Brevard and Transylvania County have a fascinating history.
Brevard and Transylvania County have a fascinating history.
Downtown Brevard through the Eyes of a Historian
Brevard and Transylvania County have a fascinating history. In this month’s Field Notes, we’re excited to talk to Rebecca Suddeth, director of the Transylvania
Heritage Museum.
Rebecca comes by her love of history honestly. Her family goes back eight generations in Transylvania County where, growing up in the Cathey’s Creek area between Rosman and Brevard, she would sit and listen to her grandmothers’ stories.
“They could tell me stories about their grandparents and that just fascinated me,” says Rebecca.
“That’s reaching back over one hundred years. For a child, that’s hard to even fathom.”
Rebecca especially enjoyed her grandmothers’ reminiscences about their own childhood. “When they talk about being five years old and fighting with their siblings, it connects generations. You also realize that people don’t change!”
After graduating from college, Rebecca became interested in old houses and cemeteries. One thing led to another and in 2008, she was invited by the Transylvania Heritage Coalition to set up a history museum. The museum opened in May of 2008 in the Lawrence building on Jordan Street. Naturally, that building has a history too: it was built in 1926 and served as Brevard’s first post office.

Rebecca, before we talk about downtown Brevard, can you share with us some of the pivotal dates in Brevard and Transylvania County’s history?

"The county was formed in February 1861, and its first official meeting occurred in May of 1861 on the very day that North Carolina became part of the Confederacy."
"Another landmark event was the arrival of the railroad in 1895. Not only did business and industry flourish, but the railroads ushered in tourism and summer camps."
"Transylvania County’s ‘industrial age’ can be pinpointed to two specific dates: 1902 when Joseph Silversteen opened the Toxaway Tanning Company and in 1939 when Harry Straus opened the
Ecusta plant. Both men were also very important patrons of Brevard and the surrounding areas."
"In 1960, the Transylvania Community Improvement Organization was founded by our
African-American community. This led to Brevard High School being integrated in 1962. By 1966, all schools in Transylvania County were integrated, making it one of the first fully integrated school systems in the state of North Carolina.” Note: For a full listing of notable dates in Transylvania County history, go here.

Visitors love downtown Brevard. For someone who wants to explore downtown, can you identify some buildings that would be of historical interest?

 “If you use your imagination, you can stand at the corner of Main Street and Broad and get a wonderful history lesson. This intersection used to be the town square. You would tie your horse at the hitching post and go shop at England Dry Goods where O.P. Taylor’s is now. You actually had to go down to Caldwell Street to go through town. The hill down Broad Street was not paved until the 20s."
“On one corner you have our Italian Victorian Courthouse, built in 1883. On the northwest corner of the intersection is the McMinn Building, Brevard’s first commercial brick building constructed in 1899. On the southeast corner is the historic Aethelwold Hotel, built in 1901 in the Queen Anne architectural style.” (Note: Former President Henry Taft and John D. Rockefeller were guests.)
Can you go inside these buildings?
 “Yes. You will need to go through a metal detector at the courthouse, but the interior is worth seeing. They also have several historic photos hanging in the hallways. Today, the McMinn Building is home to Number 7 Arts – a worthwhile stop for any visitor. The main floor of the Aethelwold is home to a real estate company.”
Are there other historic buildings in town that are walkable?
“I would recommend a visit to the Silversteen Mansion, which was home to Joseph Silversteen and his family. A 33-room Colonial Revival mansion built in the early 1900s, it’s now part of an eight-acre county park in downtown Brevard. The Transylvania Heritage Museum conducts tours on the second floor on Friday afternoons from March through October.
“Also, just a few blocks from downtown at 266 W. Probart, is what was recently the Red House Inn, but is now a private property. It’s the oldest building in Brevard, constructed in 1853. It was originally a trading post established by Sam Gash. Civil war soldiers mustered out from there.

Probart Street was originally named Poor Street, but the folks who lived on it weren’t too keen about living on Poor Street, so they renamed it.”

What about the Transylvania Heritage Museum?

“We’re a heritage museum. We really like tying history to people, so the magic of our little museum is the stories we tell. It’s not flashy or high tech. ‘We don’t get above our raisin,’ as we like to say. If you come visit us, you’ll get a history of our town and a flavor of what our community is all about. Brevard has faced some difficult times and found a way to overcome that adversity.  So, you’ll learn a lot about resilience in our museum.”

Do you have special exhibits?

“Yes. The Aluminum Christmas Tree exhibit is everyone’s favorite. It’s really nostalgic and a lot of fun. This year the exhibit runs from November 12 to the middle of January. We are open Thursday, Friday, and Saturday from noon to four. We also offer guided walking tours on the second Saturday of the month, March through October.”
Find more information about the Transylvania Heritage Museum here. You can also download a downtown walking tour map here or pick one up from the Transylvania Heritage Museum, 189 W. Main or the Visitor Center, 175 E. Main in downtown Brevard.

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