WNC Scary Stories: Heavy history haunts the Smith-McDowell House Museum

Trevor Freeman, public programs director at the Smith-McDowell House Museum

Editor’s note: For Halloween, we asked our readers to share the scariest things they’ve experienced in our area. Readers came through with shivery accounts of mysterious occurrences, including this one below.

Though I personally haven’t experienced anything supernatural at the Smith-McDowell House Museum, l do know some of our docents refuse to go into the basement, which functioned as the old winter kitchen and laundry space in the latter half of the 19th century.

For those unfamiliar with the home’s history, it was built around 1840 as a summer retreat for the James Smith family and operated as one of their two plantations. Not long after its construction, the McDowell family married into the Smiths and occupied the house and plantation from 1854-80. Together, the two families enslaved over 100 individuals.

The property went through several subsequent owners and architectural changes. In 1951, it operated as a classroom and dormitory for the Asheville Catholic high school for boys. Three decades later, in 1982, the Western North Carolina Historical Association took over the site and transformed it into the museum that operates today.

Some visitors have also reported feelings of unease, or some kind of “presence,” when they tour the basement. One guest once told me, essentially: “Something is weird down there. I don’t really believe in any of that stuff, but that room just feels heavy.”

The Asheville paranormal group also recorded “mists” or some type of phenomenon in that space when they toured the house in 2015. That is the area that would have been occupied almost exclusively by enslaved people and later free servants. With our interpretation, it is a space of pretty heavy emotions and history regardless of anything supernatural.

— Trevor Freeman, public programs director at the Smith-McDowell House Museum


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One thought on “WNC Scary Stories: Heavy history haunts the Smith-McDowell House Museum

  1. Dave

    I attended Asheville Catholic High School from August, 1969, until June, 1972, when the school closed. During the 1970-71, school year I had history class in the large room on the first floor of the Smith-McDowell House. The other rooms in the house were in such poor repair that they were unsuitable for use. It should also be noted that Asheville Catholic High School was never an all boys school.

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