Kevan Frazier, executive director for Western Carolina University Programs at Biltmore Park, has shared stories of leaders and innovators who helped shape Asheville’s history in his new book, “Legendary Locals of Asheville.”
Released by Arcadia Publishing in October, the 128-page book features vintage photographs and stories about the legacy of the Biltmore community and the city’s well-known and unsung pioneers; champions for urban growth and development; educators and humanitarians; authors, artists and musicians; famous residents and visitors; and rebuilders.
“The story of Asheville is a great underdog story from start to finish,” said Frazier, an Asheville native and historian who holds bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in history. “It was a little town deep in the mountains that would never have grown and never been a success without the people who stumbled on it and the wonderfulness of Western North Carolina.”
An official release party for the book will be held at the Masonic Temple located at 80 Broadway St. in Asheville on Thursday, Nov. 13, at 7 p.m. Frazier will be joined by several people featured in the book and will give a short talk followed by a signing and reception.
Frazier said he wanted the publication to be inclusive and to “reflect the face of Asheville.”
The book denotes people well-known for their connection to Asheville, he said. Among them are George W. Vanderbilt II, who constructed Biltmore Estate and whose commitment to preservation and cultivation of the land contributed to modern American forestry practices; E.W. Grove, who developed the Grove Park Inn, the Battery Park Hotel, Grove Arcade and nearby neighborhoods; and Thomas Wolfe, an American novelist born in Asheville.
In addition, Frazier said he sought to incorporate lesser-known aspects of the city’s history. Vignettes feature James Vester Miller, a former slave who became a master brick mason and whose artistic signature is on multiple Asheville architectural icons; Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman to earn a medical degree in the country and who funded her tuition teaching music in Asheville; and Lillian Exum Clement, the first female attorney in North Carolina to own her own practice. Clement also was the first woman elected to state office in the Southeast, a landmark event that took place the same year women got the right to vote. She won the primary even though she and other women were unable to cast votes for her before the general election.
“She had a phenomenal reputation as an attorney and was well-respected,” said Frazier.
Groups denoted in the book range from the Black Mountain College faculty, who established during the Great Depression a college that came to be known for the arts, to the Asheville Student Committee on Racial Equality, a civil rights group composed of high school students.
“There are a lot of stories of college student civil rights groups but hardly any of 16-, 17- and 18-year olds so bravely fighting segregation as they did in Asheville,” said Frazier. “That is so part and parcel of the Asheville story – unlikely champions who give to their community because they want to and it feels right.”
Frazier said he also included locals whose contributions are more recent, such as Oscar Wong, whose founding of Highland Brewing helped launch the modern craft beer movement in Asheville; Darcel Grimes Lloyd, a WLOS-TV news anchor who is one of the longest-serving local news anchors in the nation; and Laurey Masterton, who contributed to Asheville’s food culture by opening a catering business and downtown cafe in the 1980s and supporting the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project.
Several “legendary locals” in the book also have WCU ties. K. Ray Bailey, a Western Carolina alumnus, served as president of Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College during a time of significant growth. Adelaide Daniels Key, known for her philanthropy and service in Asheville, made a financial gift that led to the creation of WCU’s Adelaide Worth Daniels Distinguished Professorship in Special Education. John Parris, a journalist, author and Asheville Citizen-Times columnist, covered Western Carolina university athletics and helped launch WCU’s journalism program, the university’s first board of visitors and an effort to preserve the culture and traditions of the region that became the Mountain Heritage Center. A gift from the estate of Parris and his wife, Dorothy, led to the establishment at WCU of the Parris Distinguished Professorship in Appalachian Culture.
Frazier lectures several dozen times annually about the history of Asheville and founded Asheville by Foot Walking Tours, which offers historic walking tours of the city’s downtown. His career also includes 17 years at the University of North Carolina at Asheville in roles from history faculty member to associate vice chancellor for university advancement.
Arcadia Publishing approached him about working on the book, and he completed the research and content preparation between September 2013 and March 2014. Challenges included paring down his original list of people to feature and finding and acquiring the rights or permission for photographs. Frazier said he was especially grateful for significant support in the project from the staff of the North Carolina Collection at Pack Memorial Library and archive specialists at the D. Hiden Ramsey Library Special Collections at UNCA.
In addition to the book’s release party on Nov. 13, a signing is scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 22, at the Barnes and Noble at Biltmore Park.
For more information, visit legendarylocalsofasheville.com online or contact Frazier at 828-407-0435.