Paradise lost

SWEET RETREAT: The former home of the Black Mountain Rod and Gun Club sits between the North Fork dam's primary spillway and its saddle dam. The structure will be demolished to make way for a new auxiliary spillway. Photo courtesy of the Swannanoa Valley Museum

While today the North Fork Reservoir is cordoned off to ensure the security and quality of the city’s water supply, the area was once home to a bustling mountain community. According to an article on the Swannanoa Valley Museum’s website, the family of Frederick Thomas Burnett Sr. and his wife, “Granny Else,” first entered the rugged valley five miles from Black Mountain in 1800. Over the next century, many European settlers joined the Burnetts, establishing a church, school, graveyard and homesteads throughout the valley. In 1911, however, residents received word via a newspaper announcement that thousands of acres at the base of the Black and Craggy mountain ranges had been condemned by eminent domain. Though property owners received compensation for their land, residents mourned the lost community for decades.

The old church and school buildings now lie under the waters of the lake, while remnants of old homesteads crumble in the protected forests. With the planned improvement project, one relic that survived the dam’s construction —  a cabin that served as the headquarters of the Black Mountain Rod and Gun Club from the turn of the century until the late 1990s — will be demolished.

“Before becoming the headquarters for the Rod and Gun Club, the lumber that was used to construct the lodge was part of a small house [that] was built and occupied by the family of Joseph Elcany “Caney” Allison (who died in 1908), his wife, Mary Jane Burnett, and their four children,” writes Anne Chesky Smith, director of the Swannanoa Valley Museum in an email.

At the Aug. 25 information session, Black Mountain resident Monroe Gilmour explained that the club had consisted of top Asheville city officials, politicians, doctors, lawyers and businessmen. Though the reservoir property was officially off-limits to other visitors, the group had the city’s tacit permission to meet there, rent-free, for 50 years.

The group was apparently an all-white, all-male institution, formed in 1894 and chartered in 1907 to promote hunting, fishing and other outdoor sports, then-City Attorney Bob Oast told Asheville City Council members during a March 24, 1998, meeting.

Gilmour led the charge to oust the club from its roost, objecting to the discriminatory nature of its membership and the preferential access it enjoyed to an otherwise off-limits city-owned preserve. His effort succeeded, and the cabin has sat mostly unused since Council’s 1998 decision to end the club’s use of the building. The Water Resources Department received word from the North Carolina Historic Preservation Office on Aug. 24 that the structure was not considered historic, Leslie Carreiro said on Aug. 25.

“That means we won’t have to transport it to another location,” Carreiro added. She noted that, while a few relics may be preserved and donated to local historical organizations, the city has no plans to salvage or make available to the public the majority of the building or its contents.

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About Virginia Daffron
Managing editor, lover of mountains, native of WNC. Follow me @virginiadaffron

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