'Tea with Harriet' honors a unique WNC woman

From Staff Reports
Black Mountain News | USA TODAY NETWORK


If she wasn't laying rock or digging gardens, Harriet Styles could be as refined as she needed to be, friends say.


On Saturday, May 12, history lovers, nature enthusiasts, and those who appreciate the tasty sweet and savory foods offered at a formal tea will gather at Whitemont Lodge for a special celebration of spring and one of the Swannanoa Valley’s most honored women, Harriet Styles.

The pre-Mothers’ Day tea will be offered in two seatings, from 2-4 p.m. and 5-7 p.m. It will include savory, scone, and sweet courses, music, and a private tour of Whitemont Lodge and the surrounding gardens. Advance ticket purchase is required (the 2 p.m. seating is already sold out).

Tickets are $35 members/$45 nonmembers (table discounts are available; get tickets at

In 1989, Styles was among a group of citizens of the Swannanoa Valley who gathered to discuss creating a local museum to preserve the stories and history of the valley. The 11-mile stretch along the Swannanoa River from the top of Old Fort Mountain to the river’s confluence with the French Broad River was a major pathway west for many of the ancestors of Western North Carolina residents and has been the site of many historical events over the past 200 years.

Styles, a diminutive woman whose size belied her strength of will and determination, was the wife of Buncombe County judge William Styles. Although she was equal to the social requisites of being a judge’s wife, she was just as home laying rocks for a fireplace in the family’s rustic home in Swannanoa or leading her Girl Scout troop on hikes through the woodlands, helping the girls identify flowers and trees.

One of Styles' passions was the preservation of the history of the valley she loved. It was not only her vision, but also her hard work that brought the museum to fruition. The organizers of the museum secured the lease of the vacant Black Mountain firehouse for $1 a year, but then realized they didn’t have any artifacts to exhibit. It was then that Styles began her quest, visiting valley families and going through scrapbooks, basements, and attics to acquire photos and artifacts that became the basis for the museum’s early collection.

The Swannanoa Valley Museum and History Center celebrated its 28th anniversary in August and has operated debt-free since its inception. In 2008, the museum restored and enhanced the exterior of the fire house, which was designed by renowned architect Richard Sharp Smith. In 2016 it renovated the entire interior, creating a small, state-of-the-art local history museum — a vision held by Harriet Styles since 1989. She continued to lead wildflower hikes for the museum almost until her death in December 2016.

Now a private residence, Whitemont Lodge near Warren Wilson College was allegedly built in secrecy during Prohibition and was known as a “gentleman’s club.” Located within a two-and-a-half-acre old growth forest near Warren Wilson College, it was created by a group of Asheville businessmen for their private enjoyment. The 5,400-square-foot lodge features a great room of nearly 2,000 square feet, which will be the venue for the Tea with Harriet event. The tea offers attendees a peek into this luxurious historical building not usually available to the public.