The Transylvania Times -

African American Workers Constructed Buildings To Last

Picturing The Past  


Last updated 1/14/2020 at 9:16am

Avery Benjamin House on West Lane is described in the survey's final report as featuring "a variety of masonry techniques, including a diamond-shaped keystone and diagonally laid rock forming a lintel above the window of the front projecting gable."

When Transylvania County undertook an architectural survey in 1990-1991 it included structures built from 1820-1941. Only a small number of buildings within the African American communities of the county met the criteria at that time and nearly half of those are no longer standing today.

As stated in last week's Picturing the Past article, a new survey was undertaken to identify the African American heritage related resources of Brevard and Transylvania County during 2019. It included more of the county's African American architecture dating from 1920 to 1975. The new survey resulted in 15 property updates from the previous study and the addition of 86 properties.

When Transylvania Tanning opened on the west side of Brevard in 1917 employment opportunities for African Americans greatly increased. This led to growth in the Rosenwald community and its surrounding neighborhoods of Hemphill Circle, Duckworth Avenue, The Flats, Georgia Hill, Goose Hollow and others.

Many of the homes in these communities were small when built and expanded over the years. Typically of frame construction, brick or stone veneer was added to a number of the houses later. The stone veneer is attributed to Fred Mills and other local stonemasons.

Despite losing an arm in an accident at the tannery, Fred Mills was a talented mason. He was trained by the Wright brothers of Henderson County and worked on many major stone projects in Brevard, including St. Philip's Episcopal Church, the Brevard College wall and the retaining wall at the courthouse.

Mills also trained his neighbor Avery Benjamin as a stonemason. They used their skills on landscaping projects throughout the Rosenwald neighborhood. There are numerous stone retaining walls, walkways, steps and at least one raised flowerbed that were built by Mills and Benjamin throughout the community today.

One of Mills' early works, which no longer remains, was a stone water fountain on the grounds of the original Rosenwald School. It served as a gathering place for the African American community. Later, he would build the retaining wall around the new Rosenwald School that is today the Morris Education Center.

There were several other African Americans in Transylvania County who worked as stonemasons and bricklayers. Many of the brick workers were trained in vocational classes, such as those taught by Eddie Young at the Ninth Avenue School in Hendersonville.

Information for this article was taken from the survey's final report, "Walking Around the World," by consultants Dr. Michael Ann Williams and Sydney Varajon. The complete survey also includes a one-page "Historic Property Survey Summary" and exterior photographs for each property. It is available in the Local History Room at the Transylvania County Library.

The circa 1970 stone entry gate at the Rosenwald community's Silversteen Park was likely one of Fred Mills' last projects. (Courtesy photos)

(Photographs and information for this column are provided by the Rowell Bosse North Carolina Room, Transylvania County Library. Visit the NC Room during regular library hours (Monday-Friday) to learn more about local history and see additional photographs. For more information, comments, or suggestions, contact Marcy at [email protected] or call (828) 884-1820.)


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