The Rise of Asheville by Marilyn Ball
When I started reading Marilyn Ball’s book on the transformation of Asheville from around 1980 till the present, I experienced such a wave of nostalgia and sweet memory of those early days.
I, like Marilyn and many, many others, moved here in the late 1970s when downtown was almost a ghost town. Aside from the many boarded up storefronts and a couple of café/restaurants (like The Mediterranean that still exists on College St.) the rest were thrift stores, a couple of antique shops and not much else.
Marilyn describes the impetus to find and build community and a “life close to nature with people who had similar interests.” Even with its nearly derelict condition there were people engaged in building or sustaining local, often family-owned businesses. And there were these incredible mountains and the rivers and creeks.
Through the book she describes the people, both native and transplant, who came, saw the potential, and worked and even fought to build and sustain their dreams.
Marilyn takes us on a heartening trip through this history: from the saving, against monumental odds, of the downtown from the wrecking ball waiting to build an 11-block mall in its heart; to all the community groups such as Stone Soup cooperative, to MANNA Food Bank; HandMade in America; the River Arts District; Eagle Street and the YMI; and others who honored and preserved the heritage of this region in the face of neglect and disdain.
The Rise of Asheville is not only interesting history but it shows us a template for what citizens, united and willing to communicate across “party lines” can do. With all the changes that have come to our region in the past 10-15 or so years it is a timely reminder of what most of us came here to experience… and how easy it may be to lose those very aspects, both physically and culturally.
Published in 2015 by History Press, Charleston, SC. Available at Malaprop’s Bookstore in hardcover or paperback or Barnes & Noble and as an ebook on Google Play.