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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: