Tuesday History: ‘Mountain Scenery’ offers insight into 1850s Asheville

The Buck Hotel: Constructed by James M. Smith in 1825, the Buck Hotel was located at the intersection of Broadway and College Street.
The Buck Hotel: Constructed by James M. Smith in 1825, the Buck Hotel was located at the intersection of Broadway and College Street. Photo courtesy of North Carolina Collection, Pack Memorial Public Library, Asheville, North Carolina

Dr. Elizabeth “Liz” Colton remembers seeing the book, Mountain Scenery: The Scenery of the Mountains of Western North Carolina and Northwestern South Carolina, on the mantle of her parents Montford home. It was the late 1970s and Colton had just returned to Asheville by way of the Maldives, a South Asian island country, located in the Indian Ocean, where she had been working on her doctoral fieldwork in anthropology. The author’s name, Henry E. Colton, was familiar (her father’s), but the book’s date of publication (1859) didn’t quite add up.

EXPLORING HER FAMILY TREE: Dr. Elizabeth "Liz" Colton will discuss her great-great- uncle's 1859 book, 'Mountain Scenery,' at Pack
EXPLORING HER FAMILY TREE: Dr. Elizabeth “Liz” Colton will discuss her great-great-uncle’s 1859 book, Mountain Scenery, at Pack Memorial Library, Lord Auditorium, on Wednesday, April 26. Photo by Thomas Calder

Colton soon learned that the writer and native North Carolinian was her great-great-uncle. At the time, she remembers flipping through the book’s pages with only a passing interest. Still, she says, “it kind of got in my head a little.”

Forty years later, Colton — who is an Emmy Award-winning journalist, as well as a former diplomat and educator — has returned to Mountain Scenery. On Wednesday, April 26, she will offer a talk about the book at the Pack Memorial Library’s Lord Auditorium. “There’s so much to learn from this,” she says. “I think it also is so exciting [because this book] gives you an idea of these people — these real, living people — who were in these same places, enjoying these same things.”

Colton describes the work as an early guidebook. Mountain Scenery highlights the topography and wildlife of the western part of the state, as well as the numerous stagecoach routes to Asheville.

During her talk, Colton will also discuss the book’s own unique history. She notes that the Asheville Citizen-Times ran a story on Sept. 14, 1930 celebrating the then-rediscovered work. In the article, Mountain Scenery is described as a “veritable gold mine of information.” The article goes on to praise the work’s overall historical recordings.

Below is an excerpt from the book’s second chapter. In it, Asheville’s public buildings and hotels are noted.

There are few public buildings of interest in the town. The court-house, a fine building, is situated on what might, with propriety, be called the culminating point of the town, as the hill there reaches its greatest height, and the town slopes gradually on every side. From the cupola of this building, — ninety-six feet from the base, — a fine view of the town and immediate vicinity is to be had. It is a pleasant place to sit, of an evening, to witness the sunset, and enjoy the cool breeze. The Female College is a building of some size, and the institution is in a flourishing state. It numbered, during the past year, about 240 pupils. There are three churches, — Methodist, Presbyterian, and Episcopalian, — in all of which there is regular preaching.

There is but little of an historical nature about Asheville which is of interest. The place was originally called Morristown. It is, in comparison with some other towns of our State, of a modern date. The first court for the newly created county of Buncombe, — then embracing all west of the Blue Ridge, and sometimes called the Great State of Buncombe, — was held in an old barn, about three miles southeast of Asheville. It is not now standing. Robert Vance was the first clerk of the court, and the record now exists in which his beautiful, round, plain hand is displayed.

THE EAGLE HOTEL: In its ad, included in the back of Colton's 1859 book, The Eagle Hotel's owner, J.M. Blair notes he will "spare neither pains nor money in order to make his guests perfectly comfortable and at home while they sojourn at the Eagle Hotel."
THE EAGLE HOTEL: Established in the 1820s, the Eagle Hotel was located a short distance from Pack Square. Photo courtesy of North Carolina Collection, Pack Memorial Public Library, Asheville, North Carolina

The hotel accommodations of Asheville are excellent. They are three in number: the Eagle Hotel, the Buck Hotel, and the Buncombe House. The latter is not at present open, but will probably be so during the summer. The first is the stopping-place of the stage from and to Salisbury via Morgantown and Swannanoa Gap. The second, of the stage from and to Charlotte via Rutherfordton and the Hickory-Nut Gap; also, of the stage from Greenville, S.C., via Saluda Gap, Flat Rock, and Hendersonville. The stage from Greenville, Tenn., via Warm Springs, and up the French Broad River, stops at [the author did not include the name of this lodging] Hotel. All are good hotels, and the traveller will, at any of them, receive kind attention and good fare. The Eagle, however, is the chief, and is, perhaps, more frequented than any other. It is now kept by Messrs. Patton & Blair, formerly by Dr. J.D. Boyd. It has lost none of its excellence by the change. Travellers will find Mr. Blair an accommodating gentleman. The Buck Hotel is kept by J.H. Gudger, who has been its proprietor for many years. It is a long-established house, located in the centre of the town, and has many customers. Travellers will be well provided for by Mr. Gudger and his able assistants. The Buncombe House is situated in a rather retired portion of town, sufficiently near for all purposes, yet away from its dust and bustle. It is, perhaps, for this reason, a better place for those to stay who desire to spend some time in Asheville. But how, or by whom it will be kept, we cannot tell. Heretofore it has been well attended to.

WHAT: Dr. Elizabeth “Liz” Colton on Mountain Scenery — Discovering WNC from the 1850s, Asheville Ancestory and Immortality

WHERE: Pack Memorial Library, Lord Auditorium, lower level,  67 Haywood St.  avl.mx/3nb

WHEN: Wednesday, April 26 from 6-7 p.m. The event is free.

 

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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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