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City Lights Bookstore posted events
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Fortune Smiles by Adam Johnson

Adam Johnson reveals how surreal emotions areby Rob Neufeld             Adam Johnson, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, “The Orphan Master’s Son,” comes to Malaprop’s Bookstore in Asheville, 7 p.m., Fri., Sept. 4 to present his new book of short stories, “Fortune Smiles.”            The stories are remarkable…See More
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Leanne Brown will Present Her Cookbook at City Lights Bookstore

September 4, 2015 from 6:30pm to 8pm
Leanne Brown will visit City Lights Bookstore to present her cookbook on Friday, September 4th at 6:30 p.m. Her book, Good and Cheap: Eat Well on $4 a Day is designed for those on the strictest of budgets, particularly those on the U.S. food stamp budget. This book is great, though, for anyone wanting to eat really well cheaply. Good and Cheap features tips on shopping and kitchen equipment, and more than a hundred easy, flexible recipes for breakfast, lunch and dinner. To reserve a copy,…See More
Aug 22
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September Teen Book Club at Spellbound Children's Bookshop

September 18, 2015 from 6pm to 7pm
Our new monthly book club for teens meets the third Friday of each month, 6:00-7:00PM. A different book will be discussed at each meeting, and will cover a variety of genres. No purchase is required to attend, but if you do plan to buy the book, we’d appreciate your support of Spellbound as the hosting store! All book club selections are 20% off until the day of the meeting.September's title: SHE IS NOT INVISIBLE by Marcus Sedgwick.See More
Aug 22
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Aug 21
Rob Neufeld posted a blog post

Betty Smith at Hendersonville culture event September 17

Center Kicks Off New Series With A BangNew “Keeping the Fires Burning Series” Launches With Betty Smith and Songcatcher (from press release) (HENDERSONVILLE, NC, August 18, 2015) – The Center for Cultural Preservation, is pleased to announce the launch of its second season of its popular public program series KEEPING THE FIRES BURNING- Heroes of Mountain Culture.  The series features musicians, authors and heritage preservation leaders who are working to keep mountain culture alive.  The…See More
Aug 21
Rob Neufeld posted a discussion

Pam Durban, author of Soon, gripping, psychological, Southern stories

Pam Durban: Facing reality with a wide-open eyeby Rob Neufeld             John Updike honored Pam Durban’s story, “Soon,” by selecting it for his anthology, “The Best American Short Stories of the Century.”  Now, it’s one of 11 included in Durban’s new volume, also titled “Soon.”            “Soon,” the short story, is a marvel…See More
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City Lights Bookstore posted an event
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Mary Joyce Returns with a New Book at City Lights Bookstore

September 12, 2015 from 3pm to 4:30pm
Sylva author, Mary Joyce will return to City Lights Bookstore on Saturday, September 12th at 3 p.m. to present her latest book.Underground Military Bases Hidden in North Carolina Mountains compiles information gathered by Joyce over several years about secret military facilities in North Carolina. The information about the secret bases is mostly from those with military, law enforcement and high-security backgrounds plus citizens who have stumbled upon evidence. Joyce is also the author…See More
Aug 18
Bill Ramsey posted an event

North Carolina Writer's Network Fall Conference at Asheville Doubletree Hilton

August 20, 2015 to August 22, 2015
When did you last attended a top quality and affordable writer's conference? The North Carolina Writer's Network is returning to western North Carolina. Membership in the Network is encouraged but not required to attend this event. For more info:http://www.ncwriters.org/2014-01-07-18-05-50/conferencesSee More
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katherine soniat posted photos
Aug 12
Rob Neufeld commented on Joe Epley's blog post Speaking about the American Revollution in the Carolinas
"See Joe's website, Epley Writes, including about his novel, A Passel of Hate,"
Aug 12
Rob Neufeld posted a blog post

R.T. Smith--Rachel-Rivers Coffey Distinguished Professor in Creative Writing at App State

R.T. Smith, poet, story-writer, and founder of Cold Mountain Review, honored with App State roleSee notice of new book at Washington & Lee U.fROM PRESS RELEASEBOONE—Writer R.T. (Rod) Smith has been named the 2015-16 Rachel Rivers-Coffey Distinguished Professor in Creative Writing at Appalachian State University. Smith will lead an eight-week colloquium during fall semester for students in Appalachian’s creative writing…See More
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Aug 8

The railroad came here through the sacrifice of convicts

by Rob Neufeld

 

            Too many convicts, thought Jacob Allen, president of the North Carolina State Penitentiary board in 1874, as he reviewed the prisons.  There was an “urgent necessity to find employment for this surplus.” 

Incarceration and rehabilitation had replaced corporal punishment and execution as means of addressing crime.  Seven-eighths of the convicts were African-American.

            The solution: put the prisoners to work under heavy guard on expensive and arduous state projects, the most obvious one at the time being railroad building.  Twice previously, state-aided private companies had attempted to breach the mountains with rails.  The Civil War and then corporate embezzlement had gutted the efforts.

             In 1875, the state purchased the Western North Carolina Railroad; and on February 19, 1877, the legislature authorized the enlistment of “not less than five hundred convicts,” none of whom had been convicted of violent crimes.  “The costs of keeping these creatures (the convicts) is greater (in the Raleigh penitentiary) than in the mountains,” the railroad commissioners reported.

            James W. Wilson, contractor for the excavation of the Swannanoa Tunnel, told the General Assembly that the actual cost of the work (not counting the value of labor) was thirty cents a day—seven cents for the feeding of the prisoners, ten cents for the guarding, and the rest for miscellaneous care.

            Wilson was an old hand at the business.  He had been the railroad company engineer and superintendent during the Civil War.  At the time of his winning the contract for the Swannanoa Tunnel, he was also the state’s chief engineer, the president of the railroad, and a major stockholder.

            The Swannanoa Tunnel—the system’s longest at 1,822 feet—has become the stuff of legend.  Mountain society had been forever altered by the arrival of the train in 1879 as “convicts pulled the seventeen ton ‘Salisbury’…to tracks on the western side by dragging three ropes, laying track in front and removing track from behind as they traveled along the stagecoach road.” 

            139 convicts died on western North Carolina projects—in cave-ins and mudslides, and from disease and prosecution of escapes.  Bascom Lamar Lunsford wrote a song, “Swannanoa Tunnel”—“When you hear that hoot owl squallin’/ Somebody’s dyin’, babe, somebody's dyin’”

            John Ehle wrote a novel about the epic, featuring the convict laborers, mountain residents, the mountain itself, and a character named Weatherby Wright, based on James Wilson, he said in an interview.  The fictional chief undergoes a physical and mental weakening as his humanitarian nature yields to his obsession, and his ethics to progress.

            This article was based in part on theses by Steve Little for Wake Forest University in 1972 and by Homer S. Carson III for UNCA in 2003

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The 1880 US Census for McDowell County NC - pages 25-29 Old Fort Township- lists those who were " at work on the Western North Carolina RR and from the Penitentiary at Raleigh NC".  It lists (if I've read the census taker writing correctly) 1 in charge of the stockade, 1 steward, 1 overseer, 13 guards (all 16 are white men).  There are 175 prisoners listed ( 132 black males, 35 mulatto males, 5 white males, 1 mulatto female, and 2 black females; one of the black females is listed as washing and the other two females are listed as rail road laborers as are all the male prisoners).  These people were enumerated between June 25th and June 29th 1880.

Another interesting point!     The prisoners ranged in age from 14 to 66.

Are the names of the employees and prisoners listed?  What has been your interest in this subject.  Thanks very much for contributing!/Rob

They are listed but some are quite difficult to read.  I was looking for a Thomas Turner who I thought might have been from McDowell County.  One of the guards had that same name.  I have a keen interest in WNC history - whatever it is. 

I'll try to decipher the names as best I can and list them on this thread sometime within the next several days

William G. Hagan- in charge of stockade, William F. Neal- Steward, Joseph B. Moore- overseer.  The next 11 are guards: James Conley, Albert Hicks, Thomas Burnett, James G. Stroud, John C. Finley, William Gilbert, Thomas Gilbert, John Elliotte, Mills K. Norville, George Whitaker.

The following are included in the prisoner rail road labor:  Unless I have designated MU for mulatto, W for white, and female for the women, these are all black males- Charley Aikens, Henry Adams, Henry Brinson, Alexander Bargis, James Barns, Moses Bell, John Brown, Henry Bigger, John Braswell, Thomas Boyakin, Edward Banner MU, Richard Baits MU, Ellen Bell (B) female- prisoner washing, Daniel Baird, David Brown MU, Joseph Barnes, Dorsey Blair, Degrand Barber, Henry Bobbitt, Daniel Brown, Hampton Best, Sampson Best, James Bost MU, Edwards Bradley, Pinkney Boyd, Cissiro Bryant, George Bullock, Joseph Cox, Stephen Carmon, Milton Clark, Isomgission? Dever, Frank Day MU, Servian? Dick, Chester Davis, Henderson Dossett, George Fox MU, John Folk, Gould Foy, Peter Foy, George Ford, David Fitzgerrell, Linsey Green, John Glen, Charley Gaston, Winslow Gash, Henry Gilliam, Webb Gudger MU, William Hill MU, John Hargrove MU, Wilson Hunt, Lorance Hunter, James Hunt W, Hampton Holeman, William Davis MU, Isaac Hunter, William Harris, Charley Hansley, John Hicks, Burley Haygood MU, Israel Hays MU, Anderson Harshaw, Jeff Hamilton, Charles Harper, Tobe High, Thomas Jones, Jessie Johnson, William Jones, George Johnson, Albert Jessup, William Jones, Samuel Jones MU, Thomas Jones MU, Henry Jones, Jones Miller MU, Alexander Johnson, Benjamin Jones, Nash Kindsey, Harry Knight, John Lauib?, George Laurbant MU, Peter Lathan, Jones Lathans, Back Lee, Archey Leach, George McEntire,  Lucy Morgan MU female, Henry McKee, William Montague, Israel Morrison, Green McCullep MU, Thomas Moore, Isaac Mitchell, Tim Newkirk, David Odem, Sicamo? Parrett, David Passmore W,  Jesse Phillips, Anderson Pearch MU, Sandy Pagan MU, Hery Partree, Sylvester Parker MU, Cato Pews?, Jesse Johnson, Cornelius Rich, David Richardson, Rainerd? Ruffin, George Roundtree MU, Arch Ragan, Henry Revels, George Rolin, David Rine, Dan Richardson, Norton Roundtree, George Smith W, John Simmons, Henry Shaw, Hardy Saunders, Charley Smith, Willis Sprewell, Frank Sikes, Tobe Street MU, Nedimus? Sanders, Arch Stewart, Monroe Smith MU, Moses Smith, Allen Sergis, John Sewell W, Dan Simmons, Rolley Sanders, David Satchwell, Shepherd Smith, Lewis Smith, Joseph Smith, Peter Smith, Fred Satterfield, Robert Sawyer W, Armisted Troutman, James Torrance, Arthur Timmons, William Turner, Hampton Tompson MU, Abeni? Taft, Nash Trollenger, James Vick, Susan Restow (B) female, Henry Williams, Rick Wilson MU, David White, George Miller, Miles Williams, Mest? Ward, Abe Watt W, Willis Williams, Everett Williams, Thomas Williams, Lee Williams MU, James Wilson, William Walker MU, James Warren, William Woodley, Robert Willis, Alford Wallace, Robert M. Walker W, Jessie Williams, Felix Whitson, John Walker, Rufus Young, Lewis Yokely, Sam Reid, Fork Johnson MU, George Parson.  I placed a question mark by those names I simply could not read.  There are others I may have copied incorrectly but I felt fairly certain of spelling.

This is a great find.  It takes us a big step closer to knowing the human stories behind one of our region's most historic events.  Now, when someone googles "Charley Aikens" and "Swannanoa Tunnel," they get one hit--your blog post!  Is anyone working on genealogy or a memorial?  McDowell County created this oral history feature: http://mcdowellhistory.com/the-railroad/

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