What Do the Records Show?
Forster A. Sondley provided the following in 1912: "His residence stood on the hillside immediately east of the railroad and directly north of the first small branch which runs into the French Broad River above the Passenger Station of the Southern Railway at Asheville, North Carolina. The site of his home is now within the corporate limits of the City of Asheville. . . ." Sondley added: "In later life Colonel Smith was almost daily seen on the streets of Asheville mounted on his large white horse."
Similarly, in 1922 Theodore Davidson wrote: Daniel Smith "settled immediately east of the railroad at the first branch above the passenger station at Asheville, on the hill just north of the branch where his cabin stood for many years, and where he died May 17, 1824. He was buried with military honors on the hill where Fernihurst now stands; but about 1875 his body was removed to the Newton Academy graveyard where it now rests."
An April 1796 Buncombe County court record documents the purchase by Daniel Smith of 300 acres of land. Around 1795 Daniel Smith paid £4, 14 shillings, four pence, to Benjamin Yardley "in part pay for the building a house for" Daniel Smith. In April 1792 the Buncombe County court ordered that [among others] Daniel Smith be on a jury to view and lay off a road from Colonel William Davidson's on the Swannanoa River to Benjamin Davidson's Creek "the nearest and best way according to law." This was the first order in regard to roads ever made in Buncombe County. The road became known as Boilston Road.
According to Sondley, Davidson's River got its name from Benjamin Davidson, the first settler on its waters, and was originally called "Ben Davidson's Creek." This is miles southwest of Asheville and gives no indication as to the location of the Daniel Smith house. It does suggest, however, that the 300 acres purchased by Smith in 1795 ran in the general direction of Ben Davidson's Creek as the court usually included in road orders those with adjoining land.
We also know that one or more children of Daniel Smith attended school at the Newton Academy.
Tradition holds that James M. Smith, son of Daniel Smith, was born in his parents' log cabin just south of present-day Aston Park in 1787. The young Smith attended the log school house operated by Rev. George Newton just east of his homeplace around 1800.
“James McConnell Smith was born June 14, 1787, son of Daniel Smith and Mary Davidson, and historically stated to have been ‘the first white child born west of the Blue Ridge as North Carolina now is.’ (Sondley, 748). His birth took place in a two-story log house between the old Asheville Railroad Depot and Carrier’s Bridge. When the Smith House [Smith-McDowell House] was first erected on the Buncombe Turnpike, James Smith had the two-story log house in which he was born moved to the yard to be preserved. This small structure was later torn down. [1936 article] James M. Smith first received 123 acres from his father Daniel Smith on November 13, 1826 [Buncombe County Deeds, Book 14, page 343]. James McConnell Smith died May 18, 1856. He and his wife, Polly Patton, were buried on a knoll above the Smith-McDowell House.”
Source: Parris, Joyce Justus. The History of Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College, North Carolina. Marceline (Missouri): Walsworth Publishing, 1996, pp. 7-8.
The Asheville Railroad Depot is no more, and now is used as a parking lot. Carrier’s Bridge is where Amboy Road crosses the French Broad River just south of the River Arts District and just north of the confluence of the French Broad River and the Swannanoa River. This is somewhat west of the hill on which Fernihurst was built.
Do not confuse the Southern Railway Depot at Biltmore with the "[o]ld train station site on Depot Street (original train station on the site was removed years ago). See: Asheville Citizen-Times (Asheville, North Carolina), 16 November 2000, Thursday, Page 14. The Southern Railway Depot was built in 1896.
The Western North Carolina Railroad was the first to reach Asheville. This was in 1881. Its first depot in the place was a frame building erected for the purpose where West Haywood Street crosses that railroad in the vicinity of the old Smith's Bridge place. After a year or so the present freight depot on Depot Street was built and its northern end used for a while as a passenger station-house while the remainder of the building was used for freight. Then the present passenger depot was constructed. The Asheville and Spartanburg Railroad was completed to what is now Biltmore, but then was Best, in 1886.
Source: Asheville and Buncombe County at 170.
"The present site of Asheville was at this time owned entirely by two men, James M. Smith and James Patton. The former was the son of Col. Daniel Smith and was the first white child born west of the Blue Ridge. The Smith home was located at the Maple spring, at the foot of the hill on French Broad, near the mouth of the Swannanoa; there James was born about the year 1786."
Source: Asheville Citizen-Times (Asheville, North Carolina), 28 November 1895, Thursday, Page 2.
The Asheville Railway Depot was located on Depot Street in Asheville, immediately across from the Glenn Rock Hotel. Part of the hotel building remains standing (March 2017). The site of the depot now is a parking lot.
The small branch/stream that runs near the site of the former passenger depot has gone by several names: Nasty Branch; and Town Branch. It empties into the French Broad River near the intersection of Lyman Street and Old Lyman Street having run under the many railroad tracks in the area. Town Branch apparently begins at the intersection of Coxe Avenue and Short Coxe Avenue.
The Daniel Smith cabin purportedly was on a hill, and he was first buried at Fernihurst, which definitely is on a hill. That this property was in the Smith family is evidenced by the fact that a son of Daniel Smith, James McConnell Smith, built a large house adjacent to Fernihurst. All this now is part of the A-B Tech campus, with the James McConnell Smith house, being operated as a museum by the Western North Carolina Historical Association (the Smith-McDowell House).
The Fernihurst hill definitely is south of present-day Aston Park in Asheville. However, whether it is "just" south is open to debate. However, "just" south may rule out the Fernihurst hill. Moreover, there is a stream in the area that empties into the French Broad River.
Conclusions: The Daniel Smith cabin was located within the boundaries of today's Asheville. It was east of the railroad, thus being east of the French Broad River. It was north of a small stream near the old railroad depot that runs into the French Broad River. It was on a hill. It was sufficiently near to "downtown" Asheville to allow Daniel Smith to ride his horse in the downtown area on a regular basis. It was sufficiently near Newton Academy (on Unidalla Street near Mission Hospital) to allow children of Daniel Smith to attend school there, presumably walking. It was south of today's Aston Park.
|Click Photo for Larger Image|
The main train station in Asheville, built circa 1905, was this white stucco palace on Depot Street, across from the Glen Rock Hotel. It survived the flood of 1916 and was razed after the final run of the Greensboro-to-Asheville "Carolina Special" on Dec. 5, 1968. From Asheville, passenger service also went to New York, Cincinnati and Murphy. The building's architect was Frank Milburn, who designed ornate depots in Charlotte, Knoxville, Salisbury and other cities, Jim Cox notes in his book, "Rails across Dixie." The "Asheville Special" made its last passenger run out of the Biltmore station on Aug. 8, 1975, according to Tom Murray in his book, "Southern Railway." Waiting at this station, Thomas Wolfe wrote in "Of Time and the River," Eugene Gant watched a train approach, feeling "an empty hollowness of fear, delight, and sorrow." From the "sensual terror ... all things before, around, about the boy came to instant life ... It was his train and it had come to take him to the strange and secret heart of the great North."
Source: Neufeld, Bob. "Portrait of the past: Southern Railway passenger station," Asheville Citizen-Times (Asheville, North Carolina), 5 February 2015 (https://www.citizen-times.com/story/life/2015/02/05/portrait-past-southern-railway-passenger-station/22925973/; accessed 15 June 2019].
The Asheville Depot was demolished in 1968. Source: "Asheville Special," American Rails [https://www.american-rails.com/asheville-special.html; accessed 15 June 2019].
The following is from Asheville and Buncombe County, Forster Alexander Sondley (1922) at 88:
Col. John Patton was born April 4, 1765, and was one of Buncombe's first settlers. He removed to that county while it was yet Burke and Rutherford and settled first where Fernihust now stands. From here he removed to the Whitson place, on Swannanoa above the old water works. After residing here for some while he returned to the vicinity of his former home, and bought and fixed his residence upon the Col. Wm. Davidson place, where the first County Court was held. At this place he continued to reside until his death on March 17, 1831. It was he who formally opened on April 16, 1792, the first County Court. On the minutes of that court, immediately after the justices were sworn and took their seats, appears this entry:
Silence being commanded and proclamation being made the court was opened in due and solemn form of law by John Patton specialy (sic) appointed for that purpose.
At that term, on the same day, he was duly elected to the then very important office of county surveyor. Near his new residence he built, many years ago, a bridge across the Swannanoa River, which remained until about the beginning of the war against the Southern States. His house was for many years famous as a stopping place, being upon the Buncombe Turnpike road, and he raised here a large family of children....The late residence of Col. John Patton stood on the southern side of the Swannanoa at the ford about half a mile above its mouth, until within the last thirty years, when after bearing for some time the name of the Haunted House, it was removed as being no longer tenantable. His wife...Miss Ann Mallory, a Virginian, was born Feb. 12, 1768 and died on Aug. 31, 1855. She, with her husband are buried at Newton Academy graveyard.
Note: A daughter of Colonel John Patton, Mary Patton, married James McConnell Smith.
Reference has several times been made to James M. Smith. He was the first white child born west of the Blue Ridge in North Carolina His father Col. Daniel Smith, a native of New Jersey, after considerable experience in the Indian wars, and as a soldier on the American side the the Revolutionary war, removed to Buncombe, the Burke, and settled immediately east of the railroad at the first branch above the passenger station at Asheville, on the hill just north of the branch, where the remains of his cabin may still be seen, and where he died May 17, 1824. He was buried with military honors on the hill were Fernihurst now stands, but about 1875 his body was removed to the Newton Academy graveyard where it now rests. . . .
Source: Asheville Citizen-Times (Asheville, North Carolina), 5 February 1898, Saturday, Page 6.