Museum stamps history into alley bricks

Barbara Hootman

If the Swannanoa Valley Museum's vision is realized, pavers in the new alley between it and the Dripolator will one day tell the history of the Swannanoa Valley.

Recent paved with bricks, the alley between Dripolator and the Swannanoa Valley Museum will one day tell the Valley's history, organizers hope.

The museum recently placed more than 4,000 bricks in the alley. Already, people and businesses are buying the bricks, as well as  the 600 granite pavers that will draw the outlines of the Valley's famous ridgelines.

"Valley in the Alley," as the project is called, will spark interest in local history, project organizers believe, and allow purchasers to honor their friends and family while pointing observers to the Valley's most important geographical features.

More than 100 sites are available along the granite paver outline for personal recognition or dedication. Some of the sites are key Valley features such as Roaring Gap, Sheep Ridge, Sourwood Gap, Sawyers' Saw Mill, Toe River Gap, Walker Cove, White Oak Flats and the waterfalls at Fall Branch Falls, Glassmine Falls and Dry Falls. People can request pavers that note features not included on the museum's list.

My Father’s Pizza and Ewing & McConnaughy building contractors are among the early purchasers of the large granite pavers.

“The project has been popular because it allows participants to honor people in locations around the Valley that are special to them,” museum director Anne Chesky Smith said. The project was conceived by museum board member John Corkran.

A brick-covered alley is consistent with the museum's building, which was the town's firehouse as designed in 1921 by Richard Sharp Smith, a consulting architect to Biltmore Estate owner George Vanderbilt. Smith chose bricks to line the paths and drives of his many projects.   

“When the Valley in the Alley project is complete, it will be a primer for children, acquainting them with the geography and history of the Swannanoa Valley,” Smith said. “It will also quickly orient visitors to what they are seeing around them.  It will allow generations of families to recall and tell of their place in the Valley’s history, and it will be an aesthetically pleasing walkway, complementing both the museum building and Black Mountain’s historic downtown."

The museum is planning for permanent seating in the alleyway, she said. Wendell Begley, chairman of the Swannanoa Valley Museum board of directors, thinks sitting in the alley and looking at outlines of the local ridges will stimulate people’s interest in Valley history.

“The Valley has North Carolina’s highest and most historic skyline,” Begley said.  “The museum has sponsored the Swannanoa Valley Rim Hikes for the past 7-8 years, and you can see all the historical places from the rim surrounding the Valley. When Valley in the Alley is finished, you can sit in alley and identify all those places by looking at the outline on the pavers. This project is helping develop appreciation for the Valley’s history.”

“I hope local businesses are as excited as we are about the project,” Smith said.  “We’ve also repaved the lot behind the museum, as well as the lane connecting the upper and lower parking lots.  We hope that it will make parking more accessible, which should also benefit businesses in the area."

One of the goals of the Valley in the Alley is to raise enough money to cover the cost of improving the alleyway.  Remaining funds will help to pay off a small loan that the museum had to take out to pay for the museum renovation.  Ideally, Smith hopes to raise enough money to propel the museum into the next phase of renovation, one that would entail installing an elevator.

“Valley in the Alley is a fabulous project,” said board member and retired kindergarten teacher Cindy Medlock. “It will be a venue that will take our largest artifact, the old firehouse, now the museum, outside its walls. It will also allow new and old residents of the Swannanoa Valley to become more vested in the museum, our local history, and our heritage here in the Valley.”

For more, email or phone 669-9566.