In the spring of 1891, local resident E.J. Armstrong presented an ambitious plan to Asheville’s Board of Aldermen. Armstrong wanted to lay a line of pipes from his home in Chunns Cove to Court Square (today’s Pack Square), in order to sell his property’s spring water at 2 cents a cup.
“The spring furnishes an excellent chalybeate water, which has been much sought for by visitors to the city,” The Weekly Citizen wrote on March 19, 1891. The proposal, which was approved by the aldermen, “will, no doubt, be a paying one,” the paper continued.
Within two months, Armstrong’s plan evolved to include the construction of “a small wooden pavilion on court square in which to sell his mineral water,” the Asheville Daily Citizen reported on May 9, 1891.
Work began on May 15. That day’s paper asserted that upon the project’s completion, the city would have “a veritable ‘Mansion on the Square.’”
But as construction progressed, it became apparent the structure’s intended size was larger than Armstrong’s initial proposal.
“When the matter of erecting the ‘mansion’ was first talked of, it was supposed that a very small, light and pretty structure would be put up,” the Asheville Daily Citizen wrote on May 18. “But not so,” the article continued. “The ‘mansion’ when completed will be large and heavy and sufficiently strong to resist the winds and rains and cyclones of ages to come.”
According to the article, the site of the ongoing construction elicited “unanimous protest against the appropriation of the square.” One resident, J.B. Bostic, called the house “a disgrace,” the paper reported. Another resident, J.N. Morgan, denounced the plans and called on the county to tear the structure down. Meanwhile, Col. V.S. Lusk quipped that if Armstrong could build a pavilion on the square to sell water, Lusk should ask permission to erect a law office in another corner.
The most intriguing comment, however, came from Col. W.R. Young, who noted, “It would have been a better act had the board allowed Mr. Hallyburton, the blind man, to remain on the square, but it was a wrong move to allow this house to be located there.” No additional context was provided regarding who Hallyburton was or what became of him.
The community outcry proved effective. In the following day’s paper, the Asheville Daily Citizen reported that “in deference to public opinion, and in their usually manly style,” county commissioners ordered Armstrong to remove the structure.
“Asheville’s only park will not be appropriated to any such as was proposed,” the article continued. “Verily, the cry of the people has been heard — and such things shall not be.”
By June 2, all traces of the structure were gone.
But all was not lost for Armstrong. On June 30, the paper reported that the entrepreneur had received approval and completed the construction of a new “little mineral water house” in the rear of the courthouse with sales remaining at 2 cents a cup or a nickel for 3.
“Go take a look at the successor of the old ‘mansion on the square,’” the article concluded.
Editor’s note: Peculiarities of spelling and punctuation are preserved from the original documents. Special thanks to Carissa Pfeiffer at Buncombe County Special Collections for the research assistance.