The Community Foundation of Western North Carolina
Newton Academy Cemetery
History of the Newton Academy School and Cemetery by Viola S. Stevens for Local History Class at AB Tech (Dr. Harley Jolley) 1974 (12 pages)
A History of the Newton Academy School and Cemetery
In 1737 the State of North Carolina granted to James and William Davidson a tract of land comprised of 640 acres lying along each side of the Swannanoa River, including areas now known as Biltmore, Biltmore Forest, and Kenilworth. This grant was recorded as the Savannah River Grant. William Forster, the second of the name had come into Buncombe (then known as Burke or Rutherford Counties), in 1786 from the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia having served as a patriot soldier from Virginia during the Revolution. ln 1790 this same William Forster, II, purchased from the Davidson's that tract of land consisting of 640 acres -- the Savannah [Swannanoa] River Grant. For this land, William Forster, II, paid the Davidson's a sum of 200 pounds. This deed is recorded in Book 1, page 75 in the Buncombe County Deed Book. This William Forster had been born in Ireland in 1748 of Scotch ancestry. His parents were William Forster, Sr. (sometimes written Forrester] and his wife, Mary. William Forster, II, had married a Scotswoman, Elizabeth Heath about 1770. She accompanied him to North Carolina in 1786 along with two sons and four daughters. [These sons] Thomas Forster born in 1774 and William Forster, III, born in 1776, were to play an important role in the early development of Buncombe County end Asheville. "William Forster, II, built his home on the north side of the Swannanoa River on what is now the northern end of the Swannanoa Viaduct at the foot of the hill. His land adjoined that of Col. Daniel Smith and these two men were the first white men to live in what is now the City of Asheville.
Swannanoa Valley was wide and fertile and yielded plentifully of grains and vegetables. William Forster had extensive orchards and grazing lands - according to Dr. Foster A, Sondley, "he lived in frontier luxury and benevolence. In 1790 his household consisted of himself, his wife, two sons, Thomas and William, III. Aforementioned, six daughters, and three Negro slaves. At one time, when he was ill, William Forster, II, dreamed that he was buried under a particular tree on the hill where is now The Newton Academy Cemetery. He died in 1830 and is buried near the spot that he chose. His wife Elizabeth had died three years before in 1827 and his son, William, III, died in 1826. He is buried near his mother and father, as is his wife, Fannie Lucinda Ballew of near Bridgewater, Burke County, North Carolina. Markers have been erected in recent years to honor both William Forster, II, and William Forster, III, Public Benefactor.
In 1793, on land owned by William Forster, II, a school to be known as Union Hill was organized by Robert Henry, a versatile and well-educated man who had recently come into the Buncombe area along with many other pioneers and Veterans of the Revolution. People in the area yearned for spiritual and educational opportunities, and in 1793 on a knoll covered with magnificent oaks and pines, Robert Henry and his patrons erected a log school building, the first one in the State west of the Blue Ridge mountains. Both boys and girls attended the school coming on horseback from the various farming communities to take advantage of "book learning" offered by Mr. Henry at Union Hill. In 1797, Robert Henry resigned as head of Union Hill to begin the practice of law. It was then that George Newton, age 32, and recently arrived from Rutherford County to become educational leader of the newly formed village of Asheville, and was appointed teacher of Union Hill to succeed Mr. Henry. Almost at once Mr. Newton received a call from three congregations -Bee Tree, Swannanoa (Asheville) and Reems Creek to serve them as minister. Thus, George Newton began a residence of seventeen years in the Asheville area as its teacher and minister. His service seemed to please these predominantly Presbyterian people who demanded educated ministers and a church-centered education for their children. Under George Newton's leadership this two-fold service was reflected in every phase of community life. He was an outstanding teacher with a rich background of information with the ability to impart his knowledge and to inspire his pupils. Under his leadership, Union Hill became a Boys' School and in 1805, by an act of Legislature, it became Union Hill Academy. Four years later, in 1809, this name was changed to Newton Academy honoring the highly-esteemed teacher-minister, George Newton. The influence of George Newton reached far beyond the confines of Newton Academy. Many of his pupils became leaders in shaping the development of the town, county, State, and Nation. Among these men are the names of David Lowry Swain, President of the University at Chapel Hill and later Governor of the State, B. F. Perry, ,who became Governor of South Carolina, Gen. Robert B. Vance - many native Ashevillians recall stories told by the parents or an ancestor who attended Newton Academy School.
Sometime about 1800 William Forster, II, conveyed to his sons Thomas and William, III, (sometimes called Jr.) about equal portions of his 640 acre tract (originally the Davidson's Savannah [Swannanoa] River Grant). Thomas received his land south of the Swannanoa River and William, III's tract was north of the Swannanoa. This parcel of 320 acres included the land on which is located the Newton Academy School and Graveyard (see Deed Book H, p. 138, Buncombe County Courthouse). In 1803, William Forster, III, (sometimes called Jr.) made a conveyance of eight acres of land lying east of what is now Biltmore Avenue, south of the entrance to the present Forest Hill Drive, to a group of Trustees as a gift "For the further maintenance and support of the Gospel and teaching, a Latin and English School, or either as may be thought most proper from time to time by the said Trustees or a majority of them or their successors in office." The Trustees were the following:
Andrew Erwin, Daniel Smith, John Patton, Edmund Sams, James Blakely, William Forster, Sr. (II), Thomas Foster, Jr., William Whitson, William Gudger, Samuel Murray, Joseph Henry, David Vance, William Brittain, George Davidson, John Davidson, and the Rev. George Newton. William Forster, III, reserved to himself an equal interest and privilege with the above-named Trustees and to be considered as one of them in all proceedings as long as he continues to act as a Trustee, with a provision for substitution of a Trustee when one died or refused or was unable to act and a provision that there shall be at all times eleven Trustees in the neighborhood of said school (institution) who live convenient enough to send their children there. This deed is recorded in Deed Book 4, pages 669-671 of the Buncombe County Deed Books.
In 1809, while George Newton was still in charge of the school, the same William Forster, III, conveyed an additional three and one-fourth acres adjoining the original eight acres on the south, "including the brick house now building" to named persons, Trustees of the Union Hill Academy, established by an Act of Assembly a seminary of learning in Chapter 43, year 1805. This additional land was to be used for the same purpose as stipulated in the deed of 1803. This 1809 deed is recorded in Book 25, page 111, in the Buncombe County Courthouse. At this time, 1809, there were five changes made in the body of Trustees for Newton Academy, viz., George Swain, Benjamin Hawkins, John McLane, William Moore, and Samuel Davidson. The names of five original Trustees no longer appeared, viz., Andrew Erwin, William Whitson, Daniel Smith, James Blakely, and Joseph Henry. Thus the original number of seventeen Trustees was continued.
In this same year of 1809, the original log house was removed and a brick house was built. Thus far I have found no record of who built it or how it was financed. Since the school seemed to be prospering, perhaps the fees of students paid for the building. In this year, 1809, the North Carolina General Assembly by an official Act changed the name to Newton Academy. There for many years people living nearby sent their children to school, attended preaching and buried their dead. The school became famous in this area and it was for the benefit of the institution that the Newton Academy Lottery was authorized by an Act of the General Assembly in 1910 for the purpose of enabling the Trustees of Newton Academy near the town of Asheville to complete the necessary buildings belonging to the same and also to establish a Female Academy in the town of Asheville. Listed as managers are: David Vance; George Swain; John Patton; George Newton; and Andrew Erwin.
These men were all members of the original Board of Trustees of Newton Academy (Union Hill), The Lottery did not succeed owing to the extreme scarcity of cash The Raleigh Star of July 29, 1809, reported a July 4 Celebration in Asheville, Buncombe County, in which students from Union Hill Academy took part: "About eleven o'clock in the forenoon the students of Union Hill Academy under the tuition of the Rev. George Newton marched into town in handsome order, followed by their teacher and the Trustees of the Seminary, and had an exhibition at the home of Maj. Andrew Erwin where a stage had been set up. The scene was beautiful; about 40 of the students neatly clad in homespun garb, exhibited various characters on the stage, while the expressive countenances of several hundred of spectators bore testimony that their performances were such as did honor to themselves and their worthy Preceptor." - Copied from Charles L. Coon, North Carolina Schools and Academies, 1790-1840, 1915. As a minister George Newton was respected for his dedicated service, but his warm and understanding personality caused him to be revered and loved by his pupils and the community. He preached not only to his Newton Academy Congregation, but to congregations at Patton's Meeting House (the original place of the Swannanoa Presbyterian Church), Reems Creek, and Cane Creek churches. Bishop Francis Asbury of the Methodist Church, making his annual tours through Western North Carolina, sometimes spent the night at the Newton home. Bishop Asbury paid the minister a high compliment by saying that he was "almost a Methodist" possessing placidness and solemnity. Said Bishop Asbury, "Newton is a man after my own mind." In 1814, after seventeen years of service, George Newton resigned his post in this area and moved to Shelbyville, Tennessee to become Principal of the Dickinson Academy and minister of the Presbyterian Church. He is buried in Shelbyville, Tennessee and his epitaph reads: "He preached this glorious Gospel...He testified to all repentance and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ...His memorial is written on many hearts."
In August of 1817, a Mr. Francis Porter answered a call from Asheville and Reems (Rims) Creek for his ministerial labors. He also assumed the position as Principal of Newton Academy, and the family lived in the house on the campus, which in 1803 had been provided by William Forester, III, as a residence for the Preacher of the Gospel. In 1823 the Rev. Mr. Porter at his own request to the Concord Presbytery was relieved of his duties including that of Principal of Newton Academy. "Mr. Porter was followed by the late William Smith of Georgia familiarly known as 'Long Billy." This Academy was justly famous in that region, and educated in whole or in part many of the prominent citizens of that country beyond the Blue Ridge and elsewhere." Newton Academy continued to serve as a meeting house for the Asheville Presbyterian Church until 1841, at which time the new church building was opened. The Newton Academy continued to function, though later principals seemed not to have received the acclaim that was afforded the earlier ones.
Dr. Foster Sondley in his History of Buncombe County says that Col. Stephens Lee, a South Carolinian and a West Point Graduate, came to the Asheville area in 1846 and established a private school. Col. Lee served as an officer in the Confederate Army.
After the war he returned to this area and in 1867, for one session he conducted the school at Newton Academy. He was assisted by a Presbyterian minister, Rev. Mr. Sturgeon. In 1858, a new two-story brick building was erected by Ephraim Clayton, a prominent local builder and businessman. There was a civil action pertaining to this building in the June, 1886, term of Buncombe Superior Court, viz., Ephriam Clayton v. The Trustees of Newton Academy. The action was to recover the value of the labor done for the Defendants in building the academy, known as Newton Academy, in the County of Buncombe, about the year 1858. The Plaintiff then introduced Mr. W.W. McDowell, a banker and prominent citizen of Asheville, who stated that he went out on the streets of Asheville, and without the solicitation of anyone, and because he felt an interest in the Newton Academy School (his father having been educated there and he was desirous of sending his sons there), he procured a subscription from the citizens to build the present building, and that shortly afterwards there was a public meeting in the Courthouse in Asheville to consider the necessary steps to put up the building. At that meeting many persons were present, including Mr. M. Patton, one of the original incorporators. W. W. McDowell, M. Patton, and W. J. Alexander were appointed to make contracts for the erection of the building. They were instructed to offer the citizens subscription list to the Contractors for the building, and they did so. The subscriptions were all good, about $3,600.00 in amount, and since it only required approximately $2,800,00 to complete the building, the remainder of the subscription after paying for the work done by Clayton and his firm, was spent in putting up a teacher's house on the grounds.
Superior Court ruled that the building was done by a movement on the part of the citizens. The Trustees of Newton Academy had nothing to do with it. They never received the work. There was no meeting of the Trustees of Newton Academy from 1847 to 1874. Many were dead. In 1874 or some time afterward, the Legislature appointed new Trustees, at which time there was a meeting and new organization. The Plaintiff submitted to a Judgment of non-suit and appealed to the Supreme Court. Mr. George A. Shuford, attorney for the Plaintiff, and Mr. Charles A. Moore, attorney for the Defendant. The Supreme Court ruled that there was no error and that the Judgement of the Superior Court was affirmed. A report of the opinion in this case may be found in North Carolina Records, Book 95, page 298 - "Clayton vs. trustees.
An unusual transaction took place in 1867 on July 3rd. The Superior Court approved a Judgment brought by Ephraim Clayton, builder, against Nancy Forster Stevens, she being the daughter of William Forster, III, donor of the property and also named as Defendants were: M. Patton, W. J. Alexander, and W. W, McDowell, members of the same Building Committee that had authorized the erection of the new Newton Academy School in 1858. This present suit of Ephraim Clayton, builder, was to satisfy a claim for $20.00 for repairs made on the roof of the building. Sheriff J. M. Young ordered the sale of the entire Newton School property, including the buildings and this v/as dorm on July 3, 1867. Mr. George W. Young bid in this property for the sum of $20.00 and assigned his bid to the party of the second part, viz., Nancy Forster Stevens. This transaction is on record in Deed Book 150 at page 536, Buncombe County Courthouse. This deed was kept in the possession of Nancy Forster Stevens until her death in 1884. She gave the deed to her son, Jesse Stevens, who had it registered in the Office of the Register of Deeds for Buncombe County, N. C. on September 7, 1907, in Book 252, page 228. By this act, Nancy Forster Stevens carried out her father's (Williarn Forster,III) desire with regard to this property which he had donated in 1S03. The deed for retaining the name of Newton Academy School is registered in Deed Book 247, page 272.
In 1907, the Trustees leased the school to Margaretta A. Campbell, wife of J. M.. Campbell for a term of 20 years beginning January 15, 1907. The agreement was that a school be established and taught on the property eight months each year and should this school not be established and maintained, the property would revert to the Trustees.
This arrangement ended in a litigation of J. M. Campbell against the school committee, composed of G. A. Mears, J. M. Brookshire, M. L. Reed, H. C. Davidson, H. A. Penland, T. M. Porter, and D. M. Stevens. Apparently the school was closed about this time because in 1921, the Trustees of the Newton Academy entered into an agreement with the City of Asheville, whereby the city would lease the property from the Trustees for a period of 75 years with an option of renewal at the end of that period. The Trustees at that time included, Mark L. Reed, N. A. Penland, James M. Brookshire, Henry 0. Davidson, J. E. Stevens, C. M. Stevens, and W. L. Gash. They stated that they held title to the land described in trust and for a period of 20 years have been unable to operate the school for lack of funds. That the City desires to erect a new school building for teaching English Grammar and other subjects and so leases to the City of Asheville for a period of 75 years from December 1, 1921, the aforesaid property for the consideration of $5.00 and other considerations as follows.
The City agrees to begin the erection within six months of a graded school building, also to erect around the burial grounds known as Newton Academy Cemetery, a substantial fence, and will keep, during the period of the lease, the fence in good and substantial repair at all times and the City shall clean off the burying ground each year of all unsightly underbrush and needs,
The City was granted an option of renewal at the end of the 75 year period in 1996. The school was built and a bronze plaque in the building contains the following inscription:
Public Graded School - Erected 1922
Gallatin Roberts Mayor
R. L. Fitzpatrick Commissioner of Public Safety
R. J. Sherrill Commissioner of Public Works
W. L. Brooker Superintendent of Schools
Mrs. Curtis Bynum
W. Vance Brown
C. C. Worley
R. H. McDuffie
W. M. Smathers
The action taken pertaining to the leasing of the Newton Academy School property to the City of Asheville was taken by a quorum of Trustees present at a special called meeting of the Board of Trustees of Newton Academy. N. A Penland, Chairman, and M. L. Reed, Secretary. The Resolution was approved by John H. Cathey, Clerk of Superior Court. It also bears the signature of Gallatin Roberts, Major, Commissioner of Public Accounts and Finance and by F. L. Condor, Secretary-Treasurer.
In 1941, J. Edgar Stevens became the sole surviving Trustee of the old Newton Academy Trust, and believing that a full board of Trustees should be designated and appointed to carry out the terms and conditions of the said Trust, appointed the following Trustees: Roy Alexander, Dr; Harold Stevens Clark, Mrs. Donald I. Gross, Vernon F. Hemphill, Mrs. Ella Reed Matthews, Miss Mary C. McDowell, Frank H. Sherrill, J. Edgar Stevens, Samuel Merritt Stevens, William H. Stevens, and Charles T. Wilson.
In 1957, the Trustees were Albert S, McLean, Chairman; Dr. J. B. Anderson, Mrs. Donald I. Gross, Mr. Samuel M. Stevens, Mr. Carl Stevens, Mrs. Ella Reed Matthews, Mr. Roy Alexander, and Mr. Charles T. Wilson.
According to Dr. Sondley, Vol. II, History of Buncombe County, page 246: "In neither of the deeds of 1803 or 1809 is any express reference made to a a graveyard. But at that time a church was invariably attended by a burying ground next to the Newton Academy School, also used as a church. Such was plainly the contemporary understanding."
In North Carolina Room of Pack Memorial Library there are some records of the Newton Academy Cemetery and two or more lists of names of people buried there with dates. The lists vary and no list seems to be complete. The most nearly complete one was compiled by Historical Records Survey made in 1939. Dr. Sondley reports in History of Buncombe County that. William Forster, II, of the name had expressed a desire to be buried on the hill where the graveyard now stands under a certain tree. He died in 1830 and he and his wife, Elizabeth Heath, who had died in 1827 are buried on the south end of the cemetery. William Forster, III, son of William Forster, II had died in 1826 and he too is buried near the same place. In this same area is the grave of William Patton who died, in 1818, the father of Col. John Patton. This appears to be the earliest grave. Col. John Patton died in 1831 and he and his wife, Ann Mallory are buried east of William Patton the elder's grave. Col. Daniel Smith, a noted hunter and an American soldier in the Revolution died on May 17, 1824, but he was first buried where Fernihurst now is and moved to Newton Academy Cemetery in 1875. His wife, Mary Davidson is buried beside him as are his son, James McConnell Smith and his wife, Polly Patton, daughter of Col. John Patton. This James McConnell Smith is said to be the first white child born in North Carolina west of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
The graves of Nancy Forster Stevens and of her husband, Henry Stevens, Jr. are on the hill near the monuments of William Forster, II, and William Forster, III., Public Benefactor. There are a number, of other graves of members of the Stevens family including two of the eight Stevens brothers who fought for the Confederacy. These two are Thomas and Merritt Stevens. There are 28 graves of Confederate soldiers, unmarked except for C. S. A. on the stones marking the graves. On the west slope of the Cemetery are the graves of five Union soldiers who died or were killed perhaps during the Battle of Asheville. On the hill near these Confederate graves stands a tall monument erected in 1903 to the memory of Confederate Soldiers by the Asheville Chapter, United Daughters of the Confederacy.
George Swain, father of William Lowry Swain is on the hill alone. There is another grave with the name, George N. Popoff, a Hungarian, who died in 1895. He probably was a stone mason or craftsman who came- here to work on the Biltmore House. Near the fence on the southwest stands an appealing angel marking the grave of Charles Neal Goodlake. Mrs. W. D. Roberts of Biltmore says that this is a brother of hers who died very young and that her grandmother and sister are also buried nearby, but that their markers have been removed. Mrs. Roberts also says that she has deeds to these lots.The latest date of a burial in the Newton Academy was Mary Munsey in 1919, according to Historical Records Survey of 1939. Stephen Rice, a Union soldier, presumably, since his epitaph states that he was discharged from the service of the U. S. A. on August 16, 1865 at Knoxville, Tenn. He is listed as having died in 1916. For a hundred years---1818 to 1919---this cemetery was in active use.
There have been many acts of vandalism over the years, stones toppled and many removed. The gate is in need of repair and an entire section of the fence at least five feet wide has been torn apart near the entrance to the school grounds and a used path made across the cemetery. The City indeed has a legal responsibility designated in the formal lease of 1921 with the Trustees to "erect and maintain a substantial fence to prevent trespassing upon said burial grounds by children attending the school, and trespassing and vandalism on the part of the general public, and will keep during the period of this lease, the fence aforementioned in good and substantial repair at all times."
During her lifetime, Mrs. Ella Reed Matthews, whose great-grandfather, William Forster, III, donated this land for school and religious purposes, kept a vigilant eye on the institution. In the 1960's one of the Garden Clubs did extensive planting of bulbs and dogwood trees on the grounds. Mrs. Matthews encouraged and led the movement of her descendants to erect a handsome marker to William Forster, III, Public Benefactor. When the City was lax in carrying out its obligation to take proper care of the cemetery, she went to the city fathers and reminded them of their responsibility, usually obtaining results. Mrs. Matthews died in the early 1960's, having served on the Board of Trustees of Newton Academy since 1941. Her interest and watchful eyes have been missed. Another of her desires was that a marker or plaque be placed somewhere near or on the Newton Academy Building in honor of George Newton for whom the school was named.
Again Newton Academy seems to be on the threshold of a crisis. The number of pupils in attendance is much less than the number that the school can accommodate and there is talk of closing the school. What would the city do with the property? The present lease does not expire until 1996---leaving 22 more years to fulfill the terms of the lease.
The remaining three Trustees, Albert McLean, Chairman, Carl Stevens, and Mrs. Donald I. Gross, having served since 1941, met recently to discuss the situation and to name and approve new Trustees to bring the number to that stipulated in the deeds of 1803 and 1809.
On April 13, 1974, at 2:00 P.M., the Trustees met in the cafeteria of Newton Academy and formally approved the following to the Board of Trustees: John S. Stevens, Chairman, Hugh Stevens, Mrs. Sue Gudger Cable, Same E. Stevens, Mrs. Edward McDowell, Frank Forster Davidson, William B. Johnson, Mrs. Mary Wilson Walker, Richard B. Stevens, Greensboro, N. C,, and Thomas Stevens, Attorney, Durham, North Carolina.
Miss Viola S. Stevens agreed to serve as Secretary for the meeting. The choosing of these Trustees was done in. accordance with the stipulations of the original deed in 1803 of William Forster, III, to the Board of Trustees of Newton Academy.
In the words of Edmund Burke, "People will not look forward to posterity, who never look backward to their ancestors,"
Newton Academy — This school, at which Governor Swain, General R. B. Vance, and other distinguished men received their early education, was founded during the closing years of the last century. B. Smith was the first principal, followed by Rev. F. Porter, who was in turn succeeded by Rev. Geo. Newton, (the founder of the Asheville Presbyterian church,) who gave his name to the institution. After a long and successful career, Newton Academy was suffered to fall into decay. The school was suspended in consequence of the dilapidation of the building and lack of patronage, but was afterwards revived, and the present commodious brick structure erected. It is situated within 100 yards of the old log school-house, and l 1/2 miles south of Asheville court-house. G. W. Snelson is now the principal.
Source: The Asheville City Directory and Gazetteer of Buncombe County for 1883-'84, J. P. Davison, Compiler (1883) at 132.