AVL Today, August 6, 2021

AVL Today, June 24, 2021

AVL Today, July 29, 2021

‘Sites of Resistance’ in Black history

The Western North Carolina Historical Association’s history lecture series will continue with its fifth installment, “Sites of Resistance,” Thursday, June 24, 6:30-8 p.m. The latest virtual talk features researchers Ronnie Pepper, chair of the Black History Research Committee of Henderson County, and Lisa Withers, a doctoral candidate at N.C. State University.

Trevor Freeman, public programs director at WNCHA, says Pepper’s talk will examine the importance of visiting the Zirconia historical landmark honoring the Kingdom of the Happy Land, an autonomous community founded by formerly enslaved people following the Civil War.

Meanwhile, Withers will explore historical locations throughout the state featured in the Negro Motorist Green Book, a travel guide used by Black citizens during the Jim Crow era.

“These places, some of which still exist, help us see local Black history not simply as a story of marginalization, but as alive with resistance and determination in individuality and community,” says Freeman.

The event is free for WNCHA members; $5 for nonmembers. Register at

Mountain Xpress, June 24, 2021

Photograph of professor Ellen Pearson in front of multiple computer screens with a caption about her work with creating more inclusive digital archives in Asheville

The new endeavor is a collaborative effort with several community partners and individuals, including the Preservation Society of Asheville and Buncombe County, Western Regional Archives, Western North Carolina Historical Association (WNCHA), the Museum of the Cherokee Indian and local historian Sharon Fahrer. Its mission is to digitize archival records “in order to make them more widely accessible, and to develop an immersive digital museum that will tell an inclusive history of Asheville and its environs,” Holmes Pearson says.

The group is also currently in conversation with the organizations My Daddy Taught Me That, Hood Huggers International, Word on the Street/La Voz de les Jovenes and the Asheville City Schools Foundation “about programs that would involve high school students as ‘citizen archivists,’” Holmes Pearson adds.

These efforts, Holmes Pearson believes, are a positive step in creating a more complete picture of Asheville’s history. “We are fortunate to have people like Katherine Cutshall at the Buncombe County Special Collections, Anne Chesky Smith at WNCHA, artist Andrea Clark and others who are actively involved in gathering materials for researchers and for leading the way toward more inclusive histories,” she says. “But we still have a long way to go.”

June 8, 2021

May 17 and 18, 2021

Mountain Xpress
May 12, 2021

a news article about Ann Miller Woodford winning WNCHA's Outstanding Achievement Award

May 10, 2021

The Sylva Herald & Ruralite
April 22, 2021

The Urban News
April 14, 2021

Preservation Society of Asheville and Buncombe County
March 23, 2021

Preservation Society of Asheville and Buncombe County
February 26, 2021

[email protected], 02/25/2021

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Mountain Xpress, 03/11/2021
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Mountain XPress e-newsletter
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February 23, 2021

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Blue Ridge Public Radio
February 19, 2021

Mountain XPress
February 3, 2021

The Laurel of Asheville
February 2021

Preservation Society of Asheville and Buncombe County
January 18, 2021

Mountain Xpress
December 9, 2020

November 30, 2020

Mountain Times
November 17, 2020

Capital at Play, November 12, 2020

Learn more about travel writer Horace Kephart’s life in Bryson City this weekend. Photo courtesy Hunter Library, Western Carolina University

✍?  Writing History | On Sat., Nov. 14, 10 a.m.–12 p.m., the Western North Carolina Historical Association will lead an interpretive walking tour of writer Horace Kephart’s life in downtown Bryson City. 

North Carolina scholars discussed controversial memorials in the state Saturday, and Asheville’s Vance Monument was on the list.

“This kind of trivialization, this kind of celebratory positioning of the memorial is out of place with its actual history and symbolism,” Dr. Dwight Mullen, a professor of political science at UNC Asheville, said. “But for the city, it acts as a centerpiece.”

The virtual symposium was hosted by Western North Carolina Historical Association and the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at UNC Asheville.

The Vance Task Force plans to present a draft of recommendations on Nov. 12. Then, on Nov. 19, the task force will present a final plan to the public.

Saturday’s webinar discussion came about a month ahead of the Vance Monument Task Force unveiling its final plan for the controversial obelisk.

Speakers analyzed the historical context with the goal of facilitating dialogue.

October 13, 2020 – AVLToday Newsletter

 The Western North Carolina Historical Association (WNCHA) and UNC Asheville’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) are presenting a virtual symposium on local monuments + commemoration on October 17. Designed to facilitate community dialogue + engagement in advance of the Vance Monument Task Force’s report with their recommendations for the monument and square Nov. 19. The event is free to WNCHA + OLLI members and available to non-members on a sliding scaleReserve your ticket here. 


Frances Figart

George Ellison

Janet McCue

Word from the Smokies: Come explore the controversy, mystery and awe of Kephart’s legacy

October 3, 2020
Asheville Citizen-Times
By Frances Figart

Long before they met, George Ellison and Janet McCue each became obsessed with the life of Horace Kephart. One in North Carolina, the other in New York, the two researchers followed parallel lines of inquiry, each unaware of the other’s existence throughout the 1980s and ‘90s.

You can learn about how they came to write “Back of Beyond: A Horace Kephart Biography” on a Lit Café Zoom meeting hosted by the Western North Carolina Historical Association ( on October 8 at 2:30 to 3:30 p.m.

George Ellison’s “Nature Journal” column has been a fixture in the Asheville Citizen Times since 1987. Winning the Wild South Roosevelt-Ashe award for Outstanding Journalism in Conservation, Ellison is a writer’s writer. So, it is only natural that much of his life has been devoted to studying Kephart, an enigmatic writer who came from St. Louis to live in the Smokies in 1904, and who inspires admiration and awe, confusion and controversy to this day.

In graduate school at the University of South Carolina during the late 1960s, Ellison focused on the tradition of descriptive-humorous-sporting literature that flourished in the Southern states in the 19th and early 20th century. He was intrigued with how Mark Twain took the basic ingredients found in these materials and in 1883 wrote an American classic, “Life on the Mississippi.” When Ellison discovered that Kephart’s two famous publications—“Camping and Woodcraft” and “Our Southern Highlanders”—had carried that genre into the next century, he became increasingly curious about Kephart and started looking into his life and work.

At the same time, Janet McCue was working on her own in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York. She first became interested in Kephart on a backpacking trip to the Smokies in the 1970s when her husband’s tattered edition of “Camping and Woodcraft” inspired the young hikers to locate the millstone marking Kephart’s Bryson Place campsite.

After graduating from the University of Michigan in 1979, McCue was offered a position as an academic librarian at Cornell University, where Kephart had been a graduate student one hundred years earlier, in the 1880s. While reading a book about women in librarianship, she noticed a footnote citing a letter from Kephart to a fellow grad student at Cornell. This led her to Brown University where she uncovered many previously unknown details about Kephart’s early life.

Having followed their common obsession for more than two decades with nearly 800 miles between them, in 2006 Ellison and McCue both found themselves at the Calhoun House in Bryson City to attend an event called Kephart Days. Once Ellison realized the extent of McCue’s study and that she had many of the missing puzzle pieces he had long been seeking, he invited her to join him in writing an introduction to “Camping and Woodcraft” (Great Smoky Mountains Association, 2011). Their next joint endeavor would be co-authoring “Back of Beyond,” published by Great Smoky Mountains Association, which would earn them the coveted Thomas Wolfe Memorial Literary Award in 2019.

“George and Janet’s talents and life experiences mesh perfectly in helping bring Kephart to life,” wrote historian Daniel S. Pierce of UNC–Asheville in the book’s introduction, “[and make them] the perfect pair to do a biography on this legendary librarian, outdoorsman, and literary figure.”

During the October 8 Zoom interview, the coauthors will read excerpts from the biography, share behind-the-scenes details about their research, provide insights into their writing process, and disclose mysteries of Kephart’s past still to be discovered. Learn more and register at

Frances Figart is the editor of Smokies Life magazine and the Creative Services Director for the 34,000-member Great Smoky Mountains Association, an educational nonprofit partner of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Reach her at [email protected]

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.

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.