History

Online Series Explores WNC’s Past

Black Mountain Fire Department fighting a fire on Cherry Street, Black Mountain

Black Mountain Starting the morning of Monday, April 26th the Swannanoa Valley Museum and History Center is launching its third year of the WNC History Café Series, a lecture series exploring the history of the Swannanoa Valley, Asheville and the surrounding region. 

These online lectures, taking place on Monday morning each month, will traverse over two hundred years of history, from the colonization of the Swannanoa Valley in the early 1800s to the founding of Black Mountain College and mid-20th century urban renewal projects in Asheville. 

The series is an opportunity for both natives and newcomers to the area to dig deeper into the historical legacy of local communities and institutions. 

Saro Lynch-Thomason, the Events Coordinator for the Swannanoa Valley Museum, states, “This series is a way to answer the questions that come up for a lot of people living in Asheville and the Swannanoa Valley. How old are the communities here? What did enslavement look like in Western North Carolina? What has segregation looked like in Asheville? Who has influenced our arts scene or our architecture?” 

Topics for this year’s Café series include the impact of Black Mountain College on the Swannanoa Valley community, the Negro Motorist Green Book in Western North Carolina, the history of Riceville, digitizing Asheville’s African-American history and more. Of particular significance to the Swannanoa Valley Museum is a lecture celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Black Mountain firehouse- a building now inhabited by the museum. This July lecture will explore Black Mountain’s fire department’s history and its use of the building (located on the main thoroughfare of State Street) over time.  

Julia Wolfe, photo courtesy of the Thomas Wolfe Memorial.
Julia Wolfe

This is the third year that the Swannanoa Valley Museum has hosted the WNC History Café Series. The series first took place in 2019, with attendees filling the museum’s main exhibit hall to enjoy the Monday morning lectures. But when covid-19 struck in 2020, the museum transitioned its series to an online format using zoom. Lynch-Thomason adds, “Hosting our café events online created the unexpected benefit of allowing us to reach more people in the region who normally weren’t able to attend our lectures in person.” Post-pandemic, the museum plans to return to in-person lectures and live stream or film the events to keep up engagement with a broader local audience.

The first Appalachian Experience lecture will take place on Monday morning, April 26th from 10:30 am – 11:45 pm and will be hosted by Kayla Seay, Assistant Site Director of the Thomas Wolfe Memorial. Kayla will discuss the life, personality and accomplishments of Julia Wolfe, a native of the Swannanoa Valley best known for being the mother to North Carolina’s most famous author, Thomas Wolfe. Those interested in attending can learn more at www.swannanoavalleymuseum.org/event/juliawolfe/. 

All lectures in the series will take place on zoom the fourth Monday morning of each month from 10:30 am – 11:45 am, except for the August lecture, taking place Thursday, August 26th. After each lecture, presenters will conduct a Q&A with the audience. Each lecture is $8 for museum members and $12 for nonmembers, and zoom links will be provided upon registration. Recordings of each event will be made available on YouTube for registrants. Registration and event details can be found at www.swannanoavalleymuseum.org/history-cafe. Any questions about the series can be directed to Saro Lynch-Thomason at svmvolunteer@gmail.com or by calling 828-669-9566. 

Black Mountain Fire Department fighting a fire on Cherry Street, Black Mountain, courtesy of the Swannanoa Valley Museum.
Black Mountain Fire Department fighting a fire on Cherry Street, Black Mountain

WNC History Café series dates and topics are as follows: 

Monday, April 26th, – Julia Wolfe: Remarkable Woman of the Swannanoa Valley

Monday, May 24th,  – Digitizing WNC’s African-American History 

Monday, June 28th, – A History of Riceville 

Monday, July 26th, – 100 Years of the Black Mountain Fire House 

Thursday, August 26th, – The Negro Motorist Green Book in WNC

Monday, September 27th, – Black Mountain College in the Community 

Monday, October 25th, – The Lives of the Enslaved at the Vance Birthplace Historic Site

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