Asheville is justifiably proud of its 1920s art deco downtown. A result of the Great Depression was a dearth of new construction for the next fifty years as Asheville repaid its debts. A fortuitous side effect of this fiscal austerity was the preservation of what is now the Downtown Historic District.
Most of what we now consider historic was new—or not yet built—when the Asheville Daily Gazette published an article headlined “Asheville a New City, and Has Few Landmarks” on July 19, 1902.
The unnamed writer clearly meant historic landmarks since Asheville already boasted a downtown bustling with businesses, churches, hotels and homes. In his estimation, only two buildings qualified as landmarks: “the only buildings standing that were here sixty years ago.” They were the Buck Hotel and the Eagle Hotel.
James Smith, original owner of the Smith-McDowell House, had a connection to each of these historic Asheville institutions. (Smith-McDowell House itself was approximately 60 years old in 1902, but was outside the Asheville city limits of the time.) The article states that as a young man, James Smith “clerked for Mr. [James] Patton who owned the Eagle hostelry.” Smith married Mary “Polly” Patton of that family in 1814. Smith went on to build the Buck Hotel and raised nine children on the premises. This was before the construction of the new brick house (c.1840) sometimes called “Buck House,” which we now call Smith-McDowell.
Neither the Buck nor the Eagle Hotel remains today. The Eagle Hotel was destroyed in 1934 when Main Street (now Biltmore Avenue) was widened. The Buck Hotel was torn down in 1907, to be replaced three times–by the Langren Hotel (1912), the BB&T parking deck (1964), and the A.C. Hotel by Marriott (2017).
Such is progress. The two remaining landmarks of the pioneer period did not survive the first half of the twentieth century. However, the building boom at the turn of the 20th century is well represented in the present day, and is likely to remain so thanks to the current appreciation for preservation. The 21st century has brought its own building boom. It will be interesting to see what landmarks from our time are valued in the future.
Smith-McDowell House Manager