Western North Carolina’s Sanatoria History: A Closer Look at the Fred Kahn Postcard Collection

On September 27, 1919, 100 years ago today, The Asheville Citizen ran an ad on page 10 which read:

SANATORIUM

Dunnwhyce Sanatorium, Black Mountain, N.C., reopened under new management, can accomodate ten more convalescents; ideal location; modern and complete.

Sanatoria had become a health craze by the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and Asheville had become a mecca for those suffering from tuberculosis. The climate, which was the basis of treatment in these sanitoria, was considered ideal in Western North Carolina. Indeed, for those studying climatotheraphy, Asheville was considered one of the top climates in the treatment of various lung diseases.

Veranda View, Highland Hospital, Asheville, from the Fred Kahn Asheville Postcard Collection, D.H. Ramsey Library, Special Collections, University of North Carolina Asheville, 28804.

People had long believed, from the low-country elite to the Cherokee Indians, that Asheville fell within the realm of a health resort and by the 1890s, the city and surrounding areas were firmly entrenched in the building explosion of sanitoria. The largest of which was St. Joseph’s Hospital and the Fairview Sanatorium.

An airplane view of St. Joseph’s Hospital, Asheville, NC, from the Fred Kahn Asheville Postcard Collection, D.H. Ramsey Library, Special Collections, University of North Carolina Asheville, 28804.

The Asheville Citizen ad mentioning “Dunnwhyce,” was actually referencing the sanatorium in Black Mountain, Dunnwyche, a sanitorium for consumptive nurses. During this time period, it was quite common for nurses caring for tuberculosis to contract the disease themselves, and most were single women with limited means for their own healthcare.

During the 1911 annual meeting of the North Carolina State Nurses Association (the professional nursing organization for white nurses in the state), two nurses came forward with the idea of a sanatorium for sick and disabled nurses. Supported by the NCSNA, it would be a place nurses could find care and respite. A site was found in Buncombe County, near present-day Black Mountain, and the new institution was named Dunnwyche, in honor of the two women who first championed the idea, Birdie Dunn and Mary Whyche.

Dunnwyche thrived until 1919, when World War I made it necessary for the US Army to build a 1,500 bed sanatorium at nearby Oteen to care for soldiers with lung ailments related to poison gases used as weapons on the battlefield. The Army’s pay scale was higher than Dunnwyche, effectively removing the majority of those caring for their fellow nurses and patients, and leading to the declining maintenance and financial instability of the sanatorium. The building was sold and the proceeds invested in Liberty Bonds, although the interest was then used to help those nurses who had acquired the disease with finding care and money for treatment costs.

Night-time scene US Veterans’ Administration Facility, Oteen, NC, near Asheville, from the Fred Kahn Asheville Postcard Collection, D.H. Ramsey Library, Special Collections, University of North Carolina Asheville, 28804.

The sanatoria movement in Western North Carolina would go on to become yet another pillar that firmly established Asheville as both a health resort and tourist destination across the globe. Today though, all that remains of much of the history of the sanatoria of this area are simply a memory.

Meriwether Hospital, Asheville, NC, from the Fred Kahn Asheville Postcard Collection, D.H. Ramsey Library, Special Collections, University of North Carolina Asheville, 28804.

However, at UNC Asheville Special Collections, we are the repository for the Fred Kahn Asheville Postcard Collection. Housed within this postcard collection is a magnificent binder which includes 108 postcards of several of the sanatoria in Asheville and Western North Carolina. Fortunately, through vibrant collections such as the Fred Kahn Asheville Postcard Collection, the legacy that helped shape Asheville into the renowned destination it has become today will remain alive and well for future generations.

Wesnoca, Asheville, NC “In the Land of the Sky,” from the Fred Kahn Asheville Postcard Collection, D.H. Ramsey Library, Special Collections, University of North Carolina Asheville, 28804.

Sources:

Buncombe County, North Carolina Nursing History, Appalachian State University, accessed: https://nursinghistory.appstate.edu/counties/buncombe-county

Fred Kahn Asheville Postcard Collection, D.H. Ramsey Library, Special Collections, University of North Carolina Asheville, 28804.

“Sanatorium: Dunnwhyce.” The Asheville Citizen, September 27, 1919.

In Search of Lovers Bridge

The only postcard to include a  location of Lovers Bridge [kahn 12_35_002. ]

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.

A very similar view as the postcard above, but with different people and roadway [kahn 12_34_004]

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.

This postcard was mailed in August 1906, to an address in Saluda, NC, and is described as “a mountain drive” rather than Lovers Bridge [kahn 12_41_003]

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!

A colorized print of the monochrome photograph used for the previous postcard, but the view is now identified as “Lovers Bridge” [kahn 12_41_002]

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!

Is this what Lovers Bridge looked like in December 2016, when Google Streetview captured this image?

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.

This 1902 postcard, with a slightly different perspective from most of the other postcards, does not refer to Lovers Bridge. Had the name not been “invented” then? [kahn 12_36_003]

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

Asheville Postcard Company Salesman’s Samples Collection

Asheville Postcard Company Salesman’s Samples Collection

By Joey Harrington, Special Collections Intern

Salesman’s sample books. Note how the two in the middle unfold to show the various postcards.

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.

Cover of one of the sample books.

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.

Clingmans Dome

From the top of Mt. Mitchell

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.

“Sunrise on Mt. Mitchell, in the Land of the Sky”

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. 

Some of the cards, like this one, feature sexist or racist themes. Note how it could be customized to include “your city,” and that this was from the “Imprinted Series #968”

“A typical moonshine still” – such cards helped perpetuate Appalachian stereotypes.

“Busy tourist’s correspondence card” – the collection includes several variations on this theme.

An example of the “humorous” cards sold by the Asheville Postcard Company.

Joey Harrington studies History and Jazz and Contemporary Music at UNC Asheville.

Sources:

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.