The Mountain Economy

I033-5 copy Mt. Mitchell
Figure 1: Greybeard Trip, Mt. Mitchell Logging Train, May 23, 1919

For hundreds of years, much of America has long believed the stereotype of Southern Appalachian towns as both isolated from national markets and insulated from the outside world.  The mountain capital of Asheville was neither of these before, during, or after the Great War years.  The city and surrounding areas thrived from a wartime economy able to draw on multiple resources from within the very heart of the Blue Ridge.

At the end of the Civil War, both a resource extraction boom, and with it a railroad boom, began to occur in the South.  Asheville was no stranger to this phenomenon.  In fact, Western North Carolina was soon recognized as a world-renowned reserve of important raw materials, and with such an abundance of these reserves the area became significant in helping to establish America’s rapid escalation into a global power from the very outset of the Great War.  Indeed, with the coming of the railroads, Asheville would be connected to national markets, which would not only serve to bring the world to Asheville, but Asheville to the world.1

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Figure 2: Postcard, Round Knob, Andrew’s Geyser, Old Fort, Postmarked 1917

One such individual who had a hand in Asheville’s globalization was Franklin Coxe.  Franklin Coxe, later known as Col. Frank Coxe, was an industrialist, banker, and railroad executive who eventually became the Vice President of the Western Carolina Railroad, the flagship railroad of the Asheville area.  Col. Coxe came to Asheville in 1885 as the railroad was being built and brought the Battery Park Hotel to the area in 1886, thereby establishing Asheville as a renowned tourist destination.2  Asheville’s growing renown as a tourist destination accessible by rail helped establish it as a vacation destination during the Great War’s “See America First” campaign, and along with various artistic memorabilia [see Fig. 2], a silent documentary was also filmed showcasing Asheville’s allure as both a scenic American icon and a wilderness paradise.3

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Figure 3: Greybeard Trip, Mt. Mitchell Logging Train, May 23, 1919

The Railroad was not solely an avenue for tourist transportation however, for it brought the increased ability to move resources such as timber more quickly and more efficiently from the area and into national markets.  These railroads would open access to vast tracks of timber, allowing companies the ability to exploit these rich resources.  During the Great War, an increased need for timber was required, especially overseas where much of the European forest had been decimated, and airplane building and trench warfare depended on a never-ending supply of lumber.  The Southern Appalachian hardwood lumber industry would soon emerge as one of the area’s most important economic enterprises by the advent of the Great War.4

Figure 4: Champion Post Card to Champion Buddies in Armed Forces, World War I

Much of the area around Asheville was equal to the task of supply and demand from the Great War. Logging railroads were constructed in highly remote areas around Asheville.  Champion Paper and Fibre Company [see Fig. 4] employed over 7,000 people in North Carolina during the Great War years, with 1,000 of them employed at their Canton division, less than 20 miles west of Asheville.  The Canton division would go on to become the largest paper and pulp mill in the nation by the 1930’s, thanks in part to the demand for lumber products during the Great War.5

Otis J. Clontz UNCA Library
Figure 5: Otis J. Clontz During World War I

Farms were decreasing in size by the years of the Great War.  While long recognized as an area built on semi-subsistence, many were now struggling to eke out an existence on ever-decreasing acreage.  By the time the Great War years were upon Asheville, several farmers were looking at alternative methods of making ends meet.  In fact, a young farmer from Asheville would deem military service lucrative enough that he would go on to serve for several years in the Great War.  Otis Clontz would enlist during World War I, and at the end of his service he would be paid a sum of $115, including a bonus, equaling approximately $1400 today.  In Figure 5, Otis is on the far right, with the rifle over his shoulder.6

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Figure 6: Moonshine Still on Anderson Branch, Barnardsville, 1920’s

Others in the area would look to additional “alternative” means to earn a wage.  Moonshine was another staple of the mountain economy in and around Asheville, and one long associated with the Southern Appalachian region.  For many in the area, turning corn into liquor provided benefits obtainable in hard cash in an area that was often noted to be cash-poor- likely even more so during the demands of a wartime economy.  By making moonshine, many in the area were able to pay tax bills, mortgages, and local store credit tabs.7  During the Great War years, Blue Ridge moonshining would see advances such as the submarine-type still, increasing production further, and therefore profit.  Even though Prohibition was in force by 1909 in North Carolina, a full decade before National Prohibition, many in the area realized and utilized moonshining’s economic potential, potential that continues legally for the area today.8

Asheville’s wartime economy during the Great War years was both dynamic and fluid, as well as an important catalyst for a national economy.  Although self-sufficiency will always be associated with the people of this region, the economic variety in Asheville during the Great War proves the area to be a vital resource for a national and world market, and one whose strong viability continues well into today’s 21st century era.

 Photographic Citations

Figure 1: “Mt. Mitchell Logging Train, Greybeard Trip,” Photo Taken 5/23/1919, Image I033-5, North Carolina Collection, Pack Memorial Library, Asheville, North Carolina

Figure 2: “Fountain at Round Knob, N.C. on Line of Southern Railroad, Andrew’s Geyser and Southern Railway Train, in Horseshoe Bend of Southern Railway,” Constructed ca. 1885 for Alexander Boyd Andrews, builder of WNCRR, Image AA723, North Carolina Collection, Pack Memorial Library, Asheville, North Carolina

Figure 3: “Mt. Mitchell Logging Train, Greybeard Trip,” Photo Taken 5/23/1919, Image I032-5, North Carolina Collection, Pack Memorial Library, Asheville, North Carolina

Figure 4: Clontz Collection, Special Collections, D.H. Ramsey Library, University of North Carolina, Asheville

Figure 5: Clontz Collection, Special Collections, D.H. Ramsey Library, University of North Carolina, Asheville

Figure 6: “Making a Run on Anderson Branch Near Barnardsville, Moonshiners,” Image L622-DS, North Carolina Collection, Pack Memorial Library, Asheville, North Carolina


  1. Richard A. Straw and H. Tyler Blethen, eds. High Mountains Rising (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2004), 64.
  2. Franklin Coxe Business Papers, ID- MS106.005, North Carolina Collection, Pack Memorial Library, Asheville, NC.
  3. Margeurite Shaffer, See America First: Tourism and National Identity, 1880-1940 (Washington: Smithsonian Institution, 2013), 1-400.
  4. “Appalachian Hardwoods and The Early Logging Industry,” ETSU, accessed March 29, 2015,
  5. Ronald D. Eller, Miners, Millhands, and Mountaineers; Industrialization of the Appalachian South, 1880-1930 (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1982), 108-109, 155.
  6. Clontz, Otis J, “Honorable Discharge From the United States Army,” 11 April 1919, Otis J. Clontz Collection, D.H. Ramsey Library Special Collections, University of North Carolina at Asheville, Asheville, NC.
  7. Daniel S. Pierce, Corn From A Jar (Gatlinburg: Great Smoky Mountains Association, 2013), 1-104.
  8. “Building the Moonshine Industry,” Blue Ridge Institute, accessed March 29, 2015,