Saturday, September 6, 2014

Asheville's Haunted Five

I occasionally get emails from people wanting information on hauntings within a specific location. Last week I received an email regarding haunted places in Asheville, North Carolina and I gave five suggestions off the top of my head. So I decided to create a blog entry.

Located in Western North Carolina, Asheville is certainly one of the most scenic of major cities in the state. Until European intrusion into the area, the Asheville region was a part of the Cherokee territory. In the years following the American Revolution and the little known Cherokee War of 1776 (which was fought in this area between the patriot colonists and the Cherokee people), settlers began to make inroads into this captivating place at the confluence of the Swannanoa and French Broad Rivers.

The city of Asheville grew rather slowly with the pace of growth picking up after the railroads began building lines through the city. After George Vanderbilt began work on his magnificent estate, Biltmore, just south of the city, other wealthy elites began to visit the city as a mountain playground. The Depression brought crushing debt to the city and it stagnated for decades until that debt was paid off.

During the last decades of the 20th century and into the new century, Asheville has remolded itself into a Bohemian gathering place and a Mecca for artists and travelers.
The city’s unique blend of all things hip with a very interesting history has ranked it among the most interesting cities in the South.

In this blog I’ve already covered a few haunted locations within the city including the Grove Park Inn and Helen’s Bridge. Asheville is city with numerous haunted places and this is a selection of those places.

Asheville City Hall
70 Court Plaza
 
Asheville City Hall, July 2012, by Lewis O. Powell, IV.
All rights reserved.
Asheville is most certainly a quirky city and the city’s marvelous collection of Art Deco buildings adds to that quirkiness. The city’s skyline is dominated by its Art Deco styled courthouse where a tragedy supposedly played out not long after the building’s construction. The building was built between 1926 and 1928 on the eve of the 1929 stock market crash that would mire the country in depression for many years. The building’s exuberant Art Deco styling was created by one of the city’s architectural masters, Douglas Ellington. The city’s fathers boasted that upon completion, no town in the nation could boast a finer municipal building.

On the 30th of November 1930, Central Bank & Trust went bankrupt taking all of Asheville’s optimism for the future with it. As the holder of most of the city’s funds, the city entered a period of penury that would last until the city’s debt was paid off in 1976. According to Ken Traylor and Delas House’s Asheville Ghosts and Legends, the city’s failed finances led the city’s financial manager to take a suicidal plunge from the building. It is believed that it is his spirit wearing a three-piece suit that has been seen within the building.

Barley’s Taproom and Pizzaria
42 Biltmore Avenue

While mass-shooting events have become commonplace in our news recently, they are not a new phenomenon. Barley’s Taproom may still ring with the echoes of one particular bloody night in 1906. An escaped convict by the name of Will Harris went on a rampage after he made advances on a woman he barely knew. He shot and killed two police officers nearby then began shooting random passersby in the area including a gentleman killed near the corner of Biltmore Avenue and Eagle Street, near to where Barley’s now stands. Will Harris escaped into the night, but a posse of local citizens hunted him down and shot him south of the city near Fletcher.

While this single event may have led to some of the activity within Barley’s, according to Kala Ambrose’s Ghosthunting North Carolina, the area also once was the site of the city’s gallows and paranormal activity has been witnessed in the area since the early 20th century. She reports that a man in black has been seen walking down Biltmore Avenue and disappearing at the door to Barley’s. Perhaps this was also the spirit seen by one of Barley’s owners. His experience, as reported in a 2005 Asheville Citizen-Times article, was of seeing a man walk past the windows of the bar. While seeing people outside is not uncommon, it’s very uncommon to see someone walk past the second floor windows.

Though it’s not just outside the building where there is activity. Ambrose reports that the spirit of a woman may haunt the interior with her perfume detected when she is present.

Biltmore House
1 Approach Road

The Biltmore House is the crowning jewel of the marvelous Biltmore Estate constructed by George Vanderbilt over the course of six years in the late 19th century. The house remains the largest privately owned house in the country and is still owned by Vanderbilt’s descendants. It seems that the spirits of former owners and employees still may roam the estate. Spirits identified as those of George Vanderbilt and his wife, Edith, have been encountered as well as those of servants.

Riverside Cemetery
53 Birch Street

Riverside Cemetery is one of Asheville’s most storied cemeteries. It is the resting place of two well-known authors: Thomas Wolfe and William Sydney Porter (known by his nom-de-plume, O. Henry) as well as senators, a couple state governors and three noted Confederate generals. With these noted men rest many of Asheville’s most prominent citizens as well as Confederate soldiers and a number of German sailors who were incarcerated nearby during World War I. Monuments and graves crown stately hills overlooking the French Broad River and lend the cemetery an air of elegance.
 
Riverside Cemetery, October 2012, by Lewis O. Powell IV.
All rights reserved.
Among these hills, soldiers from the Civil War apparently still march. They have been both seen and heard.

Smith-McDowell House
283 Victoria Road

Asheville’s oldest brick antebellum era building, the Smith-McDowell House has had a long and illustrious history. Built around 1840 by local entrepreneur, James McConnell Smith, the house remained in his family until 1880. The house went through a number of owners until it came into the possession of Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College in 1974. The campus of the college now surrounds the house.
 
Smith-McDowell House, October 2012, by Lewis O. Powell IV.
All rights reserved.
As it is with many historic house museums, the Smith-McDowell House has experienced paranormal activity for years. In 2006, the museum called in a local paranormal group, the League of Energy Materialization and Unexplained Phenomena Research (LEMUR), to investigate. The group identified four spirits residing within the home as well as two unidentified paranormal entities.

Sources
Ambrose, Kala. Ghosthunting North Carolina. Cincinnati, OH: Clerisy Press,
     2011.
Asheville Now. Asheville History: 1930-1940. Accessed 6 September 2014.
Clark, Paul. “Ghosts are his business Asheville’s own Joshua Warren makes
     a living from the unliving.” Asheville Citizen-Times. 28 October 2005.
Hinson, Mary Alice. National Register of Historic Places nomination form for
     Asheville City Hall. No date.
“Museum looks into paranormal activity.” Hendersonville Times-News.
     13 October 2006.
National Park Service. “Riverside Cemetery.” National Register of Historic
     Places Travel Itinerary: Asheville, North Carolina. Accessed 6 September
     2014.
National Park Service. “Smith-McDowell House.” National Register of Historic
     Places Travel Itinerary: Asheville, North Carolina. Accessed 6 September
     2014.
Traylor, Ken & Delas M. House, Jr. Asheville Ghosts and Legends. Charleston,
     SC: History Press, 2006.
Ward, Kevin Thomas. North Carolina Haunts. Atglen, PA: Schiffer, 2011.

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