Local History Timeline
by Jim Buchanan and Rob Neufeld
published January 7, 2008
Approximately 8000 BC – 1540 AD: Western North Carolina is part of Cherokee lands, which by the start of the
1700s stretched from southwestern Virginia across Western North Carolina into northwestern South Carolina,
Northern Georgia and Alabama and into eastern Tennessee. The first European explorer, Hernando DeSoto, came
to the area in 1540, bringing with him European diseases that decimated native populations.
1763: A proclamation by King George sets land west of the Blue Ridge aside for the Cherokee and bans
May 15, 1771. Battle of Alamance, defeat of Regulators.
1776: After Cherokee alliance with the British and a number of raids against settlers, Gen. Griffith Rutherford leads a
punishing expedition against Cherokee towns and agriculture. The Cherokee ended their involvement in the
Revolutionary War and surrendered WNC lands to the state of North Carolina. Following the Treat of Paris in 1783,
the state, which owed money to the Continental Congress, offered land as payment to soldiers.
1784: Colonel Samuel Davidson redeems a land grant from the state of North Carolina for his service as a soldier
and settled in the Swannanoa Valley on Christian Creek. He was ambushed and killed by a Cherokee band; his wife,
child and female slave fled 16 miles on foot to Davidson’s fort. Samuel’s twin brother, Major William Davidson, and
Colonel Daniel Smith led an expedition to retrieve his body. William Davidson and other family members returned
and settled at Bee Tree Creek.
1791: Davidson and David Vance petition for the formation of Buncombe County, named in honor of Revolutionary
War hero Col. Edward Buncombe. The original county, ratified by the state in 1792, stretched from modern-day
Burke County to the South Carolina and Tennessee state lines. It was referred to as “The State of Buncombe.’’
1793: The original county seat, Morristown, was established at the crossing of two Indian trails, where Pack Square
is located today.
1797: Morristown is renamed Asheville in honor of N.C. Governor Samuel Ashe.
1799. The last buffalo in the area was killed by Joseph Rice at Bull's Gap.
1800. Bishop Francis Asbury, John Wesley's representative in America, began his circuit-riding of this region, often
stopping at the Killion place in Beaverdam
Early 1800s. Drover’s roads, crude trails used to drive livestock and transport goods, rise and link Asheville to the
outside world. Rudimentary roads used by settlers headed westward were slowly improved, and in 1819 the state
hired an engineer for road building in the region, including the Buncombe Turnpike, which was completed in 1827.
This road became a vital artery for crops and livestock such as hogs, turkeys and cattle. Tens of thousands of
animals passed through Asheville in a nearly continuous flow in the latter months of the year.
1820: Congressman Felix Walker adds “Buncombe’’ to the national lexicon after making an ill-timed, meaningless
speech in the 16th Congress. Fortunately, Buncombe was later shortened to “bunk’’ and has more or less lost its
attachment to the area.
1830. Sulphur Springs Hotel, the first health resort in the area, opened on the present site of Malvern Hills in West
1830's. Stagecoach travel to and from Asheville became established, forming the genesis of the city’s reputation as
a health resort, summer retreat and later as a tourist attraction.
1832: The first North Carolina Governor from Buncombe, David Lowry Swain, was elected – at 31, the youngest in
state history at that point. He served three one-year terms and became president of the University of North Carolina
in 1835, a position he held 33 years.
May 26, 1838: The Removal Bill for the evacuation of the Cherokee from N.C. was passed.
1840: Asheville’s population hits 500.
1840: James McConnell Smith built his showplace house on Victoria Road. It has survived as the oldest Asheville
residence, and opened as a local history museum under the auspices of the Western North Carolina Historical
Association in 1981.
1851: A plank road connects Asheville and Greenville, South Carolina.
1861-1865: The Civil War years. North Carolina was the last state to secede from the Union. (Technically, the state
didn’t secede, but “undid’’ the act entering it into the United States). The state was led throughout the conflict by
Gov. Zebulon Vance, a Buncombe native. During the course of the war North Carolina lost more soldiers killed –
40,000 – than any other state. WNC saw no major battles, although Asheville served as an important military hub; a
sizeable force of raiders and Ohio Infantry squared off with volunteers from Asheville during a five-hour battle that
saw the invading force driven off. Divided loyalties and difficulties imposed on families by conscription acts, in
addition to casualties taken by local units far afield and depredations by raiding parties, created great hardships in
the region. Vance earned a reputation as a capable and empathetic leader during the conflict. His wisdom stands
out in one particular quote: "The great popular heart is not now and never has been in this war. It was a revolution of
the politicians, not the people.'' July 1, 1862 - the Battle of Malvern Hill – was the deadliest day in history of Western
Postwar: The war severely impacted traffic on the Turnpike. Farmers had been killed or wounded, the railheads at
the end of the Turnpike lay in ruins and the road never returned to its glory days. The area entered the general
economic depression that swept the entire South for years.
1866. The first baseball game in town was played on the "Barn Field" near the present Aston Park.
1870: The precursor of today’s Asheville Citizen-Times begins publication as a weekly newspaper.
1870's. The McDowell family supported the development of a neighborhood of its former slaves in what is now
1879. The first tobacco warehouse was opened in Asheville at Lexington and Aston Avenues. A boom ensued until
the last flue-cured warehouse closed in 1897.
1880: The railroad arrives in Asheville. In the next 10 years, the city’s population goes from 2,600 to more than
10,000, and the ease of transporting livestock and goods by rail was the death knell for the Turnpike.
1883: The first telephone exchange in Asheville is established.
1885: The ladies of the Flower Mission form Mission Hospital.
July 7, 1886: Colonel Frank Coxe opened Battery Park Hotel, outfitted with Edison lights and Otis elevators, built
atop the hill that commanded a view of the town.
1887: Asheville Cotton Mill began operation.
1887: Isaac Dickson, pressing for public education for African American children, is the first African American
appointed to the school board.
1888: Winyah Sanitarium opened.
1895: The 250-room mansion now known worldwide as the Biltmore House and Gardens was completed by George
Vanderbilt. The lavish project provided innovative ideas of farming and timber management that set standards for
years to come.
Jan. 31, 1889. Asheville Street Railway's passenger service was inaugurated.
Summer, 1889. 40,000 people visited the Asheville area.
1899: Asheville Mica Company was established, capitalizing on the function of the region as the center of mica
production since 1867.
1900: The population of Asheville approaches 15,000. The area’s climate has led to the establishment of
several renowned tuberculosis sanatoriums, and also is now a well-know tourist destination. One of the sanatoriums
formed this year by the Sisters of Mercy becomes St. Joseph Hospital.
Oct. 8, 1907: Asheville voted for prohibition.
1910: William Sydney Porter, better known as the celebrated author O. Henry, is buried in Asheville, weaving a
thread into the area’s rich literary tapestry.
1913: The Grove Park Inn is constructed on 140 acres overlooking Asheville, a hallmark of an era of high-end
construction in Asheville.
1917: America enters World War I. Asheville’s best claim to fame in the conflict is Kiffin Rockwell, who served with the
Lafeyette Escadrille. A veteran of 142 engagements, he was the first American to shoot down an enemy plane and
the first North Carolinian killed in war during service on Sept. 23, 1916.
1917: S.B. Penick & Co., the world's largest distributor of botanical medicines, set up its largest warehouse in
Asheville, drawing on the herb collecting of mountaineers. In 1923, it moved to Broadway and Catawba Street, where
it stayed until 1966.
1920: Buncombe native Lillian Exum Clement becomes the first woman elected to a state legislature in the South with
a convincing victory. She becomes a member of the General Assembly before women won the right to vote.
Spring, 1920: The Farmers Federation, led by James McClure Jr., was formed as a cooperative to provide market
advantages to farmers.
End of Oct., 1920: Western North Carolina Apple Show exhibited at Battery Park Hotel. Industry began a few years
before in the area. The largest orchard–20,000 trees–was on Elk Mountain on a tract owned by J.T. Bledsoe, E.L.
Ray, and N.T. Robinson.
1922: The first city plan was developed by Dr. John Nolen.
1926: The peak of the Asheville real estate boom. The value of building permits topped $9 million,
compared to $800,000 in 1919.
1927: Bascom Lamar Lunsford staged the first annual Mountain Dance and Folk Festival.
1927: The area’s first radio station, WWNC, begins broadcasting from the Flat Iron Building. Local
musicians provided an abundance of talent for hit shows like “The Farm Hour.’’
1927: What is today the University of North Carolina at Asheville is founded as Buncombe County Junior College.
Summer, 1928. First annual Rhododendron Festival.
Sept. 23, 1928: The Asheville Citizen reported a firm named American Enka would build a plant on 2,000 acres of
land in Hominy Valley. It would become the largest industry west of Charlotte. Enka and Beacon Manufacturing were
the economic engines of the region during a large swath of the 20th century, each employing more than 1,000
workers and hundreds more in affiliated shops.
1929: Thomas Wolfe’s first novel, “Look Homeward, Angel,’’ is published, putting Asheville on the literary map.
1929: The Grove Arcade, one of the nation’s first indoor markets, opens for business.
Nov. 20, 1930: Central Bank and Trust Company failed to open for business. City and County governments, with
deposits of more than $8,000,000, were among the depositors.
1934: The end of the era of streetcars, replaced by buses for public transportation.
1929-World War II: The Great Depression hits Asheville hard, shuttering most banks and burdening the city
with the highest per capita debt of any city in the nation. (The debts were repaid over a 40-year period). An
unexpected benefit emerged from the city being knocked back on its heels and entering a period of stagnation was
that many of the downtown buildings weren’t renovated or taken down, leaving a wealth of examples of eclectic. Two
important additions outside Asheville that would help cement its future prosperity were in the works in the form of the
Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Blue Ridge Parkway. 1942. The expansion of war agencies led the
Federal government to move its Postal Accounts Division into the Grove Arcade, transferring 800 employees, and
replacing the marketplace's plate glass with brick.
Sept. 2, 1940. Great Smoky Mountains national Park dedicated by FDR
World War II: The era was marked by tragedy and triumph. The USS Asheville, a gunboat commissioned in 1920,
was sunk in action with the Asiatic Fleet on March 3, 1942, with the loss of all hands except lone survivor Fred Brown
of Indiana, who died in a Japanese prison camp four years later. Triumph came with Asheville’s Captain Robert
Morgan, who led the B17F Flying Fortress Memphis Belle to fame, becoming the first man to complete 25 bombing
missions. The federal government took over the Grove Arcade, emptying 127 offices and 74 shops, and would stay
in the building for more than a half-century.
Nov. 4, 1947: Asheville voters approved establishment of legal whiskey stores, repealing Prohibition after 40 years.
The first ABC stores opened at Haywood Rd. and Burton Street; North and South Market Streets; Depot St.; and
1948: The city zoning ordinance was adopted following the formation of the city Planning and Zoning Commission.
1952: The Asheville Housing Authority was established; 358 units were built in the first year.
Mar. 6, 1954: Memorial Mission Hospital opened
1954: WLOS-TV signs onto the Asheville airwaves for the first time.
1955: Wilma Dykeman’s first book, “The French Broad,’’ marks the beginning of a long path toward cleaning up the
river and passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972.
Oct. 25, 1956: Westgate Mall, the first mall in western North Carolina, opened.
1957: A bond initiative is approved for construction of the Asheville-Hendersonville Airport.
1959: I-40 opened. Later, it joined I-26.
1961: The Asheville-Henderson Airport opened.
1963: Asheville-Buncombe Technical Institute, now A-B Tech, opens.
1964: Northwestern Bank constructed an office skyscraper, now BB&T building.
June 25, 1964: Asheville housing code passed by council. Requires landlord to get c. of o. before renting dwelling
to new tenant.
1969: Asheville-Biltmore College became a university of the state system.
Jan. 25, 1970. Matthew Bacoate formed Asheville's first black-owned industry, Afram, Inc.
1971: A bond passes by a wide margin for construction of the Asheville Civic Center, buoyed in large part by a
promise from Rev. Billy Graham to hold a crusade here.
1974: Work is completed on the Asheville Civic Center. Bickering over it continues to this day.
1976: The Department of Transportation blasted a canyon-sized chunk out of Beaucatcher Mountain, making a path
December 29, 1978: A large portion of downtown Asheville nominated to national Register of Historic Places.
Jan. 16, 1979: In a referendum, city residents approved the sale of mixed drinks.
1979. First Bele Chere festival.
1979. The Bank of Asheville, the last locally owned bank in Asheville, was absorbed by N.C. National Bank.
1987: The Asheville Area Economic Development Partnership is formed to help an area reeling from the loss of
thousands of manufacturing jobs.
May, 1989: Voters rejected a bond to build a treatment plant to use the French Broad River for drinking water.
1990: Handmade in America, the highly successful organization formed to further WNC’s craft roots and culture, is
July 4, 1992. Pack Place Education, Arts and Science Center opened.
1995. Tourism became the county's leading business.
1995: Work is completed on the National Climatic Data Center, opening up the Grove Arcade for development once
1996: St. Josephs and Mission merge into a single health system.
1997: The City of Asheville signs a 198-year-lease with the Grove Arcade Public Market Foundation for restoration
of the building. It reopened in 2002 and is a vibrant, vital hub to a downtown that has been springing back to life for
nearly two decades.