During three weeks of November rain, I fought off melancholy and despair by reading three books loaned to me by Mary Glenn of Montford Cove. I found myself reflecting on differences in perspectives. The historical photos and articles about Asheville, NC, distracted me from the locals’ pessimistic chatter about a repeat disaster of another flood like in 1916, almost 100 years ago.
In Remembering Asheville, author Milton Ready mentions that fateful flood was during a 40-year banking and real estate boom, an expanding regional economy. To some folks, the flood only presented a delay in personal or commercial agendas. Within a couple months, visitors came back and streets were repaved. Land was sold and resold. Fortunes were made. This was from one perspective, the happy face.
From another perspective, the Great Flood of 1916 was a disaster to thousands. An example is the Riverside Park, built in 1905 on a flat plain boasting a “large exposition pavilion, a boathouse, daily canoe and sailboat excursion on the French Broad, a merry-go-round,” horse rides, and an artificial lake with an island in the center. Free motion pictures were “shown twice weekly on a giant screen erected on the island while moonlight boaters drifted between island and shore watching the performances of early silent screen stars such as Flora Finch and John Bunny.” On a Sunday morning in July, after a week of hard summer rain, the Swannanoa River jumped its banks and surged to meet the French Broad River creating a tidal wave that demolished the waterfront warehouses, railroads, hotels, and the Riverside Park.
There were two opinions here: those who were inconvenienced and those who were heartbroken over the loss of lives or property. Is there a right and wrong side of perspective?
Asheville used to be isolated by the high mountain passes vulnerable to nature’s influence of high winds, deep snows, and days of rain that reduced a road to a muddy creek. Horses were more valuable at the turn of the century than new-fangled automobiles, and George Vanderbilt revered the four legged creatures at his mountain top castle, Biltmore, finished in time for a family Christmas party in 1895. Also in 1895, Vanderbilt donated materials and craftsmen from his estate to build St. Matthias, still one of the few black Episcopal churches in the south. Many perspectives of opportunities were represented here in building a community. And Asheville grew.
Vanderbilt was a generous philanthropist with many interests. Although it is most probable that a wealthy man in the public eye had many critics, his farm became the cradle of forestry through his support. In Asheville, A Pictorial History, Mitzi Schaden Tessier reported that at Vanderbilt’s death in 1914, Asheville citizens speculated whether his widow would continue the work of the Biltmore Forest School, the Biltmore Homespun Industries for his specially bred sheep, or the Biltmore Dairies. Time proved that Edith Vanderbilt and her heirs were faithful stewards of the genius by George, and The Biltmore, is today, arguably, the most popular tourist attraction in this neck of the Pisgah Forest. (Christmas is an especially festive time to visit the Biltmore because of the elegant lights and fragrances of yesteryear.)
Carl Sandburg’s farm is also a popular visitor attraction to investigate (south of Asheville). And I cannot leave out the boarding house The Old Kentucky Home that became a monument in 1949 to another literary talent Thomas Wolfe who was born and raised, and scorned, and welcomed back to Asheville as a national figure. Opinions can also change. Does that weaken them?
Note: You can stay at the famous Grove Park Inn, or a more historical resting place with rural privacy: the Spring House Farm cottages described in earlier posts and pictured to the left.
The natural beauty of the mountains is evidently a favored background for searching the soul. Currently our most celebrated resident is the Rev. Billy Graham, a beloved world-renowned evangelist, who counts down his last days in the Black Mountain community, also home to his international spiritual crusades. Down the road is the town of Montreat which for years has been the location of a Presbyterians’ think tank and retreat for its missionaries. On Asheville’s west flank is the township of Lake Junaluska where the Methodists hold their annual district conference. Recently Evangelism Explosion International also moved their leadership educational headquarters to the heart of Asheville.
It is good that those with corporate skills effect a universal wisdom, but why are there local T-shirts describing Asheville as “Sin City?” How could that be suggested when the bastions of religion are well represented all around the town? I presume that Satan’s army does not feel it worthwhile to attack its own obvious followers, and they must seek a worthy opponent. But then the question is, who defines sin? Political talking points, maybe?
In Remembering Asheville, Mr. Ready suggests that the city’s future was in jeopardy because the recent prosperity of the early 1900’s had overshadowed the values of the ordinary mountain people who built her foundations. On page 67, he quotes George Newton a Presbyterian minister who pointed a bony finger east toward the settlement on the Swannanoa River in 1800 and declared it “the root of all evil,” defining it clearly as “ignorant Methodists, back-sliding Presbyterians and once-dipped Baptists.” His own ideas of Presbyterianism were the correct ones, of course. He opened his own academy and led the fight to keep the Baptists out of town for fifty years.
Mr. Ready brings his book to a close discussing the division of philosophy between the rural areas and the county seat. “After more than two centuries, Asheville and Buncombe County still had a healthy disregard, even a muted antipathy, for each other.” They struggled over issues of taxes, annexation, water rights, cleaning up the French Broad, leash laws, and equal rights.
“Many of the public stands on abortion and prayer in schools has less to do with churches and denominations and more to do with perceived attacks upon a basic, common constitutionalism. In many cases, this centered around the separation of church and state and of individual rights and freedoms.”
This book was written in 2005. These issues are not settled. Divisive rhetoric has escalated. Where is Wisdom?
The third book I read was Haunted Asheville by Joshua P. Warren with intriguing local stories like “The Pink Lady of the Grove Park Inn,” and “The Ghost of 13 WLOS TV.” The author starts his introduction by saying “Things die slowly in the mountains.” “There is something about the spirit that tends to linger here. There is something about the dark, looming mountains that envelops the soul and entices it to stay.” This was in line with my previous attitude reflecting on the books by Ready and Tessier. However when three of my lamps flickered on and off for days and then died, my husband ordered me to get rid of the ghost book. I suggested he fix the lamps. Two perspectives, right? It is called marriage.
As my family gathered together this week for a food-fest known as Thanksgiving, we gave thanks to God, the source of the blessings of freedom that we share with respect for others. It seems there are many opinions about the “correct” path to righteousness. The devil is in the details.
I have not been assigned a directive to impose my opinions on society, so I will concentrate on my neighborhood where relationships are mano a mano. I can understand respect better when a different opinion has someone’s name behind it. And a face.
Copyright 2015 Georgia Wilson