Aftermath of War
“If it were not for hope, how gloomy this world would be…”
– Cornelia Henry, personal journal entry, Asheville, 1868.
When the Civil War ended, western North Carolina lay devastated, even though there had been no major battles in the region. The war left in its wake social disorder, economic suffering, political confusion, and continuing armed conflict. For more than ten years there was violence among various factions and the settling of old scores from the war years. Almost no money was in circulation, land values dropped, roads deteriorated, and commerce nearly came to a standstill. Thousands of men who were killed or disabled in the war were no longer there to work the family farms. The war had taken many of every community’s most productive craftsmen, astute businessmen and civic leaders. There was no longer an enslaved population to do many jobs that needed to be done.
Racial tensions between newly freed slaves and impoverished whites frequently boiled over. The sketch here shows the excitement in Asheville surrounding the first-ever black voter registration. Then in 1868 Asheville witnessed a minor race riot when blacks attempted to vote in that year’s presidential election. Asheville and many other communities also began to experience the intimidation and violence of the recently formed Ku Klux Klan.
This is the earliest known image of the Smith-McDowell House, then known as Buck House. Taken by famed itinerant photographer Rufus Morgan in the early 1870s, the photo appears to be candid. In reality it is an artfully arranged portrait that includes many members of the McDowell family on the lawn, on the steps, and on both levels of the front porch of their grand family home.
THE McDOWELLS AFTER THE WAR
“[Mr. McDowell has] found himself greatly embarrassed by debts, without any resources with which to meet them, except by a sale of a portion or all of his real estate.” McDowell and McDowell v. Rumbough, Buncombe County Court Records, July 29, 1880.
Compared to other large land owners, the McDowells did not come out of the Civil War impoverished. While William Wallace McDowell continued his businesses he took a greater interest in agriculture and in 1869 was elected president of the Buncombe County Agricultural Society. But the stagnant economy and declining land values burdened the McDowells with mounting debts and gradually forced them to sell off most of their property. In 1881, they sold the old family home to St. Louis businessman Alexander Garrett and moved to a new home on South Main Street – now Biltmore Avenue.