Clingman Avenue Historic District
The Clingman Avenue Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2004. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2011, The Gombach Group.
Located just south of Patton Avenue on the west side of downtown Asheville, North Carolina, the Clingman Avenue Historic District covers approximately seven acres and is bounded roughly by Hilliard Avenue on the north, Clingman Avenue on the east, the southern boundary of properties fronting the east side of Clingman Avenue on the south, and Rector Street and Clingman Place on the west. Streets are arranged in a northeast-southwest orientation (Clingman Avenue andMerritt Street) or northwest-southeast (Clingman Place and Rector Street). Houses within the Clingman Avenue Historic District are typically on small lots, with some set up on small hills above the street and some with lots which drop steeply to the rear. Boundaries of the Clingman Avenue Historic District are based upon detailed research into historic plats, as well as the remaining concentration of buildings relating to the historic development trends of the neighborhood. The Clingman Avenue Historic District consists of thirty-three contributing houses and outbuildings, and seven non-contributing buildings. There are eleven vacant lots in the district. To the north of the district are new commercial development and highways, to the south are new commercial areas and vacant land, to the east are additional historic neighborhoods along with new housing, and to the west, separated from the district by vacant land and new commercial development, is the West End neighborhood.
By far, the majority of the houses in the Clingman Avenue Historic District are simple one-story cottages or bungalows, with some examples of larger two-story houses, built primarily as speculative rental housing. Architectural types within the Clingman Avenue Historic District include thirteen hip roof cottages or bungalows dating from 1904 to 1943; ten front-gable cottages or bungalows dating from 1913 to 2003; one side-gable cottage dating from 1907; three cross-gable cottages or bungalows dating from 1896 to 1929; four one-story L-plan cottages dating from 1896 to ca.1935; one two-story L-plan house dating from 1899; one, two-story Queen Anne-influenced house dating from ca.1910; one, two-story Queen Anne house from 1896; one, one-story Queen Anne house from 1896; and one small side-gable house dating from the 1960s. The majority of the houses are of wood frame construction, with a notable exception being the two brick hip-roof cottages at 4 and 6 Yarrow Place (1943). One of the frame houses has a pebble dash exterior. Another architecturally notable house in terms of larger scale and massing as compared to the majority of houses in the district is the Queen Anne C.C. Brown House at 76 Clingman Avenue (1896). A particularly good example of a bungalow in terms of form, scale, and intact original features including window sash, porch balustrade and posts, and German siding is the house at 88 Clingman Avenue (1914).
The Clingman Avenue Historic District is significant in the area of social history as one of Asheville's most intact surviving representative examples of a historically African American residential neighborhood. The district exemplifies the early twentieth century trend of racially segregating neighborhoods, accomplished initially through shifts in occupancy of existing dwellings and continuing with new construction occupied by African Americans from the time of its completion. The Clingman Avenue Historic District comprises thirty-three contributing houses and outbuildings and seven houses that are non-contributing (three due to changes and four due to age) primarily on Clingman Avenue and Rector Street. The majority of the houses in the Clingman Avenue Historic District are simple one-story cottages or bungalows, interspersed with larger two-story houses, built primarily as speculative rental housing. From the mid-1890s through the first decade of the twentieth century, the Clingman Avenue neighborhood was almost exclusively the home of white working class residents. Two properties shifted from white to black occupancy in the early to mid 1910s. In 1919 and 1920, African Americans moved into more than half of the district's houses as tenants or, in several instances, as owners. This trend continued through 1949, the end of the period of significance, by which time the neighborhood's residents were all African Americans, many of them homeowners. Both nationally and locally, after World War I, African Americans entered the work force in large numbers. Asheville was no exception, experiencing a building boom in the 1920s that employed many African Americans. The influx of African Americans to Asheville at the end of World War I and the resultant need for housing, coupled with tension between the races, appears to have contributed to the "white flight" from many formerly white or racially mixed neighborhoods, resulting in a social shift such as happened in the Clingman Avenue Historic District. Living within the constraints of Jim Crow laws, the Clingman Avenue neighborhood developed as a close-knit and vibrant community representing a variety of occupations and income levels ranging laborers, domestics, and railway workers to skilled artisans, clerks, teachers, ministers, nurses, shopkeepers, and businessmen.
Historic Background and Social History Context
Before the coming of the railroad in 1880, Asheville, North Carolina, was a small community and stop along the Buncombe Turnpike, built in 1828. The initial boom in development did not happen until the train arrived, bringing with it industrial, residential, and commercial growth. Once the Western North Carolina Railroad began service through Asheville in 1880, industrial and residential development rapidly followed. By 1900, many neighborhoods had been laid out to the north of downtown Asheville, including the Asheville Loan, Construction, and Improvement Company's Montford neighborhood (1889) and the Chestnut Hill neighborhood (1890s). Prospect Park (1890), located west of downtown, was also one of these early platted neighborhoods, a small portion of which remains in the area now known as West End, located just to the west of the Clingman Avenue Historic District.
Clingman Avenue's initial development occurred during the late-nineteenth century boom. Its original name of Depot Street reflected its status as one of Asheville's main transportation corridors leading directly to the passenger depot at the railroad tracks southwest of downtown. The eastern edge of Prospect Park included lots along the west side of Depot Street, south of Rector Street. Clingman Avenue (Depot Street area), like Montford and Chestnut Hill, was served by the streetcar system, with one of the main lines running out Patton Avenue, which intersects Clingman at its north end (outside the district), and another running along Southside Avenue to the south. Easy access to this mode of transportation thus made the Clingman Avenue area, like the neighborhoods to the north, one of the most desirable places to live. Everyone arriving by rail had to travel up Clingman Avenue to get into town. The circus parade was a memorable event, with performers and animals marching up the hill from the depot.
Grand homes were built in these early neighborhoods. While most of Montford and Chestnut Hill's imposing houses still stand, those in Prospect Park and Clingman Avenue, equally successful as their northern counterparts in their early years of development, ultimately did not survive.
While the west side of Clingman Avenue south of Rector Street was part of the 1890 Prospect Park development, construction along the east side of Clingman Avenue and the west side north of Rector Street can be traced through a series of subdivision plats. The lower end of the east side of Clingman Avenue, near the intersection with Eugene Street, originally was platted into lots in 1902, under the estate of Mrs. Maria W. Cocke. However, it appears this early subdivision did not develop, and the area was later re-platted in 1916 as the Miss Elizabeth Stroud property. It was after this time that most of the houses on the south end of the street were built. A portion of the north end of the east side of Clingman Avenue, aroundMerritt Street, was originally platted in 1907 as the Mrs. E.A.Merritt property, although some of the houses here pre-date this plat and were constructed as early as 1896.
The southwest side of Rector Street was also platted as part of the Prospect Park development in 1890, but most houses in this area were not built until the 1910s and 1920s. A portion of the northeast side of Rector Street, including the corner of Rector Street and Clingman Avenue, was platted in 1919 as the E.F. Wilson & W.L. Teasley property.
Clingman Place (formerly Clingman Alley) does not appear on city maps until 1900, but appears on the 1891 bird's eye view of Asheville. The northeast side of Clingman Place, including the corner of Clingman Avenue and Clingman Place, was laid out in 1901 as the James Buttrick property, with a portion replatted in 1926 for E.C. Greene.
One of the last areas of the neighborhood to be platted was around Yarrow Place. This originally was part of the W.E. Merrill property, subdivided in 1924. Six lots of this subdivision were sold in 1925 to J.L. Owens, who then sold it to T.P. Yarrow. T.P. Yarrow then sold it to V.M. Yarrow in 1930. In 1943, Thomas Yarrow, likely a relative of the two earlier owners, developed the lots with brick hip-roof cottages, two of which remain and are in the district (4 and 6 Yarrow Place).
Clingman Avenue (formerly Depot Street), originally ran from Pearson Drive (later Roberts Street), which paralleled the railroad, north to Patton Avenue. (Eventually Depot Street north of its junction with Haywood Road was renamed Clingman Avenue.) This street pattern remained intact until at least 1970, after which the construction of bridges, the widening of Patton Avenue to the north, and the extension of Hilliard Avenue to the west, along with commercial development to the north, led to the demolition of many of the houses on the north end of Clingman Avenue, leaving the south end as the identifiable neighborhood that is the Clingman Avenue Historic District.
The Clingman Avenue neighborhood developed as a home to mostly working class families. Within the district, more than half of the buildings (approximately twenty) were constructed between 1896 and 1920. The earliest residents were white renters, usually employed by Southern Railway, the building trades, nearby industries, and small businesses. Only a handful were business owners, such as C.C. Brown of Roberts & Brown, publishers of the State Register (76 Clingman Avenue, 1896); and J.F. Brown, a restaurant owner (19 Rector Street, 1896). Some were professionals, such as J.F. Morris, who was an engineer (19 Rector Street, 1896). In the first decade of the twentieth century, African Americans slowly began moving into the neighborhood as renters. The earliest known African American inhabitants rented the house at 104 Clingman Avenue from the time of its construction in 1904. They were followed in 1910 by tenants at 67 Clingman Avenue and in 1916 by tenants at 91 Clingman Avenue. Then in 1919, most of the houses traditionally rented by whites shifted to African American occupancy. Most of these new occupants were renters, but in several instances the shift entailed property transfers: of the fourteen houses that became occupied by African Americans in 1919 and 1920, four were purchased by their new occupants and two other houses were bought by their new tenants within two years of moving in. Furthermore, in 1919, the combination store and residence at 122 Clingman Avenue was built by John H. Owen, an African American who resided as a tenant at 120 Clingman Avenue next door before buying it in 1922. One exception to this demographic shift was the house at 102 Clingman Avenue, which was purchased and occupied in 1919 by Thomas J. Norman, who was white.
From 1920 on, the neighborhood was almost exclusively African American. Once occupancy of the older houses shifted from white to black, it did not shift back, and all of the Clingman Avenue Historic District's houses built after 1920 were black-occupied from the outset, by both renters and owner. Gradually all but five of the rental houses were sold to owner-occupants, and by the end of the 1940s, all of the houses in the Clingman Avenue district were owner-occupied or rented by black families.
Asheville's population included African Americans from its early years, with individuals and families identified as "colored" in city directories as early as 1896. According to Sanborn maps, the earliest "colored" communities were centered on the southeast side of the city, near Eagle Street, the commercial center, and the streets to the east.
Nationally, after World War I, African American populations were growing in cities everywhere, and western North Carolina was no exception. By 1920, African Americans in Asheville numbered 7,145, roughly a fourth of the overall city population. Many blacks came to Asheville in the 1920s, one of Asheville's biggest boom times, to work in the construction industry, and by the late 1920s there were several African American neighborhoods in the city. West and southwest of downtown, in addition to the Clingman Avenue neighborhood, African-American communities developed in an area now known as Southside, consisting of South French Broad Avenue, Southside, Choctaw, Bartlett, and Blanton streets, Asheland Avenue, and Livingston Street. Other neighborhoods, primarily located on the southeast side of the city, included streets such as Valley, Hazzard, Tuskegee, Velvet, Mountain, Beaumont, Max, and Catholic Avenue. The southeastern neighborhoods centered on Catholic Hill where there was a black public school. This later burned and was replaced by the black high school, Stephens-Lee, in the early 1920s. There were also African American residents living on several streets located at the south edge of the Montford neighborhood, including Hill, Gay, Gray, Richie, and Madison.
Asheville's main African American commercial area was located on Eagle Street, off Biltmore Avenue, in the center of town, although many of the residential neighborhoods, including Clingman, had their own stores as well. Eagle Street also was the cultural heart of Asheville's African American community, with the YMI (Young Men's Institute) Building at the corner of Eagle and Market Streets. Built in 1892 by George Vanderbilt, the building was designed by prominent architect Richard Sharp Smith and served as the African American community's equivalent of the YMCA. The building served as a social and educational center for the community and later became the Market Street YMCA. Also on Eagle Street, Asheville's first black library opened in 1927.
The demographic shifts in the Clingman Avenue Historic District reflected the impact of Jim Crow laws. While most of Asheville's neighborhoods historically occupied by African Americans were strictly segregated, the Clingman Avenue and Southside areas differ in their shift from entirely or primarily white occupancy to black within the first two to three decades of their existence. It is likely, in keeping with national trends, that much of the reason for the dramatic, sudden "white flight" from neighborhoods such as Clingman Avenue were related to the general racial unrest which was occurring after World War I, as well as to the influx of blacks to the city and the resultant demand for affordable housing. The racial unrest may be traced primarily to the fact that many African Americans served in the War but were treated as second-class citizens both while they were in the service, where officers tried to set up Jim Crow laws to effectively separate the black and white soldiers, and after they returned from the war. While the last two decades of the nineteenth century often treated African Americans more equally to whites due to the recent emancipation and reconstruction laws of the South, by the last few years of the nineteenth century and into the beginning of the twentieth century, Jim Crow laws began to come into play. While claiming to provide "separate but equal" facilities, housing, and education, these laws instead served as a way to once again lower the status of African Americans, particularly in the South, to second-class citizens. Jim Crow laws were fueled by the white-controlled media which often exaggerated or lied about minor legal infractions of African Americans to create an air of hysteria within the white community.
In the Clingman Avenue Historic District, all but one of the houses located along Clingman Avenue were owned or rented by white occupants until ca.1919 to 1920. From research in city directory information and deed indexes, there are a few other trends of property ownership and occupancy in the Clingman Avenue neighborhood which can be discerned. White owners mostly rented to white occupants and African American owners rented only to African American occupants. Only a few properties were rented by white owners to African American occupants. Houses on Rector Street followed the same trend as on Clingman Avenue, with all houses except one being owned or rented by whites until ca.1919 to 1923, when they were all owned or rented by African Americans. The houses on Clingman Place,Merritt Street, and Yarrow Place, similar in scale and style to most of the houses along Clingman Avenue and Rector Street, were rented by African American residents through the late 1930s to early 1940s. The African American community continued to grow strong within the Clingman Avenue area, with all homes occupied or owned by blacks by 1949, the end of the period of significance.
There is no clear pattern to the movement of whites from Clingman Avenue to other areas once they began to leave ca.1919. Some white owners who sold their property on or around Clingman Avenue do not appear in later city directories, indicating that they may have left town. New addresses of some of the former white residents included West Haywood Street in West Asheville; Grove Street, Patton Avenue, and Spring Street to the north of the district; and Starnes and Cumberland avenues in the Montford neighborhood.
The neighborhood which long-time residents remember originally included streets to the north, particularly Patton Avenue, where there were many small commercial enterprises such as bakeries, auto shops, groceries, and drugstores within walking distance of the homes. By this time, almost all families owned their homes, and some of the owner-occupants of the larger houses rented rooms to boarders. The community was close-knit: families watched out for each other's children and focused their family life within geographic boundaries that were imposed upon them by the racial segregation of neighborhoods. Children of the families played and worked together, some of them selling kindling from the nearby used lumber yard to earn money for the movies. Some of the children worked in the summers on farms in Hendersonville, (North Carolina) or South Carolina, picking crops. Attending church regularly was an important part of community life and there were several churches that served the community, including Tried Stone Baptist Church on Knoxville Place, and Hill Street Baptist Church on Hill Street. The neighborhood was its "...own little town...," with almost everything needed by the community within walking distance. Only clothing was purchased uptown, in the larger stores.
Schools for the children in the community were generally within a short walking distance; the high school was a good distance away, but still accessible by foot. Buttrick Street, which ran between Haywood Road and Hill Street, was the route that the schoolchildren took to Hill Street School, the neighborhood elementary school for African-American children in the days before integration. The middle school for the Clingman Avenue and other African American communities located nearby, beginning in the 1910s and continuing through the 1930s and 1940s, was Asheland Avenue School just to the east. High school students attended Stephens-Lee High School, located at the top of Catholic Hill, across town to the southeast of the Clingman Avenue neighborhood. In the days before school integration, strict protocol was enforced by the police when the African American children crossed through portions of town outside of their community on the way to school. The children had to walk in the street in order to free up the sidewalks for the white children to pass or could risk a possible arrest.
An institution which played a major role in the community was the former Blue Ridge Hospital at 18 Clingman Avenue (north of the district; no longer standing), founded in 1922. It was one of the first hospitals founded to serve the region's African Americans, with the goal of providing "...hospitalization of Negroes seeking surgical or medical treatment under the care and skill of their own doctors, to provide an opportunity for the colored physicians to improve their technique and skill in keeping with the best medical and surgical thought of the day, to provide an opportunity for the efficient training of nurses, and to serve as a nucleus for the promotion and dissemination of knowledge pertaining to hygiene and sanitation." Many prominent members of the African American community served on the Board of Directors of this hospital, including the Rev. E.W. Dixon who lived at 44 Clingman Avenue (also north of the district, no longer standing). Apparently the hospital struggled economically, and in later years the building was in use as a private residence. In the 1910s, prior to the founding of Blue Ridge Hospital, Dr. William Green Torrence had run a clinic on Eagle Street, and later from his home at 95 Hill Street.
Despite racial population shifts through the years, the Clingman Avenue neighborhood was always primarily a working class neighborhood. White residents who lived here into the 1920s had a variety of occupations. Many worked in construction as carpenters, painters, or plasterers. Southern Railway employed many residents in occupations such as fireman or engineer. Other common occupations included tanners, truck drivers, and laborers, along with mechanics, barbers, machinists, skilled craftsmen, furniture makers, and clerks. A few worked at the Hans Rees Tannery along the riverfront. Others were professional construction engineers, insurance agents, and Asheville policemen. City directory listings indicate that the nearby textile mills were not major employers for the residents of the Clingman Avenue neighborhood and that few white women worked outside the home.
In contrast, most African American women worked outside the home. The district's African American residents worked largely in the service industry as maids in some of the larger homes in Asheville and Biltmore Forest, janitors, porters, waitresses, cooks, seamstresses, and orderlies. Many occupations were listed generically as laborers. Other occupations included truck drivers, chauffeurs, carpenters, barbers, launderers, and porters at the Pullman Company. Other residents worked in menial jobs in department stores downtown, as janitors at downtown office buildings or schools, or as coal peddlers. Some worked at businesses near the depot such as the Biltmore Ice Company, Carolina Coal and Ice Company, and the Asheville Mattress Factory. Some worked in the building trades or as auto mechanics. The Southern Railway, Veterans Administration Hospital in Oteen, various hotels such as the Grove Park Inn, Langren, Vanderbilt, Manor, Biltmore Forest Country Club, and Glen Rock Inn (by the depot), and restaurants were the major employers of African American residents of the Clingman Avenue area. Some residents worked at nearby factories like the Earle Chesterfield Mill and the mattress manufacturer, but as a rule textile mills were not major employers for the African American families in the neighborhood, at least not until the mid-1940s.
The Clingman Avenue neighborhood was not exclusively working class, however, especially after the early 1920s when it became predominately African American. Several of the African American men held middle class jobs, including grocery owner, restaurant owner, and teachers, and a number of the women taught at Hill Street or Stephens-Lee schools. Some of the residents along Clingman Avenue worked in the health professions, as pastors of local churches, and one as a principal of the Black Mountain School in Buncombe County. The Reverend E.W. Dixon, who lived at 44 Clingman Avenue, served as pastor of Hill Street Baptist Church for many years, and was also publisher of a newspaper, The Church Advocate in the 1940s, a publication dedicated to serving the African American community. Reverend Dixon also owned several houses on Clingman Avenue which he rented out. Other prominent families on Clingman Avenue included the Reverend Towns family, whose daughters were both teachers at the local schools, and the W.C. Allen family, owners of a local funeral home. Several families owned businesses, including the Owens Grocery at 120 Clingman Avenue, a grocery on the north end, and a barber shop.
One longtime Clingman Avenue resident is fondly remembered as a leader to many of the young men in the community. Mr. J.D. Bell, a retired individual, would often talk to the boys and young men, emphasizing to them the need to stay in school and pursue their careers. Indeed, many of the children who grew up in the neighborhood went on to attend college. Many became successful professionals such as doctors, lawyers, and business owners.
Despite the dismantling of Jim Crow laws beginning in the late 1940s and continuing through the 1950s and 1960s Civil Rights movements, the Clingman Avenue area has remained almost black-occupied since the 1940s, as have Asheville's other primarily African American early twentieth century neighborhoods. With the exception of the historically white Montford and Chestnut Hill neighborhoods and some parts of west Asheville, Asheville today still remains racially segregated, with the whites living primarily on the north side of the city and the blacks on the south. Several public housing complexes are located throughout the city, but primarily in the central and south areas, and the majority of these are primarily populated by African American families.
In addition to the Clingman Avenue Historic District, the neighborhoods south and southeast of downtown which remain almost entirely African American include the area around Mountain and Max streets, scattered housing in the south part of Montford around Gay, Gray, and Richie streets, and around South French Broad and Livingston Streets. Valley Street, a large African American neighborhood on the southeast side of downtown, was mostly demolished in the 1970s due to road construction and urban renewal projects. Portions of this community, along Mountain, Max, Grail, Dundee, and Ridge streets remain, but most of the oldest housing stock is gone. The formerly African American community in the south side of the Montford neighborhood today consists of scattered pockets of housing, with most of the homes along Hill Street demolished. The former African American community centered on Asheland Avenue and Choctaw Street has today been replaced by modern medical office buildings. Of the remaining African American communities, the Clingman Avenue area and the neighborhood known as Southside (S. French Broad, Livingston, Bartlett, Ora, and Blanton streets) are the most intact examples of neighborhoods exemplifying the trend towards the development of African American housing beginning after World War I.
When the Jim Crow laws began to lose their effectiveness in 1949, the Clingman Avenue neighborhood was solidly an African American community and remains as such today, with the majority of the houses and street layouts from the period of significance remaining. Physical changes to the community, primarily due to new road construction and private commercial development at the north end, have resulted in portions of the neighborhood being lost. Most of the older families have moved away, but new families have come in to take their place, and many residents of the community are actively involved in planning for the future of their neighborhood.
Asheville City Directories 1896-1953.
Asheville street maps 1887, 1892, 1900, 1922.
Bird's Eye View of Asheville 1891 and 1912.
Black Highlander Collection. University of North Carolina at Asheville. Documentary photographs.
Buncombe County Deed Books.
Buncombe County Plat Books.
Coleman, Jessie. Long-time neighborhood resident. Interview by Sybil A. Bowers, 9 October 2002.
Coleman Photo Collection. Documentary photographs.
Curry, Oscar "Buddy." Long-time neighborhood resident. Interview by Sybil A. Bowers and Adam Lovelady, 10 September 2002.
Dawkins, Mary Ellen. Long-time neighborhood resident. Interview by Sybil A. Bowers, 25 October 2002.
Dixon Photo Collection. Documentary photographs.
Free, Gloria. Long-time neighborhood resident. Interview by Sybil A. Bowers, 25 October 2002.
Kennedy, Gladys Cowan. Long-time neighborhood resident. Interview by Sybil A. Bowers, 31 October 2002.
Lowery, Floree. Long-time neighborhood resident. Interview by Sybil A. Bowers, 10 October 2002.
Sanborn Map Company maps 1913, 1917, 1925, and 1943.
Smith, Hattie. Long-time neighborhood resident. Interview by Sybil A. Bowers, 9 October 2002.
† Sybil Argintar Bowers, Preservation Planning Consultant, Clingman Avenue Historic District, Buncombe County, Asheville, NC, nomination document, 2003, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.