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The German experience settling WNC 1 Reply

Started by Rob Neufeld in Local History. Last reply by Scott Dockery Feb 16.

The history of Oakley

Started by Rob Neufeld in Local History May 13, 2016.

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Dr. Lin Stepp at Barnes & Noble, Asheville Mall at Tunnel Road

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Montreat College Friends of the Library Annual Luncheon at Montreat College, Gaither Fellowship Hall

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Author Vicki Lane, who is working on her seventh novel, will be the guest speaker at the Montreat College Friends of the Library Annual Luncheon at noon on Saturday, June 10, 2017 in Gaither Fellowship Hall.  Reservations: 669-8012 Ext. 3502Open to the Public.See More
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Rose Senehi will read from her new novel: CAROLINA BELLE at MALAPROPS BOOKS & CAFE

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Belle McKenzie is obsessed with finding the best apple anyone ever bit into and determined to rekindle the love this obsession has nearly destroyed.        Woven throughout Carolina Belle is the fascinating history of Henderson County, North Carolina’s, apple orchards that endlessly unfold on the county’s horizons and still bear the same names as the early settlers to the area. Senehi, known for her historically accurate novels, sprinkles the book with stories of the development of the Southern…See More
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Chautauqua Alive! Becky Stone Presents Maya AngelouWednesday, May 24 at 6:30pmPack Memorial Library67 Haywood Street250-4700The Buncombe Chautauqua Committee and Pack Memorial Library will present a pre-Chautauqua special event in Lord Auditorium at Pack Memorial Library at 6:30 Pm on May 24.  Renowned storyteller Becky Stone will present “Becoming Maya Angelou.”   Ms. Stone will be appearing as Maya Angelou in the opening program of the annual Chautauqua series that begins June 19.  On May 24,…See More
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Fundraiser for Literacy Council & Book Launch Marcus Sedgwick Tuesday April 25th 5:30-7:30 p.m., Twisted Laurel, downtown Asheville, 130 College Street COST: $45 per person (ticket includes hardcover book, food, and non-alcoholic beverage) All proceeds go to Literacy Council from press release Marcus Sedgwick, author of Saint Death Spellbound Children's Bookshop, Asheville's locally owned independent bookstore for kids and teens, presents a special event with one of the most critically…See More
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A Mitchell County gristmill sifts through 150 yearsby Rob Neufeld PHOTO CAPTION: Book cover, “Dellinger Grist Mill on Cane Creek” by Jack Dellinger.             In 1861, when Bakersville got a post office, locals changed the town name from Bakersville to Davis, after Jefferson Davis, President of the…See More
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Eco author in Asheville April 6 Citizen science can foster earth-saving policies Journalist Mary Ellen Hannibal, author of Citizen Scientist: Searching for Heroes and Hope in an Age of Extinction, speaks at Malaprop’s Bookstore/Café, 7 p.m., Thursday, April 6 in conversation with Mallory McDuff, Warren Wilson…See More
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Appalachian Authors Book Signing and Reading at Historic Carson House

April 8, 2017 from 10am to 3pm
Julia Nunnally Duncan will be a featured author and reader at the Appalachian Authors  Book Signing and Reading to be held at the Historic Carson House on Saturday, April 8 from 10-3. She will debut her new poetry collection A Part of Me. The event is free and open to the public. Refreshments will be served.See More
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A worker’s view of tannery work in Rosman

by Rob Neufeld

 

            Haskell Luker was 11 when the Flood of 1916 caused his dad, Americus Alfred Luker, to leave the farm where he worked and take a job with an acid (tannin) plant in Pisgah Forest. 

            “Daddy was going down there to make big money—you know how they talk,” Luker explained to Rowell Bosse in a 1991 interview. (The recorded interview is held by Transylvania County Library’s North Carolina Room, which is named after Bosse.)

            “Well,” Luker continued, “we went down there and stayed about a month,” and then the company shut the plant down “because the feller that done the oilin’ down in the engine room got killed one morning about 3 o’clock.  And after he got killed, why the people wouldn’t work of a night. They claimed they could see him down there.”

 

The engine of profit

 

            There are a lot of ghost stories about tragic lovers and vengeful victims in our folklore, but they barely rise above sensational value in the historical record.  However, the lingering ghosts of early 20th century industrialism in our region resonate with significance.

            The tycoons who came to these mountains when its natural resources opened up to them exhibited remarkable energy and ingenuity; as well as various degrees of enlightenment.  In all cases, cheap labor was one of the attractions, and profit a necessary bottom line.

            Joseph Silversteen came to Toxaway and established the Toxaway Tanning Company in 1902.  Behind him was his parents’ escape to Pennsylvania from Russian pogroms; and his entry, as a young apprentice, into the stench-filled industry of tanning.

            By age 23, he was ready for entrepreneurship.  He and new wife, Elizabeth, moved to Transylvania County, which they made their adopted home, benefitting it in numerous ways.

            Dateline: 20 years later.  “Transylvania’s great industries reveal real American story,” the Brevard News trumpeted. 

            “The story of industry in the Brevard section is closely linked with the progress of four large plants by Joseph S. Silversteen, these plants being the Transylvania Tanning company, at Brevard; the Toxaway tanning company, Rosman extract company, and the Gloucester Lumber company, all located in Rosman.”

            The Rosman companies employed about 600 people.  The tanners produced 500 hides a day; the lumber people, 30,000 board feet; and the extractors, 175 barrels.

 

Bottom of the ladder

 

            “I went out there at that old acid plant (the tannin extract company) and asked for a job and (the boss) told me, ‘Well, I'll let you work if I get permission from your daddy,’” Luker said about his first job interview after dropping out of school at age 15.

            He got hired as water boy, making the rounds delivering drinking water to the blacksmith shop; the pan house, where the syrupy extract was finished; the boilerplate room, where wood was boiled; the chipper shed; and the engine room.

            One day, a boy who oversaw the boiling was killed.  “One of them tanks they call the boilerplate...well the bottom blowed off it and killed that boy. And that scared everybody and they wouldn’t work in there.  Boss asked me if I’d work in there.  Well, I’d been around there a whole lot you know and seed what they done and everything, and I told him I didn’t mind it.” 

            Despite the dangers, the new job involved sitting around half the time doing nothing except making sure the pressure valves didn’t pop.  Plus, it was warm in the winter.

            The lighting was very poor, supplied by two home-made lamps powered by the plant’s steam engine.  Particulates gummed up the drain in the tank, causing explosions.  Two more workers died, blown through the roof after climbing the tanks.

            The turnover in the extract company was high, as men from South Carolina had enough after about three paydays, Luker said.  Pay was in scrip, which could be exchanged for 75% of its value in cash.

            Luker, who worked 12 hours a day when he was young, stuck with the company for 25 years, taking a break for the Navy, and stopping when the operation ended for lack of chestnut wood.

            He then worked many more years at a tire company in Pickens, until he was 65, at which point he said he “wasn’t going to do a thang in the world but hunt and fish.”

            The flip side of Luker’s work life had been his leisure time in the woods with his buddies.

            “A man can go right here to the river and catch fish any time,” he said about the old days.  “But when they’d wash out all those tubs up at the acid plant, the river would be just as red as it could be where they’d washed that, and (it all) settled in the bottom there.”

            “Everything went in the river,” Luker noted—dead animals; trash; outhouse waste.

            In 1905, North Carolina passed a law prohibiting tanneries or tannic acid plants from discharging waste into Richland Creek in Haywood County.  But it took a long time for protections to become real in any place; and residents often felt unaffected, calling themselves “stout” and going on with their activities, relatively free to roam.

            “Ever since I was big enough to carry a gun, I’ve hunted and fished,” Luker said.  He and his friends got a quarter for every possum skin, which they invested back in shells.  He hunted coons with his dad, following their dogs.

            Sometimes, they got wind of society passing them by.

           “It’s about like the joke they told on a feller up there on East Fork about the motorcycle,” Luker related.  The man “was out on the porch and heard the motorcycle coming up the road there. Said he ran into the house and got his gun, came back out...Said he hauled off and shot at it. They asked, ‘Did you kill it?’ ‘No, but I made it turn that man loose.’”

 

Rob Neufeld writes the weekly “Visiting Our Past” column for the Citizen-Times.  He is the author of books on history and literature, and manages the WNC book and heritage website, “The Read on WNC.”  Follow him on Twitter @WNC_chronicler

 

PHOTO CAPTION

 

Toxaway Tanning Company employees, 1920s. 1. Calvin Galloway.  2. E.D. Randolph.  3. Will Jackson.  4. Unknown.  5. Archie Rogers.  6. Roy Watkins.  7. Garfield Duncan.  8. Robert Holden.  9. Unknown.  10. Wilborn Galloway.  11. Paul Rogers.  12. Elmer White.  13. Oscar Barrette.  14. Calop Murphy.  15. Will Mosley.  16. Daddy Harry Scott.  17. Unknown.  18. Lueller Powell.  19. Unknown.  20. Bill Jackson.  21. Burnice Owens.  22. Weldon Morgan.  23. Fred Stroupe.  24. Jorden Whitmire.  25. Anderson Revis.  26. C.L. Cantt.  27. Dee Morgan.  28. Carl Hednrix.  29. George Hendrix.  30. Coy Whitmire.  31. Lee Morgan.  32. Dar. Crowe.  33. Elmer McClain.  (Photo courtesy of the Rowell Bosse North Carolina Room, Transylvania County Library)

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