Category: Education

Presentation Description

To prepare students for a field trip to the Smith-McDowell House in Asheville, NC


Presentation Transcript

WELCOME TO Asheville History Center at Smith-McDowell House A guide for School Field Trips:

WELCOME TO Asheville History Center at Smith-McDowell House A guide for School Field Trips The Center is administered by the Western North Carolina Historical Association

Smith-McDowell House:

Smith-McDowell House The Smith-McDowell House gets its name from the first two owners of the house. James Smith who built the house in the 1840s and William Wallace McDowell who purchased the house a year after Mr. Smith’s death. You will learn more about them in this slide show.

Front View of House:

Front View of House This is the front view of the house as it would have looked for both Mr. Smith and Mr. McDowell. It is facing east.

Back of the house and Dependency:

Back of the house and Dependency Here on the left, you can see the back of the house. On the right is the building we call the dependency. This was originally a smoke house for preserving meat.

North view of the house:

North view of the house The McDowells sold the house in 1880 to the Garrett family and they add to the back of the house, connecting the original back of the house to the summer kitchen. This allowed for a lovely side porch on this side of the house.

South view of the house:

South view of the house The Garrets also added a sun room (called a solarium or conservatory) It was a lovely place to take in the sunshine and fresh air. You will be learning about these families in the next slides. Let’s look at these owners so you can see the time line of their ownership, then we’ll take one family at a time.

The First Owners of the House:

The First Owners of the House 1840s to 1856 – James & Polly Smith 1856 to 1857 – John Smith 1858 to 1880 – William Wallace and Sarah Smith McDowell 1881 – 1896 – Alexander Garrett 1896 – 1898 – Robert Garrett

James & Polly Smith:

James & Polly Smith James Smith is already a wealthy businessman when he builds his “country home” in the 1840s. Names the house Buck House. He owns businesses and land. He has a house in Asheville. Most of his children are all grown by this time. Fun fact: in 1840, the population of Asheville was 10,000 people. Today the population is 250,000!


At this point in time, Asheville is a crossroads of a number of Drover’s Roads. Drovers are herding pigs and/or turkeys from farms in Tennessee down into South Carolina where they can sell them at the market. During hog season, the Asheville newspaper describes downtown Asheville as “a sea of hogs”.


By 1840, Mr. Smith owns over 30,000 acres and plants some of it in corn. He also owns a hotel, a mercantile (like a general store), a tannery and Most importantly, he owned a bridge – the ONLY bridge at Asheville across the French Broad River. It was a Toll Bridge. Everyone and everything that crossed had to pay the fee. Drovers would tally up their animals, men, wagons, etc. and pay for the crossing. Once they were in Asheville, they were looking for overnight lodging. Guess who had a hotel? Guess who had corn to feed the hungry animals? That would be ME!!


Smith’s Bridge was located just next to where the Smoky Park Highway bridge is today. It was rebuilt at one point but during the 1916 flood it was destroyed. The approximate location of the Bridge is this bridge here on Craven St. in the River Arts District.

Major William Wallace McDowell:

Major William Wallace McDowell When Mr. Smith dies, he leaves Buck House in his will to his son, John who dies a year later with no will and no heirs. William Wallace McDowell and his wife, Sara Lucinda Smith McDowell buy Buck House at auction (Sara is one of Smith’s daughters!) The McDowells live here for 27 years and raise 9 children. Mr. McDowell participates in the Civil War as an officer in the Buncombe Riflemen and rises to the rank of Major.


Early photograph of Mrs. McDowell with her first-born. An 1870s photo of the House. Look carefully and you will see the McDowell family!


By the 1870s, the Reconstruction period is hard on the McDowell family – and everyone in the South. The McDowells sell portions of their land, such as up on the hill from the House. The new owner builds there and the house becomes known as Fernihurst. By the end of the decade, Asheville is known for fresh air and good climate. Perfect for people suffering from tuberculosis or TB, a lung disease. Many TB patients come for the health benefits.

The Garrett family :

The Garrett family Alexander Garrett Robert Garrett Mary Frances Garrett The Garrett family buys Buck House and a great deal of land around the House in 1881. They come from St. Louis, MO for the fresh air for Mary Frances, who has tuberculosis. Robert and Mary Frances also have a daughter Alexandra.


Both Alexander and Robert begin to deal in real estate, selling lots for home-building and creating a little Village they call Victoria. Alexander is named the Mayor of Victoria. They also build a hotel called the Victoria Inn. The hotel is no longer standing, but would be just north of Buck House. The village of Victoria is now the campus of AB Tech Community College. Postcard image of old Victoria Inn


After Mary Frances dies, Robert marries Myra Gash. This photo shows Robert and Alexander Garrett with Myra and Robert’s daughter Alexandra. Alexandra Garrett’s wedding is held at the House in the sunroom. She tosses her bouquet from the landing on the stairs. This is her wedding portrait.

Your House Tour:

Your House Tour Each room of the Smith-McDowell House Museum represents a different decade in the history of the house from 1840 to 1900. Great care was taken to show the home fashions of each decade by furnishing them with typical furniture, and objects. We have a few objects from the Smith, McDowell and Garrett families.

Exhibit Rooms:

Exhibit Rooms 1840s Kitchen 1860s Parlor 1850s Bedroom 1870s Bedroom

Exhibit Rooms:

Exhibit Rooms 1880s Parlor 1890s Dining Room

Owners of the House after 1898:

Owners of the House after 1898 1898 – 1908 : Dr. and Mrs. Charles Van Bergen They are good friends of George and Cornelia Vanderbilt. They hire the Olmsted Firm for Gardens and Landscaping


1908 – 1910 General and Mrs. Alfred Bates Mr. and Mrs. McKee Dunn McKee (she is the daughter of Gen. Bates) 1920 – 1949 Herman Gudger Uses it for rental property 1913 – 1920 C. Brewster Chapman (on left)


In the late 1950s and early 1960s the house was used as a dormitory for Asheville Catholic High School. It is now owned by AB Tech Community College It was restored and preserved in the 1970s by the Western North Carolina Historical Association. We look forward to seeing you!!

Come Visit Us :

Come Visit Us Smith-McDowell House Museum 283 Victoria Rd Asheville, NC 28803 828-253-9231 Field Trips: Thursday – Friday Normal operating Hours are Wed – Sat 10 -4 and Sundays noon-4 (seasonally)

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