Douglas Ellington’s Asheville Auditorium

Douglas Ellington’s Asheville Auditorium

Most people are familiar with, and bemoan, the decision our county forefathers made to not go with Douglas Ellington’s proposed twin designs for the Asheville City Hall and the Buncombe County Courthouse. But did you know about Ellington’s plan for a civic auditorium?


Architectural sketch of “city – county – building – group” by architect Douglas D. Ellington. View is looking toward the plaza and building from the from the northwest. In the design plan the County Courthouse building matches the City Hall, although it was not built this way. Lower left signature with double cross graphic and 1926 in each corner.

Douglas Ellington introduced Art Deco architecture to Asheville in the 1920s, starting with his more traditional 1925 design of Asheville’s First Baptist Church. His design above came about from a desire to have a governmental complex of striking originality and beauty.  It is assumed the County Commissioners and the Chairman, E.M. Lyda didn’t find Ellington’s design quite fitting — not quite traditional enough for a county seat — and Ellington’s full vision was never realized.

And look at what else Asheville didn’t get! As the digitization grant for the North Carolina Room’s Architectural Drawing collection proceeds, scans of the drawings are being added to our database daily. New discoveries are being made.


Commercial project. Proposal for Asheville Convention Hall and Auditorium. Not dated.

The George Vanderbilt Hotel is seen on the right, with Ellington’s Art Deco vision for a new convention hall on the left. The hotel opened in July of 1924, dating the drawings to sometime after that. The idea for a new convention hall, which was much in need, probably was a part of the city’s building plans. They did hire Ellington to design the new high school (Asheville High School, Mcdowell Street, 1927-29) and a new fire station (Merrimon Avenue Fire Station, 1928.)

Post by Librarian Zoe Rhine



Sondley Reference Library, What’s That?

There is a prominent sign made of an oak plank with brass letters on one of the columns on the main floor of Pack Memorial Library. The sign reads “Sondley Reference Library.” It is one of the few remaining visible markers of the library’s long association with the legacy of one of Asheville’s most noteworthy citizens, Foster Alexander Sondley.


Foster Sondley was a Buncombe County native, born in the Alexander community a few years before the Civil War, 1857,to be exact. Sondley graduated from Wofford College, studied the law and went on to become one of the preeminent lawyers in this part of the country. Real estate was one of his primary areas of expertise and he did much of the legal work for George Vanderbilt as the Biltmore Estate was being created. Sondley never married, living with his mother on Asheville’s Cherry Street until her death in 1897. Following her death, Sondley moved to a massive home he constructed at the head of Haw Creek. “Finis Viae” he called it, Latin for “end of the road” and the house stands today incorporated into a housing development at the end of New Haw Creek Road. Sondley was widely read, but disinclined to travel, and perhaps in compensation, built a personal library of some 40,000 volumes. He was an avid collector and acquired substantial collections of gems and minerals, Native American artifacts, birds’ eggs and firearms.


Interior view showing patrons at tables in the “Sondley Reference Library” on the 2nd floor, east side of the 1926 Pack Memorial Library. Sondley Library is a collection of 34,000 volumes and items that were willed to the city by Dr. Foster Alexander Sondley, attorney, scholar, book-lover and collector, 1931. Collection originally housed on the 7th floor of City Hall. Moved to Pack Library 1943. Photo dated 12/1950.

Pack Memorial Library’s association with Sondley began with his death in 1931 and his will, which left his library and collections to the City of Asheville to be placed in the then new Pack Memorial Library on Pack Square.

Last Will of F. A. Sondley

Nan Erwin, Pack’s Head Librarian and George Wright, the Chairman of the Library Board wanted the collection and Miss Erwin believed that Pack Memorial Library had the capacity to house it. Others, relations and friends of Dr. Sondley, most notably, A.C. Reynolds, wanted the collection maintained as a separate library and housed in City Hall. Ultimately, the second group prevailed, and the Sondley Library was opened on the seventh floor of City Hall. University of North Carolina President Frank Porter Graham gave the dedicatory address on October 1, 1935, saying “This is literally the bequest of a man’s life work … it requires some sacrifice, energy, discriminating scholarship, a willingness to love books, to collect such a library.”


Portrait photograph of Foster Alexander Sondley (1857-1931). Print signed: “Truly yours, F.A. Sondley” and has photographers credit by, “N. Brock 1912.”

This arrangement lasted, at times uneasily, as the City of Asheville’s precarious Depression era finances kept the idea of moving the Sondley Collection into Pack Library alive. In 1943, in the midst of The Second World War, the United States Army Air Corps Flight Command leased Asheville’s City Hall and the Sondley Library was hastily moved to Pack Library. By this time, there was less enthusiasm among the staff and Board of Trustees of Pack Library for the incorporation of the Sondley Library. For more than forty years, housing the Sondley collections amounted to a distortion of the mission of the public library. Little in the collections was appropriate for a public library and the perpetuities established in Sondley’s will created space shortages and illogical shelving arrangements until the new Pack Memorial Library Building was erected on Haywood Street in 1978. In the late 1980’s, the Library Board of Trustees sought the Court’s permission to break the will in order to sell those portions of the Sondley Library that were not relevant to the public library’s purposes. Sondley’s materials that pertained to local and regional history were retained in the Pack Library collection. The proceeds from that sale today form the corpus of a trust fund that supports Pack Memorial Library’s North Carolina Collection. Thus, at least a part of Sondley’s legacy lives on and hopefully in a fashion he would have found to be acceptable.

Post by Ed Sheary, retired director Buncombe County Public Libraries


Greetings from Asheville




The Flat Iron Building designed by Albert Wirth

The Friends of the North Carolina Room are pleased to provide the solution to all of your correspondence needs. Yes, you can stop postponing to write  those long overdue thank you notes because you “don’t have a card”.  Drop by the North Carolina Room and purchase a pack of cards featuring five architectural jewels of our fair city.

Margaret Dahm has generously donated five of her original pen and ink drawings to the North Carolina Room. The drawings are of the the Drhumor Building,  St. Lawrence Basilica, the Flat Iron Building, the S&W Cafeteria and the Grove Park Inn (I refuse to refer to it as Omni Grove Park on principle). All five drawings are being framed for permanent display in the North Carolina Room as I write this post.

After moving from New Orleans in 1990, Margaret and her husband operated a small graphic design firm, allpoints, until 2005.  Since then she has been happily employed at Pack Library, spending the odd weekend on printmaking or illustration projects.

Basilica of St. Lawrence

The Basilica of St. Lawrence, designed by Rafael Guastavino, is one of the architectural masterpieces of North Carolina.


Drhumor Building

The Drhumor Building, built in 1895, is known for its limestone frieze above the main entrance.


Drop by the North Carolina Room to purchase a set of five cards for $10 (tax included). Better yet, purchase several sets of cards and keep them on hand to use as a last minute hostess gifts or for house guests from out-of-town. The Buncombe County Friends of the Library financed the drawings to be printed as note cards by Daniels Graphics. All proceeds benefit the North Carolina Room.


Post by Terry Taylor, Friends of the North Carolina Room board member.



Unidentified house, perhaps in Kenilworth?

A year ago last July, when the staff in the North Carolina Room first started the blog HeardTell, we posted about a new collection donated to us by Asheville residents Lynne and Jim Wilson. The collection is a gold mine containing seventeen 8 x 10 prints of houses that had been recently constructed in Asheville, circa 1926 to 1930. All of the photographs were taken by the well-known Asheville photographer, Herbert W. Pelton. The original binder was an old black ringed notebook and it also included some hand drawn basic floor plans.

We are guessing that the houses may all share the same architect or builder who had perhaps commissioned Pelton to photograph houses that he had designed or built. We have identified six of the houses in the collection, and all of them have been in the Lake View Park neighborhood. We have contacted the owners of these homes, and no one yet has known the architect of their home.

We still have a few unidentified houses to go. Do you recognize this house?


We do have one small lead. This will show you the depths librarians will stoop to try to find an answer. In the photo below, the gentleman holding his hat has nothing to do with this story. It is all about where he is standing which was at the entrance to 10 N. Pack Square (current location of the Akzona building/Biltmore Estate office building) which was the office to McKenzie Brickworks as well as  the J.T. Bledsoe’s Real Estate office. Note the odd framed photo hanging on outside entrance.

MS247.002GA photo AA00066

William Savo, at 10 N. Pack Square, 1925.

MS247_002GA-Detail blog

Detail of photograph in MS247.002GA Photo AA scanned at 4800 PPI.

Enlarging the framed photo of the house, it is most likely the same house as in this photo from Asheville Live and Invest in the Land of the Sky, published circa 1926-27. Note the garage in back and covered opened area to it, windows, chimney on right and pointed roof over front door.

MS247.002GA photo AA00067


So, it may be that J.T. Bledsoe is the missing link, the person who put these photographs together, and the person whose company built them. Bledsoe’s obituary of 1947 recalls “that Mr. Bledsoe, who was a developer and builder in Asheville for a number of years, as well as a real estate broker, had erected in the city alone more than 1,000 homes.”

Other houses in the collection that we still need identification for are:





In July 2013 we posted this photo of a house we have still not identified.

If you would like to view a PDF of all of the houses click on the above picture.

Post by Zoe Rhine, Librarian.


Samuel Alonzo McCanless Wins a Marble Angel from W.O. Wolfe in a Poker Game

Last week’s post on Asheville photographer James M. McCanless made mention of James’s brother, Samuel Alonzo McCanless, winning a marble angel from William O. Wolfe in a poker game. That’s a story unto itself.

Samuel, also a photographer, was born in 1859 in McDowell County and died March 6, 1923. The two brothers are listed together in the 1890 Asheville City Directory as McCanless & Brother. They worked separately in following years, with Samuel using the business name “Asheville Photo Studio” and “Asheville Photo Co.” Samuel is not listed in the city directories after 1901. His wife, Hattie Dalton McCanless, died of a ruptured appendix on November 7, 1901. Apparently, Samuel had recently won the statue and he placed it on Hattie’s grave and then headed out west. He returned to Western North Carolina a few years later and married Hattie’s sister, Geneva, and lived in Old Fort, again having a photo gallery there. The photograph below is one of Samuel McCandless’s portraits showing his business signatory while in Asheville.


Professional portrait of a girl about 4 years old in a lacy white dress standing beside an ornate wicker chair or couch. Her long hair is in pony tails tied with bows. 4 X 2/3/4 print glued to 6 X 4 1/4 dark gray cardboard. Photographer’s identification printed in drop-out letters on an ornate silver ribbon at bottom of the card: “Asheville Photo Studio Asheville, N. C.” with a monogram in the center. The monogram has the overlapping letters “S. A. MC” for Samuel Alonzo McCanless.

The story of the marble statue being won in a poker game was told by newspaper columnist Bob Terrell in the Asheville Citizen September 2, 1984 in a story titled, “‘I Never Told This Story Before.'” Geneva McCanless’s niece Daintry Graham told the story. Daintry had gone over to her Aunt Geneva’s house and found her aunt accusing her husband Samuel of not loving her as much as he did his first wife Hattie. “You wouldn’t buy me a good looking tombstone like you did her.” Samuel finally set the story straight. “I didn’t buy that tombstone,” he said. “I won it in a poker game.” He then added, “I used to gamble with Old Man Wolfe.” It was known that W.O. Wolfe, father of the novelist Thomas Clayton Wolfe, did not carve statues, other than their bases. Wolfe purchased them from importers who got them from Carrara, Italy. Daintry Graham Allison of Fairview had never told the story because she was ashamed of it — that her Uncle Mac won Aunt Hattie’s tombstone in a poker game! This is Hattie’s tombstone where she rests in the Old Fort Cemetery.


Marker over the grave of Hattie McCanless, wife of Asheville photographer S. Alonzo McCanless, (12/25/1873-11/7/1901), “Her spirit smiles from that bright shore and softly whispers. Weep no more.” Old Fort, McDowell County.

Samuel was buried a little below Hattie’s marker, and Geneva was buried a little below him, both in unmarked graves.



Who Took Those Photographs in the 1904 Photograph Album?

It is hard to let unanswered questions go for very long. As an update to last week’s post “North Carolina Room and a Recent Donation Gets Media Coverage,” the obvious question facing all of us was “Who was the photographer?” A school librarian from Albany, New York, Lucy Menard, had sent us a 1904 photo album out of the blue. So, we took the time to find out. Was he (or she: there was one female photographer) local or not? We assumed it was a professional photographer since the photographs were of professional quality. We found nine photographers listed in the 1904-05 city directory. We actually had a handwriting sample of one of those photographers, Ignatius Brock, but when we compared it to the writing in the 1904 photo album, it didn’t match.

Then we remembered that when scanning the photos with a magnifying glass, we had found in an image of Pack Square a banner with the words “I.O.O.F. Excursion to Waynesville, August 18, $1.00.” Therefore the picture must have been taken before August 18th, after which they would have taken promotional banner down.

MS273_001B crop copy

Enlarged Crop of MS273.001B showing the banner to the right of Vance Monument.

We also surmised that the photos were taken in July or August of 1904, since all of the trees were fully leafed out. Not having any other resources at hand, we started reading microfilm of the Asheville Citizen and the Asheville Daily Gazette, looking for any clues–perhaps a note about a visiting photographer, or, less likely, one of the images from our album published in one of the papers.

What we did find were two interesting things. First, the International Order of Oddfellows, known as I.O.O.F., had gathered a group of over 200 for their August trip, so this confirmed the date of the album. We also found a fairly prominent ad for Asheville photographer, James M. McCanless. No other photographers had ads listed. In fact there were no other photographs printed in the papers during this period.


Another note in an “About Town” column mentioned that McCanless was exhibiting in his studio some photos of mountains he had taken the previous year in the western part of the United States.

It was enough of a hint to go on. So searching through our database of the 16 photos we have by McCanless, we found a postcard made from one of the photos in our album! The photographer’s name on our postcard is written on the bottom right. (See below.) We also have a colorized version of the same image that did not display his name. Note that the I.O.O.F. banner shown in the original image above has been edited out of the postcard.

AA411-BW 300

View of Pack Square looking south of west; fountain in foreground with one tall jet has crowd collected around basin, other pedestrians; vehicles include horse-drawn carriages and streetcars.

James M. McCanless was born in 1858 in Madison County, the son of John Kelton McCanless and Mary Caroline Haupt McCanless. James M. McCanless was in Asheville at least by 1890, set up in the photography business with his brother Samuel A. McCanless. Samuel McCanless gathered a certain amount of local fame by winning one of W.O. Wolfe’s (Asheville monument maker and father of famed author Thomas Clayton Wolfe) marble angels in a poker game! In the family photograph below, James is seated first on left and Samuel is seated to the right.

Standing: Alemeda (McC) Gibbs, John Davidson McC, Mary Emma (McC) Perry, William Franklin McC, Louisa (McC) Lakey Seated" James Melmuth McC, Samuel Alonzo McC, Amos Levi McC, Harriet Amanda McC, David Mills McC, Alexander Washington McC Asheville, NC. Photo from user "craigmac6 " on found under John Kelton McCanless listing.

Standing: Alemeda (McC) Gibbs, John Davidson McC, Mary Emma (McC) Perry, William Franklin McC, Louisa (McC) Lakey Seated” James Melmuth McC, Samuel Alonzo McC, Amos Levi McC, Harriet Amanda McC, David Mills McC, Alexander Washington McC Asheville, NC. Photo from user “craigmac6 ” on found under John Kelton McCanless listing.

In this later photo of the seven McCanless brothers, James M. is second from right and Samuel is standing beside him on the far right.


Photo of the seven McCanless brothers published in “The Heritage of Old Buncombe County N.C. Vol. 11″ page 245.

McCanless continued to have various shops around Pack Square through 1918. Serendipitously, the sign for his shop shows up in one of the photographs in the album. Click on the image below to see an enlarged crop of the sign.

McCanless shop

Jon Elliston, reporter for the Carolina Public Press who first published the story about the album and how it got to us, did some McCanless research himself and found a newspaper story from 1907 that gives a more colorful picture of the man.

According to a story in the November 15, 1907 issue of the Raleigh News and Observer, McCanless was a member of All Soul’s Episcopal Church in Biltmore and sang with the choir. The previous Sunday after services, choir master Prof. Flaxington Harker, “while in a disagreeable frame of mind” had scolded several choir members—including McCanless—for “gazing around the church and not kneeling during prayers.” McCanless retorted that he always knelt during prayer and never gazed around during services, which the choirmaster stoutly denied. McCanless stormed out of the room. Several days later, when he ran into Harker on the street, he lashed out, “brushing the organist up considerably.”

So in addition to being a fine photographer, we now know he was also a musician, an Episcopalian…..and, well, a bit of a bruiser.


McCanless is listed in city directories after 1918 through 1923 by name and as a photographer, but no longer as a photographer in the business listings. McCanless and his wife Lula and several younger children moved to Saint Petersburg, Florida where McCanless died December 18, 1942. [Death information from an entry on Find a Grave by local researcher Vance Pollock who found the obituary for James M. Mc Canlesses on Google Newspaper Archives.]

It has been much fun to see all of the interest and comments on this story. We are grateful for all of the comments and the work of further researchers working to unravel the questions pertaining to this wonderful donation to our collection.

Post by librarian Zoe Rhine.

North Carolina Room and a Recent Donation Gets Media Coverage

MS273 page 006

One of the pages from the 1904 photograph album with view looking up South Main Street (now Biltmore Avenue) towards Pack Sqare. The Swannanoa Hotel is in view on the left, the present-day location of the Aloft Hotel. A trolley car makes its way down the street as two men on horseback meander on up towards the square. Click on image to see it enlarged.

The story goes like this: The North Carolina Room’s very own Friends of the North Carolina Room board member, Jon Elliston, published an article Thursday January 15th on Carolina Public Press about a 1904 photograph album that was sent to the NC Room by a woman in Albany, New York. She had found the album in a box of Albany ephemera at a junk shop. The photos and the story had piqued Jon’s interest and he called the woman who had sent it to get her side of the story. Jon Elliston is the Investigations and Open Government Editor at Carolina Public Press, as well as an Asheville-based journalist and historian, and curator of @AVL1915, a Twitter experiment that documents century-old Asheville reportage with information drawn from the North Carolina Collection. His Twitter feed runs on our Blog page.

Jon’s article begins:

At first, the notebook-sized cardboard box that arrived in the mail was inconspicuous. But when it was opened, at Pack Memorial Library’s North Carolina Collection, local librarians’ jaws started dropping.

Inside were the delicate, partly frayed pages of a photo album prepared in 1904, with a handwritten title: “Asheville: The Mountain City in the Land of the Sky, Illustrated.” The album contained 34 mostly crisp black and white pictures that were new to the library’s staff.”

Buncombe County Multimedia Specialist Cataldo Perrone saw Jon’s article and thought “it was fantastic.” He shared the article on Buncombe County’s Facebook page and, as he said, “It blew up.” It reached 2,177 people and got 54 shares and 69 likes in less than 24 hours. “That’s really good for a county Facebook post,” noted Perrone.

You can read the full version of Jon’s article on the Carolina Public Press site here:  Previously Unknown Photo Album of Asheville in 1904 Surfaces.

Then, within an hour of Jon’s story being published online, reporter John Le from WLOS News 13 called, also wanting to do a story on the photograph album. He and WLOS cameraman John Kirtley enjoyed looking over the photographs, filming and talking about them.


Photographs taken by North Carolina Room staff member Ione Whitlock.


Jon’s article and the TV news coverage gave a huge boost in awareness of the North Carolina Room and the Friends of the North Carolina Room. We never thought we’d hear Darcel Grimes at the anchor desk of News 13 say the words:

“. . . and a group called the Friends of the North Carolina Room. . . “

Click here to see the WLOS piece  

And after the filming was all over, it was time to let off a little stress. Librarian Zoe Rhine let the cameraman fish out his microphone cord from under her sweater.


The staff and administration of Buncombe County Library, Recreation and Culture, along with the staff of the North Carolina Room, along with the Board of the Friends of the North Carolina Room, give many thanks to Jon Elliston of Carolina Public Press and to WLOS News 13 for their wonderful coverage. The North Carolina Room’s mission is to collect and preserve the history, life and literature of Western North Carolina. We have a fantastic collection, which belongs to all Buncombe County residents. We always welcome the opportunity to share it.