Asheville History–the Montford District

Filed under: History


191 Cumberland Avenue: Home of George Murray (c. 1906). 

When people call and ask for information about the Carolina Bed & Breakfast, James and I often mention that it is in the Montford Historic District, an area consisting of more than 300 acres with over 600 structures built between 1890-1920. The vast majority of the buildings having been built between 1890-1910. 

The area is notable because of the unique architecture of the houses, concentrated in a neighborhood undisturbed by newer buildings.  Living in the Carolina, I have always been aware of the people who lived at 177 Cumberland Avenue as well. Among the many items I found tucked away here in the house when we moved in were a number of file folders filled with clippings and notes about the families who have lived here.  I imagine that one of the previous innkeepers had the same vision of putting it all together in a scrapbook that I did before the day to day work of running an inn got in the way!

90 Cumberland Avenue: Home of Henry Redwood (c.1905)

In one of the files was a small paperbound book called Historic Montford, printed by the Preservation Society of Asheville & Buncombe County in 1985, 26 years ago.  It contains 46 photos of houses in the area and includes some information about their owners. 15 of these houses are on Cumberland Avenue.

So yesterday I set out with my camera to see what the houses looked like today.  Originally my intention was to compare the old photos to the new ones to show you how the neighborhood had, or had not, changed.  But as I walked along I got caught up in imagining what it was like 100 years ago for the people who lived here.  As I said hello to my neighbors, I pictured Vance Brown or his wife Daphne walking on these same sidewalks and greeting their neighbors.  For the first time I was able to see why the Historic Resources Commission of Asheville is so vigilant in their attempt to keep the houses true to their original form.   

110 Cumberland Avenue:  Home of Matthew Van Moore (c. 1897)

A real insight for me was when I stopped to talk to the owner of 90 Cumberland Avenue, who was working in his garden (His wife does the flowers, he does the weeds!).  He told me the story of Henry Redwood who was born in Baltimore, ran away and joined the Confederate Army at the age of 16, was captured and escaped, then went out West for a while before making his way to New York City. He finally came to Asheville in 1881.  His home on Cumberland Avenue was built at the same time as the home of Vance Brown and as important merchants and citizens of Asheville, they certainly knew each other.  One of the things that struck me about his story was the tolerance of the town and neighborhood. Redwood’s neighbors on the street included Major Will Pearson, retired of the Union Army among other ex-soldiers of both sides.  However the prosperity of this part of Montford and the City of Asheville in general does not seem to have been disturbed by this past enmity.

118 Cumberland Avenue: Built for John Grey in 1897

118 Cumberland Avenue (side view)

When I got home, I pulled out my little book and jotted down the names and occupations of some of the people who lived on this street.  Hidden behind the bare bones of the facts are lots of interesting nuggets!  This house, 118 Cumberland Avenue was built by a man named Oliver Davis Reville.  He was the builder of a number of homes on the street, obviously a popular man.  He started building the house in 1897 for John Grey, a retired officer of the Union Army.  John died before the house was finished and Reville married his widow, Carolyn, and they moved into the finished house.  I imagine this must have created some stir on the street.  Carolyn and Oliver did not live there for long, from 1902-1903  the house was the location of the Asheville Seminary.  Perhaps some of the children of Vance and Daphne Brown went to school there!

I included two pictures of the house because, like the story of Carolyn Grey Reville, it presents two sides to the street, both quite different in their appearance!

144 Cumberland Avenue: Home of Dr. James Ramsey, Dentist (c. 1894)
177 Cumberland Avenue: Home of W. Vance Brown

W. Vance Brown, the original owner of 177 Cumberland Avenue was the President of the Asheville Mica Mining Corporation.  Among his other neighbors on the street was Willis E. Collins, a renowned musician who, in true Asheville form, was responsible for promoting many cultural events in the town.  He also created and sold “Biltmore Wheat Hearts”, a popular local cereal!  George Murray, President of the Asheville Veneer Company,  lived next door to Vance Brown, and Frederick Rutledge of the South Carolina Rutledge’s lived at 209 Cumberland.  He owned an insurance business in town but was most noted for his contributions to the local paper of articles about the people and the ways of the old South.

The Montford area has experienced many ups and downs in the past 100 years.  After the original period of prosperity in the early 1900’s, it suffered a decline toward the end of the century.  There are still homes needing a loving hand to restore them: 110 Cumberland, former home of Matthew Van Moore, owner of the M.V. Moore Clothing Company and a leader in civic affairs, being a notable example.  But as I walked up one side of Cumberland Avenue and back down the other, I was struck by the care many of my neighbors have put into maintaining their homes and gardens, while still showing the unique character and outlook of each inhabitant. 


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