Letter: An obvious choice for monument honors

Graphic by Lori Deaton

Over the last four years, there has been a monumental (pun intended) outcry over the preservation or demolition of the Vance Monument — a rather uninspiring granite obelisk named in honor of Zebulon Vance that stood in the heart of Asheville and over the years became a well-known symbol of our mountain town. Vance — former governor of North Carolina and U.S. senator, officer in the Confederate Army and lawyer — had been a polarizing figure whose notoriety continued long after his death.

Scrutinized for over a century, the 2020 protests over the death of George Floyd turned the monument into a 75-foot-tall detonator of explosive emotions on both sides of the argument. The City Council voted to remove the monument, a dismantling of the structure complicated by other protests, lawsuits, appeals and petitions. This month, removal of the monument’s base was begun. The obelisk itself is gone from Pack Square, amid sounds of celebratory back-patting, the crunching of gnashed teeth and travel guides rushing to find replacement photos for their front covers.

I am not writing to air my side of the argument; there are many valid points to both. Asheville prides itself on inclusivity and artistry, which I find a beautiful thing. We are also located in the South, where sentiments of a long-gone war can still guide the attitudes of many; even the name Asheville celebrates the life of a former slave owner. What I would like to see is a move forward to a new symbol that sits in the heart of Pack Square and beckons travelers from all over the globe to enjoy this special place we call home as they contribute to our largely tourist-based economy.

Frankly, I am surprised at the lack of conversation around what will replace the Vance Monument; most folks are content to bemoan the above. However, if a new monument is to be in honor of some person or family, I believe the answer is obvious: the Vanderbilts.

The Biltmore Estate itself should be a part of the conversation. It continues to be a premier draw to our city, and the revenue it contributes to our area is invaluable. But that is only a part. George and Edith Vanderbilt, during Biltmore’s construction, were single-handedly responsible for employing thousands of workers. They drew artisans, musicians, painters and writers from all over, cementing the foundation of Asheville in the arts and culture. They are responsible for turning over nearly 90,000 acres of their land to the government for Pisgah National Forest, turning our area into the cradle of forestry that it is.

They and their descendants, the Cecils, have been benevolent employers and benefactors for over 100 years. They have cared for this city and still do, their generosity fostering growth in the arts, music and medicine. They do so humbly and without fanfare. I have personally met members of the family; they are wonderful people who would not stand out in a crowd and whom you would not hesitate to have over for dinner. Given the opportunity, they would likely — and anonymously — donate funding themselves as to not burden their beloved Asheville with the financing. A tribute in their honor — a monument that defines the true spirit of Asheville — is the least that we could do in homage for all they have given to us.

— Robert Credeur Parish


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11 thoughts on “Letter: An obvious choice for monument honors

  1. MV

    Golly, there are already so many monuments to that family. But wouldn’t it be fitting and oh so Asheville? To replace the obelisk with a new monument to honor those who displaced the people of Shiloh…

  2. Brooke Heaton

    Cornelius Vanderbilt (May 27, 1794 – January 4, 1877) was a slave owner.

  3. luther blissett

    Biltmore is its own monument. But how about the city puts up a big ol’ monument to the Vanderbilts and Cecils if (and only if) the Biltmore Estate actually becomes part of Asheville and pays city taxes?

  4. Tammy Hawkins

    As someone who was born and raised here, I have given this quite a lot of thought as well as to who should be given this honor. I wholeheartedly agree the Vanderbilts truly stand out, in my personal opinion, as the number one choice for this tribute. I’ve always wondered why there wasn’t something in our city center to honor the Vanderbilts and show our appreciation for their generosity over the years. I truly believe a monument to the Vanderbilts would be accepted.

  5. Bright

    The Vanderbilt’s used and abused slaves. To this day, Biltmore has payed little more than minimum wage, and has taken advantage of employees until enough complaints forced a minor upgrade. Biltmore has done much good, but that has to happen to give smoke and mirrors needed for their enormous profits… much like Disney World. Big front, big back.

  6. Alan Wayne

    There already exist a monument to the Vanderbilts and Cecils and and the built it themselves to honor themselves, you know The Biltmore Estate.

  7. Mike Rains

    I believe the author should read the biography of Cornelius Vanderbilt, the source of the family’s great wealth.

  8. Voirdire

    Yes! I think a 75 foot statue of George Washington Vanderbilt Jr. with outstretched hands should be erected where the deplorable Vance obelisk once stood. ..in homage! You know… kinda like a Moses leading his people to the promised land sort of depiction. Oh yes, absolutely …and behind him the rest of the Cecil family -slightly less taller in stature of course- each carrying a basket ( ..overflowing with largesse) memoralized in bronze for eternity! Can’t wait!! Splendid!! Perfect for Asheville!! And oh, right…they’ll pay for it all!! Magnificent!!! …whew.

  9. John Brigham

    We must build a monument to honor some person? We are all equal in the eyes of God. Let it go. Find a creative artist, or even have a contest. Or leave it empty.

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