Richmond Pearson’s Little-Known Part in the Creation of Montford
[Click here to read Rediscovering Montford’s Early History Part 1 post revealing the first newspaper article announcing the creation of Montford Park and the naming of Montford Park Station.]
Richmond Pearson was given the honor in the summer of 1890 of naming the new passenger depot on the Asheville Loan, Construction and Improvement Company’s (ALC&I) new subdivision property, and he named it Montford Park Station. He received this honor after agreeing to pay not less than $2,000 for the cost of its construction. Besides being one of the board of directors of the ALC&I, Richmond Pearson (1852-1923) was a legislator, congressman, and diplomat. He was the son of Richmond Mumford Pearson, a Chief Justice of the NC Supreme Court. Richmond Pearson married Gabrielle Thomas in 1882 and they had three children, Richmond Pearson, Jr. (1886-1900), Marjorie Noel Pearson (1890-1972) and James Thomas Pearson (1893-1963).
In 1889, Richmond Pearson built his home, Richmond Hill, on the west side of the French Broad River. Pearson died at Richmond Hill in 1923. The house was left in the hands of a caretaker until Marjorie and Thomas returned to the home in 1951. After both of their deaths, Richmond Hill was sold to the North Carolina Baptist Homes, Inc. in 1974 with the stipulation that the house be preserved for 10 years during which time the Preservation Society of Asheville & Buncombe County made many efforts to preserve the mansion. In 1981 the Preservation Society purchased 7 1/2 adjoining acres and after raising $100,000 the house was moved 600 feet to the east. Richmond Hill Inn opened as an elegant inn and conference center in 1989. In 2009 the inn was destroyed by fire.
Keeping to the chronology of the story of the creation of Montford (which does not coincide with my original research), after the original announcement in the Citizen of a new subdivision on June 10, 1890, less than a month later, on July 4, 1890, Richmond Pearson threw a party and invited the whole town of Asheville as well as people from throughout the countryside. Talk about last minute party planning! The newspapers covered the event well.
“All are Invited
Richmond Hill, July 2, 1890
The Citizens of Asheville and their friends are cordially invited to make an excursion to Montford Park and to the site of Lake Marjorie on the afternoon of July 4th . . . Richmond Pearson.
Asheville Daily Citizen”
It was no small affair. To transport people from the city and back home again, Pearson hired the streetcar system for the afternoon as well as two trains of the Richmond and Danville Railroad and the entire livery of the city.
Refreshments were served. Two hogsheads (a large cask or barrel or a specified volume) of lemonade, 100 gallons of milk, and a barrel of iced tea were free to all. And there was music. Pearson hired Marston’s Zouave Band from Atlanta to play on one hill while the Asheville Cornet Band held forth on an opposite hill.
Between the two bands, one-thousand men worked for one hour to build one mile of road—and each received one silver dollar for the work. Lakeshore Avenue, the road built that day (not the road in Beaver Lake), wrapped around Lake Marjorie, which was undoubtedly named after Pearson’s daughter. “As night closed in and people began to return to the city, the majority strolling off down to the railroad track along the banks of the French Broad, a brilliant display of fireworks was exhibited from the hill tops.”
Putting Together the Montford Puzzle
The North Carolina Room staff did not know where these photos were taken or much else about the event, except that it has been called a land development project, and by some a “land development scheme” of Richmond Pearson’s. That was the assessment of Pearson’s son Thomas Pearson when he wrote about the event in the Asheville Citizen of June 28, 1959, and also allowed the library to make a copy of his newspaper from 1890 along with photographs of the event. And it was all Asheville Citizen columnist Bob Terrell had to go on when he wrote about Thomas’s article in 2003.
“There are some strange stories in the annuls [sic] of Asheville, but none more unusual than the day of July 4, 1890, when Richmond Pearson hosted a party for everyone who wished to come to Richmond Hill. This was a celebration to promote a land development scheme on Pearson’s property. Nothing ever came of the development scheme, but the event was something spectacular that Ashevilleans talked about for half a century because of the road-building event” (“Richmond Hill event was the talk of the town,” Asheville Citizen, April 13, 2003).
As I began finding articles about the property purchased in 1890 by the Asheville Loan, Construction and Improvement (ALCI) company—the group that developed the neighborhood we now call Montford—I learned that Richmond Pearson was on its board of directors and that the property originally included 200 acres on the west side of the river. I started wondering whether these pictures were part of Montford’s early history? At this time, I had already read a couple years of microfilm, mostly still trying to find out why Pearson named the depot, Montford Park Station.
I’m not sure exactly how I got to it, but very late in my research I ran across an article in the N.C. Room Newspaper clipping files that had been filed under Festivals. It was a copy in very small print from the Asheville Daily Citizen—Extra of July 4, 1890 that was in our files with other Fourth of July celebrations. I had to read it with a magnifying glass as the copy print must have been reduced to fit on a page. It all started coming together. This article, that was not on any microfilm of either of the Asheville newspapers, was the one that Thomas Pearson gave the library in 1959. As far as I know, he had the only existing copy of the Extra for that day. NC Room staff made a photocopy of his original, but had no idea what the event was about. It turned out to be a missing piece of the puzzle.
The Extra, unlike all other coverage of the event, states that Pearson’s 4th celebration was “staged under the auspices of the ALCI” and Pearson paid for it all. The company threw open the gates not even a month after the purchase. As to why–Pearson is quoted as saying so “that the people may see the grounds in their present natural conditions, and then at the end of one hundred days, when their natural beauty will be enhanced to a remarkable degree by the improvements planned and soon to be carried out.”
Just a Land Development Scheme?
This plat map, filed at the Buncombe County Register of Deeds on 8/6/1909 with George W. Pack as grantor, is believed to show the same property owned by the ALCI before all their holdings were bought by Pack in 1894. You can orientate yourself by locating Pearson’s Bridge at the bottom right of the plat. Of importance is the carrot-shaped image, bottom left of center—the notation for a lake. Overlaying a current county GIS map over this map, the center of the 50-acre Lake Marjorie (by comparison Beaver Lake is 67 acres) would have been just west of present-day Richmond Hill Drive at the intersection of Vinewood Circle and Kenwood Street.
Was this just a land development scheme? No, it was a part of the original vision of the ALC&I company that the new subdivision included property on both sides of the river, a bridge to connect the lands by trolley car, two lakes with one on each side of the river, a neighborhood with a complete trolley system from one end to the other, a depot, wide tree-lined avenues with sidewalks, and parks, circled by mountains and intersected by a river. This was Montford, as first envisioned.
Addendum: The North Carolina Room now has a subscription to newspapers.com which is keyword searchable. I did not have access to this when I did the original research, but a search for “Lake Marjorie” reveals no further mention of it after July 1890, even though the contract for building the lake and the dam had been let with a completion date of September 1890. A Daily Citizen reporter invited by Pearson to view the area wrote in a newspaper article of June 13, 1890 a full description of the plans for the lake, the spring it would be fed from and the 49 foot high damn to be built. With no further mention of the lake, it is my guess now that it was never completed, and I assume, because the plans were so far along, that it was because of some technicality, perhaps with the dam, that the lake was never created. All opinions or further information are welcome. (Newspapers.com is available for all library patrons in the North Carolina Room.)
These findings were first published in Montford: The Newsletter of Asheville’s Most Historic Neighborhood in 2013. Republished here in part, with the permission of then editor, Joe Newman and current editor Ross Terry.
Post by Zoe Rhine Librarian