Admit it, you are intrigued! What does mica have to do with an Asheville Bed and Breakfast? Well, it all goes back to the original owner of the house at 177 Cumberland Avenue.
Recently we were visited by the great-grandson of Vance Brown who owned the house from 1901 to the Mid-1940’s . Brown was a successful businessman and an involved citizen of Asheville and North Carolina in the early 1900’s. What I know about him is limited, so I was glad his great-grandson was able to give me some more information about the Asheville Mica Company, Vance Brown’s successful business.
When we bought the Carolina Bed & Breakfast I found a chunk of mica in a drawer in the dining room. The departing innkeeper said she kept it there to show guests when they asked about the history of the house. The first owner, Vance Brown, was President of the Asheville Mica Company and some of her guests did not know what mica is. Having grown up in rocky New England where I spent my childhood playing outdoors in the woods around my house, I didn’t realize that this fascinating multilayered mineral was not something familiar to people, so I did a little more research to explain what Mica is and how it is used. Don’t worry–I’ll keep this short and easy!
Mica has a number of properties which makes it useful in both industrial applications as well as in home products. It flakes easily into thin transparent sheets. The mineral has a super high kindling point which made (and makes) it very useful for furnace and oven windows. It is used in the electric industry because it can stand high voltages, transporting electricity safely with little power loss. Mica is believed to be the source of “Eisenglass Curtains” (made memorable in the song, “The Surrey with the Fringe On Top” from Oklahoma). Because of its light-reflective quality Mica also finds its way into your home in mineral based make-up and as an abrasive in toothpaste. This is just a small list of some of the many uses of mica but you get the idea!
Sometime in the 1940’s Brown’s son, J. Fuller Brown, moved his family and company to Newport News, Virginia, in order to be closer to shipping for his mineral. The company merged with Schoonmaker Mica and the Asheville-Schoonmaker Mica Company continues to sell mica and mica products today (including mica lampshades!) The factory where the Asheville Mica Company employed more than 40 workers still exists as The Lofts at Mica Village, 10 beautifully developed condominiums.
And of course, the house on 177 Cumberland Avenue where Vance Brown lived with his wife and children is still going strong too. This is one of the things I enjoy the most about our historic house: its roots are still strong in the town and its history is alive in the families who return to see where their family came from!