27 Blake Street—A Tale of Two Owners

Note from the editor: This is one of my favorite submissions in the newsletter since I’ve been the editor. If any of you have an interesting tale of your home, please do send it my way, along with a photo or two.

“…Ye’ve got to love each brick an’ stone from cellar up t’ dome:
It takes a heap o’ livin’ in a house t’make it home.”
— from It Takes a Heap O’Livin’ by Edgar A Guest (1881-1959)

DSCF0013-webcolor-historical-pic-of-27-blake-street-from-Rachel-Stein-alt.-webjpg Rachel Stein, owner 1977-79: When I bought 27 Blake St. in 1977, it stood empty, abandoned by the former owners, young members of the Communist Party of Atlanta who moved here hoping to organize the neighborhood, but gave up and donated the house to the Party. I couldn’t get a bank loan, even though the house was in good condition and very inexpensive—rumor had it that banks were redlining Montford, particularly the streets closest to downtown. So the Party owner-financed the house for me!

I moved in and rented the other bedrooms to an assortment of teachers, students, and artists. We stripped the many layers of peeling wallpaper, exposing the wonderful plaster walls, and dug up the back yard for a vegetable garden. In the 1970s, Montford was seen by many Ashevillians as a risky place to live—but although the houses were shabby and needed TLC, our diverse block was friendly and homey. While I kept the house for less than two years, I believe that I saved it for better times—since the city was letting the fire department torch empty houses for practice burns—which they did to the house next door.

Carolyn Spain, owner 1985-to present: In 1985 I brought my mom over to 27 Blake St. to show her my new abode. Her immediate response was “They law, bless your heart, you’ll be murdered.” In community meetings this block and adjacent SE were referred to by City Council members and police as the “blight area.”

A diverse parade of people helped guide the neighborhood in a more positive direction; common folks, bohemians, young energetics, the artistic, the economically struggling who wanted to create a home, those who could foresee a brighter future, those already here who desired better, the optimist. These neighbors worked hard to achieve the safer, more respected community it is today.

In the years that I have been here, I have cobbled together a history of 27 Blake St. The Bosse-Bryan house was built in 1897 by John H. Bosse, a German immigrant who moved his family to Asheville in the 1890s. He opened a grocery store on Haywood St. and built this modified Queen Anne. While doing some remodeling, I found an old parched paper, dated 1900, on which his daughter Agnes was practicing her English lesson.

Rachel-Stein-and-Carolyn-Spain-webIn 1920, L.M. Bryan purchased the home. He was a druggist who also suffered from TB. He succumbed to the disease two years later, as did thousands of others, including several of my own ancestors. Sleeping porches were incorporated into homes so that folks could “take the mountain air” to help their TB-scarred lungs. The enclosed sleeping porch of 27 Blake St. has a series of pocket windows that slide down into the wall rather than up. The Bryan family owned this home from the 1920s into the 1970s. Ms. Jamie Bryan was an educator. An elderly neighbor of mine, Mrs. Rezutto, stated that this house has always been filled with writers, artists, and educators. She also stated that “it has always been a happy home.”

As for me, I am also a retired educator who finds great enjoyment in living in a house that became my home, and in making gardens all over the yard, and over the empty lot where the house next door was burned in a practice fire. Oh yes, contrary to Mom’s forecast, I am still very much alive and yes, my heart has been blessed many times.