Hiding away in the Five Points neighborhood of Asheville are some of Asheville’s stories of philanthropy and heroism. The neighborhood, though it was officially established and named only fairly recently, was developed much earlier. Most of the extant homes were constructed in the late 19th and early 20th century, the bulk of them in the 1920s. “Five Points” does not derive from the neighborhood in New York City, rather, the five-way intersection near Five Points Diner near the neighborhood’s core. The north Asheville community was at one point home to some of Asheville’s most well-known and influential citizens. In this week’s edition of 52 Weeks, 52 Communities, we’ll take a look at two of Five Points’ residents who made an impact both at home and abroad.
- George Willis Pack (1831-1906, 136 Merrimon Ave., present site of Harris Teeter)
George W. Pack made an impact on the City of Asheville and Buncombe County in a
number of ways, the largest, a donation of a public square and library, are still quite visible. However, some aspects of his life in Asheville are not so obvious in the present.
Pack, a member of a politically affluent New England family, and his wife, moved to Asheville in 1884 seeking a healthier climate. According to traditional accounts, what the couple encountered was not quite up to their personal standards. The Packs initially boarded at the Swannanoa Hotel, one of the city’s finer establishments, but were disappointed with its lack of indoor plumbing. Pack ordered a bathtub through the mail, and had it installed. Perhaps the first indoor plumbing in any Asheville hotel.
By 1885, the Packs decided to make Asheville their permanent home and constructed a home on Merrimon Avenue. Manyoaks was one of Asheville’s largest estates. The two-story mansion boasted wrap-around porches, a towering limestone chimney, and an adjacent carriage house. A limestone wall with towers and gates resembling the entrance of a castle surrounded the estate. What is incredibly interesting about the stonework is how similar it looks to the stone used on the Vance Monument. Pack was one of the primary donors of the obelisk.
Health and climate during Pack’s time went hand in hand, so when his doctor diagnosed him with heart disease, he recommended Pack move closer to sea level, so the Packs left Asheville. George W. Pack died in Cleveland, OH in 1906.
Manyoaks is no longer standing. However, portions of the estate’s retaining walls are intact. Next time you visit Harris Teeter on Merrimon Avenue, you can check out the wall along the side and back of the parking lot! This website has some great photos of the wall when it was more intact than it is today.
There is a lot more to learn about George Pack that you could discover in the North Carolina Room. We have copies of a short biography of his life, and of course, our newspaper and photo archives help document his impact on Asheville and Buncombe County.
- Kiffin Yates Rockwell (1892-1918, 142 Hillside St.)
Though he was born in Newport, Tennessee, Kiffin Yates Rockwell spent a good portion
of his formative years in Asheville. His father was James Chester Rockwell, a poet, editor, and minister, and his mother, Loula, has been credited with beginning the public school system in Newport. Some argue that James’ early death (at only 25 years old) deprived North Carolina of one of its finest authors of that period.
When Kiffin was 14, his mother moved her family, (Kiffin, his older brother Paul, and younger sister, Agnes), to a home on Hillside Street. Loula took the move as an opportunity to change professions, as well. Upon moving to Asheville Mrs. Rockwell began an Osteopathy practice.
Kiffin and his brother Paul were the adventurous type, and did not stay in Asheville long after high school. Paul enrolled in Washington and Lee College and Kiffin, having been from an early age interested in a military career, enrolled in the Virginia Military Institute. Eventually Kiffin joined Paul at Washington and Lee. After graduation, Kiffin set out on a trip around the country. He went as far away as San Francisco, and when he returned to the east coast, joined Paul in Atlanta where the brothers began publishing a small circular geared toward tourists.
As war in Europe appeared more certain, Kiffin saw that he had an opportunity to fulfill his dreams of military action. In August 1914 Kiffin wrote to the French Consul in New Orleans:
I desire to offer my services to the French Government in case of actual warfare between France and Germany, and wish to know whether I can report to you at New Orleans and go over with the French reservists who have been called out, or must I go to France before enlisting?… I am very anxious to see military service, and had rather fight under the French flag than any other…
In the same letter Rockwell also noted that his brother was willing to serve. The young men left for France just three days after he sent this letter on the St. Paul, an American cruise liner. When they arrived in France they enlisted in a unit called the Lafayette Escadrille, a unit comprised of other young Americans who volunteered to fight for the French. Initially, they trained to become infantrymen, but soon they trained to become pilots. It was Rockwell’s career, and ultimate death, as a fighter pilot during the war that brought him considerable fame in his adopted hometown of Asheville.
In a letter sent from New York just before the Rockwell brothers departed for France, Kiffin told his mother not to worry and expressed his deeply held desire for adventure to his mother:
You know I have always been a great dreamer and I just couldn’t keep myself away from this trip, for I felt the call of opportunity. You have always said you had great faith in my future and now is the time for you to prove it, by not worrying about me… My actions often appeared as though I didn’t care about you or the rest of the family, but it isn’t that way. It is just that I must and will live my life as I think best even though I am often mistaken.
Rockwell was thrilled to be in military service, and became one of the most well-known of the American pilots to serve in France. He quickly moved up through the ranks, won numerous medals and citations from the French government, and participated in nearly every mission of his unit. However, in September 1918, Rockwell was shot down by a German plane. Today, his grave and the spot where his plane fell are memorials erected by the French Government.
You can learn more about Kiffin Rockwell and the Lafayette Escadrille in the North Carolina Room. We have multiple copies of War Letters of Kiffin Yates Rockwell edited by his brother Paul, as well as archived newspaper clippings, and other literature about the American volunteers in France. I would also love to learn more about Kiffin’s mother, Dr. Loula Rockwell, and the resources in the NC Room would be a great place to begin! Newspapers and city directories could be hiding a good deal of information about her!
We love sharing our collections and stories with you! We especially like when they get a good workout from researchers, the curious, and even the stray interior designer or stylist! Our images and collections are as much yours as they are the library’s. That’s what public libraries are all about!
Come on in and take a look. You never know what you might find!
As a reminder, this post is a part of our 52 Weeks, 52 Communities Series. In this series, we are covering a different Buncombe County community each week. Do you have materials related to Five Points or some other Buncombe County community you’d like to let us know about? Do you, your parents or grandparents have a good story to tell? Interested in learning more about Fairview? Please let us know, and be sure to check out the North Asheville History Project one of our Community-Based Archives projects! We want to hear from you! The North Carolina Room is Buncombe County’s Public Archive, we want to help preserve and make accessible the history and culture of Asheville and Buncombe County for all its residents.
This post was authored by Katherine Calhoun Cutshall, a librarian working in the North Carolina Room at Pack Memorial Library.