The Preservation Society of Asheville and Buncombe County presented their 2019 Griffin Awards for adaptive use, rehabilitation, restoration, research, publication & education, and its Sondley Award. The ever affable Preservation Society executive director, Jack Thomson, served as host for the occasion.

Thomson began with announcements about several Preservation Grant Program awards for various worthy projects from across Buncombe County. One was to the Montford Neighborhood Association for the purpose of replacing a bus shelter that was damaged by a drunk driver. Thomson quoted the grant application, “The history board of the destroyed shelter had on one side photographs of Montford houses that had been ‘lost’ to fires and demolition.” The other side honored historic the Montford African American community’s past.

A “bricks and mortar grant” was awarded to Claude Coleman, Jr. and Brett Spivey of SoundSpace for foundation repairs to Rabbits Motel on McDowell Street. Established in 1947, its restaurant was known to feature the best soul food in Asheville. Thomson said the adapted reuse project will transform the former guestrooms into rehearsal studios for bands, and the restaurant is coming back.

“One thing everybody in this room needs to know is that the Preservation Society is committed to preserving the places that are important to ALL of our people,” he said. An additional grant will be awarded to Hood Huggers International. “Hood Tours focuses on telling the story of African American past, present and future. When they roll into a neighborhood like Burton Street, they are partnered with young people in those neighborhoods as tour guides. So people are hearing the story of our Black community from the kids that are growing up there.”

Thomson invited Bob Orr, a former associate justice of the NC Supreme Court and founding board president of the PSABC, to talk about another new program. Orr announced the recipient of the Johnny Franklin Baxter Memorial Award. “Johnny’s family were slaves in Chunns Cove, and shortly after the end of the Civil War they were given a few acres of land to celebrate their freedom.” Orr said from that historical context, Baxter became a champion of WNC history and historic preservation, with a particular interest in recognizing the contributions of the African American community.

Orr said that since the Preservation Society’s early days Baxter was tirelessly engaged in projects like the Gudger House, Richmond Hill, Ravenscroft, and the YMI. As a member of its board of directors, Baxter was an integral part of what the Preservation Society has become today. “It is a wonderful treat to recognize and remember Johnny Baxter through a new collaborative effort with the UNC Asheville history department in partnership with Dr. Darin Waters.”

Historic resources commissioner Craig Cline presented the annual Sondley Award to community planner David Nutter who has served on the Historic Resources Commission, the WNC Historical Association, and presently serves on the boards of the Preservation Society and the Thomas Wolfe Memorial. “I have worked with David Nutter on a number of preservation projects, and I can tell you this, he is a man of focus and of tenacity. It is these very qualities that are so necessary to successfully advocate for preserving our historic properties.” Cline said Nutter’s leadership and direction in working with the City of Asheville has led to funding for the restoration of the Thomas Wolfe cabin site.

Griffin Awards for adaptive reuse went to The Foundry Hotel at 51 South Market Street, and Black Mountain College Museum. Griffin Awards for rehabilitation went to Chiles House in Kenilworth, Chai Pani Restaurant at 22 Battery Park, Asheville High School on McDowell Street, William Johnson Jr. House at 2 Edwin Place, and Minnie Alexander Cottage at 218 Patton Avenue. The Griffin Award for restoration went to E.W. Grove Park Trolley Houses and Wall at 338 Charlotte Street. The Griffin Awards for research, publication & education went to Swannanoa Rim Explorer and Valley History Explorer Hiking Series, and Dale Slusser.

An announcement stated that Dale Slusser has been a true friend of preservation since it entered his awareness in the seventh grade, and that the PSABC is honored to present its Griffin Award to Slusser, a true champion of its mission. Slusser and his wife Susan moved to Asheville in 1993. His work here includes research on PSABC headquarters, documenting and researching the Thomas Wolfe cabin, and his service as a dedicated board member.

“As chair of the Endangered Properties Committee, Dale Slusser shepherded successful campaigns to save the Ivy Building at A-B Tech, and the Patton-Parker House on Charlotte Street. Currently he provides PSABC with a multitude of house histories every year, including research for our homes tour. Slusser has researched the history of Ravenscroft School, downtown Asheville’s oldest surviving structure, which is currently protected by a PSABC easement. His latest research will produce a comprehensive study on over 70 restored houses of the Swannanoa River Valley, many lost, from its headwaters to its confluence with the French Broad River.”

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