hundred pound blocks of ice. The article noted, “Every night there is some new feature put on to entertain the audience.” Popular square dance teams from the area were slated to perform later in the week. Some contestants were local volunteers, but seasoned “professional” teams were the backbone of successful shows. The bride and groom who staged the wedding shown in the photograph above were both from Atlanta.
Robert Fortune’s slide collection for his “Asheville of Yesteryear” presentations included a few slides about Asheville’s Marathon. This Robert Fortune image shows Miss Illene Reed, a local participant who later married Hilliard Daniel, an employee of American Enka. In 1974, in a photo by newspaper staff photographer Malcolm Gamble, Mrs. Daniel imitated her pose of forty years earlier.
Robert Fortunes’s slides also include the clipping below which states that “Miss Reed suffered no ill effects from participation” in the Walkathon-marathon.
Posted by Betsy Murray
Richard Russell’s new biography Robert Henry: A Western North Carolina Patriot
A crabby-looking Robert Henry on the cover should pique your interest.
Although panic may set in as you start reading Robert Henry’s background, it soon abates as Rick Russell skillfully weaves through Henry’s birth in what was then Mecklenburg County in 1767, to his death and burial in Clay County in 1863. Henry often lived and prospered in Buncombe County. He owned the Sulphur Springs resort, which Russell writes, drew far more tourists than did Asheville. Its history is of Shakespearean proportions.
Sulphur Springs Hotel (photo from the Pack Library NC Collection), located 5 miles west of Asheville. The Springs were discovered February 1827 by Robert Henry and his slave Sam. The original wooden hotel, built ca 1831 by Henry and his son-in-law, Col. Reuben Deaver, could accommodate 200 guests by 1848. The hotel burned in 1861. No photograph of the original hotel is known to exist. This photo shows the second, brick structure, built by Edwin George Carrier in 1887. Known as Carrier’s Springs (later The Belmont), this hotel burned in 1892. Concrete ruins remain.
When Robert Henry was almost fourteen, he fought at Kings Mountain, where a British soldier bayoneted his hand to his thigh. He recovered to fight at Cowan’s Ford. So he was brave. And he was smart. Using his phenomenal memory, he became a teacher, briefly a doctor, a lawyer, a surveyor, hotelier, and a land speculator.
At age forty-seven, Robert Henry married Dorcas Bell Love, who was seventeen. Her father founded Waynesville. The couple had six children. After living apart for many years, they divorced in 1844.
Robert Henry lived life on his own terms. He dressed to suit himself. He appeared in court barefooted or without stockings. He smoked. He drank far too much. He could be abusive even when sober. He worked slaves on his plantations, mills, and farms. A freed slave named Julia was buried at his side.
Wayne Caldwell, in the Foreword, facetiously calls himself “an outmoded scribbler of historical novels.” Don’t believe it. He concludes, “Robert Henry was a difficult man—complicated, bright, shrewd, may we say mean?”
The History Press of Charleston, South Carolina, has done a first-rate job. Robert Henry is beautifully laid out. The illustrations and photographs are sharp and interesting. A paperback, it is reasonably priced at twenty dollars.
Posted by Joanne Marshall Mauldin
Thomas Wolfe: When Do the Atrocities Begin?
University of Tennessee Press
As part of local commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, the Center for Diversity Education at UNC Asheville worked with the Buncombe County Register of Deeds to compile a database of documents recording the trade of people as slaves in Buncombe County. A video created as part of this project has won two national awards. At buncombecounty.org/slavedeeds you can view this video, as well as the database of Buncombe County slave transfers from 1776 to 1865. This summer Pack Library hosted Forever Free, an exhibit featuring books from the office of the Register of Deeds which contain the actual deeds and wills that record slave transfers. A typical example is from the will of James Patton, who died in 1845.
“I further give and bequeath to my son James W. Patton the following male slaves to wit - Bob, Sam, Leope, Hardin, Felix, Austin, Peter, Anthony, John and Russel & the following female slaves to wit – Celia, Rhoda and her five children, and the future increase of the females.”
The history of the Patton Family, taken from materials in the NC Collection, helps us understand the history of slavery in Buncombe County. The sad truth is that the rich and powerful families of Buncombe County were slave owners, and that their wealth depended in large part on their “ownership” of other human beings. James Patton, a penniless immigrant laborer from Ireland, came to Asheville in 1814 and opened Asheville’s second inn, the Eagle Hotel. After the construction of the Buncombe Turnpike in 1828, Patton expanded his resort interests by building with his sons a 350 room hotel in the town of Warm Springs (later renamed Hot Springs) in Madison County. His son James Washington Patton, who inherited the slaves named in the passage above, became one of the largest slave holders in Buncombe County. He helped build Patton Avenue, the first major east-west road in Asheville and in 1857, he built an imposing new home, the first Asheville residence with indoor plumbing.
The Henrietta, named for Patton’s second wife, stood on Main Street (later Biltmore Avenue) south of the Eagle Hotel, about where the French Broad Co-op is today. Many of Patton’s slaves worked at the Eagle Hotel and lived behind the Henrietta in an area that evolved into the Black neighborhood later known as East End. Patton depended on the labor of slaves to run his hotels and build his roads. By the time of his death in 1861, he owned 78 slaves.
In January, 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation brought an end to slavery in the South. Thomas Walton Patton, son of James Washington Patton, enlisted in the Confederate army at the age of 19. Both his older brothers died during the war, and he returned to Asheville the head of his family, struggling to care for the survivors and to repair the family fortunes. In the hard days after the Civil War, his young wife and two small children died.
Patton also struggled to understand the total redefinition of life as he had known it before the war. When he left to join the Confederate army, he was accompanied by Sam Cope, one of the Patton slaves. The two young men had grown up together, and Cope continued to serve Patton throughout the war. Patton wrote about his lifetime companion, “The law said he was my slave but often law makes error. Indeed and in fact he was my devoted and loving friend and companion.”
The lower right corner of this 1891 Sanborn map shows the former Patton slave quarters, now labeled “Negro Tenements.” Former slave Isaac Dickson bought land there from Thomas Walton Patton, and the area became known as “Dickson Town.” A man known for service to his community, Patton donated land for Saint Matthias Episcopal Church, the first Black Episcopal church in Asheville.
More information about the Patton family can be viewed as one of our online Photo Exhibits on flicker. Just “Click on the Kiosk” to the right to access online exhibits featuring material from the NC Collection.
ASHEVILLE CITIZEN 10/28/1899
Posted by Lyme Kedic
I have looked at lots of nineteenth century portrait photographs, but have never paid much attention to the backdrops used by most photographers during this era. Apparently, this is a common oversight.
Photographers were given awards at exhibitions for backdrops, props and accessories. They had become so popular that they became a part of every photographer’s studio, whether purchased, painted by a professional artist, or painted by the photographer him or herself. Igantius W. Brock, also a famous portrait painter, probably painted his own, as in this portrait he made of Dr. Rubyetta Charmin Carroll.
The motif of backdrops ranged quite a bit. Some backdrops were of natural outdoor scenery, such as this formal portrait by James M. McCanless taken of Charles and Amanda Glass, circa 1897. Note the straw on the ground and the elaborate wicker settee.
Often backdrops were quite stately, giving a feeling of opulence, provided most often by the use of architectural elements such as arches and solariums. Pedestals and columns, often Greek, were common. The 1896-97 photograph by S. A. McCanless below demonstrates this classical looking background. The only oddity is that the family is posed with a rustic chair and fence. If the family were tourists, wanting to take home with them the flavor of Southern Appalachian rustic, we could make more sense of it. But the photo is of Lewis Burgin and Lily Cordelia Deaver McBrayer. McBrayer was an Asheville physician. If the backdrop was meant to denote wealth, was rustic symbolic of something as well? Why the juxtaposition of classical with rustic? Why not use a settee as in the photo above?
Here is another use of classical with rustic, a photo by Frank U. Haymond of an unidentified woman, circa 1900.
There was also the whimsical use of created backgrounds such as this photograph by Thomas H. Lindsey of an unidentified little girl posed with a fishing pole, lake and fish included, circa 1900. A mirror on the floor doubles as a small pond. The tree next to her appears to be papier-mache. A real apple, I think, sits at the toe of her boot.
If you’d like to see more portraits with backdrops, come see our photographic exhibit, Pack Memorial Library, lower level, just in front of the North Carolina Room.
Post by Zoe Rhine, Librarian