SOUTHERN APPALACHIA AND THE NEW SOUTH IDEAL: ASHEVILLE AS A CASE STUDY IN DEVELOPMENT
FORT PULASKI NATIONAL MONUMENT
"Asheville was in all its watering-place gaiety, as we reined up at the Swannanoa hotel. A band was playing on the balcony. We had reached ice-water, barbers, waiters, civilization."  Such was Charles Dudley Warner's first impression of Asheville in 1882. The city, nestled in a valley amid the mountains of western North Carolina, had long been an oasis of comforts among the hardships of the Southern Appalachians. Though since the 1830s, planters from the South Carolina low country had recognized the advantages of the area as a summer resort, Asheville remained, until the coming of the railroad in 1880, little more than a crossroads town which furnished sustenance for livestock and drovers on their way from Kentucky and Tennessee to the lower South. But by the 1870s, the town had begun to exhibit, perhaps in anticipation of the railroad, some of the characteristics of its future prosperity. The salubrious quality of the Asheville climate was beginning to be promoted by this time, and the village's reputation as a resort for both health seekers and tourists was growing, not only in the South but in the North as well. Like many other cities, Asheville experienced a tremendous period of population growth between 1879 and 1900. But this expansion, based as it was on tourism rather than industrialization and commerce, would appear to differ from the widely accepted model of the New South city.  Indeed, the lessons learned and decisions made during the three decades prior to the turn of the century, would set the course for Asheville and western North Carolina to the present day.
In 1870, Asheville had a population of fourteen hundred. By 1900, the town had become a city which, along with its major suburbs, supported almost twenty-one thousand people. Indeed, in the decade after Asheville was linked by railroad with eastern North Carolina, East Tennessee and northwestern South Carolina, the population of the city itself quadrupled to over ten thousand.  This growth fostered by railroads and promoted vigorously by the local commercial-civic elite, led to an increased recognition of Asheville's qualities as a health and tourist center. The city attracted people from all parts of the country who came not only as visitors but as residents in order to fill the needs of the resort business. This may well account for Asheville's relatively large foreign-born population, second among the state's cities in 1900, as well as a black population of nearly one-third the total. 
This cosmopolitan population growth after the coming of the Western North Carolina Railroad in 1880, seemed to some to set Asheville apart from other southern cities. As one writer analyzed:
No other southern city is like Asheville. It is unique, not alone on account of its peculiar geographical position and natural advantages of unrivalled excellence, but also as the chief centre of northern society. Probably no southern city has so large a proportion of northern people among its population. 
The business community was proud of its northern residents and visitors. Dr. H.P. Gatchell in his promotional pamphlet, Western North Carolina, Its Agricultural Resources, Mineral Wealth, Climate, Salubrity and Scenery, took care to assure the reader that the political climate was harmonious.  Even though there were many political animosities in the mountains generated by the Civil War and the major newspaper, the Citizen, was of the unreconstructed Democratic persuasion, the local U.S. Congressman was a Republican. Other papers, such as the Asheville News and Hotel Reporter, spoke out frequently on reconciliation with the North. "What the South needs is Yankee ingenuity, industry, perseverance and money to develop her abundant resources," the paper stated in 1896.  This attitude was typical of much of the Asheville promotional literature of the late nineteenth century. Warner saw in Asheville "a happy coming together...of Southern abandon and Northern wealth." 
For all its cosmopolitan attributes, ostensibly owing to Northern immigration, Asheville was still a Southern mountain town. The promotional pamphlets also stressed the virtues of the native-born population as "a frank, hospitable, whole-souled people" who desired to have their land developed. "For this cause they look with pleasure on the arrival of industrious and enterprising immigrants."  The literature extols the simple life of the mountaineer: "Here these good people toil and labor, live and die amid Nature's great handiwork, oblivious to the great throbs and pulsations of a cosmopolitan life."  The idea of the mountaineers as "our contemporary ancestors" was taking shape in documents promoting hotels and railroads.
The contrast between city dweller and mountaineer became especially apparent on market days. Many guidebooks and hotel pamphlets contained pictures of mountain cabins and humorous renderings of poor mountain people in the midst of downtown. Some texts speak of the "shaggy mountaineer" along with the "cultivated Southern families." This dissimilarity could be easily visible each time one walked on the public square, dodging in the same motion ox-drawn carts and electric streetcars. The gap between Northern capitalist and native mountaineer widened as Asheville grew, making it a city of palaces and tenements.  One typical Northerner wrote concerning the disparity in culinary tastes:
I regret that I am forced to warn those habituated to well-cooked meats, that he who would enjoy them in this as in other mountain regions, will be forced to exercise his utmost skill and tact. For the natives do not deem meat properly cooked until it approximates dried raw-hide soaked in a greasy gravy, and their devotion to and abuse of the barbarous frying-pan is well calculated to dry lip the digestive juices of any well-fed Christian. 
But the wave of immigration did not generally produce a corresponding wave of hostility in the city. Indeed, most civic-minded locals could see the benefits of outside capital.
Much of the wealth from the North which descended upon Asheville had as its purpose the building of the tourist and health resort industry, which was promoted as vigorously as any cotton mill crusade in the entire South. But the stirring of interest in the mountains could not be noised abroad to any great degree until the arrival of the first train over the Western North Carolina Railroad in 1880. However, even in the decade before, the city began to realize its destiny as a resort. The first widespread attempt to draw tourists came as early as 1870, with the pamphlet by Dr. Gatchell. This publication for the first time welcomed tuberculosis patients and opened the doors for a mass migration of health-seekers. In 1876, Dr. J.W. Gleitsmann, a German who according to one writer "was the first recognized authority to write at length on this subject," published and circulated over sixty-four thousand copies of Western North Carolina As a Health Resort. Numerous tuberculosis sanitoriums were opened in Asheville as a result, and people came from all over the world to partake of the supposed healing qualities of the climate. 
Of all the inducements to come to Asheville, the following is most unique:
Because it is here the birds sing sweeter, the foxes run faster, the eagles soar higher, the sun shines brighter, the moon is lovelier, the flowers smell sweeter, the water is purer, the sky bluer, the air healthier, the stars twinkle earlier and longer, mountains grander, the women prettier and lovelier, and the men uglier than any land under the sun. 
Who could resist such a place? When the railroad finally made its way into Asheville, the city sought a national reputation as a watering placethe "Saratoga of the South."  Eventually an indefinable split would occur between the people advocating a health resort city and those who favored the promotion of a strictly tourist economy. This rift is not clear-cut, and it can safely be assumed that it was not extremely serious, but by the 1890s some health promoters saw a great danger in allowing too much of a social resort life to invalids. Dr. John H. Williams thought that enjoyment in the open air was proper treatment for his patients, but he warned them about involvement in the increasing pace of the Asheville social scene. He advised the "lunger," as the patient was coming to be called, to "keep away from the clubs and hotel lobbies and abstain from all the frivolities that are found in all well-known resorts."  Dr. Charles L. Minor also recommended against the round of parties, theater, and dances. He wrote: "Sexual enjoyments should be entirely or all but entirely forbidden; nothing so exhausts the vitality and prostrates the strength." 
By the 1890s, some boarding houses had begun to reject invalids, "catering to well people and pleasure-seekers only." Asheville now desired the wealthy and healthy visitor. Tourists spent more money than tuberculosis patients. Even Dr. Karl Von Ruck, who had established the Winyah Sanitarium in 1888, some four years later became the manager of a strictly tourist hotel in newly developed West Asheville across the French Broad River. 
If health resort promotions exaggerated the benefits of the Asheville climate, the tourist pamphlets were no less culpable on the issue of weather. Though the mild winter climate was often mentioned in order to lure Northern visitors, some publications were quite candid. The Asheville News and Hotel Register, noted for its witticisms, recorded on a particularly cold day that, "Asheville, everybody must acknowledge, is a famous winter resort, and we have always been glad to have it so. This year, however, it is our earnest wish that the winter resort somewhere else." 
The growing cosmopolitan character of the city was seen as a great drawing card by the businessmen who sponsored the promotional literature. Many brochures commented upon the progressive nature of the city and included such institutions as the public school, Y.M.C.A., free kindergartens, hospitals, and orphans' home, among others, all established by 1900. The growing urban character of Asheville, especially after the railroad, might be seen as a paradox between rural resort and thriving city. But the town seems to have come to terms with this rather easily and naturally, though the quest for industry would eventually pose some identity problems. In any case, the real estate brokers were not bothered by any ambiguity. They continued to advertise land available "hard by the rushing tide of human life and travel, or far up in the fastnesses of the mountain forests." 
George Vanderbilt's example was often mentioned in Asheville propaganda. Vanderbilt, the grandson of the Commodore, began buying up land in the latter 1880s and caused a sensation in Asheville and among the pamphleteers. Everyone wondered what he would do with all this property which by 1890 amounted to around six thousand acres south of the city. Vanderbilt, who would later construct Biltmore House and then develop the model villages of Biltmore and Victoria, caused a great deal of speculation as to his intentions. Some thought he planned an educational institutionthe female counterpart of Vanderbilt University in Nashville. Others opined that the millionaire would build a large factory of some sort. Vanderbilt, however, only wanted a quiet country home and hunting preserve. There is no doubt that his presence contributed mightily to Asheville's prestige and induced hundreds, if not thousands, to follow his lead. 
With all the growth of the resort industry, manufacturing was still sought in keeping with other New South cities. Even the tourist literature pointed out the advantages of water power, the abundance of timber, and the newly discovered mineral wealth. As early as 1870, Dr. Gatchell foresaw a future for western North Carolina "when its valleys shall be musical with the hum of thousands of spindles, as well as with the buzz of innumerable saws; the time when it shall become the great manufacturing region of the South, unsurpassed in the world."  Others who followed were no less enthusiastic. The Asheville Citizen recognized that a tourist economy rises and falls,
"But with the many attractions and advantages possessed by Asheville, there are certain interests which must be developed here to give the town that permanent basis of wealth and growth so essential to the building up of a large city. We allude to manufacturing enterprises." 
By 1880, Asheville boasted a shoe factory, a tannery, and a growing meat processing business. 
Although there was no immediate boom in manufacturing following the railroad up the mountain in 1880, the next decade was a period of unprecedented growth, not only in tourism but in more traditional industries as well. Property values skyrocketed from under one million dollars to well over four million dollars. Mercantile business gained from around one-half million dollars to nearly five million dollars. Tobacco sales were up from 150,000 pounds in 1880 to over four million pounds by 1890. 
By 1887 Asheville had acquired that sometimes elusive symbol of the New Southa cotton mill. The Graham Manufacturing Company employed 250 workers and had 260 looms and 6,100 spindles in 1890. In addition, the city had attracted a flour mill, the Asheville Furniture Company, an ice factory, two shoe factories, Demens Manufacturing Company (which dealt in finished lumber and wood products), the French Broad Lumber Company, and a bottler of soft drinks. In the single year of 1889, 184 new buildings were built at a cost of nearly $529,000. Opportunity was growing in Asheville in construction and light industry, and this pace would continue until the Panic of 1893. 
Perhaps the best example of civic pride and commercial energy, both tenets of the New South, is the development of the Asheville Street Railway. Chartered in 1881 but not completed until early 1889, this, the second operating electric street railway in the entire United States, became a symbol of the business spirit of the city. Although the original state charter granted the right to operate cars "propelled by steam, animal or other power," the city charter prohibited steam locomotives. However, the city fathers pointed directly to the relatively untested use of electric power. So while other cities were constructing elevated steam railroads to pollute and disrupt their environment, Asheville was determined to spare the resort this misery. 
The reaction to the opening of the street railway on February 1, 1889, was varied. Trial runs were made from the Public Square to the train depot, and visiting dignitaries spoke to the large crowd. A lasting impression was made on all present when the electric motor out-pulled a car drawn by a six-horse team up the steep grade of South Main Street. Upon witnessing the first run, the Rev. T.M. Myers, a local preacher, said "Well, it's gone, but I don't believe it!" The Asheville Weekly Citizen more nearly understood the significance of the event and the feeling of Asheville residents when it stated, "No happier community than ours is to be found in America." 
It was generally accepted, however, that the greatest need in order to perpetually generate industrial growth was the arrival of at least one very large mill. To the South and to Asheville, this meant a textile factory. In 1893, a group of Asheville businessmen and real estate brokers met to develop a promotional package aimed at "eastern and northeastern capitalists" which would highlight the city's "advantages...for manufacturing as well as a resort." The Asheville Citizen reported that one remarked that "he would rather see a thousand happy homes of laborers dotting the city than to see dozens of rich men's palaces perched about on the heights around Asheville." 
The agreement to vigorously promote manufacturing opportunities bore fruit quickly. In August came a proposal from the United Industrial Company of New York to locate a knitting mill on the Swannanoa River at a point some two and one-half miles upstream from the city water works. Assurances were made by the company that no dyes would be allowed to escape into the river and that the necessary sewers for the plant would open into the stream below the water supply.  This proposal became more seriously considered in October, when it was learned that over one million dollars would be invested and that the mill would employ around five thousand workers. The gross population would thus increase by about fifteen thousand. The prospects seemed even brighter when the company stated that no company store would be established, and that the firm planned a street railway connection with the city proper. 
But not all was so rosy in the company's plans. Asheville's water power was not enormous, freight rates were high, and the cotton belt was far away. The firm's representatives did find the climate good and the local people industrious. The latter was deemed essential, and Asheville was chosen as the site for the new mill. But two large difficulties stood in the immediate path of prosperity: the possibility of polluting the city water supply and the cost of erecting a large dam to increase hydroelectric power for the mill. Other Southern cities, the company said, had offered such inducements as ten thousand dollars cash to fifty thousand dollars worth of already developed water power. All the industry asked of the city fathers was to continue Asheville's water mains to the proposed site of the dam, install the existing pumps in a new plant, and turn the operation of the city water supply over to the company! 
The issue was hotly debated. The business community agreed on the need for industrial development but could not come to any consensus on the water works question. Proud of the city's water supply and ever-mindful of Asheville's reputation as a health-giving place, many civic leaders refused to consider the deal. A meeting was held at the Asheville Club and the general feeling was that, although the mill would be good for the city, the water works should be retained. Some suggested the compromise of obtaining an iron-clad contract from the company which would ensure the availability and low cost of water. It was already known that the Board of Aldermen opposed giving up the present water plant, and a committee was formed to mediate between the company and the city fathers. 
The mediation effort was to no avail. Though some businessmen voiced their disapproval of the city's stance in the Weekly Citizen of October 26, saying that "we will be worse than a set of idiots not to give [the offer] a cordial reception" and "to let it go would be municipal suicide," the aldermen had made up their minds not to surrender a most prized resource.  Some questions remain. Did the tourist and health interests kill the movement? If so, there is no concrete evidence to support it. It is, however, significant that George Vanderbilt did not get involved in actively seeking industry for Asheville. He was apparently content to retain his unpolluted country estate. It remains to be determined just how much influence Vanderbilt had over day-to-day local and municipal affairs. Still, it seems reasonable to conclude that the millionaire did not lament the relatively quiet death of the mill proposal.
After the failure of the knitting mill scheme, the city appeared to redefine its purpose and return to the old tourist resort image which it could safely hope to retain. New energy was devoted toward making the area more attractive to visitors and permanent settlers. An excellent indication of this change in direction can be found in the pages of the Asheville News and Hotel Reporter in 1895:
Asheville is not a manufacturing city and can never hope to be. Here is an ideal spot for the seeker of pleasure and of health and it should be the aim of all of our citizens to make it more so. So far we have had but little competition as a health resort in this section of the country. Who knows how soon a rival of Asheville will spring up. As Northern capital, energy and push come into the South, this is sure to happen. What then is to be done? We cannot prevent a rival from opening her gates to the tourists and invalids, but we can do more; we can make Asheville a garden spot. We can make our city so beautiful that few will care to go anywhere else. 
The creed of the New South, with its themes of reconciliation with the conquering North, its promotion of industrial development, and its focus on urbanization and modern improvements, can clearly be seen in the burgeoning growth of Asheville. This growth, albeit primarily based upon a tourist and health resort economy, had far-reaching implications on the character of the city and the surrounding area. Asheville would continue to grow to over fifty thousand inhabitants by 1930. The city would experience a tremendous building boom (and bust) in the 1920s, from which derives most of today's historic landscape, not to mention a body of classic American literature from the pen of one Thomas Wolfe. But the character of this expansion is more closely linked with resorts than with industry. The fateful decision by the Board of Aldermen in 1893 to decline the offer of that major symbol of the New South, a textile mill employing over five thousand workers, would set the course for Asheville and, in many ways, western North Carolina to the present day. It signalled a fledgling preservation and conservation ethic, devoted at first to natural resources. Asheville would become a mecca for those interested in parks and forests. Beginning with the early promoters of tourism and health resorts, continuing with George Vanderbilt's interest in conservation on his estate, and given further impetus by the city fathers' willingness to deny industrial development for the sake of conservation, this ethic would culminate in the establishment of National Forests in the region, and in the creation of two of the most visited areas in our country's National Park System, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Blue Ridge Parkway. 
But for those of us engaged in the preservation of Appalachian Cultural Resources, and particularly those in agencies such as the National Park Service who have the dual mission of not only preserving for future generations but also "providing for the public enjoyment" of these treasures, the lessons of turn-of-the-century Asheville have relevance. We grapple daily with pivotal decisions concerning development versus preservation. While the tourist economy has helped to preserve some portions of our culture and has added significantly to the historic scene through the preservation of structures and artifacts, we should be ever vigilant not to allow tourism to distort the cultural heritage of the Southern Mountains.
Upper East Tennessee has been referred to as the "Mountain Empire." This appellation has often troubled me, for "empire" conjures up images of colonialism, of deference to coal and timber interests from outside the region. Indeed, much of the industrial development of the mountain South was engendered from "furriners," as has been so eloquently documented by Ron Eller in his Miners, Millhands, and Mountaineers.  Tourism was no exception. But in the case of tourist economic development, outside influence has not been necessarily detrimental to preservation. For all the gee-haw whimmy diddles in trinket shops of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, for all the rubber tomahawks and plains Indian head-dresses in Cherokee, for all the ski resorts and condominiums in and around Boone, tourist development has fostered a commendable sense of awareness in Southern Appalachian history and culture. Sometimes, however, it seems we preserve even the best of our culture, not always for ourselves, but for the visiting publicfostered by commercial gain. The danger lies in giving the public what it expects and not what it deserves. Our preservation and interpretation of the material culture of the mountains must always strive to be accurate and fair to our heritage. Moreover, it should be complete. Not everyone in the region lived in log cabins. Our preservation policies and our interpretation of the resources should reflect the culture of the sawmill town, the crossroads post office/general store, the small county seats, such as Waynesville, North Carolina, Greeneville, Tennessee, Ellijay, Georgia, and Independence, Virginia. Yes, even the cities of the region, such as Asheville, Roanoke, Knoxville, and Bristol should be interpreted as part of the Appalachian Culture. These areas helped to define that culture as much as did the log cabin of the pioneer. Only in this way can we present the whole story. Anything less is unfair to the visitor and only continues the myth of "our contemporary ancestors."
2 The study of southern urbanization has often neglected any consideration of resort areas. The term "New South" usually suggests industrialization of the type found in Atlanta or Birmingham. Resorts in the south are mentioned only in passing in Rupert B. Vance and Nicholas J. Demerath, eds., The Urban South (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1954). Blaine Brownell, The Urban Ethos in the South, 1920-1930 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1975), treats only the largest and most industrialized southern cities. For a more complete discussion of New South ideology, see Paul M. Gaston, The New South Creed: A Study in Southern Mythmaking (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1970). Southern Appalachian resorts have been discussed in Ina W. and John J. Van Noppen, Western North Carolina Since the Civil War (Boone: Appalachian Consortium Press, 1973), and, most thoroughly in relation to New South ideology, in Ronald D. Eller, Miners, Millhands and Mountaineers: Industrialization of the Appalachian South, 1880-1930 (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1982).
11 For examples of this contrast, see Wilbur Gleason Ziegler and Ben S. Grooscup, The Heart of the Alleghanies: or Western North Carolina, Comprising its Topography (Raleigh: Alfred Williams and Co., 1883), 343; and Rogers' Asheville. Photo-gravures (Brooklyn, c. 1899), unpaged.
12 Stanford E. Chaille, The Climatotherapy of and American Mountain Sanitarium for Consumption, Reprinted from the New Orleans Medical and Surgical Journal (New Orleans Medical and Surgical, np, April, 1878), 13.
13 Gaillard S. Tennent, Medicine in Buncombe County Down to 1885: Historical and Biographical Sketches, Reprinted from the Charlotte Medical Journal (n.p., 1906), 27-28; Van Noppen, Western North Carolina Since the Civil War, 379; W. Gleitsmann, Western North Carolina As a Health Resort (Baltimore: Sherwood and Co., 1876), unpaged.
20 T. M. Barker, Jr., The Nutshell Guide to Asheville: February 1899 [no imprint], 13; Harriet Adams Sawyer, Souvenir of Asheville or the Skyland (St. Louis: np, 1892), 17; Helper, Nature's Trundlebed, 64.
21 Thomas H. Lindsey, Lindsey's Guide Book to Western North Carolina (Asheville: Randolph-Kerr Printing Co., 1890), unpaged; Helper, Nature's Trundlebed, 43; Asheville Weekly Citizen, 31 October 1889 and 10 July 1890.
36 See Van Noppen, Western North Carolina Since the Civil War, Eller, Miners, Millhands and Mountaineers; and Michael Frome, Strangers in High Places: The Story of the Great Smoky Mountains (Knoxville, 1980) for a more complete discussion of the park and forest movements in the southern mountains. Also see Charles Dennis Smith, "The Appalachian Park Movement, 1885-1901," North Carolina Historical Review, XXXVII, 58-65.
Last Updated: 30-Sep-2008