If you’ve driven down East Chestnut Street to get to Greenlife or the new Harris Teeter, you’ve no doubt noticed the big stone wall covered in graffiti. It wasn’t until I saw a Facebook post on “Asheville the way it WAS” that I thought about the history of that wall – what had been there before the giant construction fiasco?
Before the Harris Teeter went up on Merrimon Avenue there was a car dealership – Deal Buick Company, owned by Walter A. Deal. But Deal didn’t build that wall. The wall originally stood as the border for Manyoaks, the grand three-story Asheville home of George Willis Pack.
Pack is a familiar name in Asheville, but who was George Willis Pack? He was timber baron, a real estate developer, and a philanthropist. If Pack hadn’t ever come to Asheville we wouldn’t have Pack Square, the Vance monument, Pack Library, the Grove Park Golf Course (the previous Asheville Country Club), or Montford Park.
Pack was born in Madison County, NY on June 6th 1831. In 1857, at the age of 26 his family moved to Michigan and became involved in timber and sawmill interests. Pack found success in both lumber and real estate. He moved with his wife, the former Frances Brewster Farman, to Cleveland in 1870 where his successes grew.
Pack came to Asheville in 1885, most likely to help his wife’s respiratory problem. Many people were coming to Asheville for the same reason at the time – tuberculosis, or consumption as it was often called, was one of the most deadly diseases in the late 19th and early 20th century, before antibiotics were invented to treat it.
In 1887 Pack built Manyoaks on Merrimon Avenue. He lived there until 1900.
During the time Pack lived on Merrimon he helped shape the history of Asheville. He donated the land and money used to build a new courthouse, along with a designated “park for the people,” to replace the ramshackle 1876 courthouse positioned right in the middle of town. He helped get electric lights in the new square, pave the streets downtown, create sidewalks and improve the sewer system. In 1899 he donated a building and land at the end of Charlotte Street to the Swannanoa Hunt Club, to become the Swannanoa Country Club, and later in 1909 the Asheville Country Club.
He donated 11 acres for Aston Park, and 4 acres for Montford Park. Pack took over Asheville Loan, Construction and Improvement Company that had been created in 1889 to create the Monford neighborhood. The ALC&IC had grandiose plans for Montford, but these were never fully realized until Pack stepped in.
Pack also assisted in the development of what is today Mission Hospital, and donated the First National Bank building in 1899 to house the Asheville Public Library. It remained on Pack Square until 1926 when it was razed to create Pack Memorial Library, now part of “Pack Place” as the Asheville Art Museum.
After Pack left Asheville “Manyoaks” had multiple owners. From 1937 until 1967 it served as the Morris Heandon funeral home.
In 1969 Walter A. Deal bought the house and tore it down to make room for his Buick dealership. The dealership stayed on the site until 2007 when it moved to Brevard Road. Since 2007 many plans for the eight acre lot hit the drawing board, including a proposal for a 13 story condo development.
Today it is the new Harris Teeter, but who knows what the next hundred years will bring? I think if Pack’s ghost stumbles upon his old homeplace he would be in awe of how far we’ve come in the last century – in diversity, technology, access to fresh food, and a wealth of information. But he’ll probably be wondering what everyone is doing staring at those little devices in the palm of their hands.