Tuesday History: Mr. B.J. Alexander, the man who once owned the bottom of the French Broad

Photo courtesy of North Carolina Collection, Pack Memorial Public Library, Asheville, North Carolina

“Sold French Broad to Asheville Man,” reads the headline of a Sept. 15, 1905 article in the Asheville Citizen. The story reports a dispute in the early negotiations of the sale of Carrier land (the specifics of the property are not detailed in the article, but for background on Edwin G. Carrier, visit here). The unnamed parties involved in the deal could not agree over the price of dry land verse the price of the land at the river’s bottom.

The article goes on to report a peculiar fact discovered during the dispute:

And this fact is that an Asheville man had a deed from the state conveying to him all the bottom of the French Broad River from Gorman’s bridge to the mouth of Bent’s creek, about 12 miles in length.

The purchaser from the state is Mr. B.J. Alexander and the state specifically deeds to him the bed of the river. One of the deeds to him was found yesterday in the register of deeds office in book No. 79 at page 478. The state grant was issued July 15, 1891, and conveys, “A tract of land containing 525 acres lying and being in the county of Buncombe, the water bed of channel of that part of the French Broad River included between the mouth of Avery’s creek and the bridge crossing near Asheville, known as Smith’s bridge.”

The article goes on to note Alexander paid 15 cents per acre. It then reports the following:

The history of the purchase is rather unusual. Mr. Alexander sold to Vanderbilt land adjoining the river, and at the time, had entered that it signified his intent to ask for a state grant, and when he obtained this Mr. Vanderbilt was to pay $1100 for it, or rather that was the understanding with his attorney, the late Melvin Carter. Mr. Carter died pending the matter and as there was only an understanding between him and Mr. Alexander, the trade was not consummated. The estate might have bought, but it was advised that the bottom would be of no value to the owner.

It therefore appears that the state of North Carolina recognized that there is a man in Asheville who owns a river.


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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