The Story: Asheville Groundbreaking


"Hanlon reported that more than 7 million persons visited the North Carolina National Forests in 1961, thus topping visitation to both the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park."

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While the public enthusiasm for the parkway construction employment saving Asheville was starting to wane, other industries were starting to pick back up after the 1930 economic crash. By the time the sections of the Blue Ridge Parkway surrounding Asheville were actually being constructed, there were 125 industrial plants in the area, employing 27,678 people, and expending an annual payroll of $84,070,960 (Asheville Chamber of Commerce 1950-1961), hardly the suffering community portrayed in the battle over the competing routes. The 1960 Census data reveals that as Section 2R, the final Asheville link of the Parkway, was to be started, Asheville's manufacturing industries were thriving.

Manufacturing
With an employed population of 48,618, more than a quarter of Buncombe County's employed persons were working in manufacturing related industries such as textile mills (7.5%), apparel and other fabric'd textiles (2.4%), and chemical and allied products (6.7%). Other major industries in the Asheville area in 1960 included retail (10.8%), construction (6.4%), and agriculture (4.6%) (U.S. Bureau of Census 1961). It cannot be denied that the Parkway was bringing a significant number of tourists to the Asheville District, with over 3 million of the 8 million Parkway visitors counted on the 155 mile section of the Parkway around Asheville from Beacon Heights to Cherokee. These striking numbers were from 1966, prior even to the completion of the 11-mile Parkway bypass around Asheville.

Agriculture
A key characteristic of many industry employees in Buncombe County in the 1950s was that they both owned their own farms and also worked in plants to supplement their farm income. The area had "many small farms with... well tended fields, herds of dairy and beef cattle, poultry flocks, tobacco and neat attractive homes," (Asheville Industrial Council 41)." The average farm size was 47.4 acres at the time, with only an average of 8 acres used for harvest. At the time, the off-farm economy was key in keeping thousands of farmers on a sound economic basis, with most of the 4,000 farmers in the county working full-time in the plants as well (Asheville Industrial Council 1957).