Asheville’s “Old Kentucky Home,” Now State-Owned

Thomas Wolfe and his mother Julia pose on the front port of the “Old Kentury Home.” Image from N.C. Historic Sites.

Thomas Wolfe and his mother Julia pose on the front port of the “Old Kentury Home.” Image from N.C. Historic Sites.

On January 16, 1975, the state of North Carolina obtained Thomas Wolfe’s “Old Kentucky Home” from the city of Asheville. The boardinghouse at 48 Spruce Street was the setting for Wolfe’s first novel, Look Homeward, Angel. He renamed it “Dixieland” and incorporated his own experiences among the boarders into the novel.

The property dates at least to 1883, when Asheville banker Erwin Sluder built a smaller residence on the site. Between 1885 and 1889, Alice Johnston Reynolds, who had purchased the property from Sluder, made a massive addition to Sluder’s original structure and began operating the building as a boardinghouse in 1890. A subsequent owner, Rev. Thomas M. Myers, named it the “Old Kentucky Home” in honor of his home state.

Julia E. Wolfe, Thomas’s mother, bought the house for $6,500 in August 1906, and used it as a source of income to reinvest in real estate. Her husband, W. O. Wolfe, disliked boardinghouses and, although he went for meals and visits, rarely stayed the night. The Wolfes maintained two residences, with all the children except Tom living with their father. As the youngest child, Tom stayed with his mother at the boardinghouse.

Visit: The building is now the Thomas Wolfe Memorial, open to the public as one of 27 state historic sites.

The Original Queen’s College in Charlotte

On January 15, 1771, the legislature passed an act to establish Queen’s College in Charlotte.  The act stressed the urgent need for educational opportunities in what was at the time the “backcountry.”

However, the school, which was to be established under the auspices of the Presbyterian Church, was in conflict with royal authority and the Church of England.

Gov. William Tryon believed that the school’s charter would show his appreciation to the Presbyterians who aided him in the ongoing conflict with the Regulators. The British government determined that it would not be appropriate for the crown to approve a Scots-Irish institution that could perpetuate anti-royalist views in the colony, and the charter was revoked.

The trustees continued to apply for a charter and operated the school under the name of Queen’s Museum. During the Revolution, school trustees sympathized with the colonial cause and many future leaders, including William R. Davie and Andrew Jackson, were educated there. When independence was declared, the school became known as Liberty Hall Academy. It relocated to Salisbury in 1784.

The institution that we know today as Queens University of Charlotte was founded by Presbyterians in 1857.

Black Delegates Had Voice at 1868 Convention

conv68tp1On January 14, 1868, a North Carolina constitutional convention, now known as the “Convention of 1868,” opened in Raleigh.

The convention was required by an act of Congress which ordered North Carolina to create a new state constitution. The General Assembly decided to hold a referendum in November 1867 to choose delegates to a constitutional convention to be held in early 1868.

An 1865 drawing of Parker Robbins in the collection of the N.C. Museum of History

An 1865 drawing of Parker Robbins in the collection of the N.C. Museum of History.

Many former Confederate leaders had not yet taken an Oath of Allegiance to the United States and were not eligible to vote or serve. Chosen for the convention were 107 Republicans and 13 Democrats. The members of the first “Black Caucus” were all Republicans.

The participants of the Black Caucus were not legislators, exactly. But they came together at the State Capitol in January 1868 to take part in a very important process— to expand freedom for all.

The members of this first Black Caucus were: James Walker Hood; Parker Robbins; Henry Cherry; Bryant Lee; Wilson Carey; Clinton Pierson; John H. Williamson; Cuffie Mayo; Henry Eppes; W.T.J Hayes; John Hyman; Abraham Galloway and James H. Harris.

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Birthday of State’s Oldest Newspaper

Edward Jones Hale, the Fayetteville Observer‘s first publisher. Image from the N.C. Museum of History

Edward Jones Hale, the Fayetteville Observer‘s first publisher. Image from the N.C. Museum of History

On January 13, 1825, the first issue of the Fayetteville Observer, the state’s oldest newspaper still in print, was published by Edward Jones Hale.  The issue announced the visit of the Marquis de Lafayette to the nation’s capital.  The newspaper actually dates back to 1816, when it was launched as a four-page weekly paper called the Carolina Observer under different ownership.

Hale was a strong political force and his influential paper had the largest circulation in the state by 1850. When General William T. Sherman entered Fayetteville in 1865, he ordered that the offices of the Observer, one of the principal Confederate newspapers, be burned. Hale had removed his important files prior to the fire, and when contacted about the destruction later, claimed that Sherman and his men “could not have paid him a higher compliment.”

The Fayetteville Observer became a daily paper in 1896. It was operated by the Hale family until 1919. After a few other ownership changes, the paper was purchased by a New York businessman, who formed the Fayetteville Publishing Company. Charles Robert Wilson became the publisher of the paper in its new and modern quarters in 1924.

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X-Ray Experiments at Davidson College

The first X-ray taken at Davidson College. Image courtesy of the Davidson College Archives.

The first X-ray taken at Davidson College. Image courtesy of the Davidson College Archives.

On January 12, 1896, three students at Davidson College experimented with x-rays.  On January 6, 1896, the Associated Press announced that German physicist Wilhelm Roentgen had discovered a new form of radiation. While experimenting with cathode rays, he discovered that mysterious “x”-rays passed through a variety of objects. He put his hand in front of the rays and saw the silhouette of his bones. At the time, many physics labs had equipment to duplicate the x-ray. Henry Louis Smith, a physics professor and future president at Davidson, was the first professional in North Carolina to work with x-rays.

It was actually a group of Smith’s students who appear to have been the first people in the state to perform x-ray experiments. Three juniors professed to having bribed a janitor to let them into the building housing the physics equipment just six days after Roentgen’s announcement reached America. The students placed objects on photographic paper taking photographs, or what were called roentgenograms, of objects including an eggshell with a button in it, a rubber-covered magnifying glass, a cadaver’s finger, pins, cartridges and paperclips. Years passed before the students’s escapade was made public. The original x-ray images are now housed in the Davidson College Archives.

The experiments are the subject of  a highway marker in Mecklenburg County.

Charlotte Hawkins Brown, Founder of Palmer Institute, Died

chb11On January 11, 1961, noted African-American educator and founder of the Palmer Memorial Institute, Dr. Charlotte Hawkins Brown died. Born in Henderson, Brown moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, with her family when she was young, and was educated there. In 1901, at age 18, she was persuaded by the American Missionary Association to return to North Carolina to assist in their effort to educate southern blacks.

The "Three Bs"

From left to right, Nannie Helen Burroughs, Charlotte Hawkins Brown and Mary McLeod Bethune, in 1922

Brown established the Palmer Memorial Institute in Sedalia, naming it for Alice Freeman Palmer, former president of Wellesley College, who was a friend and benefactor. The school opened in 1902. It first operated out of an old blacksmith shop, but eventually grew to house hundreds of students in more than a dozen buildings. Palmer grew to become known as an elite black preparatory school, hosting students from all over the country and world.

During her tenure at Palmer, Brown actively toured, speaking on behalf of women’s suffrage and racial equality. She devoted her life to the improvement of the African American community’s social standing and was active in the National Council of Negro Women, an organization founded by celebrated educator Mary McLeod Bethune in 1935. Also as president of the North Carolina State Federation of Negro Women’s Clubs, Brown directed African American women’s formal civic experiences for more than twenty years.

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Jazz Drummer Max Roach, N.C. Native

maxroach61On January 10, 1924, popular jazz drummer Max Roach was born in Pasquotank County. Shortly after moving to New York City with his family in 1928, Roach began to study piano with his aunt. He showed an early aptitude for music and played in jazz bands throughout high school.

Roach began filling in for the drummer in Coleman Hawkins’s band in 1943, and, in 1944, he cut his first record with a group that included Dizzy Gillespie. From there he had a career marked by collaboration with the jazz and bebop greats of his day, including Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk and others. Later in his career, Roach wrote music for the civil rights movement, taught percussion at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and composed pieces for the theater.

Among Roach’s many accolades are designation as a Jazz Master by the National Endowment for the Arts, receipt of a MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant and membership in the N.C. Music Hall of Fame.

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