Tuesday History: Impressions of Asheville, Part III

MEN OF THE LAW: The North Carolina Room’s description of this photo reads, "Portrait of three Asheville policemen around 1908. LtoR: J. L. Ballenger, Capt. John Page and E. M. (Edgar Marcillus) Lyda." Photo courtesy of North Carolina Collection, Pack Memorial Public Library, Asheville, North Carolina

We continue with W.A. Shafor’s 1911 investigation into Asheville. For those who missed the previous posts, click here for Part I & Part II. As always, follow along with us each week to learn about different time periods in our city’s history, from various unique perspectives and views. Our continued thanks to Pack Memorial Library’s Special Collections, North Carolina Room for all the assistance. 

By W.A. Shafor (excerpted from a letter to his friends in his hometown of Hamilton, Ohio)

Convicts Well Fed

We were surprised to see so many good stone roads in such a poor, rough country and wondered how the natives could stand such heavy taxes as must be required to build them. On inquiry, we learned that the total tax levy, state and county, is 95 cents on the hundred dollars and that the roads are nearly all built by convict labor. Farmers have only to pay an annual poll tax of $3.00 or three days’ work on the roads and this law is rigidly enforced.

We drove out seven miles to a convict camp to see them work the roads. They wear stripes and chains and the guards carry Winchester rifles. This looks cruel to one who is not accustomed to seeing it, but aside from this the men appear to be well treated.

We talked with two of them and they said they get enough to eat and would rather spend six months on the road than five months in jail. We were told that it costs about twenty cents a day to work these men and they are required to do a good day’s work and that many of them improve in health and get fat here because they have regular hours for work, sleep and meals.

Sixty-day to ten-year prisoners are sent here. More than ten years means penitentiary.

This state went dry three years ago. But we are told there are a great many “Blind Tigers” here and we see many empty bottles along the roads and in the streets, parks and elsewhere…

Be sure to join us next week to learn more about the drinking habits of early 1900 Ashevilleans, in the final section of W.A. Shafor’s letter home. 

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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. For his weekly #tuesdayhistory tidbits on Asheville, follow him on Instagram @tcalder.

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One thought on “Tuesday History: Impressions of Asheville, Part III

  1. Carol

    I meant to ask last week….what is a boom pole??
    Learning a lot from Tuesday History Day!!
    Thanks to Thomas Calder. Who knew we had “Blind Tigers” here!! :)

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