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“Maid’s Night Off” Tradition Held in North Asheville

“My parents went to the Beaver Lake Restaurant every Thursday because that was the maid’s night off. We always had a maid when I was growing up. Everybody in that area did.” [Jean Moore interview, MS338.003A]

The Beaver Lake Drive-In was operated by Tom Vlahos and is the current site of Nick’s Drive-In at 1461 Merrimon Avenue. Jean may have been referring to the Edgewood Restaurant bought by H.B. Bradley, Jr. in 1959 at 1435 Merrimon Avenue, later home of El Chapala in 1989, Casa Maya in 2013 and currently La Carreta.

Other families went to their favorite North Asheville restaurant or downtown to the S&W.

Asheville Citizen-Times, Thursday September 6, 1934

This 1930s ad apparently shows a female Black maid with her man, out on the town. Ironically, they wouldn’t have been seated at the S&W. It also speaks to its time with the “hubby” as the holder of the wallet. Supposedly “maid’s night out” is connected to the Swedish tradition of “Little Saturdays” which for maids fell on a Wednesday because they could rarely take a Saturday off. The term is also used by some to “justify a mid-week tipple when the week seems too long.” Through the 1940s other restaurants also advertised “Maid’s Night Off,” all published on Thursdays.

 

 

Grace Restaurant, Asheville Citizen-Times May 27, 1955 article congratulating Gus and Mary Pappas on the new renovation of the building at 853 Merrimon, the new site of Frostbite Ice Cream.

While documenting what it was like to grow up in North Asheville by interviewing those people who did, we are also trying to document the people who may not have been residents, but who helped shape the community–hired help, beauticians and barbers, grocery men, butchers, drivers, and restaurant and other business owners. We were particularly interested to know where Black hired help lived while working in North Asheville, because, unlike the Montford area whose Black community lived in close proximity, I didn’t know of any close Black communities near North Asheville. What means of transportation did Blacks have working in North Asheville? In the 1920s how close did the trolley car system take them? Were trolleys segregated as in the later bus transportation system? Were there Black owned businesses offering drivers who helped people commute? What were maids paid? Were there domestics who lived in the home, and if so, what was it like for them to live in a white community?

Catherine Westall O’Shea recalls the earliest maid that her grandparents James F. “Jack” and Mary Mitchell Westall had when they first set up house around 1916 at 44 Westall Avenue. Due to her grandmothers poor health, the Westall children were co-raised by Corine. “She cured hurts, refereed siblings spats, enforced pet-care and homework completion, and consoled as needed.” Catherine cringed to say that she never knew Corine’s last name.

Above photograph is of Corine with one of the second generation of Westall’s she cared for, Catherine’s sister, Marianne Westall, taken August 16, 1942 around the time Corine became too ill to work. [MS294.001F, folder 2.]

Fortunately, because “Corine” was an unusual name, and Catherine recalled that Corine had become too ill to work for them in the 1940s, and I could estimate her birth and death dates, and search by race, I believe I was able to find her. Corine Norment was born in 1899 in Gaston, NC and first appears in the Asheville city directories in 1918. She married William Davis in Gaston in 1920. While living on Hill Street fronting Montford they lost an eighth-month-old child in 1930. Prior to the depression, William Davis worked at Davis Brothers Cleaning/Laundry service on S. Market. In 1930 they lived at 166 Hill Street and by 1936 they lived at 30 Short Street in Montford. In 1944 they were at 118 Beaumont. They lost a son, William Jr. Davis, invalid, age 21 in 1947. Corrine died the same year, following the death of her son.

Ann Wilkins Dalton who grew up on Kingwood Place recalled, “We had a live-in maid when I was little. Later, we did have a five-day-week maid Lillian, but she didn’t cook. Daddy would drop her home, you know, that’s when we would take her back down to Valley Street or around in there. She’d ride the bus to us, usually, but I’m not sure why we took her home unless it had something to do with safety. Maybe Daddy didn’t want to have her try to walk down and catch the bus later in the afternoon. Maybe it was just part of the agreement. But it was mostly room and board for the live-in. That was mostly her salary, not much else. And she had a little bit of time off on Sunday, and that was pretty much all. She was pretty much a babysitter or a cook. You know, she washed, she ironed. Everything was ironed back then, sheets, everything. And, you know, I just thought everybody had maids, because most of the people in our neighborhood did back then. And when you’d go in a house, you know, their maids would be there doing whatever they did, you know, working.” [MS338.003D]

Susan Jones Waldrup who grew up on Edgemont remembers her family’s maid who came one day a week because her mother had a bad back. It was paid for by her aunt and uncle. Eva Norris made Susan lunch and did the ironing that her mother couldn’t do, while her mother went shopping. Eva lived off Broadway at 33 Ocala Street, and Susan got to ride with them when her father took her home. Eva loved to drink iced coffee, which Susan found weird. When Susan graduated from high school, Eva called to congratulate her and sent her ten dollars.

[Genealogy records show that Eva was from South Carolina, African American, had a 4th grade education, and that her husband John Norris died in 1936. Eva had lived on Blanton Street in 1940 and then in 1946 signed an agreement with Cora Fortune Shuford to buy the Ocala Street house for $1,600 with payments of $20.00/month plus interest. Susan had remembered that Eva stopped working for people privately when Social Security started because she didn’t want to have to bother people to fill out all the paper work. She didn’t know what work she did after that. She was a member of the New Mount Olive Baptist Church. Eva Norris died on January 19, 1993 and was buried in Sunset Cemetery. “She was a great old lady,” Susan remembered. [MS338.003T]

Tricia Coxey said that her family had a maid, full time, every day. “Agnes was with them for years. They were part of my family.” She didn’t know her last name. “Everyone had maids. They would walk up the hill from Wembley, every day.” [MS338.003H]

Google Maps photograph of Wembley Road, just past Beaver Lake, after the bridge on right, taken at intersection with Merrimon Avenue.

Linda Ledbetter Dunlop, whose parents Peggy and Bryan Ledbetter built the house at 110 Glen Falls Road in 1947, remembered, “There was an older man that Daddy would hire, he was a black man. And I just thought he was the cat’s pajamas. He’d sing and you know I was little and I’d never seen a black man and I just really loved it. And I can remember him, I think his name might have been Willie, but I’m not really sure. But I can remember that when the house was about finished and Daddy started hiring him to do the yard work and stuff, they had paved the sidewalk from outside the back door that led to the driveway, and they had just put the cement down, and I remember—if his name was Willie—picked me up, I guess I was four maybe and he said, ‘Now we’re going to make footprints in this cement so that we’ll always be there.’ “Do you know they’re still there? They’re still there.

[Ms338.003F]

The End

Did you grow up in North Asheville and have a story to tell about people who helped shape the North Asheville community? Or would you like to be interviewed about what it was like to grow up in North Asheville? The North Asheville History Project, carried out by the North Carolina Room at Pack Memorial Library in conjunction with the North Branch Library runs through October, 2019. For more information email Zoe Rhine at zoe.rhine@buncombecounty.org.

Many thanks to the North Asheville interviewees who have given of their time to be interviewed and to the volunteers of the Friends of the North Carolina Room for their work interviewing and transcribing.

Post by Zoe Rhine Librarian

 

 

 

3 comments on ““Maid’s Night Off” Tradition Held in North Asheville

  1. Luann Nelson
    June 18, 2017

    Zoe, when we refinished our floors at 131 Edwin Place in 1991, there was a hole in the floor right in the middle of the dining room. It was where the old call button used to be, situated where the lady of the house could press it with her foot to summon the maid. There were also call buttons in the upstairs bathrooms. I expect all the houses in this neighborhood had similar call buttons for maids.

    • packnc
      June 21, 2017

      Luann, well that’s news to me about the call buttons. I will add it to the North Asheville timeline of information and see if other people recall them. Thanks for writing. Zoe Rhine

  2. Barb Hall
    June 18, 2017

    The tradition of “maid’s night off” was well established as your illustrations show. I had always heard that Sunday up North was the “maid’s day off,” so the families had to prepare their own dinners that night. At the Reynolda estate (ReynoldaHouse.org) in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, which I visited this year, there is something on their audioguide about the “maid’s night off,” and I think it also mentioned Sunday. (The recording mentions this while you are in the kitchen area.) Does this imply that domestic help in the South got Thursday evenings and Sundays off?

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