Situated along the French Broad between Weaverville and Leicester is Alexander. The unincorporated community has a storied history connected directly to tourism, the Buncombe Turnpike, and the Zebulon Vance’s older brother, Robert.
Today, Alexander remains one of the most rural sections of the county, characterized by steep terrain on either side of the French Broad River, and fertile farmland irrigated by a large number of streams and creeks that meet their source somewhere nearby and flow into the French Broad.
So why is this section called Alexander?
Most who have lived in Buncombe for a while could probably determine that the label derives from someone’s surname. So many of our communities and road names do. And in this case, like so many others, that is absolutely true. The Alexander name is one that anyone researching the history of our county, nay, region, will find over and over again without fail. From the earliest days of white settlement forward, a sneaky Alexander will probably find their way in there somewhere, whether they be by blood or marriage.
The first Alexander to enter what would become Buncombe County was probably Rachel Alexander Davidson who came along with her husband Samuel Davidson and settled near Bee Tree Creek in Swannanoa. (You can read more about them here). Later, the Alexander family began to spread out across Buncombe County and were some of the first to take advantage of the increase in travel through the region as it became known as a health resort and a primary thoroughfare for livestock drovers. James M. Alexander built one of the first hotels in Asheville after he returned from serving in the war of 1812. It was completed sometime between 1814 and 1818 and stood on the south end of the town square, if one were to approximate, somewhere close to where the art museum is today. This Alexander Hotel (Called the Bank Hotel) had accommodations for both humans and livestock, and was, primarily, a resting place for people who came to town to sell their animals or stock up on goods that could only be found in the county center. James’ brother George had a similar idea about the same time, and built an inn along the Swannanoa River that served as a stagecoach stop for those traveling east to west. (This structure is still standing and you can read more about it here.) But none of these places are in “Alexander.”
So what’s the deal?
Here’s the scoop: Not long after James “Mitchell” (it seems he liked to be called) built his hotel in Asheville, the Buncombe Turnpike road was completed, creating a clear access route from Paint Rock on the Tennessee/North Carolina line all the way to the South Carolina border. This allowed for a new influx of livestock drovers from Kentucky and Tennessee, as well as “summer people” from South Carolina and other southern states to more easily travel to western North Carolina, either to escape heat and diseases carried by flies and mosquitos or to herd their livestock to market from the pasturelands of Kentucky and Tennessee to market in South Carolina. Mitchell (and many others like him) saw a business opportunity. He sold his hotel in Asheville and built new accommodations along the turnpike road. Specifically, on the east side of the French Broad River, about 10 miles north of Asheville.
This second hotel was the jackpot for James M. Alexander. Like many stock stands (hotels that operated as tavern stops, shops, post offices, smiths, tanneries, etc.) Alexander’s was a community center in a rural area, and served not only as a place of accommodation for travelers, but as a post office and gathering place for local citizens who could lengthen the times between their trips to Asheville. James’ inn on the French Broad began serving as a post office as early as September 1832 (as French Broad).
Alexander’s Inn on the river was well known by locals and travelers alike. By September 1881, the post office name was changed from French Broad to Alexander, honoring the estate and family for which it was named. After James M. Alexander died the hotel and surrounding property was passed on to his son, Alfred M. Alexander. Upon Alfred’s death in 1889, the lands were sent to probate, and the estate on the French Broad was sold to various bidders. The hotel and the lands immediately surrounding wound up in the hands of well-known statesman, Robert B. Vance, brother of former governor and US Senator Zebulon B. Vance. From that point the hotel was often referred to as Vance Hall or Buncombe Hall, but the community label, “Alexander” stuck.
For more on Alexander and how it came to be, keep an eye on our Instagram Story and our other social media. Do you have Alexander memories or history to share? We want to hear all about it! Comment below or shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Remember, we’re featuring a different community in Buncombe County every week this year! That’s right, 52 different communities. Check out this post to see the list, we’re going in alphabetical order. Don’t see a community you want featured? Let us know! We’ve already started another list!