Tuesday History: Impressions of Asheville from 1911

GREETINGS FROM ASHEVILLE: An old postcard of the Biltmore Estate, believed to have been in distribution around 1908-1912. Photo courtesy of North Carolina Collection, Pack Memorial Public Library, Asheville, North Carolina

In 1911, W.A. Shafor of Hamilton, Ohio visited Asheville. During his stay, he felt compelled to write down as much as he could about this unusual city, for his friends and family back home. Below is a section of his letter, which was published in his hometown newspaper in Hamilton. The Asheville Citizen-Times reprinted Shafor’s letter years later, in 1941. Shafor’s writing, along with that of many others, can be found at Pack Memorial Library’s Special Collections, North Carolina Room

Over the next three weeks, Xpress will publish sections of Shafor’s writings (courtesy of the North Carolina Room) in a new feature we’re calling Tuesday History. Follow along with us each week to learn about different time periods in our city’s history from various unique perspectives and views. 

By W.A. Shafor, 1911

We have taken several carriage drives and trolley trips to the most interesting places around Asheville. The Vanderbilt estate and the mountain scenery are worth coming to see.

But we wonder how the people who live back in the country, way out among the mountains, can make a living. At Harriman Junction, where our car was taken from the Chattanooga train and put in the Knoxville train, we noticed that some of the pigs were red and had long noses and some of the people were long and had red noses.

The pigs were very energetic. They came close to the car and engine, but were off like a flash as soon as a wheel moved.

Vanderbilt has been the making of the neighborhood around Asheville by giving employment to hundreds of people at good wages. We are told that before he came here laborers were glad to get employment at 50 to 75 cents a day. But he raised it to $1.25 and kept hundreds of them busy the year round.

Asheville Spreading Out

Even after the mansion was built, there were 400 or 500 on the payroll for several years, though not quite so many now.

Not only this but his fine roads and other improvements were great object lessons to the public and caused much better and more extensive improvement to be made, which in turn attracted more wealthy people and brought more improvements.

Vanderbilt owns 160,000 acres, which lies in five counties and we are told there are 75 miles of good macadam roads on his estate.

What we saw of them are very fine. He owns the whole village of Biltmore, consisting of about 50 dwelling houses, business block containing grocery, dry goods, hardware, general merchandise and drug stores, a very fine church with one of the finest pipe organs in the South. Also a hospital and a post office.

The church is built of brick with red tile roof. All the other buildings are stucco, or, as the natives call them, Pebble Dash houses. The village is neat, clean and up-to-date. Good macadamized streets, paved sidewalks, sewers, waterworks, electric lights, etc.

Asheville is spreading out. New buildings and new streets are seen on all sides. But merely as a health resort, not as a business town like ours. There is nothing around here to make the town grow but the climate and the scenery. The town’s population is about 19,000.

What little farming is done is mostly on steep hillsides and very small patches. But little live stock is kept and not much feed is raised. The natives have queer ideas about things…

Next week we’ll learn more from W.A. Shafor’s visit to Asheville, including the jump in real estate prices. 


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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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12 thoughts on “Tuesday History: Impressions of Asheville from 1911

    • bsummers

      And Asheville’s reputation was born! Thanks, W.A. Shafor of Hamilton, Ohio!

      “…we noticed that some of the pigs were red and had long noses and some of the people were long and had red noses.”

      Wow, he really did visit Asheville, didn’t he?

      • Thomas Calder

        Indeed, he did. Be sure to check out more of what Shafor had to say in next week’s post. Thanks for the comments.

  1. Carol

    Love Tuesday History. Truth is stranger than fiction and more fun to read!! Great writing!!!!

  2. John Calder

    I love the unique history that you are discovering. Having lived in Asheville and attended public schools (as you are aware) here in my old hometown, I enjoy reading about places and people that you are uncovering. Time earases memories but thanks to you, they are being restored.
    John Calder

  3. henry

    “here is nothing around here to make the town grow but the climate and the scenery.” Little did Shafor realize that it was he all the millions of visitors who followed and the climate and scenery that made the town grow. On the other hand, who has ever heard of Hamilton, OH? Interesting reading.

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