The loaded question is when did Grace begin, what area did it include, and where did the community get its name?
Where was Grace? My best guess is, if you are driving north on Merrimon Avenue, after you top the hill at the intersection of Gracelyn Road at the Avenue M restaurant, from that point and looking out at the beautiful stretch of land in front of you, especially taking in the mountain view past Grace Episcopal, that was the community of Grace.
Drivers today coming up over that hill at Gracelyn would hardly expect that these building used to be there.
We have one newspaper article in our clipping files in the North Carolina Room to help point to the history of the community. “Grace Area Taking On a New Face” was published in the Asheville Times July 25, 1973. “Grace was a cluster of stores at the end of the street car tracks. Merrimon was an avenue of fine homes, and Grace was a community way out in the country . . . As late as just a few years ago, Grace was an independent community. Civic pride centered around Grace High School athletics. Its football and basketball teams often won the county championships.”
Grace High School was built in 1914-15 and torn down in 1960, replaced at the same location with Grace Elementary school built in 1962 and the name changed to Ira B. Jones to honor the principal who had served there since 1931.
Realtor and developer J.D. Bledsoe built Grace Pharmacy on top of the hill in 1927. (The building has “Hamilton” at top.) The Grace Supply Company was formed in 1918 by Holmes Bryson, Asheville mayor from 1937-1941. It was a stock company with Jim McElroy (former county commissioner) and Frank Edwards. It served the community as a grocery, feed, clothing, and hardware store and a coal yard. It was a successor to J.E. Johnson and S.K. Green and Co. Grace Supply.
Some of you may recall Citizen’s Hardware in the lot now housing Walgreens Pharmacy. I hadn’t realized Citizen’s was a local business. It was formed in 1941 by Thomas Arthur Groce Jr.
The 1973 newspaper article said then, “Anyone who’s been away from Grace the last few years wouldn’t recognize it now. Not a landmark remains in the area, except the present cafe building and the soon-to-be torn down Citizen’s Hardware Building.” That would have been the building in the above photo. A second Citizen’s building had been built in 1973, set back further from the street. The business was sold by Thomas Groce’s son Jim to new owners Max and Beverly Corte in 1998 and the 1973 building was razed recently for the construction of Walgreens.
As far as when the community came to be called Grace and why, the post office at Grace was established November 9, 1889 and Charles B. Way was the postmaster– being the earliest found date for the name, as well as proof that the community was not named for the first postmaster, as some communities were.
A good guess would be that the community was named after the early mission there, Grace Mission, established by Trinity Episcopal, which became Grace Episcopal Church, but the church’s history says that the mission “began in 1867 with the construction of a log chapel known as Beaverdam Mission. By the 1880s, the mission had taken on the name of the little community in which it was located, Grace.” A history of the church published in 1967, and quoting a history written by Miss Fannie Patton, says that “it is around 1889 that the name ‘Grace Mission’, or ‘Grace Chapel, comes to be used consistently, having replaced the earlier designation of ‘Beaver Dam Mission,’ Grace being the name of the steadily growing community in which the mission church was and is located.”
In Beaverdam: Historic Valley of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Rex Redmon writes “We searched diligently to find the source of the name, feeling sure it was associated in some way with His Grace the Bishop Francis Asbury.” Asbury traveled to this area to preach in 1800 and stayed at the Killian home, still in existence on Beaverdam Road. That’s a long stretch of time between 1800 and 1889, but it seems possible that remnants of his visit might have given cause for the name of Grace. That’s the answer I’m leaning towards, right now, anyway.
Please comment with any corrections or additions that might add to the history of the community of Grace.
This blog post was a result of a new collection of photographs MS285 loaned to the North Carolina Room for us to scan by Aaron Mundy of Brevard. They belonged to his grandfather, Judson “Buster” Mundy (1921-1981) of Weaverville. The two views in this post of Grace were new to our collection and we are grateful to Mr. Mundy for loaning them to us so that we can share them with you.
Post by Zoe Rhine, Librarian.