Stories from the House
Just a few miles north of George Vanderbilt’s grand Biltmore Estate is a different kind of mansion–one that was nearly 50 years old when Vanderbilt’s crew began construction in 1895. This house is now home to the Western North Carolina Historical Association. It has borne witness to over 175 years of WNC history.
In 2021, this immersive exhibit was on display in recreated rooms throughout the house and on its grounds. In this virtual version, you can view the halls, stairwells, rooms, and grounds, and meet many of the people who walked these same pathways over a century ago and whose stories represent a microcosm of the history of western North Carolina.
Deep Dive into Archives: Uncovering the Hidden History of People Enslaved by the Smith and McDowell Families
Though well over a hundred people were enslaved by the Smith and McDowell families and many of them worked in our facility – then known as Buck House – and on its grounds on a day-to-day basis, we know very little about their individual identities. This is a living exhibit. By utilizing documentary, archaeological, and oral source material, we will continue to work to piece together more stories of those held captive by the Smith and McDowell families.
South Asheville Cemetery: WNC’s Oldest Public Cemetery for African-American Burials
The South Asheville Cemetery was founded in the early 1800s as a burial ground for people who had been enslaved by the Smith family–the first family to live in what is currently known as the Smith-McDowell House, a c1840s brick mansion that is now home to the Western North Carolina Historical Association (WNCHA). Even though the house was sold out of the possession of the family in 1881, at least part of the cemetery land was owned by the family until 1981. With such a close association between WNCHA’s facility and the cemetery, we are uniquely positioned to help uncover the history of this burial ground and the hidden histories of the people buried within its bounds.
Old Shiloh: A History
The Shiloh AME Zion Church and its surrounding residences comprised one of Asheville’s first communities established by emancipated people after the Civil War. The community was originally located on land that now comprises the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC. It was established as early as 1874 when two African American men, John Smith and Joseph McFarland, purchased land from a white man, Montraville Patton. Patton had enslaved a large number of people in the Asheville area and it is possible that many of the people who founded Shiloh had formerly been enslaved on the property. In 1889, George Vanderbilt, in an effort to expand his land holdings as he planned to build his Biltmore Estate, purchased the land and buildings and agreed to relocate the Shiloh church and cemetery to their present-day locations, what is now known as New Shiloh.
1918 vs. 2020: Epidemics Then & Now in WNC
March – DECEMBER 2020
In the midst of the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic, we take an in-depth look at the 1918 influenza epidemic in Western North Carolina through newspaper clippings, advertisements, ephemera, photographs, and oral history and place the events of 1918 into context with our present-day response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Hillbilly Land: Myth & Reality in Appalachian Culture
June 7 – December 31, 2014
Hillbilly Land explores the power, prevalence, and persistence of the hillbilly stereotype from the days of its beginnings in the late 19th century to the present day. The exhibit takes a unique approach by focusing on photography featuring the people of the region, some of them stereotypical images, combined with poetry and short prose pieces that challenge and complicate these stereotypes.
Douglas Ellington: Asheville’s Boomtown Architect
September 20, 2013 – March 17, 2014
Douglas Ellington is chiefly known as the architect who changed Asheville into an Art Deco showplace. The combination of available architectural commissions, Asheville’s dream to be “modern” and the growing influences of art deco fed Ellington’s creativity. With his ability to combine architectural styles he produced a series of one of a kind buildings—buildings which changed the face of Asheville.