Asheville History

The Beer City Poll and Asheville

Craft beer and Homebrewing pioneer Charlie Papazian recently announced that The Examiner’s Beer City poll will not continue.  The poll was designed for readers to first nominate and from those nominations choose the one city in the US that would best be described as “Beer City”.  Asheville won the poll four out of five times, making it the winningest city during the poll’s run.  Over the past several years I’ve overheard bar patrons attempting to explain to their out of town guests what the title of Beer City meant.  Everything from, “We have more breweries per capita than anywhere in the country,” to, “We make the best beer in the US,” were given as reasons for the title.  While we do have over a dozen breweries in a city of 80,000 or so people, Hood River Oregon takes the per capita title with 7,214 people and five breweries. Our breweries do make some excellent beer, but none are nationally distributed and many aren’t well known outside the Asheville area.  Neither of those were the reasons Asheville kept coming out on top.  Instead, the title really came from an online popularity contest, but its importance can’t be ignored.

By all logic there are much more substantial “Beer Cities” than Asheville.  Measuring the number of breweries, number of medals won at GABF, amount of beer being produced in barrels, or number of beer bars and bottle shops in each city would leave our town trailing the competition.  Places like Portland and Denver easily top Asheville in any of those tallies.  What the Beer City poll did was leverage something Asheville does have when it comes to beer: passionate community support.

Each year, a city with a population one tenth of those above would rally its people to help make our mountain town stand out.  I would hear stories of locals who voted from every electronic device at their disposal to help bring up the count.  Local media would keep people up to date as to how much time they had left to vote and how the contest was going.  And it worked. Year after year, Asheville would win or tie for first.  The pride of our community was our key to success.

What Asheville got from the poll was worth far more than anyone could have expected.  Big breweries from out west began to seriously consider a fairly remote mountain town for their east coast expansion.  From a logistical standpoint, there are far better choices than Asheville to situate a production facility.  Access to major markets, interstate highways or cheap land did not make Asheville the clear choice over the competition.  Other cities could boast much more as far as those assets were concerned.  Community support of beer, brewing and an overall excellent quality of life helped set Asheville apart.  The Beer City poll showed these companies that they would be welcomed to the area with open arms and enter into an established beer community rather than have to create one somewhere else. 

As Oskar Blues, Sierra Nevada and New Belgium start production, the area is going to get the immediate benefit of hundreds of good paying jobs, a rare commodity in Asheville.  In addition, it has been estimated that by 2016 Asheville will see an additional one million visitors each year just for beer.  While they’re here, these beer tourists will spend their money at our local breweries, restaurants, hotels, gas stations, shops, etc.  All local businesses will see the benefit from our beer industry. 

While the poll was never a scientific measure of how “Beer City” a city might be, Asheville’s passion for our beer scene led us to repeat victories over much larger and longer established competitors.  I’ll probably miss the excitement of the last few days of the poll each year, with everyone discussing the real-time results and how long they have left to vote.  But we have seen more benefit from it than anyone could have expected, and it’s always good to go out on top.   

Asheville founded by Whiskey -Asheville History Fact of the Week

The area surrounding Asheville had been explored since the 1500s by several expeditions, including those of Hernan De Soto and Rutherford Trace, but no white settlers had taken residence in the area.  It wasn't until the spring of 1784 that Asheville would first be settled.

Samuel Davidson left from the area near present day Old Fort in the spring of 1784 and headed west into the Mountains.  He decided on a beautiful piece of land known as Gum Spring that is today located just inside the gates of the Biltmore Estate to build his home and farm.  After constructing a rough cabin and clearing some land to plant crops, Davidson went back down the mountain and collected his wife and infant child.  That fall he returned to Old Fort and loaded up his family and more supplies.  After making the long slow journey back up the mountain to his new home, the Davidsons began their life in the frontier.   

Davidson spent the majority of his time that first fall clearing land for farming in an attempt to prove ownership against potential future competitors.  It was on one of those days that he met his demise.     

He had tied a bell around the neck of his horse to keep track of him until a proper barn could be built.  The story goes that a Cherokee hunting expedition came over the rise near Davidson's farm and saw smoke from the fire.  They found the horse and carefully untied the bell around its neck.  Then, they lured Davidson by ringing the bell out into the woods.  Davidson, thinking he was tracking his horse, was caught unaware by the Cherokee hunters who fired multiple shots and killed him. 

Early map outlining Buncombe County

Back at the cabin Davidson's wife heard all the rifle fire and knew what had happened.  She gathered their child and some food and hurried back down the mountain towards Old Fort.   

Once she reached Old Fort and told the other members of the Davidson family what had happened, a posse was formed to get revenge.  William Davidson, Samuel's twin brother, led the group and they headed back into the mountains.  After killing two Cherokee and sending the others in the group running, Davidson and his team relaxed and noticed the fertility of the land and the beauty of their surroundings and decided to make the area their home. 

Over the next few years, thousands of white settlers moved into the region, and it was decided by the state that a separate county should be established to better govern the new settlements.  The county of Buncombe was formed in 1792 and the first court session was held in William Davidson's home at Gum Spring.

Further north,  a keen developer named John Burton was building a settlement of business along a flat piece of land near the corner of present day Patton and Biltmore Avenues.  As a county seat for the new Buncombe was being decided there was much debate as to where it should be.  Many argued that Gum Spring was already serving as the county seat as that is where the first courthouse was, and it made sense to keep it there.  Burton, though, saw the county seat's location being as being the key to his development's success.  

Burton found William Morrison of Burke county, a man appointed by the state to help settle the issue, and brought him to his new row of businesses.  The story goes that he brought Morrison into one of the small wooden stores and gave him whiskey while pitching him on the idea of "Morristown" being the seat of Buncombe.  Apparently the talk and the whiskey worked and Morrison ordered that Morristown be the county seat of Buncombe in 1794.  The area was renamed Asheville the following year to honor Samuel Ashe, the new governor of North Carolina.

To learn more about the History of Asheville join us on a BREW-ed Brewery & History Walking Tour 

Frank Coxe - Asheville History Fact of the Week

So, last week I wrote a bit about Colonel Frank Coxe and his vision that helped make Asheville the legendary tourist destination it has become.  This week I wanted to share an interesting personal fact about the early life of Colonel Coxe.  Specifically, I want to talk about how he was shot and killed twice during the Civil War.

Frank Coxe was born in Rutherfordton, North Carolina and spent his formative years in the South.  At the age of 21 he enlisted in the Confederate Army and quickly rose to the rank of colonel.  Soon after his promotion, however, Coxe learned that the family's coal mines in Pennsylvania were in danger of being taken by the Union Army.  Coxe, the heir to the family fortune, had the duty to go north and protect his family's interests.  He plead his case to President Jefferson Davis who gave him a pardon from his duties.  Coxe was an honorable man and didn't want his absence to affect the war effort, so he supplied a replacement.  In those days men of means could pay for someone else to serve in their place.  Coxe did just that and went north to manage his family's affairs. 

Colonel Frank Coxe

Once Frank got to Pennsylvania he had to take on the role of Union sympathizer in order to protect his family's mines.  The plan worked well, and his family was allowed to keep ownership of the property.  However, being a strong young man, he was quickly noticed and actively pursued by Union recruiters.  Coxe had no intentions of serving the Union side and so he again hired someone to serve in his place. 


After the war was over Coxe learned that his surrogates had fought against each other more than once in battle and in one of the last battles of the entire war both were killed.  The thought that he had hired two men and put both to their deaths stayed with him his entire life.  He was convinced that the two men had killed each other and took that guilt to the grave.