What’s Not in This Photograph?

South Pack Square in 1925 by George Masa. Click on photo to enlarge.

The photographer only had about 30 days to get the above interesting picture.

This is what’s missing.aa370

The building above as it appeared in 1909 as the Asheville Library building at 4 Pack Square South. It was for many years before that known of as the First National Bank Building. In 1889 the bank purchased two small brick buildings that predated the Civil War and then renovated them. The two buildings were combined, a castle-like style of architecture was adopted, a third story added and the exterior was stuccoed. In 1898 the bank went into receivership and in 1899 George W. Pack bought the building and donated it to the city for a library. The library was at this location on Pack Square for the next 25 years.

Note that the arched entrance seen at far right as well as the circular set of stairs at the center entrance are still standing in the first photograph.

As should be, when it was decided the building would be razed, people eulogized its history–the building “goes to its doom wrapped with memories of a time that has gone.” Being the city’s oldest building on the Square, it was seen “as the last architectural link between Asheville, the ancient and Asheville, the modern.” (“Passing of Old Landmark” Asheville Times, Feb. 22, 1925.)

In 1925 there weren’t many people who could exactly remember the history behind the original two buildings. It could be recalled that the building to the east was a square brick building built at some time by the county for offices and a jail. Public whippings and the stocks, being means of justice in North Carolina until 1868, took place at the square. Mayor James Eugene Rankin (1846-1928) and Chief of Police W.G. McDowell (1848-1931) recall as boys standing at this building and hearing that a branding was about to take place, or of having seen offenders put under the lash at the stocks. (Ibid.)

W.T. Roberson stereo view of the south side of the public (Pack) Square. The building to left predates the Civil War as does the Citizen Office Block. It was later the location of the Emporium Department store destroyed by fire in 1923. Both buildings were made of handmade bricks, there being no brick manufacturer then. Robertson was active in Asheville 1872-1884.

This above photo is one of two photographs in our collection showing the building (to the east of the Citizen) prior to the 1889 renovation of it into the bank building. It was added onto and changed many times, passing out of the hands of the county sometime after the war. It was transformed into a general store by Rev. D.H. Merrimon. Later J.P. Sawyer built an addition onto the back and for many years ran Sawyer’s grocery store there–said to have been “the leading establishment of the village.” As the town grew, Sawyer felt that the site was too valuable for a grocery store and he sold the property to the National Bank. (“Site of Library Used Many Ways in Life of City,” Asheville Citizen, Feb. 1, 1925.)


This image by Adolph Wittemann shows the First National Bank in 1887 in all of its spectacular glory just after it had been renovated. [Note: The “City Hall” in title is incorrect; it is actually Buncombe County’s 6th court house built in 1876.]

J.M. Geary got the bid for razing the then Pack Library building and he began on February 12, 1925 and had thirty days to have the site cleared. City officials were anxious to have the new municipal library designed by Edward L. Tilton built. The library was a prominent part of their “Program of Progress.”

Sometimes an undated photograph will almost lead you to the day it was taken. At the Plaza Theater, Milton Sales and Viola Dana star in “As Man Desires” which was to be shown March 30-April 1, 1925.



A poster on the streetcar advertises the movie showing at the Imperial, “Colleen Moore “So Big” Today” which began playing February 22, 1925. The verification of dates for both theater presentations verify that the photo was taken from March 30, 31 or April 1, 1925.

In January 1919, after 40 years as a subscription library, its doors were opened as a free public library, the property having been donated by the Asheville Library Association to the City of Asheville.  The library was free for white citizens of the city who were above the age of 12.  It was officially named Pack Memorial Public Library. And after being in the castellated structure for 25 years, it remained at the same site in the new library building soon to be built, now the Asheville Art Museum, for the next 50 years.

Post by Zoe Rhine Librarian


1 Comment

  1. Excellent article, especially with the current skyline in total flux at the moment Asheville today will look like a weird “hatchling” transition compared with what folks are used to 25 years from now.

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