“Hungry for History” Brown Bag Lunch Series Has Great Kick-off with Jon Elliston’s Look at Asheville 100 Years Ago!


Jon Elliston opened his “Asheville in 1915″ talk by appearing in period costume dressed as a “newsie” with a newspaper delivery bag slung over his shoulder, and walked up the aisle hollering out the news headlines of the day while passing out copies of a 1915 Asheville Citizen front page.


Jon Elliston, journalist and historian, appearing in 1915 “newsie” costume. Photo by Wayne Lang.

All one hundred and fifty enthralled attendees were suddenly transported to Asheville 100 years ago.


150 people attend “Hungry for History” brown bag lunch series kick-off in the Lord Auditorium, Pack Memorial Library March 25th, 2015.

Jon’s multimedia presentation covered Asheville’s politics, crime, vices, race relations, sports and recreation, gender, and tourism one hundred years ago. He preceded his talk by pointing out, “One hundred years ago, was a long time ago!” Amazingly enough, some things were very similar to today, but some things were also hard to imagine.  The Asheville Board of Trade spoke of 1915 Asheville as a “modern city, cosmopolitan in its make-up, progressive, liberal, and given to hospitality.” –Much the same as the Asheville Chamber might tout today. But, the Civil War had only ended 50 years earlier, and reconstruction had only ended 30 some years earlier. The town was still influenced by Jim Crow laws and racial tensions still marred the city. But Asheville had one of the first schools for blacks in the state.

Prohibition was imposed in North Carolina in 1901, a full decade before the Eighteenth Amendment made liquor consumption illegal in the United States. But we learned that Ashevillians still drank. Liquor was shipped in (and brought in) from other states and was also made here. And the law fought hard to stop it; about every week someones still got busted. Child labor was a big crime to deal with, alongside petty thefts–chicken stealing was popular. Train hopping seemed prevalent, which often left people with missing limbs.

In terms of gender, a newspaper editorialist thought women had no interest in bothering with politics, and if they voted, they’d just vote the same as their husbands. This was stated even though the Asheville Suffragist League had been organized in 1894–the first in the state.

Baseball was big in Asheville; golf was popular, and basketball was coming on. We danced, even doing the Tango, which some preachers thought too erotic.

Though most of the photographs in Jon’s presentation were in black & white, he reminded us that Asheville in 1915 was very colorful.


Night view of Pack Square. Postmarked 1914. Vance Monument spiraled with electric lights and with strings of lights from top out to other strings around the Square, like a Maypole.

And then came the question-and-answer time. Hands went up–people wanted to know more. Jon’s batting average was pretty good, especially considering he has a day job. Librarians are taught never to answer off the top of their heads–you always have to cite your sources–so, for the most part, North Carolina Room staff kept their mouths shut. But we thought it only fair to look back–with our resources at hand–at some of the day’s questions.


Jon mentioned that the Asheville Citizen had a circulation of 10,000, an astonishing number for a city of  34,000 population. (That was another question, as well as the population of Buncombe County which was somewhere around 57,000 in 1915.)

Was there another newspaper in town?

There was the Asheville Gazette News, a precursor to Asheville Times, which it became in 1916.

What was the difference in the two papers?  The Citizen was a morning paper and was a voice for Conservative-Democratic politics and was an advocate of economic expansion. People who grew up here have pointed out that the Asheville Times, being an afternoon paper, was read after work, making it more of a working man’s paper. In 1930, the Citizen’s owner Charles A. Webb formed the Asheville Citizen-Times Company with Don S. Elias, publisher of the afternoon Asheville Times. One Sunday edition of both papers was consolidated under the name Citizen-Times, although the editorial staffs remained separate and followed independent policies. The Asheville Times ended in June 1991.

Were there any African-American newspapers?

The only one we’ve found was a reference to the Asheville Enterprise newspaper published in 1888. We do not know of any surviving copies. Staff have noticed society columns for the black community published in the Citizen, but it would take some research to find the time span for that coverage.

Where were the fairgrounds located in 1915?

The first Western North Carolina Fair was held in 1911 at Riverside Park. The skating rink was used to show off agricultural products and the car shed was the livestock and poultry building.

And where was the ball field?

The Montford School had a baseball diamond that was sometimes used for ball games. Oates Park, however, was the main place to see a game. It was on Southside at the corner of Choctaw. The site was secured by the management of the Asheville Baseball Club in January 1913, although there was a contingency that wanted an “uptown” location. The stockholders and directors of the club named the park after J. Rush Oates, a prominent businessman and sports enthusiast who had much to do with the formation of the club. Securing a baseball field was seen as a good draw for tourists, making it a “highly necessary attraction.” There was a separate bleacher for the black community, although in 1918, when the Asheville black team, the Royal Giants played there, a set of bleachers was saved for white baseball enthusiasts. In 1913 Tyrus Raymond Cobb, outfielder with the Detroit Tigers, played Asheville’s Mountaineers team at Oates Park. It appears that the baseball club changed its name from the Mountaineers to the Tourists in 1916. McCormick Field opened in 1924. Babe Ruth played at McCormick Field in 1925 and again in 1931.


Photo showing a baseball game in 1918 between the Asheville Royal Giants and Atlanta at Oates Park (Southside Ave near Choctaw St). Royal Giants were Asheville’s first black baseball team. Southside AME Zion church (#198) left background.

Were there any schools of higher education in 1915?

Asheville Normal & Collegiate Institute, which was at the current location of Memorial Mission Hospital, and the North State Fitting School, attended by Thomas Wolfe, and St. Genevieve College on Victoria Road. Allen Industrial Home on College Street was a school for young black women. There were also two business colleges, Asheville Business College on Pack Square and Emanuel Business College located in rooms in the Drhumor building. There was also the Bingham Military School.

What/who was Jim Crow?

We had to look this up outside or our collection resources: “Throughout the 1830s and ’40s, the white entertainer Thomas Dartmouth Rice (1808-1860) performed a popular song-and-dance act supposedly modeled after a slave. He named the character Jim Crow. Rice darkened his face, acted like a buffoon, and spoke with an exaggerated and distorted imitation of African-American Vernacular English. In his Jim Crow persona, he also sang ‘Negro ditties’ such as ‘Jump Jim Crow.’

“After the American Civil War (1861-1865), most southern states and, later, border states passed laws that denied blacks basic human rights. It is not clear how, but the minstrel character’s name ‘Jim Crow’ became a kind of shorthand for the laws, customs and etiquette that segregated and demeaned African-Americans primarily from the 1870s to the 1960s.” [http://www.ferris.edu/jimcrow/origins.htm]

Were there movie houses?

There were three movie theaters, the Galax Theatre on Patton Avenue, the Majestic Theatre on College Street and the Princess Theatre on Pack Square.  The theaters at this time often presented plays put on by the Majestic Players or the Princess Players. Theaters also had their own orchestras. Professional actors also came through presenting plays at these theaters. And there were “play movies” shown, apparently plays from other parts on film. Charlie Chaplin movies were shown in 1915.

There was also the Asheville Auditorium at about the same location as the Civic Center today. The North Carolina Collection contains programs for the plays “Never Say Die,” “H.M.S. Pinafore,” and “Rigoletto” being performed at the auditorium in 1915.


Asheville City Auditorium built in 1904 at the corner of Haywood and Flint Sts. Office of Asheville Board of Trade, stenciled on double doors at right.

Were there any sanitariums?

Fifteen sanitariums are listed in the city directory, including Asheville Mission Hospital and St. Joseph’s Sanitarium.

How extensive was the street car system?

Twenty miles of track encompassed all points of Asheville and West Asheville, and 7.5-minute and 15-minute schedules were maintained throughout the year. (The Asheville Transit system today runs on the hour.) And yes, there was a nine-mile electric car track from Asheville to Weaverville. The board of trade wrote in 1915 that Asheville was the second city in the country to operate electric cars.

Jon Elliston is an editor and writer for Carolina Public Press and WNC Magazine–and the curator of the @AVL1915 Twitter feed, which recounts century-old news. First appearing as @AVL1914, the feed was launched from the microfilmed records of early Asheville newspapers in Pack Memorial Library’s North Carolina Collection. Jon is also a board member of the Friends of the North Carolina Room.

Please feel free to add additional comments or corrections on this blog site.


If you missed Jon Elliston’s, Asheville in 1915 presentation, he had a lot of fun doing it and will present it again this fall. By then, he will have researched seven more months of newspaper coverage from 1915 so we will all get treated to an even further look at Asheville one hundred years ago.

Post by Zoe Rhine librarian; photographs of event by Lyme Kedic.










The Friends of the North Carolina Room at Pack Memorial Library will present a brown bag lunch series on local history, Hungry For History.

Bring your own brown bag lunch and enjoy some local history.

All events are free and open to the public.

Jon Elliston will kick-off the series with his presentation “Asheville 100 Years Ago” on this Wednesday, March 25th, 12:00-1:00.

Pack Memorial Library, 67 Haywood Street, Asheville, North Carolina, Lord Auditorium, lower level.


Jon Elliston

Local journalist and historian Jon Elliston will open a window into Asheville as it was 100 years ago, sharing the good, the bad and the ugly of local history during an early phase of the city’s rise to prominence.

The Asheville Board of Trade, in their 1915 brochure, said “Asheville is a city set on a hill, in the midst of the most beautiful mountain country on this continent–a modern city of 34,000 population, including suburbs–cosmopolitan in its make-up, progressive, liberal, and given to hospitality.”

We’re excited to see what Jon has to say. Come join us.


Colorized night view of Pack Square. Vance Monument spiralled with electric lights and with strings of lights from top out to other strings around the Square, like a Maypole. Post card published by S.H. Kress & Co.

Elliston is an editor and writer for Carolina Public Press and WNC Magazine–and the curator of the @AVL1915 Twitter feed, which recounts century-old news. First appearing as @AVL1914, the feed was launched from the microfilmed records of early Asheville newspapers in Pack Memorial Library’s North Carolina Collection. Jon is also a board member of the Friends of the North Carolina Room.

The event is sponsored by the Friends of the North Carolina Room and co-sponsored by the Asheville Citizen-Times.

Other events in the Hungry For History series are:

Wednesday May 27, 2015:

            John Toms with docents from St. Lawrence Basilica: “The Guastavino Family: Asheville and South America”


Wednesday July 29, 2015:

            Danny Bernstein: “The History of the Mountains to the Sea Trail”


Wednesday September 30, 2015:

            Kevan Frazier: “Asheville and the Roaring 20’s”


Rendering, Unbuilt project, N Pack Square-Asheville

After last week’s post about Douglas Ellington’s drawing for a city auditorium, Asheville architect Jim Samsel, with an interest in buildings that didn’t get built, brought our attention to this 16-story building also designed by Douglas Ellington, and also never built.  The site location is at Pack Square next to the Langren Hotel, the current location of the  Akzona-Biltmore Building designed by I.M. Pei. For bearings, the Langren Hotel was at the later site of a parking lot that was just razed in February 2015 for a future AC Hotel (a new Marriott brand in the United States) to open summer of 2016 at 10 Broadway.

The original Ellington drawing is owned by the Asheville Art Museum, with a scan of the drawing in the Douglas Ellington collection at North Carolina State University libraries. (https://d.lib.ncsu.edu/collections/catalog/aam_DE03800_0001)


Rendering, Unbuilt project, N Pack Square-Asheville

Catherine Bishir, who referred to Ellington’s Asheville City Hall as a “delectable masterpiece of Art Deco,” noted that Ellington “capped off the boom era (of the late 1920s) with an extraordinary collection of Art Deco buildings.” It appears that we only know the half of it.

A Guide to the Historic Architecture of Western North Carolina, Catherine W. Bishir, Michael T. Southern & Jennifer F. Martin, 1999.

Post by Zoe Rhine, librarian.

“Scan the Plan” Digitize Your Old Home Blueprints for Free!

The North Carolina Room and the Preservation Society of Asheville & Buncombe County are partnering together to offer the “Scan the Plan” project.

Anyone with eligible architectural drawings can come to the North Carolina Room at Pack Memorial library and get your plans digitized. The service only takes a few minutes, and participants will be able to walk away with a digitized copy and their drawings. A copy of the scan will be added to the library’s Architectural Drawings collection and made accessible for future study. “Scan the Plan” has two great benefits: the drawings get preserved and the information base for the entire community is increased.

Any local resident with blueprints of a western North Carolina home or building at least 50 years old can take advantage of the “Scan the Plan” project.


Front elevation architectural drawing for the residence of Judge J.G. Adams, 11 Stuyvesant Road, Biltmore Forest. Architect, Charles N. Parker, Jan. 1921.

“Scan the Plan” is totally funded by a federal grant to turn architectural drawings into digital images. Last year, the State Library of North Carolina, through the Federal Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), awarded the North Carolina Room, Buncombe County Public Library a $66,750 grant. The money went toward a large bed scanner, salaries for two part-time workers, and software that makes digital information more research-accessible. “Scan the Plan”, in partnership with the Preservation Society (PSABC), is just one of multiple projects made possible by the grant. Volunteer PSABC members will be assisting in digital scanning on the scheduled days of “Scan the Plan”.

Scanning Dates are:

Saturday, March 14th, 12 noon to 4:30 pm;

Tuesday, April 14th, 5 pm to 8 pm;

Saturday, May 2nd, 12 noon to 4:30 pm

If you have any questions please contact the North Carolina Room at 828-250-4740, or if  you have a large number of sheets, or several projects call us and we can schedule a different time to scan your drawings.

“The PSABC is thrilled to be part of this project. Anything that works to record and preserve our region’s built environment and history is a good thing,” says Jack Thomson, Executive Director of PSABC. “Through today’s technology, these old blueprints can last forever for everyone.”

 North Carolina Room

Pack Memorial Library

67 Haywood Street, Asheville, NC

Lower Level






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.