Thursday, June 30, 2016

Uncle Alfred Walker

Uncle Alfred Walker. He Has Lived in or Near Asheville for 72 Years.

There walked into The Citizen office the other day a gray haired darkey who, on account of his age and past affiliations, deserves a place in the Centenary number of The Citizen. The man was Alfred Walker, who has watched the passing of 72 years, and who was reared by James M. Smith, the first white child born west of the Blue Ridge mountains. Alfred has had a varied career, having served through the war and at last become a minister of the gospel, in the Baptist faith. He lives near Emma, on the Murphy branch of the Southern, but does not come to town often, on account of his health, which is not what it used to be. Some years ago, however, he was engaged in peddling about town.

"Uncle" Alfred, when he looks upon the substantial paving of Asheville's streets, chuckles to himself over the thought that he was the pioneer in putting down pavements -- "palements," he says. He constructed a walk of cobblestones in front of the Buck hotel on North Main, carting the stones from the hill now crowned by the Battery Park hotel. Speaking of the Buck hotel--which in his young days was the only hostelry in the town, Walker says: "It's nothing but a log house, covered with planks, and it wouldn't fall down in a thousand years. And they's millions o' rats in it; not thousands, but millions."

The spot now occupied by Geo. F. Scott & Co.'s lumber yard on College street can claim the distinction of being Walker's birth place. That far back this country had not arrived at the dignity of flails for threshing purposes, but the operation of separating the wheat berry from the stalk was carried out thus, as Walker describes it: The wheat was placed on the floor of the barn, several horses were rough shod and boys put on their backs to guide them around the room until the wheat had been tramped out. Flax trousers and flax dresses were the height of fashion, and shoes were an unknown quantity except on rare occasions, so Walker says.

"There's not a darkey of my set here now," he says; "I'm the only one left of my master's 500. If times were like they were then and my old master was back here, I'd rather be with him than to be free. He raised me to be truthful and honest, and I never had a mark on my back. Ca'se why? When he tole me to do anything I went right now and done it."

Walker served through the war in the Union army, Bartley's Tennessee regiment, and was mustered out at Knoxville. He is expecting a pension any day. He says people ask him how it is that he can preach although unable to read. "Then I asks, Who teached the fust man? Jesus Christ. Well, I've got religion: I know it; it keeps a-growing, and I'm richer than Vanderbilt, if he ain't got it."

Source: Asheville Citizen (Asheville, North Carolina), Saturday, 5 February 1898.

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