Asheville Archives: 1891 resident shares his vision of the city’s future

INTO THE FUTURE: In an 1891 article published by The Asheville Daily Citizen, an unnamed writer shared his visions from a recent dream wherein he time traveled to 1950. Images courtesy of Buncombe County Special Collections, Pack Memorial Library; collage by Scott Southwick

Not all adventures are based in reality. That was certainly the case for one unnamed resident, who recalled an action-packed dream about the city’s future in a Dec. 14, 1891 article published by The Asheville DailyIn his evening vision, the writer time traveled to 1950. (Imagine, had he just made it to 1955, he might have run into Marty McFly.)

In his fantasy, the city’s former 1891 population of roughly 10,235 had skyrocketed to “half a million souls.” A far cry from Asheville’s actual future population of 53,000 recorded in the 1950 census — but alas!

“There was nothing recognizable but the court house and square,” the author continued. Sadly, this prophecy was also off. A new county courthouse would be completed in 1928, along with a new city hall, the same year — not to mention a number of other additions on the square, including the Jackson Building and the now-former Vance Monument, which was erected in 1898. (See “Asheville Archives: Mayor John H. Cathey’s Fight Over City Hall, 1926-28,” Jan. 29, 2019, Xpress)

The author continued, “Vanderbilt’s mansion was just on the outskirts of the city, and the people who occupied it were contemplating a removal on account of the property’s close proximity to the bustle and life of the metropolis.” Surely, the writer would be shocked to learn Cornelia Vanderbilt Cecil and her husband, John Francis Cecil, opened the estate to the public in 1930 to help attract tourists amid the Great Depression. (See, “Asheville Archives: Biltmore Opens To The Public, 1930,” Sept. 20, 2020, Xpress)

Eventually, the dreamer made his way onto a streetcar — “the same ones you see come to the square now, not changed except as to age,” the author wrote. Like everything else foreseen, this vision, too, fell short: Trolley service concluded in 1934. (See “Asheville Archives: Asheville’s Streetcars Take a Farewell Tour, Sept. 6, 1934,” Sept. 12, 2017, Xpress)

The remainder of the writer’s dream continues its focus on the city’s trolley system, offering perhaps some insight into the unnamed author’s true intentions for writing the piece. At the time of the 1891 article, residents were in an uproar over a recent spike in fares: The Asheville Co. had raised rates from 5 to 10 cents.

In his dream, the city’s transportation method remained as unpleasant as it apparently was in 1891. Seated on the trolley, the dreamer notes, “I was badly shaken up for about two blocks, and was thinking of getting off, when the conductor came to me for my fare.”

Much to the writer’s shock, the rate had skyrocketed to 50 cents by 1950. “And fifty more every time you transfer,” the conductor told him in the dream. Further stunned, the unnamed author states he fell from his imaginary seat, at which point he awoke from his slumber.

In a humorous twist, the article concludes with the writer declaring his sudden gratitude for the present day. “[I] thank[ed] my stars that I was still living in the year ’91.”

Editor’s note: Peculiarities of spelling and punctuation are preserved from the original documents.  


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About Thomas Calder
Thomas Calder received his MFA in Fiction from the University of Houston's Creative Writing Program. His writing has appeared in Gulf Coast, the Miracle Monocle, Juked and elsewhere. His debut novel, The Wind Under the Door, is now available.

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