First, There Were the Woodfins
When we bought our home at 257 Montford in the spring of 2012, I quickly realized that it and our block had some unusual history.
For starters, even though we are solidly in the middle of the Montford neighborhood, the plat defining our property had nothing to do with the classic Asheville Loan, Construction and Improvement (ACLI) Company development – rather, ours was part of a blank triangle on the ALCI plat, bounded by Soco, East Waneta, and Montford (see map below). For another, our plat was dated in 1946, decades after ours and surrounding homes were built.
My research took me back into the 1880s with Anna Woodfin and her sister Lillie Jones, along with two residents who, in the 1890s and early 1900s, assembled and largely subdivided the Soco Triangle into its current configuration.
Map courtesy of Buncombe County Land Records Department
The Woodfins and Their Lands
The story really starts with Nicholas Woodfin, a leading citizen of pre-Civil War Asheville who owned large tracts in and around town, including a highly productive 700+ acre farm on the French Broad and a downtown mansion on eight acres along, of course, Woodfin Street. HomeTrust Bank now stands on part of the site. Woodfin was a distinguished lawyer, a state legislator who initially resisted calls for secession, one of Buncombe’s largest landowners, and its largest slaveowner. He is also credited with sounding the alarm of approaching federal troops that initiated the so-called Battle of Asheville in April 1865.
Woodfin’s wealth was seriously eroded by the Civil War, and both the farm and mansion were eventually lost in judicial sales. Nonetheless, at his death in 1876 he managed to pass considerable land holdings to his three daughters, Anna, Lillie and Mira. The daughters’ good fortune resulted in part with assistance from Benson Jones, the husband of daughter Lillie, who in 1874 acquired the Woodfin farm and downtown property after they had been sold in foreclosure.
In 1883, Jones placed these assets in trust for the three daughters, subject to recovering his costs. In the trust document, Jones recites his love and affection for each of the daughters and particularly references Anna as being an “invalid for life” and needing support.
Anna Woodfin and Her Sisters
Remembrances written at Anna’s death report that, after attending the “local College,” she lived for 40 years in a “crucible of suffering.” She is said to have been very religious and a pianist who kept her fingers nimble by practicing on a pillow during her long bed-ridden days. After some four decades, she somewhat recovered. Along the way, she was a leader in organizing the Flower Mission to benefit Asheville’s sick and infirm. This eventually developed into the Flower Mission Hospital, and Anna’s role is today reflected in Anna Woodfin Drive, which is the McDowell Street entrance to the Mission Memorial campus.
From the late 1870s until her death at age 74 in 1917, Anna and her sisters were steady sellers and infrequent buyers of real estate. The farm lands along the French Broad and Buncombe Turnpike were sold in the late 1880s in large tracts, of which at least 37 acres eventually were incorporated into the ALCI Montford plats. However, for the most part they sold their holdings along Montford, Chestnut, Pearson, and Gay in smaller transactions.
Anna Woodfin Sells to William Shoffner and C. W. Brown
In 1901 and 1906, Anna sold parcels on Soco and Montford to William H. Shoffner, who had moved to Asheville in the early 1890’s as a jeweler and watchmaker. Over the next 25 years he would build nine houses, and acquire a tenth, on these and an adjoining parcel – but that will be the subject of a future story.
Anna was also the source of the single lot that is now 249 Montford, purchased in 1905 by Bertha Hall, wife of Albert Hall, a local lumber dealer. Anna’s sister Lillie also had land in the Soco Triangle, specifically at its point where the convenience store and Nine Mile Restaurant are currently located. She sold this parcel in 1896, and in 1897 it was bought by C.W. Brown, an undertaker whose parents owned a Montford home closer to town.
Brown built his own home at what is now 237 Montford and in 1897 became the Triangle’s first resident. He also acquired the undeveloped land between the point and what became the Shoffner and Hall holdings to the north.
As a result, in 1906 the entire Triangle, which today encompasses eight single-family homes, one apartment building, three businesses, and the Montford Community Garden, was (with the exception of two homes) owned by Shoffner and Brown.
Unlike Shoffner, Brown did not build any additional homes on his property, but in 1907-1908 he sold it in two parcels, one of which was further subdivided in 1914-1915. Brown then rented the home that Shoffner had just completed on what is now the Community Garden lot, and in 1909 moved to Grove Park. By this time, he had become the president of a shoe company bearing his name.
The missing piece is the source of the parcel between the land Anna sold at the north of the Triangle and the point lot sold by Lillie. It seems likely that the intervening parcel had also been Woodfin land, but I have been unable to find that connection in the deed records.
While deeds of that era are a wonderful historical resource, research is plagued by illegibility, platting changes, missing references to prior deeds in the chain of title, and boundaries described not by street corners and recorded plats but rather by the owners of neighboring lands, or by a “double white oak,” a “ locust stump,” or a “fallen black gum.”
Part two will appear in the August Newsletter.