Friday, August 10, 2012

Alexander Inn (Swannanoa, North Carolina)

National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form

Alexander Inn is a rambling two-story log and frame structure sited just north of the old east-west roadway in the Swannanoa Valley, about twelve miles east of Asheville, N.C. The inn is sited at a strategic point where the valley floor narrows to several hundred yards, and hence faces not only the old roadway but also the railroad, highway US 70, and Interstate 40--all of the major transportation links into Asheville from the east. The Black Mountains rise gradually to the north behind the inn, eventually cresting at Mt. Mitchell, eastern America's highest peak, less than fifteen miles away.

The inn was initially a small log structure built about 1820 by George C. Alexander. It was enlarged in several stages throughout the nineteenth century until it took its present form--a two-story main block, seven bays long with an engaged two-story porch under a simple gable roof, and with a one-story ell to the rear at its eastern end. A covering of asbestos shingles, added ca. 1950, provides a deceptively unified facade, as revealed on the building's rear elevation where the recent removal of a shed addition has exposed its various framing systems. The building has suffered extensively from termite damage and poor maintenance, but still contains intact and salvageable fabric from all of its construction phases. Relatives of the present owner, a descendant of the builder, have expressed considerable interest in rehabilitating the structure and are presently searching for the means of achieving such a goal.

Framing material exposed on the inn's rear elevation suggests that the building was at first a two-story log house with an exterior rock chimney on its eastern gable end and with opposed doors approximately centered front and back. Half-dovetail cornering and mud daubing reflect the standard log building technology of the area. Although perhaps not weather boarded immediately the log house received a heavy frame addition within a decade or so and presumably the ensemble was weather-boarded at that time. The addition was made to the west, chimney-free end of the house and included a dug-out cellar.

The two-story, double-pen structure that resulted from this initial expansion displays consistent Federal style detailing in its surviving original materials. Six-panel doors on strap hinges remain in each of the three exterior doorways. A molded cornice and chair rail survive in the west ground-floor room. This room also displays some original hand-planed board sheathing; the other rooms received match board sheathing in the late nineteenth century. Board and batten doors survive in place on the second floor of this Federal period section of the inn. The original arched stone fire opening with simple board mantel shelf also survives on the second floor; the ground floor fireplace received a rustic stone remodeling early this century. Scars in the second-story floor suggest a boxed in stairway rose in the southwest corner of the original log rooms.

Sometime during the third quarter of the nineteenth century--perhaps upon the transfer of the inn from father, George C. Alexander, to son, George N., in 1869, the building was doubled in size by the addition of a two-story saddlebag-plan section to the east of the original stone chimney. This was also apparently the time at which double-tier porches were added across the building's facade. The rafters in the Federal section were extended to engage the porches under a simple gable roof, and the boxed-in stairway was replaced by an exterior stairway tucked into the interstice occupied by the original chimney and opening onto the porches which became open-air hallways. Either at this point or later in the century, porch rooms were enclosed at the ends of both porches. The ground-level east end porch room was later removed, but the other three remain.

The one surviving ground-floor mantel in the saddlebag addition is a heavy, Italianate composition with a curvilinear shelf, and the surviving original door--between the ground floor rooms--is a similarly heavy, four-panel affair. Curiously, the second-floor mantels are lightly molded designs of a distinct Federal character, as if moved from the earlier wing of this building, or salvaged from another early nineteenth century structure. Second-floor doors are board and batten.One guesses that a third major remodeling occurred during the latter years of the nineteenth century at which time the one-story kitchen ell was added to the rear at the east end of the inn, and a number of wall and ceiling surfaces were re-sheathed with match boards. Originally the ell featured an open porch to the east, which was eventually enclosed.

Twentieth-century alterations include the removal of a wall between the west ground floor room of the saddlebag section and the ell, producing an enlarged room lighted from the west by triple french doors in the west wall of the ell. This enlarged room now serves as a residential "living room" and has recently been paneled and the fireplace enclosed. As mentioned above, the inn was covered in asbestos shingles about mid-century, and a late-nineteenth century shed addition behind the Federal section was recently removed allowing a reading of the wall framing in that area.

Windows in the inn are mostly two-over-two sash from the late nineteenth century, with some smaller four-over-four sash and a few four-pane sash installed singly as fixed or casement lights. Of six small, kitchen-less guest cottages that once served the inn, only three survive within the boundaries of the nominated property (two others survive outside the boundaries; the other was demolished). All three appear to have been constructed early in this century. One, to the west and rear, is a small, clipped gabled bungalow sheathed in novelty siding (a trailer is now parked beside it). Another, to the east, appears to have been a hip roofed double-pen plan building whose porch has been enclosed. It was weather boarded. The last, to the east and in front of the inn, is a one-story L-plan cottage, originally weather boarded and now partially covered with asbestos shingles. A small building, said to have been Swannanoa's first post office and later a general store, was sited in front of the inn at roadside for many years. No trace of it remains today.

Tradition holds that a large rectangular stone in the yard of the inn was once the stepping stone for guests traveling by carriage. Though altered through the many years of its service as a farmhouse and roadside inn, and though presently in poor repair, Alexander Inn survives as the Swannanoa Valley's chief architectural link with its early nineteenth century history and especially with the history of transportation into Asheville and the mountains from the east. It displays a rich patchwork fabric reflecting the changing building technology as well as something of the vernacular interpretations of the architectural styles of the nineteenth century.

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