Asheville Archives: The annexation of West Asheville, 1917

ON THE WEST SIDE: In the summer of 1917, Asheville annexed West Asheville, expanding the city's population by 5,000. Photo courtesy of the North Carolina Collection, Pack Memorial Library, Asheville

On June 9, 1917, both Asheville and West Asheville residents cast their votes to determine the future of the two municipalities. “Should the community on the other side of the river become a part of Asheville … it would be accorded the same treatment Asheville receives at the hands of the city commissioners,” wrote The Asheville Citizen. “This would mean a fire station built there and many additional policemen, among other advantages.”

Despite the measure’s implication, voter turnout proved dismal. Only 901 ballots were cast between the two municipalities; the majority favored consolidation. As a result, Asheville gained 5,000 new residents. Meanwhile, the city’s newest members looked forward to reaping the benefits associated with those living on the eastern bank of the French Broad River.

But by 1919 — a year and a half after annexation — residents of West Asheville were still waiting for the perks of city life. In a letter to the editor published on Jan. 12, resident Joe B. Seay chastised the city for its neglect of those living west of the French Broad.

“I have known for sometime of several necessary conveniences which we should have had,” Seay wrote, “but as our city commissioners don’t seem to be in any frame of mind to give us any consideration unless we ‘kick’ for it, I think it is time for all the people of West Asheville (also Asheville proper where the people want to see justice meted out) to rise up and make a kick.”

Seay’s grievances were manifold. He claimed West Asheville’s mail delivery and trash services were less frequent than Asheville city proper. Meanwhile, he noted transportation fees were much higher west of the French Broad. He also bemoaned the lack of proper street lighting in his part of town.

Seay’s primary complaint, however, focused on the city’s decision to close down the West Asheville volunteer fire department, which he deemed a “grave mistake … little short of a crime.” Near the end of his letter, Seay implored fellow residents to act, writing: “It is high time for the people of West Asheville to take up and fight for what they pay for, and are really entitled to.”

Three days later, The Asheville Citizen published the city commissioners’ official response to Seay’s grievances. Topping the list was the issue of the West Asheville volunteer fire department. The commissioners asserted that efforts had been made to keep the station operational. “Asheville has a volunteer fire department and it was hoped that a volunteer company could be built up across the river to meet the local needs,” the commissioners wrote. “Unfortunately, the same volunteer spirit that has proven so effective in Asheville could not be stimulated in West Asheville.”

The official statement went on to list a detailed account of West Asheville’s financial shortcomings and mismanagement prior to consolidation, noting that the town was on the brink of bankruptcy before its annexation. Adding insult to injury, the commissioners concluded this portion of its response by declaring: “Judged by the simple standards of receipts and disbursements West Asheville has proven a liability rather than an asset to Asheville.”

In addition, the commissioners noted, previous wartime efforts had limited options for municipalities throughout the country. “Cities during this period had no right to expend and expand for their own selfish aggrandizement,” the statement read. “But now that the war is virtually over, the energies of the city have been released for the advancement of our own civic life. … Great improvements must be made, not for West Asheville particularly, for no section of a municipality should claim a special dispensation, but for the entire city.”

Four days later, on Jan. 19, 1919, the newspaper picked back up on the commissioners’ concluding statement about overall city improvements. Moving forward, The Asheville Citizen insisted, the city “must provide larger school facilities, pave more streets, lay out and beautify city and suburban parks, establish a comfort station on Pack square, establish a new fire station, build a new library building and find the revenue from year to year to finance these undertakings.” The next decade of Asheville’s history, the paper continued, “is pregnant with possibilities of marvelous development.”

And though the article agreed with the commissioners’ assessment of West Asheville, calling it “more of a burden than a benefit to the city as a whole,” The Asheville Citizen remained optimistic about the area’s future potential, declaring:

“West Asheville belongs logically, it is thought, to Asheville and the time is prophesied by keen observers when the district across the French Broad will be an asset. It is even predicted by many that the center of the business of life, bursting through the too narrow confines of the present business district, will seek the wider streets and roomier accommodations of West Asheville. It is axiomatic that the city must have room to grow in, and West Asheville, located near the Southern railway, is pointed out as the only logical place for growth on a large scale.”

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. He has worked with several publications, including Gulf Coast and the Collagist.

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