One day recently, a traveler from Switzerland came into Pack Memorial Library to talk about Asheville’s weather kiosk. Weather kiosk? Sure enough, the gentleman pulled out several photos of Pack Square that he’d printed from the library’s web site and there it was. As familiar as those photos were, I had never noticed the blocky white structure in the center of the square, a United States Weather Bureau kiosk hidden in plain sight.
The Weather Bureau began building kiosks in 1909, equipping them with meteorological instruments, and placing them around the country. The kiosks were identical, standing four feet square and nine feet in height. Made of solid cast iron and plate glass, they were set on a solid granite base. The instruments included a thermometer to record dry temperature as well as a hygrometer to show the degree of humidity. A mechanical barograph drew a line registering barometric variations as they occurred. A rain gauge measured total precipitation while recording the time when the rain fell. The daily official weather map was also displayed.
Asheville wasted no time in setting up its kiosk. The Asheville Citizen reported on July 3, 1909 that “the kiosk will be ready for us in the next few days.” It assured readers that it “much improves the square and is centrally located making it available to everyone in the city.” Civic pride in the kiosk was short lived, however. City boosters were outraged to discover that its thermometer registered uncomfortably high temperatures in summer.
Asheville, North Carolina, published by the Asheville Board of Trade in 1914, reported that the average maximum temperature in both July and August was 81 degrees. Therefore, visitors to the city could escape the “oppressive, enervating conditions accompanying warm weather at lower altitudes.” When the readings provided by the new kiosk failed to support this appeal, the Board began a campaign to discredit it.
“Weather Kiosk is an Automatic Liar,” read a headline in the Citizen on August 30, 1909. The high temperatures were blamed on its placement on Pack Square’s paved surface without the benefit of shade. “High Temperatures from Radiation Deceptive,” the Citizen reported on June 6, 1911 before going on to write that “visitors noting temperature readings would be led to believe the city is hot.” Critics further faulted the kiosk for its “beautifully colored pictures of clouds and various explanations, all of which are calculated to catch the eye of the stranger” who would then note the discrepancy. The local weather bureau agreed to put up a disclaimer on the kiosk that read, “On account of local radiation from the pavement and surrounding buildings and from other causes the maximum temperatures recorded here are frequently considerably higher than those of the free air from which official readings are made.”
On August 2, 1912, the aldermen discussed whether to move the kiosk to a new location. News coverage of the controversy becomes scarce after this, however, and apparently the weather kiosk remained in its Pack Square location until December 12, 1919. At that time, the Citizen reported that a contract had been issued for the construction of restrooms underground at Pack Square. To clear the construction area, arrangements were to be made “for the removal of the kiosk from the site on which the station will be built. The kiosk probably will be put in some other portion of the square.”
No further mention of the weather kiosk appears in the Citizen. One can only imagine what became of it after that. Did it move on to a more hospitable city? Was it returned to the Weather Bureau? Was it disassembled by its detractors? We can thank the Swiss traveler for leaving us with this puzzle.
Blog post by Laura Gaskin, Pack Memorial Library