Black Mountain Woman’s Club Records


Ninety-seven years ago this month, on April 14, 1921, the Black Mountain Woman’s Club was founded. The organization came about after the merging of the Woman’s Betterment Association of Black Mountain (established in 1913) and a literary club, Pro Re Bona (established circa 1918.) Mary Hendren Vance, wife of Major Zebulon Vance Jr., served as the club’s first president, holding office until 1924.

Early on, the Woman’s Club was instrumental in influencing legislation. In its first year, two clubwomen attended a town meeting which resulted in the passage of an ordinance making it illegal to “expectorate on any sidewalk or on the floor or walls of any church, schoolhouse, railway station or other public building in the Town of Black Mountain.”

Meetings often included speakers to keep club members abreast of happenings in the community. School improvement, civic enhancements, literacy, education, and providing aid to those in need were goals of the club. During the Depression, membership dropped as dues became difficult to pay. In 1932, the price was dropped from $2.00 to $1.00.

A long-lasting civic improvement project in which the club was involved was the creation of Lake Tomahawk and the adjacent community clubhouse, as well as the nearby golf course. These recreational enhancements were financed in part as a Works Progress Administration project and are still very popular and are enjoyed by residents and visitors.

The list of projects of the Black Mountain Women’s Club is lengthy and includes, but is not limited to, town beautification projects; student scholarships; an annual home tour, flower shows and an arts and crafts festival; public safety; and education.

In 2017, the Swannanoa Valley Museum transferred the Black Mountain Women’s Club Records (1913–2016) to the Western Regional Archives in order to facilitate easier access. The collection contains minutes, yearbooks, scrapbooks, clippings, club project files, and publications.



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Sarah Samantha Biddix Bumgarner

March is Women’s History Month! Although born in Tennessee, noted fiddle and banjo player and old-time ballad singer Sarah Samantha Biddix Bumgarner (1878–1960) grew up in Dillsboro in Jackson County. Her father was well-known fiddle player, Has Biddix, and when he was not around, Samantha used his fiddle to teach herself how to play. She also taught herself how to play the banjo.

Aunt Samantha

Samantha Bumgarner. Photo by  Ben Shahn, courtesy Library of Congress.


Bumgarner and Sylva’s Eva Smathers Davis made history when they recorded a number of songs for Columbia Records in 1924 including Shout Lou, Fly Around My Pretty Lil’ Miss, and Cindy in the Meadow. They are credited as the first women to record country music.

Known as “Aunt Samantha,” Bumgarner played at banjo competitions in the Appalachian region. For over 30 years, she performed at Bascom Lamar Lunsford’s annual Mountain Dance and Folk Festival in Asheville. This kept Samantha in the public eye and she gained a loyal following. Her career bridged the traditional Appalachian music ways with the rise of modern country music.

In 1939, she was among a select group of mountain musicians who played at the White House for Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt and King George VI and Queen Elizabeth of England.

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The Allen School: Educational Opportunity for African Americans in Asheville

The Allen School: Educational Opportunity for African Americans in Asheville

Did you know that between 1887 and 1974 Asheville was home to a private school created specifically for the education of members of the black community? The school’s genesis can be traced to the arrival of the Reverend and Mrs. L. M. Pease to Asheville in 1875. The couple left New York with thoughts of retiring, however upon taking up residence in western North Carolina, their aspirations shifted course. They acquired a piece of land on College Street which was donated to the Women’s Home Missionary Society of the Methodist Church and a school was established there. Educational goals would be threefold—industrial, mental, and spiritual.

Allen school

Allen Home School students, 1921 courtesy UNC-A Special Collections & The Heritage of Black Highlanders Collection from N.C. Digital Heritage Center.  

Early on, the school—located on the northeast side of downtown, near Beaucatcher Mountain—catered to all segments of the black community, serving all ages and both sexes, with children attending lessons during the day and adults at night. The institution functioned as a primary school with an emphasis on offering industrial, domestic, and religious education classes. Soon afterwards, courses for high school study were added. By the turn of the twentieth century, the institution was made up of the Allen Home School, where 31 students lived, and Asheville Academy, attended by over 120 children.

The Annual Report of the Women’s Home Missionary Society stated that 1909 was the most prosperous year for the Allen Home School and Asheville Academy. “The new building is full to overflowing and new adjustments must be made in the coming year to provide for all the lines of work.”

By 1924 the Allen School was an accredited four-year high school and offered a one-year preparatory teaching program. Over time, in addition to domestic courses, secretarial classes such as typing and shorthand were added, but the Allen School would shift towards a college preparatory curriculum. In 1939, when primary instruction was discontinued, the name was changed to Allen High School. About this same time the school became primarily a girls’ school, however evidence suggests that a few male students from Burnsville were allowed to attend since Yancey County had no schools for blacks.

While a large number of students came from Asheville and communities in western North Carolina, the school’s reputation spread, and soon young people from neighboring states boarded locally in order to attend.

Extracurricular activities were also important at Allen High School. A touring choir, various clubs, cultural events and concerts, sports teams, a student newspaper, dramatics, and church activities all added to the Allen experience.

Many Allen School graduates went on to college, some gaining admission to prestigious schools up North such as Vassar and Wellesley which had started integrating, while others stayed closer to home attending historically black colleges and universities in the South.

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Oteen at One Hundred

A century ago, with the United States and other nations involved in The Great War, improvements to existing American military hospitals were underway.  New facilities were built across the country to train army medical personnel and to provide care and treatment centers for the many soldiers and servicemen returning from the conflict in Europe.

US Veterans Hospital, Oteen

Oteen hospital complex circa 1930.  Ruiz Family Collection, Western Regional Archives.

Near Azalea, North Carolina—located east of the city of Asheville—“a 1,000-bed hospital for the treatment of tuberculosis” was built at a proposed cost of $1,325,000. Atlanta’s Gude Construction Company received the bid to begin work on the 60-plus buildings. By the end of the summer the War Department authorized an additional $300,000 to expand the facility, which was first known as General Hospital No. 19 at Azalea. After the new Oteen Post Office opened in 1918, the hospital was informally referred to as Oteen Hospital, or the hospital at Oteen.

In 1920, a large-scale construction campaign got underway. Original wooden structures were torn down and replaced with a permanent campus to minister to all aspects of veterans’ health care needs. Among the first permanent buildings constructed were two hospital wards along the east side of Riceville Road, known as Wards A and B.

In 1924, the federal government transferred administration of the hospital to the newly formed Veterans Bureau. Six years later it would become the Veterans Administration (VA). By 1932, the VA added an additional four hospital wards, a dining hall, a fire station, an administration building and other support structures. Building #9, built in 1930, served as the main nurses’ dorm. In 1932, Building #13 was erected to house African American nurses employed by the VA Hospital.

The current hospital, part of the complex now known as the Charles George VA Medical Center, was built in 1967 in front of the 1928 Administration Building. Over time, ownership of many of the buildings from the 1920s and ‘30s transferred from the federal government to other entities. Today Building #13 is home to the Western Office of the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources. Building #9, to the south of the Western Office, is currently under restoration and is scheduled to open this spring. The Veterans Administration will provide outpatient services in the former dormitory.

Stay tuned. During this centennial year we’ll share bits of history about Oteen.

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Looking Back at 2017: Recapping the Happenings

As 2017 draws to a close, it provides a fine opportunity to look back and reflect on all that has happened at the Western Regional Archives (WRA) during the year. Topping the list was the celebration of our 5th anniversary last August. Friends, family, colleagues, volunteers, and interns gathered to help mark the special milestone.

The WRA casts a wide net, and our collection materials have been featured in publications and exhibits nationally and internationally. In addition to North Carolina, WRA received visitors from the following states in 2017: California, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Massachusetts, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, and the District of Columbia. Overseas visitors hailed from the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand.

Cultural and educational institutions we aided included Appalachian State, Asheville Museum of Art, the Asheville School, Black Mountain College Museum and Art Center, Blowing Rock Art and History Museum, Lenoir-Rhyne University, New York’s School of Visual Arts, North Carolina Wesleyan, and Warren Wilson College.

And of course, we must mention our volunteers and interns. Over a dozen folks from high school students to retired professionals continued to aid our mission of collecting and preserving the history and culture of western North Carolina and the mountain region. Their dedication and service to the WRA is truly remarkable. Thank you!

We are eager for 2018 and look forward to new adventures and new experiences. The best is yet to come!   DSCN0564

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Cranberry Capers

Did you know that wild cranberries, Vaccinium macrocarpon, can be found in boggy areas across western North Carolina? The species has been documented in Alleghany, Watauga, and Haywood counties. The trailing shrub produces four-petaled pale pink flowers during the summer months and red berries in the winter. It is from this species that commercial cranberries were cultivated.


Illustration from Flora Batava of Afbeelding en Beschrijving van Nederlandsche Gewassen, (1872)

Apparently, these crimson jewels were popular with foragers. In fact, in the Journal of the House of Representatives of the General Assembly of the State of North Carolina for the 1876–1877 session, it was noted that a bill was introduced by Alleghany County representative, E. L. Vaughn (1839–1898) about harvesting them on another’s property.

Described as “one of the brightest and pleasantest gentlemen in the west,” Vaughn sponsored a bill that would “make it a misdemeanor to enter upon land and take therefrom cranberries without the consent of the owners.” One can only imagine what sort of berry thievery was taking place in the High Country to cause such legislation to be introduced. It was referred to the committee on the Judiciary and was known as H.B. 432. There is no record of the bill becoming law.

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Blackbeard: A Brief Biography

Note: This piece is published in conjunction with the exhibit,  Blackbeard 300: Commemorating North Carolina’s Rich Maritime History, on display at the Western Office of the NC Department of Natural and Cultural Resources November 6, 2017 – January 6, 2018, Monday – Friday from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m with special programming Saturdays November 18 and January 6. 

In the early 18th century a notorious pirate preyed upon the coast. This dubious fellow was known as Blackbeard. Although he was documented as Edward Teach, or Thack, or Thatch, we’re not quite sure as to who he really was. Scholars think his ability to read and write shows that he came from a well-off English family. He probably changed his name to protect his relatives from the embarrassment of his exploits.  bb

Blackbeard began his career as a privateer during Queen Anne’s War. Non-military seamen were hired by the English crown to raid Spanish ships. After the war (and out of work) he turned to piracy. In 1716, Teach learned the tricks and twists of the pirate trade, when he fell under the tutelage of one Benjamin Hornigold, who, the following year, rewarded him with a ship that Teach renamed Queen Anne’s Revenge.

A robust man, his appearance was indeed impressive. It is written that he stood over 6 feet tall with a face full of black hair which he twisted into strands and entwined with small pieces of rope. To these pieces of hemp, he would set a match, which in addition to being useful for igniting cannons, gave him a devilish smoky aura.

After successfully blockading Charleston’s harbor in 1718, Teach ditched Queen Anne’s Revenge (and most of his crew) in Beaufort Inlet and moved all his loot and booty onto the ship Adventure. Teach and his pared down crew set sail for Ocracoke where it was believed he would set up a pirate base of permanent proportion.

Citizens of the Tar Heel State knew all too well of Blackbeard and his threats to shipping. They were frustrated with Governor Eden who had been unable to keep the fiend at bay. After learning of Blackbeard’s plan to set up shop off Ocracoke, a group of landowners petitioned Governor Spotswood of Virginia to put an end to Blackbeard’s terror and to restore peace of mind to the Albemarle region and its surrounding waters.

Governor Spotswood dispatched two ships that had been guarding the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay to head to Ocracoke and once and for all take care of Blackbeard. In a fierce hand-to-hand battle, Lt. Robert Maynard finally killed Teach, whose body suffered 5 pistol shots and 20 sword cuts and slashes. His head was then severed from his body and hung on the bowsprit of the sloop as proof that the bold Blackbeard had been defeated. His body was tossed overboard. Storytellers and raconteurs liked to embellish that it swam around the ship 7 times.

In 1996, Blackbeard’s ship, Queen Anne’s Revenge, was discovered off Beaufort, N.C. Artifacts have been raised from the sea floor and cautious eyes have been waiting and watching for something to discount this underwater archaeology site as that of the QAR, but nay-sayers need to take a back seat, because after all this time nothing has been discovered to disprove the theory.

It is important to note that there are no plans to ever actually raise the ship, rather researchers headed up by the Underwater Archaeology Branch of the North Carolina Office of Archives and History and East Carolina University, plan to recover the artifacts and preserve them for future display.

Every relic recovered is assigned two numbers. One designates that it is from the QAR site, and one identifies the object for the North Carolina master list of archaeological finds.

Artifacts surfaced are usually in the form of concretions. Natural elements such as sand and shells have bonded to them, making their identification difficult. Sometimes smaller concretions are found within larger concretions. All artifacts are given the utmost care at the conservation lab at East Carolina University.

Items recovered include a bronze bell with the date 1709, pewter plates, cannons, navigational instruments, nails, gun hardware, bottles, and smaller personal items such as a button and a tobacco pipe. Even a small amount of gold dust has been recovered. Experts estimate that over 500,000 items will be recovered from the site.

These fascinating finds will help future generations understand early ships, armaments, and life on board a pirate ship, and will ever keep us aware of the golden age of piracy. For more information visit

In 2018, the 300th anniversary of Blackbeard’s death, the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources will host an exciting array of educational experiences for a wide range of audiences.

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