Number 5 Westwood – The House that [Almost] Never Was

Gardens are not made by singing ‘Oh, how beautiful,’ and sitting in the shade.
Rudyard Kipling


It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything about Christopher’s Garden, aka the Gnomon, aka Dump Truck Park.  Call it saving up for one really good story!! 



A few weeks ago I was sitting in the garden watching Christopher pull weeds, talking about the flower of the day and chatting casually. We took a stroll to the sidewalk outside of the garden fence looking in from the Westwood Place side of the yard.  I am devouring ripe cherry tomatoes that poke through the wires and Christopher is patiently explaining to me about his latest vision for changes to the garden. (The garden is always changing which is why it’s one of my favorite spots in Asheville.) He points to a stretch of lawn between the beds that leads to the back corner and says something like ‘See? That’s my driveway…’  He’s talking about lines of sight, I think, but this stirs a familiar question I’ve asked him before. ‘What was here before the garden?’ The same answer, nothing.  Just the pipe where a main water pipe used to attach to a home, steps at the curb and a short front side walk, some old tractor trailers, hobo camps and trash.  But if there was a main pipe and a stair entrance from that side of the street there must have been a house there once. Maybe, there’s a picture of it somewhere? Who knows?

Street Entrance to 5 Westwood – what is now Christopher’s Garden.

Next day I headed over to talk with Karen at the West Asheville History Project in the WAVL public library.  She says my best hope of finding more info about if anything was ever there is to go back to the land records and get family names from the deed transactions as far back as you can go.  Once I had more information about the family that lived there they could probably help me find something.  So I hit the NC Collection at Pack Library, several days in a row.  The excellent staff there taught me how to look up the land records and check the old city plat maps and directories for references to the address.  Only one problem, there is no address, not for that side of the road anyway.  So I track back the property’s legal description and find that the garden was once a piece of the Reynolds family’s farm and has deeds tracing back to 1895. Now we’re getting somewhere!  But it seems like a red herring right from the start.  The city directories confirm that several branches of the Reynolds family lived on Westwood Place from the 1890s through the 1930s but the house numbers are listed as 52 or 19, neither of which are the property I’m looking for. 

52 Westwood Place – Original home of the Reynolds Family built in 1856 one of 10 remaining pre-Civil War  brick buildings in Buncombe County.


Then in 1918 the deed shows that James & Maude Reynolds carved off a piece of their property adjacent to 19 and 15 Westwood to a Mr. W. Frank Pollard and his wife Pauline.  According to the directories he’s a traveling salesman who has lived on and off around West Asheville for several years.  The period from 1911 to 1929 is a boom era for this section of Haywood Road as the trolley line has been built and commercial buildings are going up all along the roadway. They purchase the property and apparently did put up a house because by 1924 they are listed at a brand new address for the road,  #5. They lived there for two years.  Then in 1926 he must have decided to put the place up for rent and head out on the road.  While the Pollards continue to appear intermittently in the city directory they never live at #5 again. But everyone else does!  From 1926 to 1942 #5 is a revolving door of tenants ranging from barbers at the DeLuxe Barber shop in 1928 to a driver for the original Ingles Groc. in 1931, to a forman for the Southern Railway in 1941; few end up living there longer than a year or two before a new name appears. Eventually though it is listed as vacant and by the late 40s all reference to it has evaporated.

19 Westwood Place – Original Home for Mr. James R. Reynolds & Family.
Farmer, Entrepreneur and Former President & Treasurer of the Sagamore Springs Radium Water Co. of West Asheville.

Frank Pollard shows up one more time in the directory in 1929 on the eve of the Great Depression listed in business with his former neighbor James R. Reynolds.  Mr. Pollard is listed as the Vice President, along with Mr. Reynolds, the President and Treasurer of the Sagamore Springs Radium Water Co. Then Pollard disappears for good.  ( In case you don’t know radium water was a cure all fad in the 1920s which was 3 times as bad for you as it sounds. A famous quote about the substance decrees, ‘The radium water treatments were working great right up until his jaw fell off.”)

Mr. Reynolds continues to make a go of it for another few years but by 1932 he also disappears from the directory permanently. My guess is that the wide traveling Mr Pollard returned to town with the latest cure-all from the northeast for the booming health resort town that Asheville was then and convinced his neighbor to become his principal investor.  I also have my suspicions it was a combination of the hardships from the Great Depression and the radium water that ultimately did them both in. . . 

Satellite View of the Corner

I love being able to run down a property’s history like this, it’s such a rush to connect the dots.  Thank you Christopher for a really interesting opportunity to research this historic West Asheville neighborhood.  You can definitely get a feel for the larger social trends of a place just by going through 30-50 years of city directories. This morning I got tantalizingly close to what I had hoped would be a photo of the house in the archives of the Special Collections of the Ramsey Library on the UNCA campus but it turned out to be mislabeled and was actually negatives of family portraits for the church directory of the Westwood Baptist Church from sometime in the 50′s.

I also learned one more interesting fact while I was at the archives at the Ramsey Library today. Old negatives off gas nitrous oxide. Once the the curator took the lid off the box the negatives I noticed my voice go up and a giddy smile spread across my face ( I thought I was just excited).  She noticed and said ‘That’s the nitrous, you know like laughing gas,’ and explained the cause and effect. If you can get that happy just researching old negatives then I think I want to be a photo archivist when I grow up. . .

Comments

  1. Morgana O'Brien says:

    thank-you for your great investigatory work, it is really awesome to see the house that was there and to enjoy the wonderful garden now!!!

Asheville Photographer Asheville NC Photographer