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Discovering Montford’s Early History Part 4: “A Rustling Company” Develops a Streetcar Suburb

Asheville was the first city in North Carolina to have an electric streetcar system, with the first run on February 1, 1889. Asheville was followed by Winston, Charlotte, Raleigh and then Wilmington (1890-1892).

Montford was likely the first electric streetcar suburb in the state. Streetcar suburbs, defined as a planned community built around a street car line, represented a unified development in a community, rather than a city growing out one lot at a time. Created by one individual or group, they often contained wide streets which were often modified to the land, and included trees and sidewalks.

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View long the side of Montford Avenue. Line of trees between the sidewalk and street on both sides. Street bricked and with two sets of streetcar tracks. Streetcar wires overhead. William Barnhill photo, circa 1920

It is amazing to think how progressive the Asheville Loan, Construction and Improvement Company officers must have been.

The ALCI got right to work developing their property after their purchase in June of 1890. An October article announced that active operations on the property were about to begin. It corrected the originally published acreage of 1000 acres, to 600 acres total with 400 being on the Asheville side of the French Broad River. An Asheville city map of 1886 shows the only streets laid out in this are before the ALCI involvement, and all being about a block long: Flint Street running from Haywood to Cherry Street, Mulberry Street (later Cumberland) running off Cherry, Short Street parallel to Cherry, and then Academy Street, the only street of any length, which ran into Cemetery Street, which in turn went straight to Riverside Cemetery. In October the ALCI had already advertised for bids for development of the first three miles of streets, which were to be built in the next 30 days.  An extension of their principal street, Academy Street, running to the northern city limits was proposed, with one branch running west to the river at Pearson’s bridge and the other almost north to the old Buncombe Turnpike with the streets being set at 70 feet in width–referring to what became Pearson and Montford Avenues.  An extension of what was then known as Magnolia Avenue was also next to be built, running north to the old Turnpike also and again 70 feet wide, which became Cumberland Avenue.  No lots were offered for sale by the company until the improvements were made.

ALCI announced the publication of the plat of their property in the Asheville Daily Citizen on December 3, 1890, dating a very important document that was originally not dated. The plat was drawn by Nier and Hartford, engineers from Chattanooga, Tennessee. Along with the announcement of the plat map the company announced the sale of their first four lots, three of which were on Montford Avenue, the first published use of the name for the street. Under agreement with the company, each purchaser agreed to erect a dwelling to cost not less than $3,000 and have it completed within six months.

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A company ad placed January 3, 1891 advertises broad avenues being laid out at that time, as well as a complete water and sewer plan, and an electric street railway running through the property. The contract for the streetcar road was announced April 2, 1891. J.G. White of New York City was to build a 1.75 mile line for $20,000 to be completed by June 1 of that year—just two months.

On May 25, 1891 the Citizen, accompanied by the president of the ALCI, George S. Powell, took a trip to look at the work of the “bustling company out at Montford Park” and reported the following day that the work was quite advanced. The street railway was then being constructed on West Chestnut Street.  Since Montford Avenue ran right through the center of the company’s property, it has been made 70 feet wide, and by this time the gutters were paved and 250 Norway maple trees had been planted along the edges of the sidewalks.

Cumberland Avenue, West Chestnut Street, Magnolia Avenue, Cullowhee Place, Iola, Panola, Watauga, Soco, Ocala,Tacoma and Santee streets, Ocona Circle, Hibriten Drive and Riverside Drive were all being laid out by the time of the May 1891 article, varying in width from 50 to 62 feet. The company had spent over $35,000 on streets, water and sewerage. Twenty lots had been sold. The following month the ALCI would sell 40 acres on the west side of the river to Major Robert Bingham for the location of the Bingham Military School.  Development was going well.  The May 1891 article in the Asheville Daily Citizen summed it up with this:

“But to describe all the work of beautifying the property that has been done by this company of prominent Asheville men would take columns. This much is sure, Montford park and drives will long be among the city’s most attractive resorts.  Visitors will go there for rest and enjoyment, and residents will go to praise the work and foresight of the pushing company that has made the improvements.”

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Two drivers standing in front of the Montford Ave – Santee St streetcar, circa 1917. Note sign on front/center of car.

The regular schedule for the Montford Avenue electric railway was announced July 14, 1891, and the Citizen was not about to miss it.  Returning to Montford Park to ride on the new railway that very day, they rode down Montford Avenue to West Chestnut and on to Cumberland, ending at this point in time at Zillicoa.  They reported that the cars were built by the Gilbert Company of New York and the track was well built, with top-of-the-line Johnson girder rails.  The Citizen also noted that “both lakes were filled with clear, pure water and a fountain played in the center of the grounds.” They noted their approval by saying, “The amount of work they have done in improving the property is astonishing.”  The company sold a total of 36 home lots in 1891.  David Bailey wrote in Trolleys in the Land of the Sky that “Montford Park became the place to live and the foremost influence on the civic and social life of the city, remaining so until the ‘crash’ of 1929.”

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The Willis E. Collins House at 170 Cumberland Avenue. Collins purchased this property from the ALCI Company September 21, 1891. Photo taken June 1893 before sleeping porches were added. Photo description says that trolley car tracks can be seen to the left.

[These findings were first published in Montford: The Newsletter of Asheville’s Most Historic Neighborhood in 2013. Republished here in part, with the permission of then editor, Joe Newman and current editor Ross Terry.]

Post by Zoe Rhine Librarian

Click links below to read the two previous articles.

Discovering Montford’s Early History Part 1

Discovering Montford’s Early History Part 2

Discovering Montford’s Early History Part 3

2 comments on “Discovering Montford’s Early History Part 4: “A Rustling Company” Develops a Streetcar Suburb

  1. Bob Benites
    February 15, 2017

    I was looking at this posting last night and realized that the house in the last photo: 170 Cumberland Ave, is one of the two houses on Cumberland owned by the doc and his wife who were close to Paul Jeremias. I think 170 Cumberland is the house we went to when they had the citizenship party for Paul. Here’s the street view of the house:

    https://www.google.com/maps/place/170+cumberland+ave+asheville+NC/@35.6026753,-82.5622029,3a,31.6y,232.93h,99.07t/data=!3m7!1e1!3m4!1s5Z7as70EeDzHoHX5aOChlw!2e0!7i13312!8i6656!4b1!4m2!3m1!1s0x0:0x4025ec4f333fa8c2!6m1!1e1

  2. Pingback: Discovering Montford’s Early History Part 5: “What Got Done!” | HeardTell: The North Carolina Room, Pack Memorial Library

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