How the New Year’s bells rang and tolled
by Rob Neufeld
On Jan. 1, 1890, the new Swannanoa Country Club—an outgrowth of the Swannanoa Hunt Club—hosted a fancy ball in the old Battery Park Hotel, which had occupied, since 1887, a hill that had sloped down to present-day Wall Street.
The hunt club had once started their fox hunts on the hill, before barbed wire had become a boundary feature.
Edwin Wiley Grove razed the hotel and graded the hill in 1923 to remake that end of the city into a retail district, starring the Grove Arcade.
In later years, youths roved the passages linking the Arcade to Patton Ave. playing the street game, fox-and-hounds.
Another of Asheville’s major landscape-changers, George Willis Pack, used the New Year, in 1901, to announce his donation of land to the county for a new courthouse—a Romanesque behemoth, now gone. It came with a mandatory public park.
The city was ecstatic. “We salute George W, Pack!” the Asheville Citizen proclaimed. Public Square was renamed Pack Square; and the library, Pack Memorial.
Funds finally flowed for the Housing Authority of the City of Asheville at the start of 1949, after a long delay caused by military spending priorities. The Authority’s first project, Lee Walker Heights, tucked behind Southside Ave., was intended for veterans.
Eighteen years later, the vision proved to be troubled, as families fought ghetto conditions—drugs, crime, landlord neglect, and exploitation. Residents banded together with those from Hillcrest to stage one of the most notable Civil Rights actions in Asheville history, the rent strike of 1967.
President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863, declaring all slaves in rebellious states free. Most African Americans who intended to leave would wait until the Federal Army occupied their regions at the end of the Civil War.
On Jan. 1, 1837, John Ridge and other Cherokees left their homeland before the Federal troops arrived. The members of the Treaty Party—those who had agreed, at New Echota on Dec. 29, 1835 to resettle out west—did not wait for the round-up and forced march that has become known as the “Trail of Tears.”
New Year’s Day evicted patients and staff from Biltmore Hospital (formerly the Clarence Barker Memorial Hospital) in 1921 when fire consumed the main building.
The wings survived, and became nurses’ quarters. A new hospital was constructed in 1929, and merged with Mission Hospital in 1947, before closing in 1951. (Mission merged with St. Joseph’s on Jan. 1, 1996, by the way.)
There may have been a child or two who gave their parents New Year’s greetings in the original Biltmore Hospital’s obstetrics ward, 1919-1920, but their names and lives go untold on this page.
We do know that to Caroline Lane and Jesse Swain was born in Beaverdam (now part of Asheville) on Jan. 4, 1801 a boy named David Lowry Swain. He was Caroline’s youngest child by a second marriage (her first husband had died in an Indian raid), and her 11th in all.
David, named after his mother’s first husband, would become a state legislator at age 23; and Governor at 31. For 32 years, he would serve as President of the University at Chapel Hill, resigning when Reconstruction politicians took over. He wrote an eight-volume history of the “British Invasion of North Carolina in 1776.”
Not long after the “British invasion,” and American victory, Daniel Smith, father of Swain’s friend, James McConnell Smith, went with William Davidson from Old Fort to the Swannanoa Valley to avenge the murder of William’s brother, Samuel, by Indians. Samuel had crossed the Blue Ridge with his family before the land had been ceded to the U.S. by treaty. Daniel, a noted “Indian killer,” carried a rifle he named “Long Tom,” which the Smith-McDowell House Museum owns.
James McConnell Smith was born in a log cabin on the Swannanoa on “January 7, 1794,” F.A. Sondley writes in his “History of Buncombe County” (1930), “the first white child born in North Carolina west of the Blue Ridge.”
The oft-quoted “first white child” fact has been disputed. The birthdate, at any rate, is wrong. June 14, 1787 is the date that the Smith-McDowell House and genealogists give for James’ advent. Smith’s wife, Mary “Polly” Patton, was the one born on January 7—in the year 1794. The Patton and Smith families were related by marriage, business, and government service.
The old Battery Park Hotel built in 1887 by Col. Frank Coxe kicked off the year 1890 with a Hunt Club party.