AHGP Transcription Project

A History of Buncombe County

In 1781 or 1782 settlers from the blockhouse at Old Fort, McDowell County as it is now, crossed the mountains to the head of the Swannanoa River, and became trespassers on the Cherokee territory, the Blue Ridge at that time being the boundary line. Samuel Davidson, his wife and child were among the first. They brought a female Negro slave with them, and settled a short distance east of Gudger's ford of Swannanoa River, and near what is now Azalia. He was soon afterwards killed by Indians, and his wife and child and slave hurried through the mountains back to Old Fort. An expedition to avenge his death set out, with the late Major Ben. Burgin, who died at Old Fort in November, 1874, at the age of ninety-five, among the number and conquered the Indians at the mouth of Rock House creek. By this time, however, several other settlements had been effected on the Swannanoa from its head to its mouth by the Alexanders, Davidsons, Smiths and others, the earliest being about the mouth of Bee Tree creek, a little above this being the Edmundson field, the first cleared in Buncombe. Soon another company passed through Bull gap and settled on upper Reems creek, while still others came in by way of what is now Yancey county and settled on lower Reems and Flat creeks. Some of the people who had been with Sevier at Watauga settlement settled on the French Broad above the mouth of Swannanoa, and on Hominy creek. Some from South Carolina settled still higher on the French Broad.

The Cheery Name of Buncombe
The Swannanoa was now recognized as the dividing line between Burke and Rutherford counties, from portions of which counties Buncombe was subsequently formed, and named for Edward Buncombe, who had been a colonel in the Revolutionary War.3 In 1791 David Vance and William Davidson, the former representing Burke and the latter Rutherford, agreed upon the formation of a new county from portions of both these counties west of the Blue Ridge, its western boundary to be the Tennessee line.

First Court at the Gum Spring
In April, 1792, at the residence of Col. William Davidson on the south bank of the Swannanoa, half a mile above its mouth, subsequently called the Gum Spring place, Buncombe County was organized, pursuant to the act which had been ratified January 14, 1792. On December 31, 1792, another act recited that the commissioners provided for in the first act had failed to fix "the center and agree where public buildings" should be erected, and appointed Joshua Inglish, Archibald Neill, James Wilson, Augustin Shote, George Baker and John Dillard of Buncombe, and Wm. Morrison of Burke, commissioners, in place of Phillip Hoodenpile, William Brittain, Wm. Whitson, James Brittain and Lemuel Clayton, who had failed to agree, to select a county seat. There was rivalry for this position, many contending for the "Steam Saw Mill Place on the road afterwards known as the Buncombe Turnpike Road about three miles south of Asheville, where Dr. J. F. E. Hardy resided at the time of his death," says Dr. Sondley in his Asheville's Centenary.

They selected the present site, which at first was called Morristown. As the Superior Court was at this time held at Morganton, five men from Buncombe were required to serve there as jurors, for the July term, 1792. These were Matthew Patton, Wm. Davidson, David Vance, Lambert Clayton and James Brittain. The first court house stood in the middle of the street upon the public square at the head of what is now Patton Avenue, and was of logs. The first county court held there was on the third Monday in July, 1793. In January, 1796, commissioners were appointed to lay off a plan for public buildings; but in April, 1802, the grand jury complained that the county had no title to the land on which the jail, etc., stood, and in April, 1805, steps were taken to secure land for a public square. In April, 1807, the county trustee, or treasurer, was ordered to pay Robert Love one pound for registering five deeds made by individuals for a public square. . . The next court house was made of brick, a little further east, in the erection of which the late Nicholas W. Woodfin, while a poor boy, carried brick and mortar. This gave way to a handsome brick building fronting on Main Street, which was destroyed by fire on the 26th day of January, 1865. Some years later a small one-story brick structure was built nearly in front of W. O. Wolf's storeroom, the late Rev. B. H. Merrimon having been the contractor. In 1876 this gave way to a larger building with three stories, J. A. Tennent being the architect. In the erection of this a workman fell from the southwest comer of the tower to the ground and was killed. His name has been forgotten. The first jail was succeeded by a brick building now a part of the Library building; but a new jail was built afterwards on the site of the present city hall, its site being sold to the city when the Eagle street jail was built some years afterwards. The first jail was a very poor structure, every sheriff from 1799 to 1811 complaining of its insufficiency. In 1867 the county began to sell off portions of the public square on the north and south sides, thus reducing it to its present dimensions.

John Burton's grant was "by private contract laid out ... for a town called Morristown, the county town of Buncombe county, into 42 lots, containing, with the exception of the two at the southern end, one-half an acre each, lying on both sides of a street 33 feet wide," which runs where the southern part of North Main street and the northern part of South Main street now are.5 There were two cross streets across the public square. "Nobody seems to know why the name of Morristown was bestowed upon the place . . . but there is a seemingly authentic tradition that it was named for Robert Morris, who success-fully financed the American Revolution, yet himself died a bankrupt." About this time he owned large bodies of land in Western North Carolina; indeed it is shown in the record of one case in the Federal Court here (Asheville) that Robert Tate of York county, Pennsylvania, and William Tate, of Burke county, N. C, conveyed to him in one deed 198 tracts of land, only one tract of which, containing 70,400 acres and lying in what are now Yancey, Burke, and McDowell counties, was involved in that litigation. The State grant for these lands was issued to Robert and William Tate on May 30, 1795, and they conveyed the same lands to Morris on August 15 of the same year. "The Tates were evidently the agents of Morris. . . . Morris was one of the heroes of the Revolution, and . . . it is small wonder that . . . the people . . . should name it for him." His will (dated in 1804) was probated in McDowell County on April 21, 1891. In November 1797, the village was incorporated by the legislature as Asheville in honor of Samuel Ashe of New Hanover, governor.

Old Asheville
On Thanksgiving Day, 1895, Miss Anna C. Aston, Miss Frances L. Patton and other ladies published a "Woman's Edition" of the Asheville Daily Citizen. It contained much valuable and important information of that city. But in February, 1898, Foster A. Sondley, Esq., a descendant of the Fosters and Alexanders of Buncombe county, and a leading member of the Asheville Bar, published a historical sketch of Buncombe county and Asheville, containing practically all that could then be ascertained concerning the early history of this section. Hon. Theo. F. Davidson and the late Albert T. Summey also contributed their recollections. There was a woodcut reproduction of an oil painting of Asheville by F. S. Duncanson, which was taken from Beaucatcher, and it appears that there were not more than twenty five residences in 1850 that were visible from that commanding eminence, all the buildings, including outhouses, not exceeding forty, and they were between Atkin, Market and Church streets. The painting itself, now owned by Mrs. Martha B. Patton, shows five brick buildings, the old Presbyterian church, on the site of the present one, with the cupola on its eastern end, because the street ran there; the little old Episcopal church, on the site of the burned Trinity; the old jail, standing where the city hall now stands; Ravenscroft school, and the Rowley house, now occupied by the Drhumor building. The old jail was three stories high. The other buildings were white wooden structures, and included the central portion of the old Eagle hotel and the old Buck hotel. Mr. Ernest Israel also has a similar picture.

Dr. J. S. T. Baird's facile pen has given us an equally vivid picture of Asheville in his "Historical Sketches of Early Days," published in the Asheville Saturday Register during January, February and March, 1905, as it appeared in 1840. He records the facts that the white population then did not exceed 300, and the total number of slaves, owned by eight or nine persons, did not exceed 200. In the 400 acres embracing the northeastern section of the city, between the angle formed by North Main and Woodfin streets, he recalled but two dwellings, those of Hon. N. W. Woodfin and Rev. David McAnally, both on Woodfin Street. There was an old tannery and a little school house near the beginning of what is now Merrimon avenue, the school having been taught by Miss Katy Parks, who afterwards became Mrs. Katy Bell, mother of Rev. George Bell of Haw Creek. This 400 acre boundary, now so thickly settled, was then owned by James W. Patton, James M. Smith, Samuel Chunn, N. W. Woodfin and Israel Baird. There was a thirty-acre field where Doubleday now is, and was called the "old gallows field," because Sneed and Henry had been hanged there about 1835. Standing south of Woodfin and East of North and South Main streets to the southern boundary, there were but eight residences, not including Negro and outhouses.

Southwest Asheville
Just north of Aston Street was the brick store of Patton & Osborne, and later Patton & Summey, adjoining which was the tailor shop of "Uncle" Manuel, one of James W. Patton's slaves. Then came a white house which was kept for guests when there was an overflow crowd at the Eagle hotel. Between this house and the Daylight store, J. M. Smith some years later erected a two-story building for the use of Dr. T. C. Lester, a physician who came from South Carolina and settled here about 1845. He kept a sort of drug store, the first of its kind in Asheville. The Negroes called it a shot-i-carry-pop, in their effort to call it an apothecary shop. Hilliard Hall now stands where it stood. Just above was the residence and place of business of James B. Mears, now the Daylight store. Then came Drake Jarrett's place, better known as the Coche7 place "where for many years the little short-legged 'monsieur' and his 'madam' dealt out that which Solomon says biteth like a serpent and stingeth like an adder." Thus was reached what was the Chunn property, which, beginning at the lower side of T. C. Smith's drug store, ran straight back to Church Street. Samuel Chunn had lived in a large brick house which fronted north, and which was later replaced by a building used as a banking house, known as the Bank building. This was about 1845. The Asheville branch of the Bank of Cape Fear occupied it till the Civil War period. The residence of A. B. Chunn stood on the comer now occupied by Pat McIntyre's grocery store. An old stable stood at the comer of Patton and Lexington avenues.

Church Street
The grounds of the Methodist church extended from Patton Avenue and Church Street to the Aston property and several rods back, forming an oblong plat of several acres. On the comer of Patton Avenue and Church Street stood a large brick building used as a boarding house in connection with the school for girls which was taught for many years in the basement of the Methodist church. The late William Johnston afterwards bought and occupied this building as a residence. The land south of the Methodist church was used as a cemetery till long after the Civil War.

The Presbyterian church of that day stood nearly where the one of this day stands, opposite that of the Methodist church, and its cemetery extended down to Aston Street. Near where Asheland and Patton avenues join the late James M. Smith had a large bam, which stood in a ten-acre field.

Northwest Asheville
In the angle formed by North Main Street and Patton Avenue, in 1840, there were not many houses. Beginning at the north end, Mrs. Cassada - "Granny Cassie" - occupied a one-room house which stood where the Rankin tan house afterwards stood. She baked and sold ginger cakes, and brewed cider. Coming up North Main Street was a house built by Israel Baird in 1839, now known as the Brandt property. Israel Baird had lived two and a half miles north of Asheville at what is now the Way place, but about 1838 he bought 40 acres, commencing at the junction of North Main street and Merrimon avenue, running west to the present auditorium, thence to Starnes avenue and thence back to North Main street. The only other building within this area was the wooden store and shoe-shop opposite the old Buck hotel, now occupied by the Langren hotel, and the barns, stables, sheds and cribs of J. M. Smith, which covered a large portion of the lot lying between West College Street. Walnut and Water Streets. From the foregoing it is evident that the artist Duncanson did not get all the houses into his oil painting of 1850.

East and South Asheville
In these sections of the town the land was owned by James M. Smith, James W. Patton, Montraville Patton, Dr. J. F. E. Hardy, Mrs. Morrison and Thomas L. Gaston, principally. The old Buck Hotel, a small frame building near it, what was known as the Dunlap store, the court house, the jail, the office of the Highland Messenger on what is now North Pack Square, east of the Gazette News office, were then the oldest houses m town. The old jail stood where the new Legal building now stands; the court house stood where Vance's monument stands, with the whipping post and stocks immediately in its rear. Mrs. Rose Morrisons' residence occupied the site now covered by the present court house, while the store of Montraville Patton occupied the comer now used by the Holt Furniture Company. Lower down on South Main Street lived William Coleman in a brick building in a part of which the post-office was kept. Later on Col. R. W. Pulliam lived there and Rankin and Pulliam did a large mercantile business. Just below this, embowered in green vines and fragrant flowers, was the stylish wooden dwelling occupied for years by Dr. J. F. E. Hardy, and was later to fall into such disrepute as to be called ''Greasy Cor-ner." This, however, was about 1890 after the handsome old residence had for years been used as a Negro hotel and restaurant. On it now stands the large Thrash Building.

Eagle Hotel
Just below Eagle street stood and still stands the building then and for years afterwards known far and wide as the Eagle hotel, then owned by James Patton and later by his son James W. Patton. There were a large blacksmith shop just below this hotel, where Sycamore Street now leaves South Main, and a tannery on the branch back of and below this. Joshua Roberts lived on the hill where Mrs. Buchanan lived until her recent death, and it was the last house on that side of the street.

Large Land Owners
In the angle formed by Patton Avenue and South Main Street, according to Dr. Baird, the lands were owned principally by James M. Smith, Col. James M. Alexander, James W. Patton, and Samuel Chunn, but James B. Mears and Drake Jarrett owned from T. C. Smith's drug store down to and including Mears' Daylight store. The Methodist and Presbyterian churches owned and occupied the land now used by them for their present places of worship. Within this area were eleven residences, two stores, two churches, two stables, one tanyard and one barn. At the corporate line on South Main Street, at the forks of the road, lived Standapher Rhodes, and north of him was the blacksmith shop of Williamson Warlick whose sign read: "Williamson Warlick Axes," his axes being especially fine.

He died and was succeeded there by Elias Triplett. Two hundred yard north was the home of Rev. William Morrison, a Presbyterian minister and the father of Mr. Theodore S. Morrison. J. M. Alexander afterwards lived in this house. Then came a tannery of J. M. Smith's, while David Halford occupied a residence at the comer of South Main and Southside Avenue, known as the Goodlake curve because of the reverse curve of the street railway tracks at that point. There was a frame house about halfway between the Halford house and Mrs. M. E. Hilliardís residence. Mrs. Hilliard's home site was formerly occupied by a large two-story frame house which stood upon the street, and was occupied at one time by Col. J. M. Alexander before he removed to "Alexander's," ten miles down the French Broad River. Then John Osborne occupied the Alexander (Hilliard) house for a long time, to be followed by Isaac McDunn, a tailor. It was finally bought by the late Dr. W. L. Hilliard, and occupied as a residence. From his house to Aston Street there was no dwelling, though a large stable belonging to the Eagle hotel stood where now stands the Swannanoa-Berkeley Hotel.

Source: Western North Carolina A History From 1730 to 1913, By John Preston Arthur, Published by Edward Buncombe Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, of Buncombeville, N. C., 1914

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