Who can go on vacation and return home without some sort of souvenir? Not me: though I’m happy with a free shard of wave-tossed sea glass, better yet I like to make a special purchase of something-or-other to commemorate a trip. When I was a five-year-old, on a summer visit to Cherokee, someone bought me a hard, plastic, dark-skinned doll dressed in real, white leather buckskin, replete with tiny, beaded moccasins, headband, and a tiny pappoose. I don’t remember a feather, though. One is never too early to learn to shop for souvenirs.
Since the railroad opened up travel to Western North Carolina in the mid-1800’s. Asheville has been known as a tourist destination. As the tourist industry grew during the late 19th century, the demand for mementos for tourists—made elsewhere or locally—blossomed and gave merchants something else to sell other than day-to-day necessities. This summer, the North Carolina Room at Pack Library is exhibiting a wide assortment of Asheville and Western North Carolina souvenirs.
By the early part of the 20th century the tourism industry grew with the availability of the automobile and better roads. Enterprising merchants such as Hugh Brown were making a living selling goods to tourists in stores such as The Treasure Chest. The Treasure Chest (1924-1931) sold “mountain made” goods (the majority made by locals; some not). Pottery, textiles, ironwork, and wooden objects were sold at retail in the store, and wholesale to gift shops around the country. Hugh Brown lost the Treasure Chest (as well as Brown Hardware) during the Depression, but in the midst of it, opened Three Mountaineers, which continued in the same line of goods as The Treasure Chest.
As the century progressed, even relatively isolated areas such as Cherokee grew as tourist destinations with the opening of the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. The Water Wheel Craft Shop in Cherokee made the most of local architectural styles with its (probably) poplar bark shingles.
After WWII the tourist industry boomed in Asheville and Western North Carolina in general. Sleepy Maggie Valley became a popular destination as well. Here you can see the ubiquitous red sign of the 1950’s above “Mountaineer Crafts”. The reverse of the card touts : “Shop with Original Mountaineers for Mountain and Indian Crafts. Maggie sez: ‘See our selection of fine jewelry—handmade rugs—Indian baskets and pottery.”
There are many Biltmore Estate Souvenirs available today (I cannot attest to where they are made), and hand-screened t-shirts galore (Cesspool of Sin or a reference to beer—take your pick).
Come see our four full exhibit cases of Tourism Souvenirs from Asheville and Western North Carolina 1880’s-1950’s. Don’t miss the exhibit case on the main floor of the library, to the left of the circulation desk as you walk in. The second case is on the lower level on the wall past the Children’s and Youth Services library as you head down the hall to the North Carolina Room, where you will find the last two cases. The souvenirs have all been generously placed on loan by library patrons. The exhibit will be up through September 2015.
This is the first of several posts where we will share some photographs of more items on display and let you know what we’ve learned about the local souvenir industry.
Post by Terry Taylor, Friends of the North Carolina Room board member.