Music has always played a major role in the cultural heritage of the valley. Music served as entertainment but also as a means of socializing with neighbors.
Click on the image below to enlarge:
Thus far, we've not been able to identify any of
the musicians in this photograph.
Does any one look familiar ?
If so, contact
Don Talley - firstname.lastname@example.org
By ROGER MILLS
© St. Petersburg Times,published September 7, 2001
BLACK MOUNTAIN, N.C. -- About 45 minutes east of Asheville, cradled in the bosom of the Blue Ridge Mountains, is a place so warm, so charming, you want to be wed to it.
Or, at the very least, go out on a date.
You are in the tiny town of Black Mountain, in a place the residents call the Front Porch of western North Carolina. You are walking down State Street, the one main road that dissects the five-block town, and you are receiving smiles and how-do-you-do's. And while there are obvious acknowledgements that you are from out of town, you never feel unwelcome.
It is that way with the people of Black Mountain. On a warm day in June they are busy minding their own business, laughing at their own quirks, planning for their own tomorrows.
The Bucs needed accuracy. The Bucs needed a hard worker. The Bucs needed a leader. In Brad Johnson, they got all that -- and more.But as unassuming as the people are, you know they have lots to say about those who are part of Black Mountain's surprisingly rich heritage.
You hear them talk about Blues singer Roberta Flack and of former University of North Carolina star basketball player Brad Daugherty, whose once-promising NBA career was cut short by chronic back problems.
Finally, you hear the name Brad Johnson, the man the Buccaneers believe will take them to a Super Bowl, and everything comes to a standstill.
If there were a snapshot of the fictitious Front Porch, Johnson would be sitting in the rocking chair.
"He is an important person to Black Mountain," said Mike Harris, who has been cutting hair for 34 years at the Around The Town Barber Shop and remembers routinely tending to Johnson's locks. "To us, he's a sense of what is right in the world. He was a great kid, a polite kid. The type of kid who everyone knew would amount to something. Not just playing sports now, in everything."
And Johnson has done well. Not just by NFL standards, earning a Pro Bowl bid in 1999, but, more important, by Black Mountain standards.
"For me, the biggest thing is to know where you come from," Johnson said. "Not let things get to your head. Not forget your roots. Remember the values of life you grew up around. Black Mountain people are hard-working people. They are decent people. They care about you and hope good things for you."
To understand who the Bucs' new quarterback is, it's best to understand where he came from.
Black Mountain, with a population of about 5,000, is the best sign of life in the Swannanoa River valley. It seems a cross between television's Mayberry and Dodge City, only not as silly nor nearly as rough. There are two gas stations and two banks and, to remind you you're in one of the loops of the bible belt, there are 22 churches.
You walk the streets and see no litter, no police cars. You stop to ask for directions and are told, "I'll take you there."
You drive to Owen High, the only high school in Black Mountain, and meet its assistant principal. Her name is Ellen Johnson and she has been there "many" years.
Johnson’s mother, Ellen.
She is Brad Johnson's mother. She's a powerful, charismatic woman with a principal's handshake and a maternal smile. And like everyone on the streets, she has an endless supply of stories of her famous son.
She explains that growing up in Charmeldee Sky Hi Acres -- at 3,700 feet it is one of Black Mountain's higher residential areas -- her son could not afford to shoot an air ball at the basketball goal on the side of his house. Nor miss the trees he was aiming at with the football.
"He learned to be accurate because if he missed, there was a long way down the mountain just to get the ball, and an even longer way back up," she said. "He missed a couple times and had to go get the ball. He stopped missing eventually."
She tells you about how once in the fifth grade he needed $150 to attend a summer camp and fell $25 short. He entered an essay writing contest on "How to be a Good American," and won the $25 first prize.
"Brad knows what he has to do, he always has known what he has had to do," she said. "Even as a little boy, he has always been very focused."
But standing under his retired jersey in the auditorium at Owen High, Ellen Johnson can't help but remember how close the oldest of her two children came to not playing football in his senior year.
Frustrated by the way he was used in his junior season and eager to concentrate on basketball, Johnson initially opted to sit out.
Black Mountain would have nothing of it. New football coach Kenny Ford, whose father was part founder of the barber shop and whose little brother Benji was a teammate of Brad's, came over to Johnson's house and convinced him that Owen desperately needed him.
"Now, as I look back, obviously that was a very important conversation," Ellen Johnson said. "All kids have dreams and his dream was to be a pro basketball player and he was on his way. He was so talented. But he had a coach who told him he would throw the ball the right way, he would let him be the quarterback he could be. It worked out, I would say."
Added Brad Johnson: "I remember the night very well. That was a turning point. There have been others. But that was an important one."
Ever since, townsfolk have followed Johnson's every move as a quarterback. They can tell you who he played, how he played and in what year. They know his stats. They are not at all surprised.
"When you think of Brad you think of total dedication," Benji Ford said. "He had and still has a real zest for life, a real zest for competition. He's a very unassuming person, true to his small-town roots."
Ford has his memories too. He recalls Johnson once ran out of gas in the town and, not having any money on him, had to run the six miles up the mountainside to his home for money. He then ran back.
"I was in high school, I didn't have a credit card or gas money so there was nothing left to do but run home," Brad said. "Walking would have taken too long."
Ford also remembers that at the end of football practice, Johnson would get down on his knees at the 50-yard line and throw two balls into the end zone without a problem.
"It was obvious he was going to be special," Ford said. "We all knew we were playing with someone very gifted."
Although he now makes his home in Tallahassee, Johnson frequently goes back to Black Mountain. He said that while the people obviously know him, they are not in awe.
And as you leave Black Mountain, you know why.
"Oh yeah, Brad Johnson, the quarterback," said the old gentleman at the gas station. "Isn't that Ellen Johnson's boy. I know his momma well."
Brad Johnson has always been one of the most prepared quarterbacks in the NFL. But this time he was caught with his pants down.
One afternoon following high school football practice in Black Mountain, N.C., Johnson, then a junior, drove by a local outdoor basketball playground. A game was on, so Johnson had to stop. But when he checked the car for shorts, he found none.
So he took off his jeans and played in his underwear.
"He couldn't stop. He had to pull over. But that was him. He just couldn't resist the game," said Al Ellis, 30, a former football and basketball teammate of Johnson's at Owen High. "There he was, in his underwear, balling with all the guys. People are passing by and looking at him.
"We first thought he was going to come out here and shoot a couple of jumpers. Then we realized he was ready to play. We were like, "Man, come on, you're serious?' He was like, "What? Ball up. I'm here to ball.' But that's him. He was so furiously competitive, he couldn't pass by without stopping to play and it didn't matter that he didn't have shorts. He couldn't care less who saw him playing in his drawers."
Johnson confirms that the story of the boxer rebellion is the nearly-naked truth.
"Ahh, man, I can't believe they told you about that one. I never thought that one would come out," said Johnson. "Look, I had to go out and so I couldn't play in my jeans, could I? I had to play. Had to play. I couldn't say no. We always played. I think the biggest thing was that if there was a game, anywhere, I wanted to be involved in the game. So we just played."
One of the major environmental issues has been the presence and after-effects of Chemtronics and other industries.
In this section will explore various environemental issues affecting Swannanoa today.
Brief History of Riceville, North Carolina
(from http://scenicricevilleadvocates.org/ )
Samuel Davidson was the first white man (that we know of) to settle in
the Swannanoa Valley. He came through Swannanoa Gap around 1784 after
spending time in Old Fort and built a cabin four miles west of
Swannanoa on the south west side of Jones Mountain—near where Warren
Wilson College is now located. Samuel would turn his horse out to
forage for food, tying a cow bell on the horse to make it easier to
locate. A group of Cherokee Indians found the horse and removed the
One morning, in 1784, Samuel was looking for his horse. Indians used
the cow bell to lure Samuel to them. When he came for the horse, the
Indians shot him. His wife heard the gunshot and seeing that
Davidson's rifle was still in the house, knew that he had been shot.
She feared for her life thinking that perhaps the Indians would come
to the house and kill them. So she took her daughter Ruth and a slave
girl 16 miles to Old Fort to safety.
Joseph Marion Rice was one of the earliest settlers in what is now
Buncombe County and in the Riceville valley. It is known that Joseph
Rice served in the Revolutionary War, coming over from Tennessee to
fight the British. Coming back as a hunter, he camped with the
Indians on what is known as "The Dry Pond" on the North side of Parker
Road. The Dry Pond (so the story goes) is dry because of earthquakes
in the Charleston area in the early 1800's. Joe Rice was granted, by
the Indians, a sum of land around Bull Creek that he could walk around
and stake between sun up and sundown. Unfortunately for Rice the new
state government would not honor Indian land grants and he later had
to purchase the land.
Settling here in this valley, Joseph Rice was a farmer, hunter and
trapper, and stock stand operator. The stock stand provided a place
for drovers to house their flocks and herds as they were traveling
from farm to market. You may have noted a historical sign on the
Parkway at a lookout over Bull Creek commemorating the point where
Joseph Rice killed the last buffalo seen in the area in 1799. Joseph
Rice and Margaret Young Rice are buried in the Rice-Hughey cemetery
located on land he homesteaded off of Bull Creek Road.
The advent of the railroad in 1879 made the Swannanoa Valley a
destination, and in some cases, a new home for many different
people—tourists, travelers seeking improved health in the higher
elevations, and religious groups inspired by the beauty and serenity
of the surrounding mountains. In Riceville, toward the end of the
19th century a growing sense of community emerged as churches and
schools were founded.
In 1876 the Riceville Presbyterian Church was established as the
College Hill Presbyterian church. Before that, the Presbyterians had
been worshiping with the Baptists and Methodists in the old Peabody
School, also known as the Vaughan Academy, located on the hill at the
edge of the present Riceville Cemetery. Then about two years later a
combination school house and church was built across the road that
eventually came to be called College Hill.
The combined school and church was largely the work of Rev. Alfred
Penland, who was deeply interested in education for all ages. The
school housed older children downstairs and younger children in the
two rooms upstairs. Most of the early preachers lived in Reems Creek,
coming by horseback over Bull Creek Gap for Sunday preaching.
At the time, many churches served the religious needs of this area:
Berea Baptist Church, College Hill Presbyterian Church (now called
Riceville Presbyterian Church), and Davidson's Chapel Methodist
Episcopal Church (is this now the Warren Wilson Presbyterian Church?)
(located on land above the present farm at Warren Wilson College). and
Bethel Methodist Church was deeded in 1887 by Joseph A. Glass and his
wife for the location of a house of worship for Methodists in the
valley. They gave two acres of land for a church and cemetery. In
1923 the first Bethel Methodist church building burned. The present
building was finished in 1925-26. After the fire and until the new
building was completed, church meetings and Sunday School were held in
Brush Hill School, on Old Farm School Road.
Berea Baptist Church was constituted in 1853. In the beginning there
were 5 charter members. In the years before constitution they had
monthly services. The church was strict on discipline. The church
property and cemetery property were donated by the Alexander's. Mrs.
Pauline Ingle was the church clerk from 1945 to 1998. This information
was gleaned from an interview with Pauline Ingle on July 10, 2003 when
she was 90 years old
From 1876 until 1906, (check these dates if possible) Riceville had
its own post office. The political climate dictated which home housed
the post office. The (Republican) Clark house was the first post
office and the first home to have a telephone. It was built circa
1900. This narrow red two story house being engulfed by vines can be
found , in a pasture on Parker Road. The (Democratic) Stevenson home
at the first big curve on Bull Creek Road is still occupied in 2008.
The current owner lived in the old Clark home for awhile. She has the
original post master book from the late 1800's.
Here are some excerpts from the 1883-1884 Gazetteer of Buncombe County
offering a brief description of Riceville at the time:
"Riceville: A farmers post-office on the waters of Bull Creek, in a
fertile valley, 7 miles East by North of Asheville.
Mails semi-weekly by horseback – A L Stevenson, Post Master and E. F.
Clark, Post Master
You may recognize some of the names that were listed in the Gazetteer
as principal farmers: Clark; Glass; Gragg; Hughey; Reed; Rice; Shope;
In the first half of the 20th Century Riceville was home to many small
Dooley Clark's workshop and house were located next to the present
fire station/community center. (The Riceville Fire Department also
used the old garage as their fire station for about four years. The
fire department had only one truck at the time. The workshop is
currently referred to as the Automotive Volkswagen Hobby Shop. )
Norman Aires operated a little grocery store and gas station that was
located between the Volkswagon Hobby Shop and the Community Center.
Yet another store was located at the corner of Parker Road and
Riceville Road in the 1930's, and was run by the Honeycutt family.
A Grist Mill was located between the tractor barn and the white house
in the cow pasture. Folks would bring their corn to be ground. They
would leave a bag of corn on the front porch and then come back in a
little while and the corn would still be warm from grinding. The mill
was probably powered by water but more recently it was powered by a
gas engine. All of the old mill site is gone now.
Just past the white house in the pasture going toward Bull Creek
Road, Carter's Grocery was open in the 1950's and 60's. In later years
there were 3 apartments in the building, and then it was converted
into a tractor barn for farming and a peaked roof was added by Don
Cordell who is the current owner.
Riceville was on a bus route running from downtown Asheville by way of
the VA Hospital, to Swannanoa. (The VA hospital was built immediately
after WWI to care for the many men who were poison gassed and needed
long term care. Later it ended up being a big TB hospital.) Bus
schedules were timed so that workers could arrive for their shifts at
the VA and the Beacon Blanket Factory in Swannanoa. Of course the bus
route was also used also by the public.
For many years social and community life centered around activities
sponsored by the churches and the Riceville Men's Club. The Men's
Club spearheaded efforts to build a new community center. Fund raising
events were held for this purpose. Other community projects included
a mailbox improvement campaign (the existing mailboxes were various
shapes and colors that were not appealing to the eye); erection of
road signs; improvement of roads, and completion of payments on the
property for a community center.
Also, active in the community was the Grassy Branch Home Demonstration
Club, working on Christmas parties, bake sales, community picnics,
helping needy families in the community, and cooperating with the
Riceville Men's Club on fund raising projects.
And here is one last interesting anecdote. In the late 1970's our
beautiful valley might have changed for ever when the TVA proposed
damming the Swannanoa River and 14 other tributaries of the Upper
French Broad as a flood control measure. The lake resulting would
have flooded the Warren Wilson valley and reached to the east end of
Riceville Road. The Upper French Broad Defense Association worked to
block this proposal. Please see copies of the fliers and brochures are
on the display tables.
The Riceville area is home to a variety of wildlife.
View Riceville wildlife images at:
(more info about Marcus Martin to come soon)
The story of Davidson and his family will be added here in the hear future
(more info to be added soon)
The Beacon Manufacturing Company was originally located in New Bedford, Massachusetts. In 1925, the company began operating on former farmland in Swannanoa, North Carolina.
By 1935, all operations had been moved from New Bedford to Swannanoa. Much, if not all, of the Massachusetts plant was moved by rail to North Carolina, not only the machinery but also bricks and other structural components. A mill village was built directly across the street from the plant, allowing workers to walk to work from the closely spaced wood-frame single-family dwellings.
During World War II, the plant employed more than 2,000 people, who produced blankets for the military. After the war and for the next 25 years, blankets were produced for the general market, and approximately 1,500 workers were employed at the mill. The company was then sold several times, and financial problems resulted in the 2002 closing of the mill. The machinery and production materials were sold to the highest bidder at a bankruptcy auction.
To Learn More about the History of Swannanoa and the Greater Swannanoa Valley, explore these resources:
Examining the Politics of a View: A Study of the Political Ecology of Rural and Scenic Commumities [Sic] in the Swannanoa Valley, NC. Thesis (M.A.)--University of South Carolina, 2007, 2007. Sackett, Jovian.
Available at The Univiersity of South Caroliana Library
The Beacon Fire: As Seen Through the Eyes of a Child. Topeka, Kan: Nationwide Learning Resources, 2004.
Available atWarren Wilson College - Call Number: J 975.688 B365
Black Mountain and the Swannanoa Valley. Images of America. , 2004.
A Pictorial History of Black Mountain & the Swannanoa Valley. [Vancouver, Wash.]: Pediment Pub, 2003.
Daylight entered Buncombe County [videorecording] : the railroad entering the mountains of Western North Carolina / written, filmed, edited and produced by History on Tape, C.D. Owen High School.
Toward frontiers yet unknown: a ninetieth anniversary history of Warren Wilson College / by Mark T. Banker.;
Robert Patton Meeting House: First Presbyterian Church West of the Blue Ridge : Verification by Histories and Minutes of General Assembly of Presbyterian Church and Minutes of Concord Presbytery of North Carolina. North Carolina: s.n, 1984. Thomas, Preston.
Arts & Crafts in the Swannanoa Valley. S.l: s.n.], 1979. Penfound, William Theodore.
The Swannanoa Valley. S.l: s.n, 1978 Penfound, William Theodore.
Samuel Davidson (Killed by the Indians 1784): Location, Swannanoa, Buncombe Co., North Carolina : an AddressWilliam Gaston Chapter, D.A.R, 1953. Sondley, F. A.
"The Asheville Farm School: Pioneers in Educational Method". Mountain Life and Work. 8, no. 3. Randolph, H. S.1932.
Alexander-Davidson Reunion, Swannanoa, N.C., August 26, 1911 Addresses. S.l: s.n, 1911. Sondley, F. A., and Theodore F. Davidson.
Rivers of North Carolina: The Swannanoa. 1900s. Reed, Joseph L.
- "Schools of tomorrow" : progressive education in a rural and urban setting /
- A golden age : spirituality at Warren Wilson College, 1970-1985 /
- Bull in a china shop : John Carey's short stint as Warren Wilson College's president /
- Civic influence on federal land management in the National Forest System : a history and case study /
- Covenant relationships : the history of Warren Wilson College and the Presbyterian Church /
- Diversity : a public relations statement or a real commitment? /
- Diversity and the liberal arts mission of Warren Wilson College : an investigation into the lack of an African-American presence /
- For a better college : student authority in shared governance at Warren Wilson College /
- From inspiration to action : the story of the Environmental Leadership Center of Warren Wilson College /
- From theory to implementation : Henry Randolph and the making of a modern educational curriculum at the Asheville Farm School /
- Inter-racial dating at Warren Wilson College /
- Mountaineers and missionaries : the "discovery" of Appalachia, Presbyterian Home Missions, and the Dorland-Bell School /
- Multiculturalism and the transformation of Warren Wilson College /
- Mutual choice between Warren Wilson College and international students /
- O bubba, where art thou? : the rise and fall of the Warren Wilson bubba /
- Origins of electricity at Warren Wilson College and the history of the Electric Crew /
- Planning : will history repeat itself? /
- Presbyterian women and their contributions at Warren Wilson College /
Redevelopment of the Montford area /
- Rekindling the church relationship to enhance leadership and diversity /
- Student activism brings about change : development of the Warren Wilson College sexual harassment policy /
- The Asheville Farm School in an age of social reform /
- The cutting edge of interdisciplinary education :
- The first Japanese-American students at Warren Wilson College /
- The spirit of the log cabin at Warren Wilson College /
- The Wilson Echo's involvement in World War II /
- Tobacco in Western North Carolina : supply management in farm policy of the past and future /
- Tradition in transition : the greening of the Warren Wilson College farm /
Values and the legacy of Warren Wilson College /
- Warm friends /
- Warren Hugh Wilson : his accomplishments, convictions, and legacy for Warren Wilson College /
- Warren Wilson College and the roots and development of the Global Studies Department /
- Warren Wilson's Superfund site /
- Women's communities at Warren Wilson College during its first years as co-educational school : 1943-1965 /
A community in change : a brief study of the I-26 corridor area by the Community and Regional Studies class, Corporate Author Warren Wilson College. Community and Regional Studies class.
Environmental Studies Department, Warren Wilson College.
December 21, 1990
Wednesday, Sept. 4, 4:35 a.m.
My husband wakes me at 4:35 a.m., his voice quiet but intense: "The mill is burning." We step out onto the porch to watch the flames. I live in Grovemont, above the houses built to shelter the hundreds of Beacon Manufacturing employees who came to Swannanoa for well-paying jobs.
We hold each other; we are not praying people, yet we pray -- that no one is inside the building, and that the houses down in the mill village are safe.
I try to sleep but can't. I keep seeing this image in my mind of the entire population of Swannanoa gathered in the darkness to watch their history go up in smoke.
We decide we have to walk down and bear witness. We snake our way down Old U.S. 70 from Grovemont to Whitson Avenue in the dark. There are no sidewalks or shoulders, and we have to hug the guardrail every time a car goes by.
Down below, some men lean against the hoods of their cars, arms folded; a woman has her hand pressed against her mouth. We stand at the intersection of U.S. 70 and Whitson Avenue.
"That's a lot of history going up there," a woman says to me. She and her daughter, who live in the upper village, are taking turns with the cell phone.
The woman says they've been standing on the corner for about an hour, watching the fire spread from building to building, seeing the smoke change from white to black. Then there's an explosion, and the fire bursts through the upper windows of the old brick structure facing Whitson Avenue. Even though we're a block-and-a-half away, we step back.
"The fire wasn't there before," the woman says.
Part of the roof caves in, then a wall. The flames are rolling now, leaping, feeding one another, reaching into the black sky. If there was any hope of getting the blaze under control, it's gone now.
I talk to a man who worked at Beacon for 44 years. His daughter worked there, too. "I never thought I'd live to see the day when it would come to this," he says. This is so much more than just a building burning down -- it's the end of a whole way of life.
In its heyday, up to 2,000 people worked at the mill. They moved it down from New Bedford, Mass. -- brick by brick, some say -- to avoid unions. They brought some of their managers with them and began hiring locally. It was the Great Depression, and word soon got around that there were jobs in Swannanoa.
Thanks to Beacon, Swannanoa thrived. Businesses popped up all around the mill: the home store, a grocery store, a dime store, a feed store, a candy store, a newsstand, several restaurants and cafes, a clothing store and the old movie theater. None of them survive today.
Wade Martin moved to the mill village as a child after his father got a job with Beacon in the '30s. His daddy heard there were jobs, hopped a freight train from Gastonia, and was hired on. When Wade got older, he and his brothers got jobs at the mill. "They was five of us boys, and all of us at one time or another worked for Beacon," says Martin. "The mill -- the way I thought of it was the big, red, thumping heart of Swannanoa. In other words, when it beat and it was pumping and working good, then the whole community was good."
But what happens when a community loses its heart?
The mill had changed hands and downsized a number of times before closing its doors in the spring of 2002. And though most people now know that textile mills and industrial jobs are a thing of the past in Western North Carolina, as long as the building stood, there was still hope.
Recent transplants like me might have envisioned converting it to artists' studios or even a museum. But I think most folks in Swannanoa still hoped that somehow, it would reopen as a factory -- a place where they could work for decent people for a good wage for 30 or 40 years without having to worry about being laid off. A place where the owners were invested in the community. Beacon's original owners, the Charles B. Owen family, treated their employees "just like family," says Martin. Everyone I've spoken to who ever worked at Beacon had nothing but the highest praise for them.
It's still burning. All day, people have been parking by the side of the road and getting out to look.
I go back. The crowd is much larger now. I feel like we're part of some prehistoric tribe that's just hunted and trapped a giant animal, and now we're here to witness its demise. The building groans and snaps; the walls are charred and blackened. The thing is so huge -- like a great, hulking dinosaur dying in the dark.
The fire-followers are here now. The people who were down here before dawn came because it was Beacon; these folks seem to be here because it's a fire. A man in a baseball cap who's smoking clove cigarettes tells me his friend, who works at the gas station, was here at 6 a.m. His friend said he'd never seen anything like it. The man seems disappointed that the fire is smaller now. There's a hunger behind his questions that strikes me as a little bit creepy, yet I feed on it -- giving him details of how it spread.
A fire is a strangely beautiful thing. When I was 12 years old, an arsonist torched our house. When a policeman woke us up at 2 a.m., the first thing I noticed was the light: Half awake, I briefly wondered what it meant. Was it the Second Coming? An alien abduction? I stood inside the burning building, mesmerized, looking out. So I guess I do understand about folks who show up to watch anything burn.
A guy at the Crown station says they called in more than 20 different fire units. Rumors and bits of information are being traded everywhere.
The corner-gossip consensus is that it was definitely arson. Several people swear they smelled something like a campfire much earlier that night. There's also speculation about who the culprits might have been. Vagrants? Punks? Someone wanting the insurance money?
On the drive home, I hear a crash and see a fireball licking the sky. Back on my porch, I watch the eerie light.
No one was killed or hurt in my community's tragedy -- only buildings were destroyed. I think of the destruction of Hiroshima or Nagasaki, the collapse of the twin towers in New York, the recent bombing in Iraq. I feel stupid comparing this event to those catastrophes, but I can't help it. I'm amazed at how much watching Beacon fall has shaken me.
(from http://dev.fireengineering.com /display_article/211590/25/none/none/Feat/FIRE-IN-ABANDONED-MILL:-LESSONS-LEARNED )
At 03:55 a.m. on Wednesday, September 3, 2003, the Buncombe County emergency operations center (BCEOC) received a call reporting a fire at the Beacon plant and dispatched the SVFD to the incident. Three firefighters, including Assistant Chief Dennis Gregory, responded on Engine 6 from a firehouse adjacent to the mill that had been built on land donated to the department by the Beacon Manufacturing Company. As the engine turned the corner onto Whitson Avenue, firefighters observed flames coming through the roof of the four-story section of the mill.The fire would be fought defensively. The primary objectives would be to contain the fire, protect the exposures, and ensure the safety of emergency responders and the residents of the mill village. Gregory assumed command and began to formulate a plan to accomplish these objectives. He ordered additional alarms and made a special request for aerial apparatus.
The BCEOC, which uses computer-aided dispatch equipment, dispatched additional companies to the fire and began to assign other apparatus to move up/fill in assignments. The additional alarms brought all available SVFD members to the scene from their homes. Chief of Department Anthony Penland, the son of former Beacon mill workers, assumed the duties of incident commander. Deputy Chief Larry Pierson became the operations officer; Gregory was assigned as a sector officer. The command post was established at the firehouse. The operations section was in front of the firehouse.
Because of the size of the mill and the distance responding apparatus had to travel to reach the scene, all companies received placement orders as they arrived. Pierson used a large aerial photograph of the facility and a large, white board to help him strategically locate apparatus. He ensured that check-in lists had been completed. After about an hour, a staging area was established in the parking lot of the First Baptist Church, a block from the scene. Lt. Dave Strickland and Firefighter Doug Lane managed the staging area. Establishing the staging area made it easier to track resources. Getting a count of engines, ladders, tankers, support vehicles, and personnel in the staging area allowed for better distribution of those resources and provided a foundation on which to build a coordinated effort.
Each of the volunteer fire departments in Buncombe County is a separate corporation. Although they frequently train together and often assist one another, nine of the 24 departments use slightly different incident command system (ICS) geographical terminology. Additionally, a number of departments from other counties were responding to this incident. To eliminate confusion, each company was given a printout with an aerial photo of the scene that designated the exact position where the company would be assigned and the sector designation of this position. All companies were operating on the North Carolina state emergency radio frequency. The single frequency sufficed because of the orderly expansion and contraction of the ICS and an insistence on radio discipline. In spite of the scope of the operation, radio communication problems were minimal, although additional channels would have been useful.
During the initial stages of the fire, Buncombe County Emergency Services Director Jerry Vehaun responded and established the emergency operations center at the firehouse, which is equipped with computers, printers, telephones, conference tables, overhead projectors, a kitchen, and a generator capable of producing enough electricity to operate all the equipment in the building. The mobile emergency operations center bus that would normally have been used remained available in case it would be needed at a more remote simultaneous incident. Vehaun and his staff worked to support the IC by ensuring that any needed municipal, county, state, federal, or private resources would be available. An engine was positioned on Richmond Avenue specifically to allow for a rapid response to any simultaneous incident that might occur in the mill village and to extinguish any fires that might result from embers falling on the roofs of the residential structures. As it turned out, no embers fell in the village, but they did fall on lawns as far as five miles away. County environmental health employees monitored the air quality.
Residents were sheltered in place until approximately 7:30 p.m. Wednesday evening when elevated levels of hydrogen sulfide were detected in the air. It was decided that all residents within 1,000 feet of the mill would be evacuated. County EMS and law enforcement personnel along with community volunteers conducted the evacuation and established a list of evacuees.
Some residents elected to go to the Williams School, but most preferred to relocate to the homes of family or friends. After several hours, air quality readings normalized and the weather specialist determined that the wind would not shift in the direction of the village; the evacuation status was changed from mandatory to voluntary.
The operation continued to go well. By Thursday morning, firefighters were confident that the threat to the community had been greatly reduced. Vehicles were refueled by county school department and city of Asheville fuel trucks, crews were relieved as operational periods expired, and volunteers from several community organizations were cooking meals for firefighters at the First Baptist Church, where the staging area was located. A dormitory had also been established at the church. Pierson transferred command of the operations section to Lt. Jeremy Knighton and did a walk-around of the site. He found that a section of the mill thought to present an elevated hazard to exposures because of cotton bales stacked inside was in fact empty. A private contractor's demolition crane was on-scene to knock down unstable walls; the incident was evolving flawlessly. It seemed that pouring water on the mill for a few more days would successfully extinguish the largest structure fire in department history.
It was discovered on Friday morning that oil had been leaking into the Swannanoa River. A shutoff valve controlling the flow from one of the four tanks allowed oil to enter a creek that flowed under the mill and then into the river. It was not known who had opened the valve. [On investigation, responders said they did not open the valves. There is some speculation that the arsonist(s) may have done so after the fire department ensured that the valves were closed.
Deputy Chief Pierson is absolutely sure that the valves were still in the closed position the day before, that the valve was not defective, and that it unquestionably had been opened.] The valve was closed, and a private environmental cleanup firm was contacted. Already on-scene were the regional response team and the Buncombe County Haz Mat Unit. Firefighters worked with the contractor to set up booms and underflow dams. Vacuum trucks were used to recover the oil. A fire engine drafted clean water from the creek before it flowed by the oil tank, became contaminated, and flowed under the plant. This action reduced the flow of the oil-contaminated creek water into the river.
Because of the rapid response and the hard work of the 80 to 100 people assigned to controlling and cleaning the spill, the situation was quickly resolved. Damage to river plant and animal life was minimal and was not detectable beyond two miles. More than 15,000 gallons of #6 fuel oil were recovered and 45,000 gallons of oil-contaminated water treated. The four oil tanks, which have a combined capacity of approximately 250,000 gallons, have now been emptied. In retrospect, although the valves were behind a locked fence, it would have been prudent to have had firefighters or law enforcement officials guard the valves to ensure that unauthorized personnel would not open them.
By Monday, most of the fire in the now partially collapsed mill had been extinguished, but the extensive area of the fire scene made crowd control extremely challenging. Spectators were crossing into the hot zone to carry away bricks as souvenirs of the mill, which had been an important part of the community for generations. Firefighters decided to reduce the chance of injury to spectators by moving a pile of bricks to a safe area and allowing open access to the pile.
INVESTIGATION AND AFTERMATH
Tuesday, six days after the fire began, while investigators from the Asheville-Buncombe Arson Task Force, the N.C. State Bureau of Investigation, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) waited for the debris to cool enough to allow them to search for evidence, a still intact laboratory was found to contain hundreds of containers of various chemicals including ether and hydrogen peroxide, two chemicals that can destabilize with age. Environmental workers promptly removed the dangerous chemicals, which necessitated the temporary evacuation of several nearby commercial establishments. Chemicals that lacked explosive potential were removed later in the week. The extensive damage prevented investigators from finding a definite cause of the fire, which is thought to have been started, intentionally or not, by human hand. In total, 32 fire departments and 367 fire personnel were involved in the effort; 91 firefighters were actively engaged at the company level at the height of the fire. Additionally, 22 EMS personnel, 38 logistical support personnel, and nine people from other agencies were involved. Equipment used included 24 engines, seven ladder trucks, seven tankers, 17 support vehicles, 19 patrol cars, and four ambulances. The use of the ATV to shuttle personnel, supplies, and equipment was so extensive that a set of tires had to be replaced. Approximately 30 million gallons of water from the municipal system and 10 million gallons of drafted water were used. In spite of the disastrous potential, no injuries were reported.
Located in eastern Buncombe County
Proximity to other towns:
11.7 miles east of Asheville
4.4 miles west of Black Mountain
Elevation: 2220 feet
Land area: 6.36 square miles.
Population density: 711 people per square mile
United States (16.6%),
Population in July 2007:
4,526 people live in the central Swannnoa area.
The population for the zip code encompassing Swannanoa is a little over 10,000
Most common occupations for males:
- Material recording, scheduling, dispatching, and distributing workers (8%)
- Driver/sales workers and truck drivers (7%)
- Electrical equipment mechanics and other installation, maintenance, and repair occupations including supervisors (7%)
- Metal workers and plastic workers (6%)
- Building and grounds cleaning and maintenance occupations (6%)
- Other production occupations including supervisors (5%)
- Construction trades workers except carpenters, electricians, painters, plumbers, and construction laborers (4%)
- Health care (21%)
- Educational services (9%)
- Textile mills and textile products (8%)
- Accommodation and food services (7%)
- Social assistance (5%)
- Personal and laundry services (4%)
- Finance and insurance (4%)
Swannanoa compared to North Carolina state average:
Median house value below state average.
Unemployed percentage below state average.
Black race population percentage above state average.
Hispanic race population percentage significantly below state average.
Foreign-born population percentage significantly below state average.
Renting percentage below state average.
Institutionalized population percentage significantly above state average.
Percentage of population with a bachelor's degree or higher below state average
Carolyn Fryberger chose the Beacon area to start a new organic farm. Her farm lies in the shadow of the looming development atop Flat Top Mountain and the Swannanoa Mountains. In this excerpt she writes of her new neighbors:
- "On Sunday I was out raking around the compost pile. Louise, my neighbor who is 80 and grew up on a farm near Boone, stopped by to tell me I was working too hard. She gently scolded me, calling me "baby doll," "little child," and "little Carolyn," as she always refers to me. Later when I had come back in the house there was a knock on the door - it was Louise with some potato soup, fresh off the stove. Jack is another neighbor; he and his wife Lulu live on the lot contiguous to mine. Jack was born in the house they live in, and his parents worked at the Beacon Mill just up the road (a blanket factory, now demolished, and the reason that all these houses are here in the first place). Lulu was born and raised just 5 miles up the road in Black Mountain. ....
- ......My other contiguous neighbor, from the treeline to the ridge, is the Cliffs of Swannanoa. From my window you can see the No Trespassing signs tacked onto trees in a young forest - a forest that has regrown since being clearcut during the Beacon era. A forest that Jack, Jeanie and their children know like the back of their hand. Many of the special spots they remember there are gone, dynamited to make way for roads, tunnels, golf courses and multi-million dollar houses. And now they and their children are trespassers on land that shaped them and their community.....
The Cliffs at High Carolina
In June of 2006 The Cliffs Communities Inc. received approval from the Buncombe County Planning Department to begin construction in their 1,284 acre, 592-lot subdivision called The Cliffs at High Carolina. The project has grown considerably since the initial application. High Carolina, the largest land development in the county, now covers 3,200 acres. Approximately 10% of the tract will remain natural open space, the balance of the land is dedicated to the Tiger Woods golf course, 1,300 home sites, and various recreational facilities.
"Tiger Woods' first foray into golf course design is in the desert terrain of Dubai. His second one will present an entirely different challenge. Yesterday, the world's best golfer confirmed that he will design a mountain layout for the Cliffs Communities at High Carolina, between Asheville, NC, and Greenville, SC. The course, which will be laid out especially for walkers, will sit at an elevation of 4,000 feet amid a community of homes priced well into the millions of dollars. Scheduled opening is sometime in 2010... Membership in one of the Cliffs courses confers membership in all. The current initiation fee is $125,000, with dues nearing $500 a month......... In announcing the Cliffs venture, Tiger said he wants to design a course his "friends" would enjoy playing. Given the company he keeps, High Carolina should be tough. "
America’s Best Private Club Membership
The Cliffs Communities® offers a membership unlike any in America. Membership in one community entitles you to over $150 million in completed amenities at all eight, including what will soon be eight courses of championship golf crafted by the masters - Jack Nicklaus, Tom Fazio, Gary Player, Ben Wright, Tom Jackson, and now, Tiger Woods - and a comprehensive wellness program developed in conjunction with renowned health and medical experts.
Source: The Cliffs Communities website (http://www.cliffscommunities.com/)At The Cliffs, we operate under the mission of providing a lifestyle for our members that goes beyond that of typical private club communities. Celebrating multi-generational families. Celebrating conservation and giving back. Celebrating the uniqueness of our natural settings. Celebrating wellness, camaraderie and fun. Celebrating life. It''s this mission that leads us to envision and create new vacation properties in unique international destinations.
These international properties are truly original experiences, tailored for our members and their families. With quaint lodges and a handful of rooms, you and your family have the opportunity to make these destinations your own private paradise, a once-in-a-lifetime adventure catered to your specifications
- Prime Commercial site in Swannanoa. 8.73 acres at only $1,750,000. Ideally located at the intersection of U.S. Highway 70 and Warren Wilson College Road, only two miles from the new Cliffs development. All utilities available. Zoned CS and ready for development. Seller will subdivided. Acres: 8.73
- "Historic renovation, New everything ! Main level is set up as pub/bar on the North side and resturant / catering on the south side, 1,000 sqft patio for outside seating. Other uses possible. Entire first floor has 14 ft ceilings, hardwood floors New store fronts and interior connection if desired. Corner lot with plenty of paved parking & overflow, Dumpster pads, off site signage on HWY 70 & Whitson Rd,
Available For Sale $900,000 for all or portion of LLC negotiable for end user, pub improvements underway, resturant negotiable subject to upfit and user. Custom bar with recycled wood from the building, large comminuty 10,200 resident in the valley of swannanoa desires and needs
The Cliffs are coming!
Tiger Woods signature course just 3 blocks from the entrance. "
- Gated subdivision with views of Craggy Gardens, Blue Ridge Parkway, and Swannanoa Valley conveniently located between Asheville and Black Mountain and a short drive to shopping, restaurants and I-40. Alpine Mountain also joins new upscale The Cliffs subdivision High Carolina. Large lot ideal for your own private estate in a private setting surrounded by nature and mature hardwoods. Lot can possibly be subdivided.
- Offered At: $1,500,000 Approx 5.5 +/- acres on front of property zoned commercial and 6.6 +/- zoned R-1. Water & sewer on US 70, 3 phase electrical at site. Great potential in busy area. Two existing houses are useable - sold "as-is." Two separate septic systems, 1 well. Brick house has back up oil heat. 24x30 Outbuilding. Located near new Tiger Woods/Cliffs Golf Course.
- Offered At: $275,000
Long range mountain views east & west. Several building sites under 2500 FT elevation means no slope laws affecting property. Unrestricted land! Offers incredible privacy with close access to Asheville, Black Mountain & the new Cliffs Community. Wonderful property for private estate, family compound or sub-development.
- This is an opportunity of a lifetime. Incredible level ridgetop homesite with spectacular long range southern views(the same views many of The Cliffs at High Carolina lots have at $500K+ per acre). Perfect for active or passive solar home. Private, mostly wooded lot which had a circular driveway installed some years ago. Short of the Cliffs new project, nothing else on the market even comes close!
If you had any doubt that developers desire mountainside locations for new homes, consider the recent rush of subdivision applications that recently arrived on Buncombe County planners’ desks.“ Twenty-three subdivision applications came in before the deadline,” said David Young, a Buncombe County Commissioner.
Source: (Golf Community Reviews:
The Cliffs at High Carolina Property Report:Will Landslide Risks be Disclosed?
The planning for The Cliffs at High Carolina has been in the news since the summer of 2006 when Jim Anthony, President of The Cliffs Communities, Inc. acknowledged that the company had received permission to build homes and a golf course on an expansive 3,200 acre mountain tract in Swannanoa, North Carolina.
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We're also making copies of photographs related to Beacon Mill, Swannanoa, and the people who lived and worked there and would love to include copies of your photographs or other items related to Beacon.
Don Talley: email@example.com
Rebecca Williams and Jerry Pope are currently working on a documentary film telling the story of Beacon Mill and the role it played in the Swannanoa community. The couple spent the last two years meeting with local residents, listening, researching, collecting, scanning photographs, and taping and filming the stories surrounding Beacon Blanket Mill and the lives of the people who worked there.