The Mikado Room – An Asheville Original

This year the North Carolina Room is featuring a series of programs on the 1980’s – a time that helped define what Asheville was to become. But, 100 years prior to that, Asheville was in the midst of an earlier Renaissance. The train had arrived in 1880 and Asheville became a true destination and was thoroughly enjoying its new found popularity. On what may have been a crisp January evening in 1886, four young men returned from seeing the Mikado at the Asheville Opera House. With music and lyrics by Gilbert and Sullivan, the Mikado opened in London in March of 1885. It was an immediate success and by the end of 1885 some 150 companies in Europe and America were producing the opera.  Less than a year after its London debut it had arrived in the mountains of Western North Carolina.

The Mikado, and all things, Japanese became a craze.  Although we sometimes think of the 1920’s as the height of the interest in Japan – with women wearing kimonos and playing Mahjongg – it was actually a much earlier fad.  In the late 19th century Americans and Europeans were captivated by the customs and arts of the Japanese.  Aestheticism, which leaned heavily upon the Orient for design motifs, was all the rage in furniture and home wares.  Once the Arts and Crafts Movement had taken hold in the early 20th century many artists became enamored with the Japanese woodblock print.

Our four young men, J. Taylor Amiss, Fred Jacobs, Edwin Gatchell and Roger Davis were fascinated by the Mikado and on their return to the flat of Amiss and Jacobs, which was located above Lyon’s drug store, they discussed the production.

B096-5 copy
View from the frozen fountain in Pack Square looking west on Patton Avenue. H. H. Lyon’s drug store is the building on the right corner and the apartment would have been on the second or third floor overlooking Pack Square or Patton Avenue. (The BB&T building occupies this space today.) B096-5

At some point in the evening’s conversations one of them suggested turning the flat into a Mikado room. In an article published in Dixie, an illustrated magazine from Atlanta is this quote:  “Boys, why don’t you make of this a Mikado room?  They all heartily fell in with the idea saying:  Just the thing, by Jove!  By all means have a Mikado room.”

With alacrity and creativity the young men, led by Roger Davis the artist of the group (whose nickname was Crayon), began their project. When asked if it was necessary that everything in the room need be of Japanese design Crayon replied “By no means, it is mainly in the decorations that we must adhere as closely as may be to the Orient.  We shall leave the furniture…; but everything we add should be as characteristic of Japan as possible.”  He continued “I would suggest you have the floor painted in imitation walnut and oak marquetry, have the ceiling tinted and the walls papered.  I would have a paper of neutral tint, and the ceiling a light blue.”

Not having much money they gathered material they felt gave the sense of the Far East from local sources adding paper lanterns and parasols, brackets, scarves, easels, picture frames, and fringing. The Mikado room became a reality and the darling of Asheville and beyond.  Once completed the young men gave recitals and dinner parties and enjoyed showing their space to visitors.  Several local and further distant newspapers picked up the story calling it “The Southern Mikado Room.”

Drawing of a corner of the finished room from the Dixie article. Note the paper lanterns and parasols. MS291 010a
Same corner as above with slightly different decorations. MS291.018
Another corner of the Mikado Room. MS291.019a
The finished room with piano at the ready. MS291.001
Another view of the room –probably Roger Davis, aka Crayon at the easel MS291.020

The young men moved on with their lives and the Mikado room became a distant memory.  J. Amiss Taylor married in the summer of 1886 and we can thank his wife who put together a scrapbook on the room.  The North Carolina Collection now has documentation on this small and charming piece of Asheville history.


Post by Lynne Poirier-Wilson



  1. Hi Lynne. Are you sure the view in the photo is looking east? If the BB&T bank is on the right, isn’t it looking west? Wouldn’t the courthouse be seen to the east?
    Hope you and Jim are well and happy. The Smokey Park Supper Club has a brunch. Wanna try it? Bob

  2. If BB &T is on the right view would be looking West. Interesting article on Asheville’s history. Always something new to discover. Nice work.

  3. Oddly enough, a “J. Taylor Amiss” was a registered pharmacist in Asheville in 1914. according to the “Proceedings of the Annual Meeting” of the NC Pharmaceutical Association, as found on-line…Apparently, he married a certain Jane E Banks. According to Miller’s Directory of 1940, he and Mrs Amiss were living at 10 Coleman Avenue.

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