Asheville Archives: The city celebrates its specialty shops, 1890

SIGN OF SUCCESS: The 1890 directory included a profile of J.H. Woody & Co. Its success was viewed as a symbol of Asheville's continued prosperity. Photo courtesy of the North Carolina Collection, Pack Memorial Library, Asheville

According to the 1890 city directory, Asheville’s population at that time stood at 11,913. This number represented a 350 percent increase of the city’s total population over the previous 10 years. (In 1880, consensus numbers totaled 2,610.) Once “unknown, inert and isolated,” Asheville became “one of the most popular and widely known cities of its size in the United States,” the directory claimed. “Truly this is the place for gods and divines to luxuriate within by enhancing their longevity in breathing pure air [and] feasting upon couches of delicious splendor[.]”

Along with its health benefits and natural beauty, the 1890 directory also emphasized Asheville’s ripe financial opportunities. “Wealth, progress, success, power and riches all stand open and eager to be grafted and handed down to those of energy and ambition to win,” it claimed.

The publication reported 22 manufactories in the area, employing 1,415 workers. Some of these operations included tobacco, ice, cigar, broom, shoe and bottling factories. There were also 200 mercantile stores, 18 lumber and manufacturing companies, and 16 woodworking establishments. Annual visitation numbers totaled 50,000.

The directory also profiled several of Asheville’s businesses and shop owners. Some were relatively new to the area, while others were well-established names. All were presented as vital assets to the city’s continued growth and success, no matter how large or small the operation.

Among the city’s newer arrivals was M. Ellick, “taxidermist and manufacturer of fancy fur goods[.]” Originally from Germany, Ellick’s shop was on North Main Street. Along with furs, his store contained “the finest line of … mounted heads, antlers and mineral specimens ever seen in the city.”

Meanwhile, on North Court Square (present-day Pack Square), Miss N. LaBarbe ran the Modiste and Fine Millinery. A native of the state, LaBarbe arrived in Asheville in 1883. Her store’s continued success, the directory noted, reflected the important role that fashion played. “In this progressive age the beautiful has been made to join hands with nearly all that is practical and attractive in daily life, and in no sphere has the progress been more remarkable than with reference to dress,” the directory stated.

Farther down the road on South Main Street, J.H. Woody & Co. dealt in carriages. Operated by J.H. Woody and F. Stikeleather, the directory considered the company’s success emblematic of Asheville’s continued prosperity.

Other businesses and owners highlighted in the 1890 directory included the Fitzpatrick Bros. (wallpaper and decorations), Idlewild Green Houses and Floral Gardens, Asheville Cigar Co., N.W. Girdwood (model steam laundry) and J.H. Woodcock (“prescriptionist and apothecary”).

Perhaps the most detailed and intriguing profile is of W.H. Martin, “fashionable hair cutter and tonsorial artist.” The brief write-up includes a history of the profession, noting that several hundred years ago in England “the barbers’ calling included teeth drawing, and other dental service, nail paring, leeching, bleeding, cupping and various surgical services[.]” The profile goes on to report that inside Martin’s business, located on South Main Street:

“The humblest citizen now enters a magnificent shop replete with mirrors and fragrant with perfumes, seats himself in an elegant chair, a sort of a plush throne, and for the trifling sum of 12 ½ cents has that hirsute hair of his, rough and grizzly and hairy as Calabaus, transformed into the smooth white and handsome phiz of a Nineteenth Century dude[.]”

Collectively, these businesses and entrepreneurs were praised by the directory as proof of Asheville’s past, present and future glory. The publication proclaimed:

“In every period of the city’s development these men of foresight, enterprise and liberality have stood with open purses ready to promote every scheme likely to contribute to the prosperity of Asheville, and it is to them the city owes its greatest debt. No means of judicious advertisement of Asheville’s greatness has ever been rejected or neglected by them, and prosperity has neither chilled their ardor or warped their judgment nor tightened their purse strings, and such men as we here have will soon quadruple the enumeration of our population to what it now stands, hence we proclaim her business men legion and her many attractions unfaltering.”

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

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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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