IN THE NEWS
January 18, 2021
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.
ASHEVILLE, N.C. (WLOS) — 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.
ASHEVILLE, N.C. (WLOS) — UNC Asheville announced a new writer-in-residence program during an online news conference Thursday, Oct. 22, in which a writer will live and work at the home of a noted late Asheville writer known for her writing and efforts in environmental conservation.
Wilma Dykeman, who graduated in 1938 from Asheville-Biltmore College, which grew to become UNCA, was the author of 15 non-fiction books, beginning with “The French Broad” in 1955 which used economic arguments to make a case against water pollution. She also wrote three novels, including “The Tall Woman.”
The Dykeman House, located at 189 Lynn Cove Road in Asheville, is being donated to UNCA for the purpose of housing the new Wilma Dykeman Writers-in-Residence Program, by local investor and philanthropist Ellen Carr, a member of the WDL board.
“We have worked to conceive, conceptualize and to launch the Wilma Dykeman Legacy Writing Program at UNC Asheville,” said UNCA Chancellor Nancy Cable.
Wilma Dykeman Legacy Writing-in-Residence Program, has been 18 months in the making. A team will select each writer for the program. RiverLink, the Western North Carolina Historical Association Preservation Commission and Dykeman’s relatives collaborated to create the program.
“One of our hopes is that the writers-in-residence program will be literally a 12-month enterprise,” Cable said during Thursday’s online news conference. “One writer might be here for the spring semester, teaching classes for credit but also doing master classes in the community, having public readings, doing lectures perhaps with other writers who are colleagues.”
The new program will “support both the craft of writing and the interdisciplinary topics of enduring interest to Wilma Dykeman during her lifetime, including but not limited to the environment, social change, human relations, economics, biology, civil discourse, racial justice and women’s rights,” according to the memorandum of understanding between the Wilma Dykeman Legacy and the university.
“The Wilma Dykeman Legacy, a tax-exempt public charity, grew out of our desire to sustain Wilma’s core values of environmental integrity, social justice, and the power of the written and spoken word,” said Jim Stokely, Dykeman’s son and Wilma Dykeman Legacy founder and president.
The home has remained largely unchanged since the writer’s death in 2006, with her furniture, typewriter and other objects remaining as inspirational reminders of her life and legacy.
The gifted house and property are subject to a conservation easement through RiverLink and historical preservation easement through the Preservation Society of Asheville and Buncombe County.
“This is a program not just for writers, but for all of us who live here Asheville,” Cable said.
Dykeman also worked as a newspaper columnist, writing for the Knoxville News-Sentinel for almost five decades, and her work also appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Harper’s, U.S. News & World Report, and Reader’s Digest.
For more information, visit the WDL website and the RiverLink website.
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 scale. Reserve your ticket here.
Word from the Smokies: Come explore the controversy, mystery and awe of Kephart’s legacy
October 3, 2020
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 (wnchistory.org) 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 wnchistory.org/event/lit-cafe-back-of-beyond-a-horace-kephart-biography.
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]
Sept. 19, 2020
ASHEVILLE, N.C. (WLOS) — 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.
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.
Capital at Play, September 17, 2020
WNC Historical Association to Host “Lit Cafés” This Fall
The Laurel of Asheville
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 WNCHistory.org/events.
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.
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 WNCHistory.org 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
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 (ashevilleart.org/museum-from-home) 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 (blackmountaincollege.org/museum-from-home) 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 (wnchistory.org) has a pair of virtual exhibits: 1918 vs. 2020: Epidemics Then & Now in WNC and Hillbillyland: Myth & Reality in Appalachian Culture.