Asheville's Urban Trail
Post-Civil War Asheville was home to one of the country’s most vibrant and prosperous African-American commercial districts. Eagle Street’s enterprises ranged from restaurants, nightclubs, and a tannery, to a blacksmith, funeral parlor and carriage factory.
A self-guided tour on Asheville’s Urban Trail introduces you to the people and places that brought cultural diversity to Asheville during Reconstruction. An Eagle marks the starting point of the district tour, where you will meet James V. Miller, a craftsman and chief mason for the Municipal Building (1925). Cornucopias over a side doorway to the Municipal Building mark the site of an integrated public market.
Nearby is a bronze wall sculpture that honors the historic African-American community and business center known locally as “The Block”.
Mr. Gene's Family Restaurant on South Market Street in the historic Ritz Café building still serves up healthy portions of fried chicken and fish, barbecue ribs, black-eyed peas, collard greens and more. Originally, the building housed Asheville's Black Masonic Temple, but later became home to an elegant restaurant. The renovation of this historic building is an exciting event for what was once the bustling center of African-American enterprise.
St. Matthias Episcopal Church houses western North Carolina’s oldest congregation of black Episcopalians. Built in 1896, the church was an offshoot of Trinity Chapel, founded in 1865 for newly freed slaves.
One of St. Matthias’ founders was Issac Dickson. Born into slavery, he became a leading civic, church and business leader in Asheville. He was the first African-American to serve on the Buncombe County Board of Education. The YMI Cultural Center, formerly the Young Men's Institute, was erected by George Vanderbilt in 1893. He built the center as a show of gratitude to the African-American men of Asheville whose craftsmanship is readily apparent at Biltmore Estate.
The YMI housed the public library used by the city’s black population. A corner drugstore, a funeral parlor, and the medical office of Dr. James W. Bryan were also in the building.
Forty members of Asheville's African-American community purchased it from Vanderbilt in 1906. It was later renovated and renamed the YMI Cultural Center. Today, the building features permanent and changing exhibits by African-American artists, as well as cultural arts programs. Some of its programs include the Goombay Festival in August and Kwanzaa in December. The Tudor-style building is on the National Register of Historic Places.
added: December 30, 2008
updated: December 31, 2008