One of Asheville’s Firsts–You Probably Don’t Know About

The 1915 Asheville Board of Trade’s yearly booklet titled, Asheville North Carolina, America’s Beauty Spot, “Land of the Sky” boasts that “Asheville was the first city in the country–June, 1898–to pass an ordinance prohibiting expectoration on the streets, in street cars and public buildings. This ordinance has been copied by cities throughout the world.”

Spittoon on floor in front of teller’s station in postcard of the interior of the American National Bank in the New Sondley Building, #29 Patton Ave (corner of Church St. and current parking lot for Asheville Savings). Name changed from Blue Ridge National Bank in 1908.


When I read this, my first thought was, maybe people in other cities knew better than to expectorate in public places. But why would Asheville boast about an ordinance against it, even 17 years later?

A co-worker set me on track. It was all about tuberculosis, which was then thought by some to be spread by saliva. She was right.  The ordinance had been recommended by the Buncombe County Medical Society. Dr. J.A. Burroughs, the most prominent champion of the law, said it was necessary for two reasons: “For our own protection, and to give the physicians the country over assurance that we are doing our part in preventing the spread of consumption.” (Consumption was an early term for tuberculosis.)

But first, the ordinance was actually passed September 25, 1896. The fine was set at $1.00, and the clause requiring cuspidors in the electric cars was not made compulsory. Some alderman didn’t like the idea of having to get up to allow someone to expectorate, and there was concern that the ladies would be dragging their skirts over them. Not to mention that such a receptacle would, in general, be offensive.

And, so, we were praised across the country.

“Asheville Citizen,” October 30, 1896.

It took me awhile to realize that the expectoration ordinance was in regard to the spitting of tobacco, not the spitting of spit.

Mind you, one could still expectorate on the streets, which were washed down at night by the street cleaner, just not on the sidewalks. In 1898, as the ordinance had its effect on Asheville natives, they had a hard time of it in places like Washington, D.C. “The wide sidewalks there are tough on an Asheville man who has educated himself up to the expectoration ordinance to have to walk to the curbing to expectorate. (Asheville Citizen, March 24, 1898.)

Apparently, however, there were some problems enforcing the law, as “some people would spit or die.”

S.F. Chapman, city tax collector was on a business trip in 1897 to Virginia, West Virginia and Cincinnati, Ohio. In conversation with these residents, he was not surprised to find they all knew of Asheville, but it was a surprise to him to find that not only were these people informed of the fact that we had an expectoration ordinance but also of the fact that the same was not enforced. “They feared to come on account of the danger of contracting consumption because of the large manner of consumptives coming here.”  Chapman tried to explain that there was no real danger in contracting  the disease, but was met then with the question of, “Why do you have an expectoration ordinance?”

City officials were in somewhat of a bind. As one editorial stated in reply to S.F. Chapman’s experience, “The city has advertised to the world that they believe there is a danger in promiscuous spitting –and then we straightway leave the ordinance to enforce itself!”

In 1906 the fine was $4.15. In 1921 the ordinance was referred to as the anti-expectoration law and there were “safety zones” around the city, defined by painted white lines, where it was legal to expectorate at certain times.

Interior of the Langren Hotel lobby showing spittoons at every chair grouping. Photo published in “Azure-Lure A Romance of the Mountains,” 1924.


Post by Zoe Rhine, Librarian

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