Sometimes you lose yourself in an archival rabbit hole.
This particular adventure started during the processing of the latest tranche of postcards for the Fred Kahn Asheville Postcard Collection. Kahn was an avid collector of postcards, often accumulating numerous copies of the same card, and filing the cards in binders by subjects or theme.
Binder 12 of the collection covers the French Broad and Swannanoa Rivers, and within the Swannanoa images there were numerous views of Lovers Bridge*. But where was Lovers Bridge located?
And so, like Alice, we find a rabbit hole.
All the postcards show a similar view; the river to the right of the image, a track/road (sometimes paved, sometimes muddy) in the center foreground and leading to a bridge with timber railings, somewhere near the middle of the image. Beyond the bridge, both river and track curve leftwards.
Any dates indicate the cards are from the early years of the 20th century, when the Swannanoa had trees and bushes along the banks, but no buildings or anything else to suggest exactly where the bridge was.
What the postcards make clear is that Lovers Bridge was parallel to the Swannanoa, it didn’t cross the river. But it was a bridge, it had to cross something, and if not the Swannanoa, then what?
Of the nearly 30 postcards showing Lovers Bridge, only one [12_35_002], showing two ladies and a small child walking on the track, includes any kind of description on the verso. This reads, “Lover’s Bridge is one of the popular points along the Swannanoa River, and is located about one mile above the Biltmore Bridge. The old wooden bridge has recently been replaced by an iron one.”
An approximate location!
To keep a long story short, approximately 8/10ths of a mile (by Google maps) from the present day bridge where Biltmore Avenue crosses the Swannanoa, Ross Creek enters the river. Is it this creek that Lovers Bridge bridged?
Certainly the course of the river seems to fit this supposition, as upstream from Ross Creek, the Swannanoa does bend left, like in the postcards.
This would make the present day location of Lovers Bridge on Swannanoa River Road, near Hajoca plumbing supplies. A big change from the rural track of 120 years ago!
One obvious way to cross reference the location would be from maps or travel books from the early 1900s, especially since Lovers Bridge was “popular” and featured on so many postcards.
But, despite looking in many nooks and crannies in the archival rabbit hole, not a single reference to Lovers Bridge has yet been found.
Why might this be?
One possible explanation may lay in the postcards. Postcard manufacturers would often “manipulate” a view, so that a daylight scene is transformed into a moonlight view, images are colorized, and people and objects added or removed.
Image manipulation did not begin with Photoshop!
As noted previously, the postcards all show a similar view.Is it possible that an early postcard designer adopted the name “Lovers Bridge” for this particular bridge near the Swannanoa, and the name was continued by subsequent postcard designers, but the name never existed outside the postcard artist fraternity?
Maybe, or maybe not.
Despite spending far too much time exploring this particular rabbit hole, few definitive answers have been found so far. If any reader has information about Lovers Bridge, please contact Ramsey Library Special Collections, as we would love to resolve this particular obsession!
Colin Reeve, Special Collections
*The bridge is called both Lovers and Lover’s Bridge on postcards. For consistency “Lovers” has been used in this blog
The summit of Beaucatcher Mountain has long provided a scenic vantage point from which to view Asheville, but Beaucatcher also provided a natural obstacle to travel. A solution to the travel problem arrived in 1929, when a road tunnel through the mountain was completed.
However, within thirty years or so, road traffic had increased so much that an additional route through Beaucatcher was starting to be discussed.
And so began one of the most contentious and convoluted road developments in Asheville’s history.
A 1961 master plan recommended remodeling the existing tunnel, and cutting a new second tunnel parallel to the original. Initially this plan was supported by both the city and the state (King 1975), but in 1967, the State Department of Highways recommended a cut instead of a tunnel. Although the cut would be 780 feet wide at the top, 200 feet deep, and 210 feet wide at the base, and remove twenty times more rock than a tunnel (Neufeld 2009), it would cost less money.
The cut was supported by the United States Bureau of Public Roads. (The new road was being built using matching Federal Funds). But in 1970, the Bureau reversed its position and favored a tunnel, citing environmental and highway needs, and design work began on a new tunnel (King 1975). Two years later in 1972, and based on a new estimate that tunneling would cost $17M against $10M for an open cut (King 1975), and the 1969 National Environmental Policy Act (Neufeld 2009), the Federal Government again changed its view and gave approval for the open cut.
Local opposition to the cut coalesced as the Beaucatcher Mountain Defense Association, and in 1975 the Association filed suit in Federal Court to stop the cut. An injunction was denied and construction work began. Lined up against the defense association were the city, state, and Federal governments, the local Chamber of Commerce, and the newspapers, who all favored the cut on the ground it was cheaper and faster to build (King 1975).
The Defense Association returned to court in 1976, this time arguing the cut would damage historic sites, including Zealandia, the historic mansion located 500 feet from the edge of the cut (Neufeld 2009). The injunction was again denied, and in 1977, blasting began.
The cut, and the road through it, were completed in 1980, but completion did not diminish opposition.
Writing in 2012, local author Charles Frazier referred to “the 240 Bypass with its still-horrifying cut through Beaucatcher Mountain” (Frazier 2012).
Betty Lawrence, one of the people who led the Defense Association said the cut lost “some of the real magic of Asheville”, and “that Asheville was a city surrounded by mountains, and now it’s a city surrounded by mountains with one great big gash.” (Hunt 2017).
With plans being developed for the I-26 Connector through Asheville, road layouts are likely to once again become a hot topic of local contention and conversation.
Colin Reeve, Special Collections
Frazier, Charles. “Random Asheville Memories circa Mid-Twentieth Century.” In 27 Views of Asheville: A Southern Mountain Town in Prose & Poetry, with an Introduction by Rob Neufeld, 32. Hillsborough, NC: Eno Publishers, 2012.
John Donne observed no man is an island, but part of a greater continent, and the same can be argued of archival collections. Each tells a story, but sometimes looking at multiple collections can yield a bigger narrative.
In 1977, a large number of photographs, negatives and other items were donated to UNC Asheville Special Collections. The images, identified as the, Hollday Collection of John G. Robinson Photographs, were thought to be the work of Robinson, who owned a Kodak store in Asheville in the early 20th century.
The collection has recently undergone significant reprocessing, resulting in a new finding aid including a full listing of all 2426 images in the collection, and a reassessment of who the photographer actually was. Some images were clearly taken after Robinson died in 1923, and may be the work of his wife Sarah. Or his son John Jr., who for many years owned an electrical and camera store in Burnsville, may be the photographer. Or they may be the work of other unidentified photographers.
Some images were provided to Robinson by postcard manufacturers and, conversely, some images taken by Robinson were intended to be used on postcards.
Fred Kahn was a deltiologist (postcard collector), and through the kind generosity of his widow Jan, and other members of his family, Special Collections now has approximately 700 postcards in the Fred Kahn Asheville Postcard Collection. The collection follows Kahn’s original arrangement and groups the images within themes, often showing numerous versions of the same “view”.
Which brings us back to the Robinson Collection.
As mentioned earlier, many images, thought to be the work of Robinson, were made into postcards and some of these feature in the Kahn Collection.
The Kahn Collection includes two copies of a postcard titled, “Mount Pisgah from Buck Spring Lodge on Vanderbilt Estate, ‘In The Land Of The Sky’”, published by the Southern Postcard Co. of Asheville. The image shows sheep in front of the lodge, with two women and a man looking on.
The Robinson Collection includes a series of images that were clearly taken at the same time as the image on the Kahn postcard, with robb208 being almost identical. The photograph does however show an expanded view, with four men seated on the lodge veranda, which were cut from the postcard, as was the Robinson index number. The other major change is that the postcard image is colorized.
Although Robinson is not credited on the postcard, it seems highly likely he photographed the original image.
Some postcards were taken directly from Robinson’s negatives. Examples of this are the images of Biltmore House shown below.
The Kahn Collection includes two postcards showing a view of Biltmore House, but although they both have the same title and credit, the text layout differs.
Robinson negative robb957 has suffered damage, but otherwise is identical to Kahn 1_53_003.
Neither of the Kahn postcards identifies a publisher, so it is possible that Robinson produced the postcards himself and sold them in his store. Both postcards were mailed, providing an approximate year of manufacture; 1_53_001 was mailed in 1915, and 1_53_003 in 1916, so it may be that the different text styles are from two different print runs from different years.
Some images raise more questions than they answer.
The two images of the original Battery Park Hotel shown below are similar enough to assume that the photograph is the source of the postcard.
However, the postcard is credited to “Plateau Studio for S.H. Kress & Co.” Plateau was a studio operating in Asheville at the time Robinson had his Kodak store, but there is no record that he worked for Plateau. But did he? Or is the postcard credit incorrect? Or was Robinson not responsible for the original image, which exists in the Robertson Collection as a print rather than a negative?
Materials from the Kahn and Roberston collections are not available online, but can be viewed at Special Collections
For the past few months, Special Collections staff and interns have been processing papers received last year from RiverLink, an organization that for over thirty years has promoted and revitalized the French Broad River in Asheville. The papers are now available for researchers, and Allyson Alvis, one of the interns who processed the papers, has taken a look at some of the “fun” aspects of RiverLink’s activities.
RiverLink was conceived in 1986 as a way to increase tourism and get tourists more involved in the area around the French Broad River while they were in Asheville. Karen Cragnolin helped officially establish RiverLink in 1987, and the organization began their quest of improving the French Broad, which Asheville citizens had been treating as a dumping ground for decades. RiverLink hoped to achieve this by creating new riverparks, and by hosting events to generate community interest in preserving and improving their river.
One early rendition of such events was “Fall in Love with the French Broad”, a fund-raiser typically held in night clubs, and celebrating the river and featuring costumes and elaborate performances. The tradition started in the early 1990s, along with other small-scale fundraisers and clean ups.
One of RiverLink’s biggest events is their annual RiverFest, which has been an ongoing tradition since the 1980’s. RiverFest has changed slightly over the years and grown substantially, but overall it stayed true to its original conception and overall goal. It was, and still is, designed as a fundraiser for the environmental and economic revitalization of the French Broad River, and as a way to encourage people to participate in the French Broad itself.
Since it is held at the Salvage Station, the proximity to the river encourages direct participation between the people and the area they are supporting, more directly than other events. Additionally, the array of activities help people engage directly with both the French Broad and RiverLink.
While there are plenty of activities at RiverFest, the most popular is the “Anything that Floats Boat Parade,” which is exactly what it sounds like. Participants are encouraged to show up in costume with decorated boats, or just as themselves with a kayak, with the goal be having fun along the river.
This means that the parade has everything from friends and family in a raft, to businesses using flags and signs as promotion as they float down the river, to floats made of empty beer kegs or oil drums and a boat shaped like a dragon and manned by a group of vikings. As long as it can make it down the river, any “boat” is allowed in.
For the competition itself, participants are encouraged to build the most outrageous contraption they can, and dress up for the occasion. At the end of the parade, there are winners for: creativity, ingenuity, best depiction of the category, and team spirit.
People who would rather not get in the river, cheer on the participants and take part in other activities on the shore, as there are many ways to participate and the event comes with a full day of activities; there are live musical performances, aerial silks and dog competitions, and children’s activities, like face painting. There are also lots of options for local food, beer, and other vendors to interact with throughout the festivities.
All of these events not only serves as great fundraisers for the river, but create a better sense of community and help get citizens more connected with it. As more people care about the French Broad, they will be more dedicated to developing and preserving it.
Asheville Postcard Company Salesman’s Samples Collection
By Joey Harrington, Special Collections Intern
Lamar Campbell LeCompte founded the Asheville Postcard Company in 1913. For the majority of the company’s history, from 1930 to 1977 when LeCompte passed away, they were located on “a little street between Broadway and North Lexington” which writer J.L. Mashburn describes as just a “nook in an alley in a weather beaten establishment” (Mashburn 72). According to Mashburn this little “nook” contained an estimated ten million postcards dating from 1912 to 1950.
The Asheville PostCard Company Salesman’s Samples Collection was donated to UNCA Special Collections by local collector BIll Hart. The salesman’s sample books eachs feature different cards marketed to promote towns or communities, and were carried by salesman to be shown to prospective buyers. Dating from 1939 to 1941, the 11 sample booklets in this collection document the commercial process of how these popular and colorful cards came into the hands of consumers. Salesman would call at retail establishments such as tourist attractions, hotels, drugstores, and other venus with these samples and take orders for both generic and customized cards. The orders would be printed and shipped to the retailers, where they would be purchased by tourists and locals alike.
The booklets contain “linen postcards.” According to the cultural historian Jeffrey L. Meikle, linen postcards “so called for their embossed surfaces resembling linen cloth, dominated the American market for landscape view cards from 1931 into the early 1950s” (Meikle 2). The linen cards, which originated at Curt Teich in Co. in Chicago, were “based on retouched black-and-white photographs” printed on “inexpensive cardstock in vivid, exaggerated colors” (Meikle 2).
In the late 1930s and early 40s, when stamps were a mere half penny and mail could be delivered two to seven times a day, the postal service was the primary method of communication for many people in the United States (USPS). According to the US Postal Service website, in 1940 roughly 525,000 privately printed postcards were mailed in the United States and when you add “postal cards” that were pre-stamped, the number jumps to roughly 2.5 million.
For scholars like Meikle, these widely disseminated postcards offer “a window into popular middle-class attitudes about nature, wilderness, race and ethnicity, technology, mobility, and the city during an era of intense transformation” (Meikle 4). The recently donated postcard samples from the Asheville Postcard Company certainly seem to represent many of the “popular middle-class attitudes” that Meikle describes. The majority of the cards depict idyllic “nature scenes” of the Blue Ridge Mountains, with photos of places like Clingman’s Dome and Mount Mitchell, while also featuring the architecture of various downtown districts in Western North Carolina. The cards simultaneously present pictures indicative of a culture of white supremacy, with explicitly racist representations of African Americans featured in some of the photos.
The new collection, which includes over a hundred postcards, will be a valuable resource for anyone interested in studying Western North Carolina culture in the early 20th century and will now be available for reference at UNCA Special Collections. More cards from the collection are featured below.
Joey Harrington studies History and Jazz and Contemporary Music at UNC Asheville.
Mashburn, J. L., Asheville & Buncombe County…Once Upon a Time. Enka, NC: Colonial House Publishers, 2012.
Meikle, Jeffrey L. Postcard America: Curt Tech and the Imaging of a Nation, 1931-1950. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2015.
It is not known exactly when the first student newspaper was published by the predecessors of UNC Asheville. In his speech to the Class of 1929, Roy Taylor mentioned a school paper, so clearly publication started within two years of the creation of Buncombe County Junior College.
The earliest edition in the University Archives is a photocopy of the May 1930 edition of TheHighlander, which was, “Published by the students of Buncombe County Junior College [and] founded by the Class of ’29.” This edition is identified as Vol. II No. 8, suggesting a monthly publication, with Vol 1 No. 1 appearing sometime during the 1928/29 academic year, which would align with Taylor’s remarks.
The first original newspaper in the Archives is TheHighlander dated May 1935, which is confusingly identified as Vol. 1 No.2. Since, Vol.1 nos. 3 and 4 are also in the Archives, and are respectively dated March 1935, and April 1935, the paper still seems to be a monthly publication, but the reason for reverting to Vol. 1, or even if a paper was published between 1930 and 1935, is not known.
The Archives have a further editions of TheHighlander through to May 21, 1938, and from the volume and issue numbers, it seems likely the paper was published sporadically. These editions reveal the paper contained college news, letters to the editor, gossip, poems, and advertisements from local businesses.
Previous blogs have described how the 1940s were lean years for Asheville-Biltmore College, and lack of students and funding may explain why the next newspaper in the Archives is from October 17, 1947. This is Vol.1 No.1 of a newspaper, “published twice monthly by the Journalism class of Asheville-Biltmore College”. It was also a newspaper without a name, appearing under the banner of, ? Asheville-Biltmore ?, but included details of a contest to name the “school scandal sheet.”
There is no record who won the naming contest, but the newspaper was called The Campus Crier by November 1, 1947 when Vol. 1 No.2 was issued.
TheCampus Crier continued through to the 1960s. The last edition in the Archives is Volume XV-R1 Number 2, dated November 1961, with the volume numbers suggesting the paper had been published regularly since 1947. Although in 1961 TheCampus Crier was still being published by journalism students, it had seen numerous changes since 1947. These included both the size and quality of the paper, the number of pages, and the inclusion, or not, of photographs, perhaps all a reflection of the college’s financial wellbeing at any given time.
Throughout its run however, TheCampus Crier was still internally focused with college news, editorials, and letters, supplemented by the local business advertisements.
Chronologically, the next newspaper in the Archives is Vol. 1 No.1 of TheRidgerunner, dated September 27, 1965. Again, it is unclear if this four year gap is due to missing copies, or because no paper was published.
Unlike TheCampus Crier, TheRidgerunner was published by the student union, but initially it still followed the same college focused editorial style of its predecessor. However, the content soon expanded to include local and national news, record and movie reviews, and political commentary.
The last Ridgerunner in the Archives is dated February 2, 1979. Again it is unclear is this was the last issue or just the last one archived, but on February 28, 1979, Vol. 1 No. 1 of The Rag & Bone Shop was published.
This was much more of a literary paper than a newspaper, with early issues having an address c/o The Ridgerunner, as though, initially at least, it was meant to supplement, rather than replace, TheRidgerunner. By the fall of 1979, the content had become news than literary but, by 1982, it changed once again, becoming much more a glossy literary journal that was published monthly.
In addition to being unsure of its content, the publication also seemed unsure of its name, with “Shop” disappearing from, and then returning to, the title.
TheRag & Bone Shop ended in controversy. The April 1982 edition featured a drawing of a crucified Easter bunny on the front cover, leading to protests, including the burning and confiscation of the offending issue. The magazine staff claimed first amendment rights, and produced a further edition in May 1982, but with no one willing to be the next editor, TheRag and Bone Shop ceased publication.
It was replaced by Kaleidoscope, which was first published on September 9, 1982, and marked a return to the weekly news format of TheRidgerunner.
The focus was still campus news and events, supplemented by entertainment reviews and classified advertisements.
The editorial in the first issue explained the name “Kaleidoscope was chosen because it implies something that is constantly changing and showing many different views.” Production of the newspaper was open to any student who wished to participate and it was funded through student fees paid with tuition.
The final Kaleidoscope was Volume IV, Number XIV, dated April 1984. By then, non-campus news formed about half of the items, and there was much greater use of photographs.
However, Kaleidoscope did not disappear, but simply changed its name; on September 5, 1984, TheBlue Banner Volume V, Number 1 was published, with the masthead proclaiming it was “formerly Kaleidoscope” and had been “Serving the Students of the University of North Carolina at Asheville since 1982.”
The newspaper gave several reasons for the name change. Students said kaleidoscope was “hard to spell,” faculty thought the name “artsy…unprofessional,” administrators wanted a name “that better reflected the campus,” and several Asheville businesses were called Kaleidoscope.
But why The Blue Banner?
Apparently because blue was “one of [the] school colors…and banner is a newspaper name that goes well with blue.”
Irrespective of the reason for the name, it still continues, making TheBlue Banner the longest lasting running title of all student newspapers at UNC Asheville and its predecessors.
However, the name is about the only constant at the newspaper over the last thirty-four years. Page sizes and layouts have changed, and changed back, color images and type have replaced black and white, the paper is published online as well as print, and social issues have a much higher profile than they did in the 1980s.
Throughout its existence, the quality of journalism featured in TheBlue Banner has been frequently recognized and praised. The most recent example being in February 2017, when the newspaper earned six awards at the N.C. College Media Association’s conference.
Colin Reeve, Special Collections
The above is a brief summary of “official” student newspapers. “Unofficial” publications have included The Scholastic Screamer and the UNC-A Free Press, whilst publications such as ThePaper and Bulldog Barker were published by university administration rather than the student body.
Digitized copies of most archived newspapers through to 2015 are available online at DigitalNC
The University Archives would like copies of editions of university newspapers that are not currently in the Archives. Please contact email@example.com if you have a “missing” edition
Colonel Frank Coxe was born in 1839 to a slave-holding family on the Green River Plantation in Rutherford County, NC. The grandson of a prominent financier and land speculator who served in the Treasury Department during George Washington’s presidential administration, Coxe’s own career was marked by investments in the coal and railroad industries. However Coxe’s business ventures took a turn in the mid-1880s when he established the Battery Park Hotel in Asheville, North Carolina — the largest development to occur in Asheville up to that time. In a 1979 interview his grandson (also named Frank) reflects on how his grandfather ended up in Asheville’s tourism industry:
Now my grandfather, Colonel Coxe, after the Civil War, he went to Charlotte. This coal money was pretty big money in those days, and he was considered a wealthy man… He spent about half of his time there and half of his time in Philadelphia. But had always had his eye on this Asheville area, because of his feeling that this could be one of the greatest resort areas in the country. When the railroads, four of them, from four directions, came in here, and he helped finance the building of the road from Old Fort up to this. [sic] He decided that the time was ripe to invest in Asheville, and in the form of this hotel, particularly. As I say, I think that the Battery Park Hotel was the springboard for this community.
The original Battery Park Hotel, constructed in 1886 and torn down in the 1920s, was situated on a scenic hill in downtown Asheville where a Confederate battery stood during the Civil War. According to historian Richard Starnes the hotel was built, in part, to “lure northern capitalists to the mountains, hoping luxurious accommodations and a pleasant visit would lead to regional ventures” (Starnes 49).
In addition to the hotel, Colonel Coxe also accumulated large tracts of land throughout the Asheville area, to the point that “every one of the buildings that you see along College and Patton, that were built between 1900 and 1920, except for the Public Service Building […] they were all built by the family” (Coxe Interview). Needless to say, by the end of his long career Colonel Coxe accumulated a large estate which according to a 1903 Citizen Times article was worth 7 million dollars (close to 200 million dollars in 2018 money according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics inflation calculator).
After Colonel Frank Coxe’s death in 1903, the Coxe Estate was bequeathed to his children Francis, Otis, Tench, and Maude. With the exception of Otis, they became the estate’s trustees, managing the properties and investments after their father’s passing.
In 2018, a ledger book, titled the “Frank Coxe Estate,” was donated to UNCA’s Special Collections by private collector Bill Hart (the ledger can now be found in the Frank Coxe Papers). In the hand scribed book, business dealings from 1908 to 1914 are recorded in detail, documenting “Receipts” which includes income from the Battery Park Hotel, rental properties and the like, and “Disbursements,” documenting the payments to the Coxe children, land purchases, upkeep on properties, and other miscellaneous payments.
It’s often the case that the estate of a deceased individual is divided up and willed off to their heirs, however it’s clear from the ledger that Colonel Coxe’s children maintained the Coxe Estate well after their father’s passing — continuing to manage the large amount of property that had been accumulated over the last half century in the Asheville area. Today, Coxe’s substantial influence over Asheville’s early development may be most easily recognized by the downtown avenue named after him. However, due to the extensive influence Coxe had in the early cultivation of Asheville’s tourism industry — George Vanderbilt stayed at the Battery Park Hotel before he decided to finance the construction of the Biltmore Estate — it would be difficult to overestimate the influence (for better or worse depending on who you ask) that the Coxe family has had on Asheville’s history and therefore on what Asheville is today.
Joey Harrington studies History and Jazz and Contemporary Music at UNC Asheville.
Coxe, Frank. Interview by Bruce Greenawalt. June 9, 1976. Transcript. Southern Highlands Research Center Oral History Collection. Ramsey Library Special Collections. University of North Carolina at Asheville, Ashevile, NC.
Starnes, Richard. Creating the Land of Sky: Tourism and Society in Western North Carolina. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2005
Formed in 1927 as a two year college, Buncombe County Junior College only had one class graduate during the roaring twenties.
Very little archival evidence of that first graduating class of 1929 exists, the most notable document being program from that first commencement. The program lists 29 graduates, with the majority of these being women.
However, the person chosen to be the speaker for the class of 1929 was Roy Taylor, one of the few men graduating that day. Talking with Chancellor William Highsmith in 1984, Taylor thought that being part of the college debate team led to his selection.
To illustrate what life was like in those first two years in the life of the college, Taylor read some of his 1929 speech to Highsmith:
“Two years ago we gathered here as the first class of Buncombe County Junior College, an institution organized and supported by the citizens of Buncombe County who saw the need for furthering the process of home education.
The county, which was already in debt, was unable to support us with the modern college needs. They secured the necessary faculty members, they obtained rough rooms on the first floor of this high school building, and they left the rest to us.
Nothing was provided for athletic equipment or a coach, and we wanted both. We were determined to have a football team, a team that we were not ashamed of. We had our team, but to do it we had to go in debt $1000 during the first month of the life of our college. We wanted a school paper, and we went in debt to get it.
In various ways we had to overcome the law of inertia and play the part of pioneers in getting started.”
Taylor described how students sold season tickets, charged admission to games, had carnivals and pancake suppers, and accepted donations, enabling them to raise over $2000 in the two years that he was at Buncombe County Junior College. In turn, this meant that the college had winning football and girls’ basketball teams – although the boys’ basketball team was not so successful – a quality literary magazine called Bluets, a literary society, and a student council.
In addition to lack of funds, the college faced other adversities. It was a very small college – only 85 students enrolled in 1927. So, although a football team formed in the fall of 1927, there were only 16 to 18 in the squad, meaning they couldn’t practice a scrimmage. Nonetheless, the $1000 debt Taylor referred in his class address does seem to have enabled the team to have a uniform.
Taylor was not native to North Carolina, having been born in Vader, Washington on January 31, 1910. However, not long after his birth, the family moved to Buncombe County, and Taylor was educated in the county’s public schools.
After Buncombe County Junior College, Taylor attended Maryville College in Tennessee. He told Highsmith that he always wanted to be a lawyer, but did think about training to be a teacher. However, whilst he was studying law at Asheville University Law School, he did teach at Black Mountain High School. After getting his J.D., he became a lawyer in private practice in Asheville.
After serving in the US Navy from 1943-1946, Taylor entered politics, and was elected to the North Carolina General Assembly in 1947.
During his time in the state legislature, Taylor helped drive the initiative leading to the 1957 Community College Act. His old alma mater, now Asheville-Biltmore College, subsequently became the first community college in North Carolina, an event that he told Highsmith was key to the college’s long term survival as it meant Asheville-Biltmore received state funding.
In the spring of 1960, North Carolina Congressman David M. Hall died while in office, and Taylor was elected to take his place. Taylor served out the term as the 12th District Representative, and was elected for eight Congresses after that as the 11th District Representative. In total, he was in the House of Representatives from June 25, 1960 until January 3, 1977, and he served on the Interior and Insular Affairs Committee, and was chairman of the National Parks and Recreation Subcommittee.
In recognition of his contribution to interior affairs, part of the Nantahala National Forest in Jackson County is named for Roy A. Taylor.
Despite his involvement in national politics, Taylor still had time for his former college.
In 1947, he had been named president of the alumni association, and in 1966 was part of the alumni association reorganization committee, ensuring the organization would meet the needs of a senior college, which Asheville-Biltmore had recently become.
The Community College Act necessitated a change in how Asheville-Biltmore was governed. A new board of trustees was created in 1958, and Taylor was elected vice-chairman. Later that year, he was one of the first board members to view a proposed new site for the college in north Asheville, and was thus a key figure in UNC Asheville being located on its current campus.
Taylor also played a key role in the Southeastern Forest Experiment Station being located on the UNC Asheville campus, and, in 1980, was part of the groundbreaking ceremony for the station
After he retired from Congress, Taylor started sponsorship for a public speaking contest at the UNC Asheville, and the income from the grant he donated is used for the Roy A. Taylor Public Speaking Contest, offering cash prizes to students.
In 1986, the UNC Asheville recognized Taylor’s contribution to the university when he was one of the first three people to be presented with an honorary degree.
As further recognition of Taylor’s service, each year the university presents the Roy A. Taylor Distinguished Alumnus or Alumna Award, UNC Asheville’s highest alumni award.
At 9pm on February 2, 2007 a choral group sang in the Highsmith Union Building, as two people worked ropes to lower a tarp.
The tarp was covering “The School of Athens,” a mural that was the result of two years’ work by students, faculty, and community members, operating under the direction of UNC Asheville Professor of Art, S. Tucker Cooke.
The mural was a full scale reproduction of the 16th century Vatican fresco by Raphael.
Rapid River Art Magazine (November 2005) reported that when Cooke was asked for ideas for artwork for the expanded Highsmith building, (see our last blog for more information), the School of Athens came to mind, “Because it is the quintessential painting about liberal arts.” The mural represents art, music, mathematics, astrology, philosophy, politics, and astronomy, and includes people such as Socrates, Plato, and Michelangelo.
Cooke did however include some local color in his version, in the form of two UNC Asheville bulldogs sitting together in the lower left corner.
The mural was created in stages.
Using books and drawings of the Vatican fresco, Cooke first photocopied and enlarged Raphael’s line drawings, and then divided these into eight inch squares, from which volunteers produced scale drawings in graphite. The scale drawings were then enlarged to ten inch squares from which volunteers produced brown, white and black paintings called grisailles.
Next, the grisailles were used to paint colored twelve inch square in acrylic. A slide was made of each acrylic square, and the slide was then projected onto a four feet square canvas, so that outlines could be drawn from the projected image. Finally, these outlines were filled in using acrylic paint, and the canvases hung on the wall in sequence.
Cooke told Rapid River Art Magazine that the seemingly tedious process was necessary, because “Drawings help you understand the structure of the composition before starting the final piece.”
The group of people working on the mural met and worked daily on the third floor of Highsmith, and the artists asked each other for advice, and critiqued each other’s work. Cooke (Blue Banner, February 2, 2006) considered “There is no sense of ownership, because everybody worked on some of the squares. Somebody can do the drapery, somebody else does feet, and somebody else does hands.” Cooke also said the project brought people together, with students working alongside seniors from OLLI and getting into “conversations about everything you can imagine in the world.”
The completed mural soars almost 50 feet above the food court floor, and is thought to be one of the largest recreations of the School of Athens in the world.
On the day the mural was unveiled, the gallery in Owen Hall was named in honor of Cooke, who retired from UNC Asheville in May 2007, after over 40 years at the university, serving as chair of the art department from 1971 until 2004.
Cooke had come to Asheville-Biltmore College in the fall of 1966, as an instructor in art, immediately after graduating with a MFA from the University of Georgia.
During his time at A-B College and UNC Asheville, Cooke was instrumental in expanding the art department in both size and reputation, and still found time to stage numerous one-man shows, take part in juried exhibitions, and contribute to civic art works.
In 1995, he received a distinguished teaching award from the university, and co-designed a new Chancellor’s Medallion for the installation of Chancellor Patsy Reed.
And, in May 2000, he was awarded the North Carolina Award in Fine Arts, the highest award a civilian can receive from the Governor of North Carolina, for “his art and his ability to teach using personal experience.”
A number of Cooke’s works are part of the permanent exhibition at the Asheville Art Museum.
As our last blog described, the Highsmith Student Union is currently undergoing further renovations. Fortunately, these will not impact the School of Athens mural.
It is probably fortunate that UNC Asheville does not regularly feature in the pages of The Fire and Rescue Journal, published by the NC Department of Insurance, Office of the State Fire Marshall, but in the fall of 2002 the university made the front page.
The reason was Operation Highsmith, described as “the State’s largest terrorism and structural collapse exercise,” which the Office of the State Fire Marshall had organized during May 20-24, 2002.
For five days the campus’ Highsmith Center hosted 250 personnel from response teams from local, state and federal agencies across North Carolina, as they participated in, “mock drills and exercises involving simulations of hazardous materials leaks, bioterrorism events, terrorist attacks, and hostage and bomb scenarios.” Sections of the building were also demolished so that rescuers could practice working with heavy machinery.
There are no photographs of the exercise in the University Archives, but The Fire and Rescue Journal described teams wrangling with “refrigerators, concrete jersey barriers, lumber and ropes,” and maneuvering “cranes, Bobcat tractors, saws and welding torches.” A rescue dog was even lowered into the building through a hole in the roof.
Thankfully, neither the dog nor anyone else, seems to have been harmed during the exercise.
Students had left campus for the summer, and Highsmith’s occupants had been relocated to the Dining Hall. But, there seems to have been some spectators, as the Blue Banner reported a viewing area being provided for the media and general public to observe the exercises.
The operation had been prompted by events of September 11, 2001, which had made all emergency departments aware of the need to be prepared for any terrorist attacks in North Carolina. The Highsmith Center was already scheduled for a “massive” renovation project during the summer of 2002, and the 35,000 square foot building therefore provided “an ideal and rare setting.”
The William E. Highsmith University Center was dedicated on April 1, 1984. The Asheville Citizen reported how, “more than 400 people braved chilly spring winds” to honor Chancellor Highsmith, who was retiring at the end of June 1984, after a total of 22 years as Chancellor of UNC Asheville, and President of its predecessor, Asheville-Biltmore College.
It was Highsmith who, in June 1980, had started construction on the project when he drove a bulldozer for the groundbreaking ceremony for the Center and adjacent Highrise dormitory building.
The Center was designed to house the university dining hall, meeting and recreation rooms, lockers for commuting students, television viewing rooms, vending machines, the university store, and radio station. A pre-construction document described the Center serving “as the foundation of campus cultural life” by allowing students to be together in “non-academic contexts,” and it “should unite commuter students with campus residents.”
However, by 1997 the Highsmith Center’s facilities had become inadequate and the Board of Trustees designated the renovation and expansion of the building “as the campus’ first priority for capital funding.” Of particular concern was lack of space for students “to do their programs and have their meetings.”
In 1997, 950 students lived on campus, compared to 400 in 1982, and it was anticipated the number would grow to 1,100 by 1999. Total enrollment also grew, from 2,520 in 1982 to 3,170 in 1997, with student involvement in campus activities growing along with enrollment.
Plans were drawn up to renovate the existing center, and add a further 46,000 square feet, to more than double the size of the building.
It was not just a matter of space though, the condition of the building was also causing problems. This was illustrated on October 16, 1997 when the Asheville Citizen-Times showed tarps being used in the bookstore to protect merchandise from rainwater dripping through a leaky roof.
Despite such obvious problems, the 1997 Session of the NC General Assembly did not approve funding for work to Highsmith. However, the passage of the 2000 Higher Education Bond Referendum did allow the project to become a reality, with $11.5 million of the $15.5 million project cost being funded through Higher Education Bonds.
Which brings us back to Operation Highsmith.
After the emergency exercise was completed, construction work began in earnest, and on October 14, 2004, the new Highsmith University Union was dedicated. SGA President Porscha Yount described the Union building as “just amazing.”
But nothing is ever constant, and in spring 2017, renovations to the Highsmith Student Union began. These will provide meeting spaces and open areas for student organizations, provide areas for galleries, and a coffee shop. A large multi-purpose room between Highsmith and the adjacent Brown Hall will “bridge” the two buildings. Construction will continue through summer 2018.
This time though it seems, no dogs will be lowered through the roof.