Smith-McDowell House reopens for private tours

A historic house in Asheville officially reopened Saturday for private tours.

Asheville’s first mansion, the Smith-McDowell House, will offer up to four private tours daily, Wednesday through Saturday.

The house features six furnished rooms as well as a special exhibit that went on display prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The exhibit showcases local aspects of World War I.

Volunteer Coordinator Elaine Blake, said one aspect is especially relevant now. “The thing that makes it newly relevant to today is the part about the flu pandemic of 1918.”

All visitors, staff, and volunteers are required to wear masks while inside the building and you must make a reservation in advance.

Click here to make a reservation or call 828-253-9231.

History buffs will be able to tour the Smith-McDowell House and the exhibit North Carolina in the Great War in-person again beginning this Saturday. Photo courtesy WNCHA

🧨  Relive History | The Smith-McDowell House and WNC exhibit rooms will reopen for timed, private, self-guided, pre-booked tours on Sat. Sept. 19. 

Capital at Play, September 17, 2020

WNC Historical Association to Host “Lit Cafés” This Fall

The Western North Carolina Historical Association (WNCHA) is launching a new program this September called Lit Café. Held via Zoom, the Lit Café will be a purposeful book discussion exploring the work of authors who have won or been finalists for the Thomas Wolfe Memorial Literary Award. The award, originated by the Louis Lipinsky family and now supported by Michael Sartisky, PhD, is a partnership between WNCHA and the Thomas Wolfe Memorial Advisory Committee. “This award celebrates excellence in literature by Western North Carolina authors or about Western North Carolina, often both simultaneously,” says WNCHA executive director Anne Chesky Smith. “There is so much wonderful literature about our region—fiction, nonfiction and poetry—that deserves more attention, which is what inspired this new programming.”

The first Lit Café will be on Thursday, September 10, from 2:30–3:30 p.m. Jim Stokely will present on The French Broad, Wilma Dykeman’s legendary work and the first winner of the award in 1955. At the same time on October 8, Lit Café will feature Janet McCue and George Ellison, co-authors of Back of Beyond: A Horace Kephart Biography, which won the award in 2019. The November Lit Café will highlight those selected for the 2020 awards with readings by the semi-finalists or winner. “These presentations not only raise awareness of wonderful WNC literature but allow the authors to give more of a background about what inspired them and their personal connection to our region,” says Chesky Smith. “The presentations will give participants a more in-depth look at the history behind the literature by looking more closely at the author, the text, and their research and writing process.”

This series is free for WNCHA members and available on a sliding scale of $5 to $15 per meeting for non-members. After the event, recorded programs will be available to all registrants on YouTube. For more information or to register for a Lit Café, visit

Asheville Citizen-Times
Saturday, August 22, 2020
Page A2

Click the image to enlarge.

WNCHA Trustee publishes new book on Jackson County, NC
by John Boyle, Asheville Citizen-Times, 08/17/2020

As a matter of fact, Jim Buchanan has penned a delightful new book called, “Historic Tales of Sylva and Jackson County.” It’s appropriate, as “Buc,” as we always call him, is a Jackson County native.

He gave me a copy of the 125-page tome, published by History Press, and I’m here to tell you it’s a darn good read and well worth the $22 price tag.

It’s not one of those, “Here’s how Jackson County was settled” books, with laborious chapters on how the founders decided where to locate the courthouse. Rather, it’s a collection of Buc’s personal reminiscences about growing up in Jackson County, bear hunting with his legendary father, Howard Buchanan, and occasionally chasing cattle while wearing a suit. (That last one is a laugh-out-loud story, but you’ll have to read the book for the details.)

Buc, who graduated from Sylva-Webster High School and Western Carolina University, has spent four decades working for mountain newspapers, including a 30-year stint here at the Citizen Times. He’s won a truckload of awards over the years and currently works as special projects editor at the Sylva Herald.

I asked him about his motivation for writing the book.

“I love a good story, and I feel history is best related through stories — tales of people, not dissertations on the Smoot–Hawley Tariff (though admittedly, Smoot-Hawley is fun to say),” Buchanan said via email. “So, despite the book’s title, it isn’t a straight-up history book; the history sort of rubs off via the stories, tales of ordinary mountain folk in Western North Carolina.”

Honestly, that’s what I loved about it. It’s full of what former Citizen Times columnist Bob Terrell used to call “good yarns” — colorful tales that really convey what it’s like to grow up and live in a place. And these tales usually make you smile, if not outright bust a gut.

I did the latter at least five times while reading the book. If it’s any indication, right before reading Buc’s book, I finished Bill Bryson’s, “The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid,” his memoir about growing up in Iowa in the 1950s and ’60s. I chuckled out loud two or three times with Bryson’s tome.

So, it’s official: Buc is funnier than Bill Bryson.

From AVL Watchdog: What’s in a name? For Asheville, signs point to history of racism
by Peter Lewis, AVL Watchdog

Many of the monuments in the area were erected by United Daughters of the Confederacy North Carolina Division, an organization of women “who are lineal or collateral blood descendants of men and women who served honorably in the Army, Navy, or Civil Service of the Confederate States of America, or who gave Material Aid to the Cause.”

The Daughters did not respond to an AVL Watchdog request for comment, but a notice atop the group’s web page admonishes, “Do not remove the ancient landmark which your fathers have set. — Proverbs 22:28.”

Buncombe County Commissioner Amanda Edwards disagrees. Edwards said at a commission meeting June 16: “Removing monuments does not erase history. What it does is remove the constant visual reminder of a system that didn’t treat African Americans as equitable.”

The African American Heritage Commission of Asheville and Buncombe County is exploring options for “recontextualizing” Pack Square, where the Vance Monument stands near the spot where Black men, women and children were bought and sold on the steps of the old Buncombe County courthouse.

“We acknowledge and support the positive role that recent protests have played in opening the door to real and necessary change,” the Western North Carolina Historical Association board of trustees said in a statement. Anne Chesky Smith, executive director of the association, told AVL Watchdog that the board is currently meeting to re-evaluate its operations toward a goal of better representing the diversity that has shaped the region. Read the full article here.

Virtual Exhibits Exploring WNC History
The Laurel, May 2020

 The Western North Carolina Historical Association (WNCHA) has made two of its exhibits available virtually: Hillbilly Land, which explores myth and reality in Appalachian culture, and 1918 vs. 2020, which examines the 1918 influenza epidemic in Western North Carolina and parallels it with the current COVID-19 pandemic. “Since we are currently closed to the public to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, digitizing our past exhibits allows us to continue to fulfill parts of our mission as a nonprofit focused on preservation of Western North Carolina history and culture,” says Anne Chesky Smith, executive director of the WNCHA. “It also makes these wonderful exhibits, which have been curated by some excellent and very knowledgeable historians, accessible to a far larger audience than they ever have been before, even when the exhibits were actually mounted in our galleries.”

Hillbilly Land was curated by UNCA’s Dr. Dan Pierce in 2014. “This exhibit translates really well to a digital format because the exhibit itself is primarily made up of Appalachian literature and images,” says Smith. “So the digital visitor can access some really wonderful excerpts from novels written by authors like Wiley Cash and Wilma Dykeman as well as entire poems on topics like Appalachian religion and moonshining.” The digital exhibits will be permanent and easily updatable, which Smith sees as a silver lining to the museum’s physical closure. “We can even make changes and additions in response to visitor feedback,” she says. Visit to see these exhibits and more.

Capital at Play, May 7, 2020

History from Home | Virtually visit the Smith-McDowell House Museum’s exhibits, including Douglas Ellington: Asheville’s Boomtown Architect, a look at his iconic Asheville creations.  

NC in the Great War

The Laurel of Asheville, April 2020
Through mid-May, the Western North Carolina Historical Association (WNCHA) presents North Carolina in the Great War, an exhibit exploring the state’s contributions to World War I. On loan from the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources (NCDCR), the exhibit is on display at the Smith-McDowell House. Artifacts from the Smith-McDowell House collection will supplement the stories of local men and women who were involved in the war. “Hearing about these experiences from the Western North Carolinians who lived them can hopefully help us to empathize with them and more fully understand war’s violence to both body and mind,” says Anne Chesky Smith, executive director of the WNCHA. “This is crucial during an era when the realities of war have become so far removed from most of our daily lives.”

NCDCR developed ten retractable banners that form the core of the exhibit for the 100th anniversary of the end of WWI in 2018. The WNCHA has supplemented the exhibit with additional panels from the Western Regional Archives in Oteen, the Mountain Heritage Center at WCU and also some newly-designed panels. Some stories explored in the exhibit include that of Madelon “Glory” Battle Hancock, an Asheville native who served as a nurse with the first British Hospital Unit in Belgium; Kiffin Yates Rockwell, an Asheville High School graduate and a charter member of the Lafayette Escadrille squadron of American volunteer pilots; and Cashus Melton Morgan, a Candler man who joined the military via selective service in 1918 at the age of 24. “We were like many small towns or cities across the US—people came together for the war effort,” says Chesky Smith. “They rationed food, volunteered their time, joined the Red Cross. So, understanding what was happening in this region during WWI can help us to understand what would have been happening most places in the US during the war. We’re a microcosm of America.”

Photo of The Old Elm by Childe Hassam (1916, oil on canvas) courtesy of the Asheville Art Museum

Smart Bets: Museum From Home

With their doors temporarily closed, art institutions around the world are offering complimentary digital access to their exhibitions and programs — including multiple Western North Carolina institutions. The Asheville Art Museum ( has made its collection virtually available, along with “I Spy” games and downloadable coloring sheets for kids (and adults). Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center ( has extended its current exhibition, Question Everything! The Women of Black Mountain College, through Aug. 15 and added a digital portal. And the Smith-McDowell House Museum ( has a pair of virtual exhibits: 1918 vs. 2020: Epidemics Then & Now in WNC and Hillbillyland: Myth & Reality in Appalachian Culture.