By Clare Hubbard –
This historically black community has maintained its community spirit despite urban renewal.
Nestled away in the growing community of Montford, the historically black community of Stumptown has maintained its community spirit despite urban renewal, or what some community members call “urban removal,” and a long history of economic paralysis.
Most Asheville residents — at least most white residents — know nothing of Stumptown, named for the tree stumps that remained after the land was cleared around 1880. Many of the original residents and their families have left to pursue new endeavors, or have passed away, leaving their stories of the close-knit community behind.
Located within the boundaries of the Riverside Cemetery, Stumptown once housed about 250 families on less than 30 acres, and was known as a strong-willed, church-oriented community. Despite the strength of spirit and strong work ethic within the community, times were hard. In 1880, death rates for blacks in NC were more than twice the rate for whites due to lack of health care, very cold winters resulting in high pneumonia rates, and lack of necessary needs, like food and clothing.
In 1910, Asheville began to experience a tremendous population growth, and a large amount of wealth moved in to the Montford area. Transient, cosmopolitan residents relied on Stumptown residents for labor and help. Many Stumptown residents worked at the Battery Park hotel, or for wealthy white business owners located around the Montford area. “It was a completely different place back then,” says Dora Dawkins, Vice-president of the Stumptown Community Association. “My mother-in-law grew up in Stumptown, and she’s told me stories of how much it’s changed.”
Asheville’s population continued to grow, yet job opportunities and lucrative ventures were hard to come by. Stumptown buildings began to suffer from lack of upkeep, and in the 1970s a large part of Stumptown was developed. Now one finds vacant land, tennis courts, a community center and a ball field where houses and apartments once stood. Reasons for development included lack of money to improve the declining conditions of many original buildings and a disparity in the improvement of rental properties, a project that supposedly received government funding but failed to progress. Bulldozers ripped down buildings that housed the majority of Stumptown residents, causing residents to relocate to other neighborhoods.
Other development issues have plagued what is left of Stumptown, specifically dealing with water and waste management. Because what remains of the community is older, rural housing stock passed down through generations, the community was one of the last to be connected to the regional wastewater collection and treatment system, suffering years with straight piping and poorly maintained or failed septic systems. The funding process for the water treatment renovation took nearly five years to negotiate, but was finally made possible with funding from the North Carolina Clean Water Management Trust Fund and matching town grants.
Walking down the streets of what remains of Stumptown, the community feeling seems to have survived the many upheavals and development projects. Children yell in the streets, residents sit on their porches and watch over them, hang out, and just simply relax. “Squirrel,” known as the “eyes and ears’ of the neighborhood, chills in his van, greeting people as they walk by. “People look out for each other here,” says Noah Saterstrom, who lives on Gray Street. “Robert, my neighbor, he came and mowed my lawn today. I think it was a hint for me to get busy, but mostly a nice gesture. Stumptown is full of that. Nice gestures, keeping things together. It’s a great place to live,” Saterstrom says.
The Stumptown Community Association is currently working on putting together a newsletter, in addition to tracking down former residents. “They’ve spread out. With the urban renewal in the 60s, the neighborhood was partially destroyed. Now, it’s in a different time, a different place,” says Dawkins.
The Stumptown Community Association meets the fourth Saturday of every month.