D.H. Ramsey Library Special Collections
BILTMORE INDUSTRIES ARCHIVE

Through a cooperative agreement with Grovewood Gallery, Inc., UNCA Ramsey Library Special Collections has become a repository for surrogate copies of photographs,  selected files, and objects that document the activity of Biltmore Estate Industries,  Biltmore Industries, and the Biltmore Homespun Shops from 1901 to 1980 when the looms went silent.

Grovewood Gallery, Inc., a craft retail shop in Asheville continues the spirit of the Biltmore Industries and is owner of the buildings, equipment, and remaining materials of the craft industries. Under the direction of Grovewood Gallery, Inc.  and the volunteer efforts of Jerry and Pat Ball,  files, photographs and objects of the Biltmore Industries years have been gathered and attempts are underway to preserve this rich craft history. The virtual Biltmore Industries Archive is an evolving collaborative effort undertaken by the University of North Carolina at Asheville Special Collections that seeks to provide public access to selected collections through the Internet. Scholars may request access to the physical archive by contacting the Grovewood Gallery, Inc. and requesting an appointment with Jerry Ball.

Chronology:
Memorial:

Richard C. Parham, employee, worked at Biltmore Industries throughout most of its history. A comprehensive biography and memorial to Parham has been written by Jerry Ball, who is the official on-site historian of the Biltmore Industries collections during the months of May-October. His account provides an excellent "insider" view of the working conditions at the Biltmore Industries and a reflection on many of the co-workers at the Industries.
Exhibit Statement:

UNCA is pleased to be able to provide a finding aid to the Biltmore Industries Archive and to make some of the photographs and documents available to researchers and to the public through the electronic medium of the Web. The university plans to continue its work with Grovewood Gallery to provide virtual access to additional important items in the collection as time permits. Researchers will need to request permission from the Grovewood Gallery, Inc. to gain access to the original documents.

Grovewood Gallery, Inc. under the direction of Marilyn Patton and her sister Barbara Blomberg,  is one of the most exceptional craft galleries in the United States. In 2002 the Gallery received the celebrated Niche award from the craft retailers association of the U.S. as the #1 craft store in the United States. The efficiency of operation, dedication to high standards of quality, and keen civic-mindedness  of the Gallery were just some of the attributes recognized by the award. The cooperative nature of Grovewood Gallery and the keen attention to community may also be seen in the cooperative nature of the joint exhibit at UNCA in 2002. Grovewood Gallery continues the tradition of high craft that was at the center of the earlier Biltmore Industries. Grovewood also continues to serve the community and to celebrate the high level of craftsmanship found in the area and it continues the long history of social sensitivity found in the Biltmore Industries and so often found in craft enterprises. In addition to the rich history of art and craft in western North Carolina found in the objects and archives of the Biltmore Industries, the UNCA exhibit celebrated the civic-mindedness of those who worked and today work, to keep high craft alive and  who share in the process of bringing craftsman and community together.

The following information is based on the joint exhibit held at UNCA Blowers Gallery in 2002.

"Quality is never an accident; it is always the result of intelligent effort." John Ruskin

[TO SEE OTHER QUOTES]

 HISTORY

Biltmore Estate Industries: 
The Charlotte L. Yale & Eleanor Vance Years


"Drying Blanket in the sun. Talbert, Harris Island." Outer Hebrides, Scotland (bilt234), Biltmore Industries Archive

Influenced by European arts and crafts and by the early settlement school work of Jane Addams, Charlotte L. Yale and Eleanor Vance sought to utilize native talents to build a sustainable source of income for economically deprived youth in the Appalachian region. The wood carving classes, and later weaving industry, offered by the two women were as much social service as dedication to art and craft. Their work with the Vanderbilt's was at the foundation of the Biltmore Estate Industries and the late Biltmore Industries and the Homespun Shops.

In the beginning years Yale and Vance were each paid $970.83 a year by Reverend Swope of All Soul's Church in Biltmore Village. The modest beginning as part of the church community outreach programs brought a small, but dedicated group of young carvers together.  The success of this enterprise soon caught the attention of Edith Vanderbilt and she worked to sustain the "school" and the craft enterprise through a series of financial subsidies that eventually brought the industries under her ownership. It was called the Biltmore Estate Industries. Like Yale and Vance, Edith Vanderbilt was also interested in the Settlement House movement and also in the Old World tradition of craft as a catalyst for learning.  She encouraged Yale and Vance to travel to the British Isles to see craft production, first-hand. The early information gathered in the British Isles, by Yale and Vance validated and promoted many craft practices already at work in the Appalachian highlands. The strong Scotch-Irish heritage of many of the people in the region gave a romantic notion to the idea of reform.  The elements of ancient craft conveyed in the craft practices of families with Scotch-Irish heritage were still numerous in the early years of the twentieth century. Allan Eaton has pointed to this cultural heritage often in his well-known book  Handicrafts Of The Southern Highlands, (New York : Russell Sage Foundation, 1937). 

The direction of Charlotte Yale and Eleanor Vance was, however, somewhat different than that imagined by the enthusiasts of the Arts and Crafts Movement and by Highland traditionalists. Vance had trained in England with Fry and Kendall,  restorers and conservationists for the Royal family whose aesthetic tastes tended toward the Gothic. 

The two women also demonstrated a strong preference for Gothic and Flemish Renaissance design in their work. This aesthetic bias was compatible with the dominant Arts and Crafts style promoted by such movements as the Roycrofter's in New York and Elbert Hubbard's popular magazine The Craftsman,* but it was also its own direction. The early carvings are delicate, deftly crafted, utilitarian, unique in character but derivative in general design. The idea of a Guild is often found in their attention to standards of quality and levels of apprenticeship.  With the training of craft skills also came training in life skills.

John Cameron Mills, Killin, Scotland -- Tweed Manufacturing shop
where the "first loom" for the Biltmore Industries was purchased.

[A loom from this shop]  was brought to North Carolina where workmen reproduced it, refined it and then provided the Industries with approximately 40 more. The large loom is what is generally referred to as a counter-balanced loom and has a warp width of approximately 35".

The first looms were those that came from the Biltmore Estate Industries in the first decade of the twentieth century and references to the "first loom" is to those used by by Yale and Vance in their early work.  In addition to their early purchase of looms, Yale and Vance also refer to the acquisition of an early mill.  This was the mill owned by J.H. Wright in Weaverville, NC, the Reems Creek Woolen Mills (later known as the Reems Creek Milling Company).  This mill was purchased for Yale and Vance by Edith Vanderbilt in 1914. It is likely that some equipment was brought along from that well established mill. Just what that equipment was is not fully known.

Much of our early knowledge of the Biltmore Estate Industries comes from the J.E. Brookshire photographs included in the Yale and Vance Scrapbook. Included in the J.E. Brookshire photographs are mills, looms, sheep farming, and other wool related practices in Killin and in the Hebrides of Scotland, particularly Harris Island. The pictures document the rugged lives of the weavers, the common practice of weaving and spinning in the home and the varieties of sheep that were used for wool production.  This "homespun" practice was the basis for most of the years of production of the Biltmore Industries. The counter-balanced loom that Brookshire says was brought to North Carolina  was replicated by the craftsmen at Biltmore Industries and eventually there were some 40 looms in operation for the industries. Many of the practices for carding, spinning, and even weaving were eventually mechanized to meet the growing demand for yardage, but the principles of wool production remained close to those learned from the weavers and mills of Scotland and the Hebrides by Yale and Vance and later by Brookshire and others traveling for Fred Seely after he purchased the industries from Yale and Vance.

The social efforts of Yale and Vance were eventually eclipsed by the success of Biltmore Estate Industries and the demands on their time and resources became too great for them. After some back and forth with Fred Seely who was interested in purchasing the industries, Yale and Vance became convinced that their work could be continued by Seely and they worked with the owner, Edith Vanderbilt to transfer ownership of the industries to Fred Seely.  Prior to the sale of Biltmore Estate Industries, in 1915 Yale and Vance made a move to the small town of Tryon, south of Asheville and there they founded another craft enterprise - The Tryon Toy Makers. Like the early Biltmore Estate Industries, the Tryon Toy-Makers was founded on a social-service model.  In 1917 the Biltmore Estate Industries, owned by Edith Vanderbilt,  were sold to Fred Seely and the craft industry began a new chapter,  now named Biltmore Industries. These years of transition are covered in the correspondence of Yale and Vance with Fred Seely and are evidence of the high esteem the group had for one another. Fred Seely's letter, "Why I Purchasd the Biltmore Estate Industries" gives his perspective on the purchase of the industries and a window on the rational for the transition.

*For a well researched article on the Yale and Vance years, see: Johnson, Bruce, "Eleanor Vance, Charlotte Yale and the Origins of Biltmore Estate Industries," in  May We All Remember Well, Vol II, 2001, pp.241-266.

 

Fred Loring Seely - Biltmore Industries


"I do the best I know how; and I mean to keep on doing so until the end.
If the end brings me out all right,
what is said about me won't amount to anything."

Fred Seely was the son-in-law of E.W. Grove, one of Asheville's leading builders. But if one looks at the evidence, it is Seely who built the framework for Grove's success. From all evidence he was a diligent and a hands-on manager; almost obsessive in his attention to detail. But, he was also a man of compassion, with a large heart and a 32nd degree Mason with a grand vision of service to mankind. The Biltmore Industries Archive is largely the record of his achievements. 

Fred Loring Seely was born in Monmouth, New Jersey on December 22, 1871. He died on March 14, 1942. His life as chemist, inventor, architect, executive, philanthropist, civic leader, pharmacist, manager and most of all, friend of many, is a story of a true Renaissance man.

His obituary follows:

"Mr. Fred Loring Seely, Asheville Philanthropist, civic leader, inventor and son-in-law of the late Mr. E.W. Grove. 

He was the architect and builder of Grove Park Inn and for his own home "Overlook" on Sunset Mountain. In nineteen hundred and seventeen he became owner of the Biltmore Industries which he personally directed. He also had active direction in remodeling of the Battery Park Hotel in nineteen hundred and forty. 

He was a leading executive of the Paris Medicine Company, which was founded by Mr. Grove. In nineteen hundred and seven he founded and published the Atlanta Georgian. As a Newspaper Publisher, he waged relentless warfare on the hiring-out of convicts by contract and [the] abolition of the plan followed. He also championed vigorously the cause of prohibition. He was instrumental in bringing the American Enka Corporation to Buncombe County and was a director of this company. He was also a director of the Wachovia Bank and Trust Company.

Mr. Seely was known for his charities: he provided milk for the poor and under-nourished children of this city and contributed very largely to the needy and suffering, especially to the Oxford and other orphanages and to orthopedic clinics. He was a 33 [degree] Mason and also an outstanding churchman. For several years he served as an associate utilities commissioner for the state. He was active in Boy Scout work and one of the national incorporators. 

He was born in Monmouth, New Jersey December twenty-second, eighteen hundred and seventy-one and died in Asheville, North Carolina March fourteenth nineteen hundred and forty-two."  

In 1917, just four years after his completion of the construction of the Grove Park Inn,  Fred Seely purchased Biltmore Estate Industries from Edith Vanderbilt. He changed the name to Biltmore Industries and sub-contracted with Charlotte L. Yale and Eleanor Vance, the founders of  Biltmore Estate Industries, to produce woodwork derived from the original patterns that Yale and Vance had designed. He erected new buildings to house the craft industries and bought equipment to make the production of wool yarn more viable. This new venture came in addition to his responsibilities as the manager of the Grove Park Inn. E.W. Grove, his father-in-law and owner of the Grove Park Inn had refused to sell the hotel to Seely though he had eagerly allowed him to construct the building.  He instead leased the hotel to Seely to manage and Seely managed the hotel until 1927, the year of Grove's death and the year Seely lost his legal bid to own the hotel. Jealous to the grave, Grove left his hotel to his wife and son and daughter. Though Seely was married to his daughter, Grove made no concessions to Seely and the Inn passed into the hands of what one advertisement described as "more liberal management." An interesting annotation by Seely scribbled next to the advertisement found in his files takes issue with that characterization.

At Biltmore Industries Seely found a new business into which he could pour his energies. Biltmore Industries under Seely's direction, expanded into an internationally known craft enterprise focused on weaving and the other crafts such as woodworking were gradually phased out. The successful years of management are documented in the voluminous correspondence of Seely held on site in the current Biltmore Industries, Inc. buildings.  In both his business and private letters the correspondence reveals a man who never stopped learning and growing. He wheedled, finagled, bullied, and sometimes pleaded. He most often got his way, but sometimes he did not. True to the spirit of the benign dictator he tempered his managerial style with a personal touch.  When he believed in the individual, his generosity was large, as in the case of the Japanese photographer George Masa who worked for Seely. When he did not see potential, he was quick to retaliate and the individual was either fired or reprimanded.

He felt a particular obligation to the disabled. His work for the deaf and for the physically disabled is remarkable, particularly for the time. While he discriminated against Blacks and Jews as guests in his hotel, he was from all evidence a fair and just manager and a loyal friend to all, regardless of race or ethnicity or religion. He subscribed to the the Negro Worker, a publication of liberal bent that kept him apprised of  issues with his African American work force. He had many friends among the Jewish community and among most religions represented by local churches. He traveled broadly, was a Mason, supported the Progressive education movement as seen in his philanthropy to both Antioch College and the Berry School in Georgia.  He was particularly attentive to women's issues though his correspondence often reflects an unwillingness to give up any authority. Kind and demanding, gentle and tyrannical, he was frequently at odds with something. He could be quick to anger if he felt his honor or his authority was at question. For example in an exchange of letters with a lawnmower company Seely shows little tolerance for the company's inflexibility in responding to a request to see a piece of equipment before buying it, but more, he is outraged that someone could have so little faith in mankind.   

Business Management

Excerpt from Montague Manufacturing Co., New York letter replying to Seely's request to see a lawnmower before buying it:

"In answer to letter of May 19th, it is contrary to our policy to send machines out of town on approval. ...In this way, you would be risking nothing and at the same time we would be having the necessary protection against that thing called human inertia which causes inattention to goods in which one has put no money - in other words when the goods belong to the other fellow. We do not mean that you would come under this class. What we mean is, that it is our established policy not to send goods out-of- town on approval just as you very likely have definite policies covering your hand-carved wood, weaving and other excellent products."

The Grove Park Inn

Prior to the purchase of the Biltmore Estate Industries from Edith Vanderbilt, Fred Seely was heavily engaged in the  initiatives of his father-in-law E.W. Grove.  One of these initiatives was the construction of a large fire-proof hotel that was modeled on the lodges that were found at many of the newly created National Parks.

Seely is perhaps best known for his design and  construction of the Grove Park Inn. It is a monument to his extraordinary abilities. His construction in just one year (begun in 1912 and completed 1913) and under budget still astounds us, but a journey through his personal papers quickly reveals the level of personal attention, motivation and energy that such an accomplishment required. He first had to convince E.W. Grove to fire the architect and allow him to submit the plans for the building of the hotel. The conception is pure Seely. He imagined a hotel that would be of the mountain on which it was born. It would grow out of the earth and stone and blend into the surroundings but would offer a peaceful retreat where travelers could find quiet and contemplative days and generally re-create themselves. He demanded that guests acknowledge their fellow travelers and not engage in loud and boisterous behavior. He put the hotel elevators in the stone chimneys to reduce the noise created by the mechanical wenches. He established rules for his guests that would increase the peace and quiet of the place. His innovation and inventions are many, and his concepts were pure Seely, some he patented. 



Grove Park Inn Construction, 1913 (bilt0010), Biltmore Industries Archive, D.H. Ramsey Library 
Special Collections, UNC Asheville 28804 (Photo by Robinson)

Just a few short years after the completion of the Grove Park Inn, Seely built began construction of the Biltmore Industries. Lessons learned in the construction of the large hotel were translated to the buildings of the Biltmore Industries.   A complex of buildings on 20 acres adjoining the land of the Grove Park Inn, the Biltmore Industries was completed in 1917, the same year that Seely purchased the Biltmore Estate Industries from Edith Vanderbilt.  The series of buildings are, like the Grove Park Inn, organic in form. Their softly sculpted roof-lines echo the curvature of the roof of the Grove Park Inn and give the appearance that all building on those acres of Sunset Mountain grew from the same soil and in essence they did. Overall, the buildings have the feel of an English village with thatched roofs. There are elements of the City Beautiful movement in the design of the buildings as well, and their relationship to site and their "cottage" feel evoke the Arts and Crafts Movement that was just beginning its decline. The long vista out toward the city of Asheville is still one of the city's best views and serves to remind the visitor of the integration of building with environment.

The construction of "Overlook," his personal residence followed the construction of the Industries.  Overlook will be familiar to many by its more popular name, "Seely's Castle." The "Castle" would later become the home of Biltmore College, the forerunner of the current University of North Carolina at Asheville. Seely's energetic construction during the first two decades of the twentieth century was consistent with the building "boom" that engaged the whole of Asheville.  It was during this time that most of Asheville's signature architecture was built and much of it by Seely's nemesis father-in-law, E.W. Grove. The Grove Arcade, the New Battery Park Hotel, the Vanderbilt Hotel, had Grove's signature.  Further,  the remarkable buildings designed by architect Douglas Ellington, and those by Richard Sharp Smith continue to give Asheville an aura of magnificence. Money flowed in from Grove's "Chill Tonic"  and Seely's pharmaceutical genius, and big deals were made. Many more big deals were hatched still-born. Seely, like his fellow architects, was caught up in the moment and it is these moments that have continued to dazzle the traveler and the historian of this remarkable city, Asheville. In this exhibit we pay homage to Seely, but we also pay homage to a remarkable period of history in the city in the 'Land of the Sky'.

 

"People who are not up on a thing are usually down on it."

While Seely managed the Grove Park Inn for his father-in-law for nearly 27 years he was unable to convince E.W. Grove to sell him the hotel. The resulting animosity between the two put a strain on their relationship and no doubt on Fred Seely's marriage to Grove's daughter Evelyn. Seely had come to Asheville to work with Grove as a chemist. Grove's Chill Tonic and other "medicinal' remedies made both Grove and Seely large fortunes but it also made them bitter rivals. Grove's jealousy and his competitive nature were never overcome and Seely, talented and charming as he was, never was successful in  charming or winning the affection of his father-in-law. The correspondence and the ensuing law-suit in which Seely sued Grove for breach of promise were seemingly bitter and futile engagements for Seely, but the marriage lasted and the dialogue with Grove continued until his death.  Just how deep the animosity extended is not known.  . There is good evidence that it extended mainly to the corporate side of their relationship and not to the personal side.  This would be consistent with what we know of Fred Seely the person. 

 A chronicle of Fred Seely's charitable work and his personal acts of kindness would be hard to describe in the brevity of an exhibit wall. It is difficult to even describe in the context of this narrative. But it is not difficult to readily find it in his correspondence. Seely the philanthropist, Seely the friend, and Seely the comforter can best be interpreted through his letters. Some of those letters are in the exhibit, others are shared here in this Web site. This is not to say that Seely was self-promotional. He was not. We have records of his private and kind personal acts from his voluminous correspondence. We know of his more public works, as well, as these are documented in his letters. The archival excerpts in this narrative and those that have been mounted for viewing, are but a fraction of the  archival material that researchers may use to draw their own conclusions about Fred Loring Seely, the man. 

From only a brief sample of his  letters we learn that he was

  • Friend and patron of Japanese photographer and environmentalist, George Masa

  • Promoter of women in business - [Miss Laura Joy Hawley, correspondence]

  • Active prohibitionist

  • Friend of Helen Keller - Advocate for the deaf community

  • First to set up a recognized program for employment of deaf and disabled in NC

  • Friend of Susanna Cocroft, health and fitness expert, pharmaceutical specialist and entrepreneur. 

  • Developer of a treatment program for crippled children

  • Planner of a hospital  for crippled children

  • Supporter of progressive education: Antioch College, Ohio and Berry College, Ga.

  • Human-rights advocate and champion of the disadvantaged

  • Advocate for humane treatment of convicts and for abandonment of convicts as "free labor"

Ewart M. Ball Collection, UNCA Ramsey Library Special Collections, balln2160
L to R: Thomas Edison, Harvey Firestone, Edwin Grove, Henry Ford, Fred Seely

Seely corresponded with Helen Keller, Eleanor Roosevelt, Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone, Thomas Edison, William Jennings Bryan, Admiral Perry, Edgar Cayce and other well-known personalities. He was, as well, the confidant and benefactor for employees, for the needy in the community and for many social service agencies in Asheville, such as St. Joseph's Hospital, and the Crippled Children's hospital. His friendships spanned the social spectrum and his interests and abilities were equally far-ranging. It is hoped the small collection of materials in this exhibit will whet the appetite of the researcher. There is much work to be done on the life and work of Fred Seely. 

The Employees

Richard C. Parham

 

 

Richard Parham in 1993
VOA Richard and Anne Parham Oral History
UNCA D. H. Ramsey Library Special Collections

Richard C. Parham came to work at Biltmore Industries in 1936. In a biographical sketch of Mr. Parham's life written by Jerry Ball, it is told how he came to work at Biltmore Industries:

      "At age 15, Richard was hired to dig a basement for Robert Stevens, manager of the Industries. When he completed this job, Mr. Stevens told him that Mr. Seely wanted him to come see him. He was hired immediately in October 1936, for a wage of 35 cents an hour.    

     Because of the past, Richard had retained utmost respect for Mr. Seely, and was glad to be a part of the Biltmore Industries.   

     Richard was to be his father's replacement and started by being trained on the same machine Henry Parham had used. This was the "picker machine". This machine is an important start of wool processing. 

     While learning [about the picker machine], one of Richard's statements, was so amusing that his trainer lost his false teeth and tobacco in the machine. Richard said the fellow got his teeth out but lost his 'chaw'. Richard was willing to do any of the different jobs and got experience in all the different phases of cloth making. He also helped on the grounds and worked as night watchman. He tried weaving for a few weeks and decided it was not for him. He asked to be allowed to do other jobs."

Anne Parham, daughter of Richard, was the third Parham to work for Biltmore Industries. She worked as a guide for the shops and was for a time employed by Mrs. Evelyn Seely and her daughter Evelyn Seely Baird. Ann Parham's account of her life, of her years at Biltmore Industries, and of her father was gathered in 1993 in an oral interview for the Voices of Asheville project and can be found in D.H. Ramsey Library Special Collections in the Richard and Anne Parham Oral History.  

There were many employees who lives were touched by the work and the relationships they made at the Biltmore Industries. Fred Seely took a personal interest in the workers as did the managers who succeeded him.

Fred Seeley's Women
 It is in the letters of Fred Seely and in his files that we find the most descriptive accounts of the employees who made Biltmore Industries and the Grove Park Inn such extraordinary landmarks in the Asheville area. 

Fred Seely's relationship with women is of particular interest. From his letters we find he was both supportive and restrictive in his relationships. But, it is clear he owes much to  the many talented women who passed through his life and they to him. "Seely's women" kept him organized, energized and, at times, exasperated. 

The files of three women who worked with Fred Seely or who had a business relationship with him, shed light on the role and activity of women in the period between 1913 and the early 1940's. The women are Miss Laura Joy Hawley, an entrepreneur who ran a gift shop in the Grove Park Inn, Miss Annie Rankin Dukes , Seely's personal secretary in the early years with the Atlanta newspaper the Georgian and later at Biltmore Industries, and Susanna Cocroft, a business associate.


Miss Laura J. Hawley,

Entrepreneur, Miss Laura J. Hawley leased space in the Grove Park Inn from Seely from 1916 to 1918 for a gift shop. Seely had offered her the space for $2,700 a year, an amount that she found at first unreasonable. When Seely agreed to donate the space and pay her a salary, she was persuaded that the first lease was a good opportunity and reverted to the first agreement. Her shop, called "The Hawley's," catered to women and sold dresses, underwear, hats, coats, linen and novelty items. To begin the shop she purchased "several thousand dollars" worth of merchandise in New York and headed south to Asheville with only $10.50 and her ticket.

Her hard work paid off and she reportedly maintained an income of some $10,000 a year from her sales in San Francisco, New York, Chicago and other large cities. She, like Seely, had a strong sense of civic responsibility and was soon caught up in the War effort. A small contribution was regularly generated from the proceeds from her shop. 

She described herself in a Boston Evening Sun article (Thursday, April 25, 1918) as enjoying "very much venturing and doing my utmost to build up some new business. It is like playing a fascinating game, but when it is in smooth running order and no longer needs pushing I lose my zeal and want to start something else. Money alone doesn't interest me. There is not enough to it. ... all work is tiresome unless we keep very clear before us the great ideal back of all of our undertaking and strive continually to realize it ..."  True to her instincts, Miss Hawley left Grove Park Inn in 1918 to directly participate in the War in Europe. Seely tried unsuccessfully to attract her back to the Inn and they maintained a lively correspondence for some years. Part of that correspondence details Miss Hawley's work as a Red Cross dietician in the kitchens near the front lines and contributes to our understanding of women's work during WWI. While many remarked on her departure from her lucrative sales job she saw herself as performing a needed task and in a manner that was characteristic of her determined "ability to carry through whatever one undertakes." Hawley and her dogged determinism are both inspiring and a chronicle of an early Asheville feminist. 

Annie Rankin Dukes, secretary to Fred Seely

"Doing a thing uncommonly well often brings success" Heinz

It is largely to Miss Annie Rankin Dukes, "Annie," that we owe the retention of papers from the very early Seely years, particularly those during the building of the Grove Park Inn. Miss Dukes was an organizer and a mistress of detail. Seely remained in correspondence with "Miss Annie" until shortly before his death in 1942. The last correspondence dates from August 1939 and recounts a trip that Annie made to Lake Junaluska where she describes her self as almost at the "rolling chair" age and alone after the death of her husband, W. F.Dukes, "Duke," a clay tile setter and construction worker who had worked on the construction of the Inn. Annie appears to have met "Duke" through the Grove Park Inn construction job. She apparently left Seely's employ sometime between 1918 and 1919. In 1921 Fred Seely wrote to Annie and pleaded for her to return to work for him again at $40 a week to "...bring us up- to-date."  Annie regretfully declines his offer because of her mother's serious illness and later because of the need to be the sole supporter of the family. In 1924 she voices regret that she could not return to Asheville and writes Seely a lengthy letter of her activities. In 1931 during the difficult years of the Great Depression Annie, like so many during those difficult years, writes to Seely for assistance for her daughter, Julia. An excerpt from her letter follows --- 

Belle Mina, Ala.
Oct. 28, 1931

"Many times during these two past "hard times: years, I've been on the point of writing to you for a a job, but I've always been cowardly about following the old adage "Ventures make merchants." Rather, I'm inclined to stay in a rut, fearing that an attempt to leap out would thrust me further down instead of planting me on higher ground. 

The building business has been at zero for two years. When announcement of a "building permit: is made contractors, masons, carpenters, etc. swarm about it like hungry wolves. Mr. Dukes has spent enough money, time and gasoline looking for work, to have fed the family a year and all to no avail -- each day we get poorer and shabbier. 

...Julia, graduated from High School last Spring,  is the Whip and Lash that drives us to desperation....Julia is so young and so ignorant of the meaning of Life and its battles that I could not think of letting her get out from under my wing, unless I could put her under the chaperonage of a trusted friend .... I do wish she could have the privilege of working directly under your supervision. Every day, I recall with joy and gratitude the training it was my good fortune to receive under your tutelage. I value it above anything I learned "off at school."

Seely replied to Annie on October 30, 1931.

"I have your letter and have read it carefully. 

To tell you that I can't do a thing hurts me very much, but conditions couldn't be much worse than they are here. And I simply could not be a party to having the little girl come to Asheville with things as they are. I believe the Depression is nearly over, but we all have had to fight our way thru it. 

We are glad to hear from you, and I had Miss Ruth read your letter so that she would know how you are getting along. 

We all send our love and beg to remain..."

"Flattery is nothing but "soft soap" and soft soap is 90 per cent lye."

Seely was often the subject of close scrutiny by authors who passed through the Grove Park Inn or who had contact with him at the Biltmore Industries. One such author, Mrs. B.J. Palmer speaks of him affectionately as a "nut." and gives us an "inside" view of life at the Grove Park Inn in the 20's.

Excerpt from "Amongst We 'Nuts'" - in Fountain Head News [Newsletter of the national Chiropractic Society -- published after their meeting in Asheville, NC, September 25, 1923] by Mrs. B.J. Palmer, wife of Dr. B.J. Palmer of Davenport, Iowa,  vice president of the National Chiropractic Society.

She records an afternoon conversation with Fred Seely and a Mr. Foster, author of a book on business forecasting. 

"A "nut" is an individuality that stands out, who has a business or part time hobby, and rides to a successful finish. Mr. Seeley is one, Mr. Foster is another and yours truly comes in the same class. Off on these jaunts it is surprising to see how hoe "nuts" will gather, commingle, think, talk and settle the problems of the race. We exchange ideas and ideals - thus giving and taking we leave each better for doing so - only to pass it on to the millions who need the vision we thus secure.

    Mr. Seeley complimented me on the correctness of the conclusions I made on him in his hotel, and the local color given him by the natives here. He said that I could not have been more accurate had I studied them for months. When you know human nature, geography does not change it. Whatever is true of Mr. Miller at Riverside (Mission Inn) is true of Mr. Seeley at the Grove Park Inn. People are people, Riverside or Asheville. Find a man who stands out and I will find people who do not understand him, or who always make it a business to pass on what they do not understand. Pick up that gossip and it is the same always, everywhere.

    Monday morning was golf. Monday afternoon was circus. Monday night rest - the sweet sauce of labor..."

Susanna Cocroft
and the National Security League U.S. Training Corps Camp in Asheville 

Susanna Cocroft knew Fred Seely when she came to North Carolina to establish the National Security League U.S. Training Corps Camp for women that was associated with the war effort. She used the grounds of the Grove Park Inn and worked with Seely to build the Camp. Her efforts were only partially successful as the Camp ultimately fell to the pressures of tourism and the Camp area was taken by the city of Asheville for an automobile camp ground. Seely sympathized with Cocroft, but was unable to successfully turn the tide of events. 

"A still tongue makes no enemies." Mexican proverb

 Fred Seely, Jr. and Alec Gover Years


Fred Seely, Jr. and family, Biltmore Industries Archive,


 When Fred Loring Seely died in December of 1942, Biltmore Industries was struggling with the economic impact of a world at war but unlike many industries, it was still very solvent. Fred Seely, Jr., a Yale graduate and a Navy man, had somewhat distanced himself from the many businesses of his father but when his father died, just after Pearl Harbor, it was evident that the Industries needed leadership. The Industries were under the management of Alec Gover, a competent but not particularly creative manager. In 1946 when the business began to falter, Fred Seely, Jr. returned to Asheville to lead the business and to assist Gover.

  Gover was to be Fred Seely's business partner over the next decade. The two men were charged to maintain a customer base of some 500,000 individuals and some 100 employees [The Christian Science Monitor, Boston, Tuesday, January 6, 1948]. During the some ten years under the two managers the Industries experienced difficult times. The younger Seely tried to be progressive in his advertising but quickly found that his '"new" ideas did not sit well with the old clientele. The tradition of tradition was difficult to change. The Industries, already weakened by the Depression and the War  began a steady decline and employees were more often hired to do piece work and on an incentive basis than on a standard wage. The volume of yardage dropped off from some 700 yards per day in 1919 to around 200 yards per day in the 40's. Still a considerable amount of hand weaving was being produced and the reputation of the largest hand-loomed operation in the world was not far off the mark, even in the late 40's. 

"God gave man five senses -- touch, taste, sight, smell and hearing -- the successful have two more -- horse and common."

However, even the  visitors, some 40,000 to the Industries and shops, could not sustain the business. Seely's lack of caution and the poor economic climate soon overtook the Industries reserves. "Overlook", the home of his parents was sold and many of the belongings of his father went up for auction as Fred Seely, Jr. sought to liquidate the Industries assets and recover losses. The records of the "Overlook" sale are included in the archive and are a painful reminder of the transience of wealth and the end of an era. The items on the auction block are also a testament to a changing aesthetic. What Seely, Jr. chose to keep and what he chose to sell tells us much about the person he was and the age in which he lived.  We are left to wonder what course his father would have taken in these difficult times.

The photos of the Seely family at "Overlook" and the celebrations of Christmas and other family gatherings are images of happier times. They are the years leading up to the 1950's. Some of those times may be seen in the following photographs.


Seely Family at Home in "Overlook" at Christmas


Seely Children and Grand-children


The Harry Blomberg Years

Harry Blomberg, Biltmore Industries Archive, D.H. Ramsey Library, UNC Asheville 28804
Under Harry Blomberg's direction Biltmore Industries took on a new and invigorated direction. Harry was a salesman. He knew the market and he knew quality craft. The customer base for the weaving enterprise was expanded and new markets were explored. Saks Fifth Avenue, Lord & Taylor, Filene's, and other fine stores picked up the homespun woven in Asheville. Harry named his new retail enterprise the Biltmore Homespun Shops and he brought in other crafts to complement the woolens that were the hall-mark of the Industries. Many of the files of the Blomberg years show the development of an intensive marketing campaign and considerable networking.

Harry's early entrepreneurship is clearly shown in the 1923 letter he wrote to his relatives Freada and Edna in which he tells of his first business venture. 

Transcription: Harry Blomberg's Letter to Freada and Edna, July 31, 1923 

I am now writing a letter to acknowledge the wire on my birthday. It was very thotful [sic] and appreciated muchly, you all and Sig were the only ones who knew that I had a birthday that is to say you were the only ones to congratulate me, why worry. Well after some years spent in day dreams my dreams are at last realized, I am entering on my first business career the first of October. The General Service Station. Car[s] washed, polished, greased, tires, accesorrys [sic] gas, oil and all that pertains to automobiles. The place is located on the corner of Market and Walnut, the new street by our house, across from Jack's place. We have a five year lease on a corner 23 feet by 160 feet. Clarence [Sluder] is partner. We will maintain a high class place open all the time. The oil companies are at such keen competition now that we are uncertain which one will put the buildings up.

It only cost us the rent, as they are only too glad to get the location they are to put us a building up and install all the equipment, providing we buy gas and oil from them at the regular wholesale price for a period of Five years at the end of this time we can buy the Equipment or let them be returned. Papa is backing me. Our capital is to be$1000 -- $500 apiece. The man from whom we leased the lot is grading it preparatory to our taking it over to start work. The lease is signed the first and fifteen of Oct. There is no reason for why we cannot make money. Well hope you have a nice time and everything is OK you can see why the delay in writing. We had a hard time getting this corner. After the thing gets started, you won't have to worry about money. You will be dead worrying about me. 

I am very much enthused and only hope things work out like I have planned. Well will close and Lords sake don't worry. 

Love and Kisses to you both ..... Harry"

The gas station described in the letter above, grew, and Harry's business was expanded to include other "wheel" related enterprises; a series of motor inns [Harry's Motor Inn], Town and Country Shopping Center, gas stations, and, in 1937 he was offered the Western North Carolina dealership for Cadillac. Harry's Cadillac-Pontiac, now the oldest surviving dealership in the South, was by 1967 a $5 million a year business. 

Like the first gas station enterprise, success followed for most of Blomberg's business endeavors. The materials for that first gas station came from the old Battery Park Hotel and his first motor inn was on land leased from Julia Wolfe, mother of Thomas Wolfe and located just behind the Old Kentucky Home. Harry Bloomberg literally built on Asheville's history. He also had a motor inn located on the grounds of Grove Park and it was in operation until the end of World War II. Another motor inn was located next to the Vanderbilt Hotel on Haywood Street. In 1937 he was offered the western North Carolina distributorship for Cadillac and Harry's Cadillac was opened at 68 Haywood Street. He added a Pontiac distributorship 5 years later. [The Asheville Citizen, Thursday, Nov. 9, 1967.] In 1967 his distributorship moved to its present location overlooking Patton Avenue. By 1967 Harry's Pontiac and Cadillac business was producing over $5 million dollars a year. 


Letter from Rt. Rev. Msgr. Louis J. Bour, PhD.,V.F, Asheville, NC, Biltmore Industries Archive


Transcription:Letter from Rt. Rev. Msgr. Louis J. Bour, PhD.,V.F, Asheville, NC

The Right Honorable Sir Harry D. Blomberg, the Cadillac-Pontiac Manor, Land of the Sky!

Greetings and Salutations!

My Doctor wants me to get away during the Summer months, since I have been confined to the house this past year. That Old Fractured Hip is acting up!

On Easter Day, I took the Old Bus MY NINETEEN HUNDRED AND FORTY CADILLAC and went to Daytona Beach for a week. The Old Car made 72 to 75 practically all through Southern Georgia and by the way on our return trip, going only 75, one of those OLD GEORGIA CRACKERS gave me a ticket -- $20.00 BUCKS // ../!

I got kind of a hunch to look at ONE OF THE PONTIACS. Of course, my old 1940 will take me anywhere, actual mileage 38,000!

May 22, 1955 

Unlike Seely, Blomberg did not leave copious correspondence, but it is clear that his network of friends was far-reaching and broad as this letter from Monsignor Bour suggests. It is also well-known that he was actively engaged in community work, was a diligent worker and was liked and admired by his employees. Like Seely, he knew a good opportunity when he saw one and was a quick study when it came to learning new trades.  His civic activities span many decades. One of the most important contributions to the community was the Blomberg Surgical Center at St. Joseph's Hospital. The new facility housed new and larger operating rooms for orthopedic and laser surgery and conference rooms, offices, and classrooms for the surgery and anesthesiology departments. Blomberg served on the Board of St. Joseph's for many years. He was also active on the State Board of Conservation and Development.

 In October of 1953 Harry walked into Biltmore Industries where he had gone to look at a cloth-cutting table offered for sale by Fred Seely, Jr. and Alec Gover as part of the liquidation process for the failing Biltmore Industries. By the door of the Industries was a copper still that caught Harry's eye. He asked if he could also buy that. It turned out to be a leading question.

Bob Terrell, columnist for the Asheville Citizen-Times tells it this way:

"He [Blomberg] called Gover over. Seely wasn't there. 'How much will you take for that still?' Harry asked. He thought it would be a good conversation piece for his place at Lake Lure.

'Oh, I can't sell that,' Gover said, it belongs to Mr. Seely and the Federal Government."

'That's too bad,' Harry said, and started out. 

'Wait a minute,' Gover said. 'There's  one way you could buy it. You'd have to buy this whole place to get it.'

Harry gave him a hard stare, saw he was serious, and the two began to trade horses. In 20 minutes they'd settled on a price, and that's how Harry Blomberg came to own Biltmore Industries in October of 1953."

Harry Blomberg liked Biltmore Industries. It is evident in the few pictures of him at the Industries, but it is also evidenced in the revitalization that took place in the operations there. Against all odds, Blomberg made it work for some 30 more years. During many of those years the Industries produced some of its finest work. 

Harry Blomberg died in 1991. In 1992 his two daughters, Barbara Blomberg and Marilyn Blomberg Patton and her husband Buddy Patton assumed ownership of the Industries and began an energetic campaign to revitalize and re-shape the direction of the Industries. Their vision resulted in the creation of Grovewood Gallery. Inc.

 Grovewood Gallery, Inc. 

Under the direction of Barbara and Marilyn Blomberg and Marilyn's husband Buddy Patton,  the legacy of Biltmore Industries gave birth to another craft resurgence. In July of 2002 Grovewood Gallery, Inc. was voted  #1 by NICHE magazine and the Retailers of American Craft at their annual convention in Philadelphia. The selection was based on a poll taken by NICHE magazine of some 26,000 retail craft artists in the United States. This is a remarkable achievement by any standard. But it is a particularly apt achievement in light of the history of the Biltmore Industries and the years leading up to this endorsement. Success is measured in people. The criteria for the award was based on the treatment of artists with courtesy and respect; the response to the craft community in general; the promotion and marketing of American craft; the mentoring of emerging artists; and the history of paying on time. Little wonder that Grovewood has been so successful. Surrounded by inspirational quotes, supported by management that believes in human potential, and situated in one of the most craft-minded cities in the country, Grovewood was well positioned. It was with great regret that Grovewood Gallery lost Buddy Patton in 2007, after a long illness. His contributions and leadership in the world of craft will be missed, as will his dedication to the preservation of the Biltmore Industries legacy.

Workers at Grovewood have noted that the resident ghosts had something to do with the success of the business. Even the Grovewood staff make reference to those benign and mischievous wisps that still live on in the carding and spinning rooms, in the washing and dying room, the long loom room, and in the other buildings of the Biltmore Industries complex. The walls of the old Biltmore Industries  are now peeling, looms stand in fragments and old wool hangs off the teeth of the carding machine, all left when the doors closed in the 1980's. The yarn has lost its elasticity and the mule spinner its kick, but something lives on in those 20 acres that Seely purchased in 1917. The energy found in the Grovewood Gallery, Inc. shops and the continuous reinvention of purpose over the course of 100 years may be found in the people who led Biltmore Industries and in the creativity and civic-mindedness of those who believed in craft and in human potential. The idea that craft has a social service component, was a persistent theme in the history of Biltmore Estate Industries, in Biltmore Industries, in the Homespun Shops and today in the Grovewood Gallery. Those who helped to assemble the exhibit at D.H. Ramsey Library [in 2007] hope this civic-mindedness has been clearly read in the objects and materials of these remarkable craft enterprises.

Helen Wykle, Special Collections Coordinator

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