Introduction

New Here?

Article 1

Seelys Castle, An Asheville Wonder

Article 2

Buying Seelys Castle

Article 3

A Mans Castle Is His Home

Article 4

Furnishing The Great Room

Article 5

The Library

Article 6

Warm Parties in the Cold Castle

Article 7

Miss Beaulah Young

Article 8

Generals, Guards, and Guests

Article 9

Annual Parties

Article 10

Charlotte Street Jam

Article 11

Asheville Sprawl

Article 12

Education Frustration

Article 13

Martin Nesbitt

Article 14

Graffiti

Article 15

Gospel Langren Hotel

Article 16

Fighting City Hall

Article 17

Rebutting Riverlink

Article 18

Confessions of a Recovering Racist

Article 19

Sin City

Article 20

Moonshine Memories

Article 21

Shot Heard Round Buncome County

Article 22

Long Arm of the Law

Article 23

Luck of the Draw

Article 24

Birth of Ashevilles Riverfront

Article 25

Ballad of King Coal

Article 26

Hard Times and Cheap Thrills

Article 27

Cataclysmic Change

Article 28

Honor Flight

Article 29

Kingdom at War

Buy The Book

Charitable Donation




Article 25

The Ballad of Old King Coal

King Coal powered a rapidly expanding industrial empire that depended on steam to drive the flywheels, belts and drive shafts that ran the machinery. Here, raw materials delivered mostly by trains became finished products that were hauled throughout the country and to ports to be sold to the world.

New industries were springing up in this riverside kingdom. To the north were furniture factories and a huge casket factory that must have bedded the deceased for miles around. Moving south, you could see where the Earl of Chesterfield had constructed an imposing feed mill adjacent to the Asheville Cotton Mill, which also built a mill village to house its multitude of serfs. There were machine shops of every description, lumber and coal yards and, of course, the massive Hans Rees Tannery. There was the yellow Farmers Federation building on Roberts Street, on the east side of the tracks near the Dave Steel Co. Wholesalers and distribution companies lined Depot Street en route to the passenger train station with its handsome cupola, across from the Glen Rock Hotel.

Turning east, the tracks passed through Biltmore Village (where Vanderbilt had created another passenger station) and on to the Sayles-Biltmore Bleacheries and the many small industries that were developing in the Koon Development industrial park.

On the way out of town, the trains delivered and picked up goods at other furniture factories and the Beacon Manufacturing Co., which made blankets.

The subjects of our mountain kingdom were grateful, for these industries provided jobs and wages for thousands who’d struggled as hardscrabble farmers, miners and lumbermen.

Besides sparking the kingdom’s industrialization, King Coal also revolutionized home heating and cooking. Coal was much cheaper and more reliable than the now dethroned King Wood.

The coal came in lumps about the size of a baseball that were shoveled into the furnace. It burned hot and lasted longer than wooden logs. People could bank the fires and keep their homes warm throughout the night, and much larger apartment, hotel and commercial buildings could be built with central heating. The furnace heated water, and hot water or steam was circulated through the building, feeding cast-iron radiators. The downside was that the coal left a residue called ash that had to be removed from the furnaces and heaters, and disposing of it was a very messy process.

Eventually an incredible new invention came along that mechanized the firing of industrial furnaces. The “coal stoker” consisted of a large hopper and an auger, or “worm,” that delivered the coal to the fire. To facilitate this process, the coal had to be ground down to thumb-sized pieces.

The private sector, however, depended on the young boy in the house to lug heavy buckets of those pellets to fill the hopper and to remove the heavy, solidified ash, known as “clinkers.” When said small boy, who really hated this job, forgot to fill the stoker and the supply ran out, huge volumes of acrid smoke would back up into the hopper and, in a matter of moments, fill the entire house. This would totally displease the father who, since the woodshed had been replaced, would now take said small boy to the coal bin for a proper thrashing.

Meanwhile, the trains also brought multitudes of people to the area: tourists, entrepreneurs, merchants and workers both skilled and unskilled, providing the labor that made this revolution function. But the trains also enabled the kingdom’s subjects to visit faraway realms in a matter of hours or, at most, a few days. An overnight journey would transport them to the mighty empire of New Yawk City, where they could go sightseeing and merchants could buy goods that the trains would promptly deliver to their store in our village.

King Coal ruled with absolute authority, and the seers, oracles and soothsayers who made up the kingdom’s Planning and Zoning Department looked into their crystal balls to regulate the sovereign’s territory. The ball, though, was clouded with coal smoke, so they planned for a future based on coal’s total dominance and the herd of trusty steam steeds that delivered the fuel and the people and hauled all the goods.

Queen River was King Coal’s consort. Absolutely gorgeous and normally quite gentle, she supplied great quantities of clean water to help these factories function. She even supplied a small amount of energy through dam impoundments.

Unfortunately, the king’s subjects didn’t appreciate her pristine purity, and they slowly poisoned her with regular and not always subtle doses of all sorts of industrial and human waste. So Queen River struck back, demonstrating not only her breathtaking beauty but her wicked and vengeful temperament, punishing the subjects and ravaging the kingdom with devastating floods. This should not have been surprising, however: After all, she was a “French broad” (yeah, yeah, yeah.)


Asheville native Jerry Sternberg, a longtime observer of the local scene, can be reached at gospeljerry@aol.com.

Click on a picture below to enlarge.