Tuesday History: Scoping out Asheville’s prospects in 1869

A PLACE TO REST: The Eagle Hotel, photographed above, was built in 1814. Established by James Patton, it stood on South Main Street, a short distance from Public Square (modern day Pack Square).
A PLACE TO REST: The Eagle Hotel, photographed above, was built in 1814. Established by James Patton, it stood on South Main Street, a short distance from Public Square (modern day Pack Square). Photo courtesy of North Carolina Collection, Pack Memorial Public Library, Asheville, North Carolina

This week we’re heading back to 1869. In fact, for the next few week’s we’ll tag along with one Dr. J.P. Purcell as he offers insight and information on Buncombe County, including its people, population, climate, institutions, churches, wine-making, factories, rent and faith.

We’ll begin with an early section from an article written by Purcell. Its focus is on the population, climate and the potential health benefits of Asheville. The article predates by two years the opening of The Villa — not only Asheville’s, but also the country’s first tuberculosis sanitarium (see Xpress’ “Tuesday History: Asheville, the Switzerland of America,” Sept. 20, 2016).

In next week’s post, we will explore Asheville’s potential for wine-making and its cheese industry.

While Purcell’s writing was featured in the Asheville News on May 20, 1869, it was originally printed by the Wilmington Journal. Titled “Wayside queries and Information,” Purcell reports:

… Asheville is the Capital of Buncombe, as well as the focus of civilization and culture, seated as it is, two thousand and two hundred and fifty feet above the level of the sea. It is the door of Western North Carolina, through which you pass to Tennessee. It seemingly sits, in looking down upon it from any bluff, in the middle of a basin whose bottom is inwardly convex. The country’s surface is rolling, hilly, and surrounded by mountains of various sizes, heights and length. Of these and others we will presently speak.

The population of Asheville is now reckoned at about sixteen hundred. The negro element is of little consideration. In fact, in the whole county, according to the registration of eighteen hundred and sixty-eight, the Black stands to white a little more than one to four. … A [m]arshall is all the police force. … As far as partyism is concerned, no one on that account need be afraid to come here and settle. They have equal chances — Conservative and Radical. The “bone and sinew” of the town and county, similar to New Hanover, and indeed to the whole State, is truly Conservative. With this difference, however, that here they rule, with you, and in the State they do not. The reasons of this is known to everybody. The gens de famille — and there are many of them living here and in the neighboring regions — are among the most refined that can be found in this or any other State of the Union, or anywhere on God’s habitable globe. The other class, the so-called meaner sort, is not all what I have frequently heard stated in the Lowlands. They are thrifty, and trade to advantage. They belong to the soil. They will open the resources of the county. All they especially need is railroad communication. Enterprise will then run with electric speed. The East will know the West. Hands will be grasped. Prejudices will be buried. Good fellowship will be established. — Peace and prosperity will travel onward hand in hand together. Visits will be interchanged. The climate of the seaboard will be sought by the people of the West, and that of the mountains will be sought after eagerly by those of the East. The Winter at one place: the Summer at the other.

This climate is peculiarly grateful and pleasant. What I have heard of it at Wilmington has not at all been exaggerated. I was at first sight charmed with the physical appearance of the surrounding district. The very atmosphere seemed to me impregnated with a new life, and I sipped it with as much zest as did the fabulous gods quaff their ambrosia on the summit of Olympus. The climate can well compare with any climate of Italy, France or Spain, or with any of this Continent. Asheville is not behind in this respect to the cities of Seville or Florence, or any city of the south of France, or skirting the foot of the Pyrenees. By well authenticated records its mean heat last summer was 74 degrees. It is hardly 1 degree higher than that of St. Paul. — In winter it is 22 degrees warmer than the latter. Its warmest summer seldom if ever reaches 85 degrees F. It is said that of two hundred and eighty six points at which the temperature was noticed east of the Rocky Mountains, three only are reported to have had a maximum of heat as low as Asheville. This fact alone ought to command attention, and especially so the attention of those who seek temporary homes in the embrace of the Rocky Mountain range. We may seek all the “climates for invalids” in the world, and go thousands of miles from friends and the comforts of home and of country, and not find a climate as pure or as sweet as this, or one more free from disease. Here is no intermittent, no remittent, nor any of those ailments the product of malaria. Everything is redolent and rosy with the bloom and the beauty of health. — Dyspepsia is now and then seen among the poorer people. This flows in most cases from the non-observance of the rules of hygiene relative to dietetics. — Rheumatism may be also met, brought on from thoughtlessness, exposure in rainy or damp weather. The climate is not too moist. It is, so to say, too well hedged in by Mountains to be that. — The Alleghanies on the west. The Blue Ridge on the east. These are the great protectors.

 

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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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