For Immediate Release
October 23, 2007
Public Information Office
310 Owen Hall, Campus PO 1820
Asheville, NC 28804-8507
828/251-6526 - FAX: 828/251-6677
City of Asheville Donates Urban Renewal Files to UNC Asheville;
When UNC Asheville junior Reed Fornoff started
his internship at Mountain Housing Opportunities, he was hoping for
a job that that would match his interest in urban planning. Little
did he know that his first task for the organization, a local
nonprofit which provides affordable housing to low-income residents,
would become an intriguing exploration into Asheville's past.
In his first week of work, Fornoff was charged with conducting neighborhood research using files that detailed the redevelopment of the East Riverside neighborhood during the late 1960s. He began by locating and retrieving the documents that had been stored away for 40 years.
"One cold January day Reed and I headed to the basement of the old Altamont Hotel on the corner of Market and Woodfin Streets, and with the help of several City employees, moved all the files to the downtown Economic Development Office," said Cindy Visnich Weeks, Mountain Housing Opportunities Community Investments Manager. "This was one of the most exciting days of my 30-year career in community development because I knew that this history could have easily been forgotten, discarded or destroyed. I knew that we were doing something great by bringing it back."
When Fornoff started to look through the boxes
– all 50 of them – he found a treasure trove of materials relating
to the relocation of families out of Asheville's East Riverside
neighborhood to make way for new, more upscale commercial
development. The materials, which have been named the Urban Renewal
Files, contain detailed information and photographs of some 800
homes and businesses before they were demolished or refurbished. The
files also contain home appraisals, newspaper clippings and
homeowners' letters to City officials protesting the eminent domain
ruling that ultimately razed parts of the neighborhood.
Fornoff spent 30 hours a week from January through May of this year going through many of the boxes. As he examined the mountain of papers, Fornoff was most fascinated with the photos he came across that included people. A majority of the photos were taken by Kent Washburn who worked for the City from 1963 to 1970.
"Many mornings I would come to work and find a single photograph or a copy of a letter on my chair," said Weeks. "Reed had a great eye for finding the important things in the boxes. The first photo he brought to me was of an African American boy and girl – about seven or eight years old – who were standing in front of their house holding up the number assigned to their home for demolition."
For his final internship project, Fornoff scanned the photographs and had them professionally enlarged, mounted and framed. Mountain Housing Opportunities exhibited 45 of the images at the Glen Rock Hotel for two days this past June. The first day a few people came; by the second day word had spread and more than 500 visited the exhibit.
"Church vanloads of people just kept showing up all day," Fornoff
said. "Many visitors were former residents of the neighborhood who
were anxious to see the images of their homes and show them to their
children and grandchildren. It was an incredible experience."
Mountain Housing Opportunities realized that the files were truly valuable historic documents and began the process to donate them to UNC Asheville's Ramsey Library Special Collections for archiving. Last week, Asheville City Council passed a resolution to transfer the files to UNC Asheville, along with $10,000 to cover the cost of processing and cataloging all the material.
"The urban renewal of the south side of Asheville was a significant and painful historical event for the African American community and for the whole city. I'm so glad that the City and Mountain Housing Opportunities staff members were able to work together to find and reclaim these files," said Asheville Mayor Terry Bellamy. "The file contents – especially the photos – represent the memories of so many people in our community. And because UNC Asheville is able to house the files as part of their historical collection, we have an opportunity to learn from the past."
UNC Asheville Special Collections Librarian Helen Wykle said that
they are a welcome addition to the University's archives, which
features a unique collection of materials on urban Appalachia and an
extensive body of material about Western North Carolina's African
The East Riverside Renewal Project and the Civic Redevelopment Project comprise most of the material in the donation. These two major projects detail two key actions of urban redevelopment, total clearance and relocation, but also conservation and rehabilitation of existing properties, Wykle noted.
"The Urban Renewal Files are a very significant addition to UNC Asheville's Special Collections," said Wykle. "This is a wonderful example of a collaborative effort between the City, a local non-profit organization and the University. We are grateful for these important historic documents and I believe they will serve as a valuable tool for faculty and student research projects as well as a bridge to the Asheville community."
Wykle is supervising two UNC Asheville student employees and four volunteers who have begun processing the files. Because of the breadth of the collection it will take about two years to finish the project, said Wykle. As work is ongoing, documents -- including photographs – will be made available online at http://toto.lib.unca.edu/ under the "Asheville Urban Renewal Project" link.
Weeks is looking forward to the day when materials from the collection will be online.
"I believe that the families affected by urban renewal will truly appreciate these records. Just like any genealogy, they will be able to trace important events in their family's history," said Weeks. "These records are also important because they are a testament on how the public can make great strides in civilization – but also make decisions that lead to setbacks, often for those folks in our communities that have worked the hardest for what they have. The Urban Renewal Files remind us all that we can never take for granted how important a home is to a family."
Athletics - Administration - Community Resources
Prospective Students - Current Students - Alumni and Friends - Faculty and Staff
Home - Calendars - Directories - News and Events - Site Map - Search