On May
5, 1938 the front page of the Transylvania Times proclaimed, “Paper Plant To
Locate On Davidson River Site.”  That
plant was, of course, the Ecusta Corporation which provided employment for
thousands of workers in the manufacture of cigarette and other fine papers over
the next sixty plus years.

Before
selecting the approximately 225 acre site along the Davidson River the company
explored numerous locations throughout North Carolina and a few in Georgia and
Virginia. 

R.J.
Reynolds and other tobacco companies in North Carolina were strongly pushing
Straus to locate the paper mill in the state. 
Other considerations for Straus included an adequate supply of clean
water in a protected watershed, location on a waterway large enough to insure
against lawsuits from downstream property owners due to the discharge of
untreated industrial waste, no objections to the odor produced by the
manufacturing process and location on or near a rail line for delivery of raw
materials.

Three
locations in Transylvania County were looked at by J.E. Sirrine & Company
of Greenville, SC who was hired to investigate sites for the paper mill.

Property
on the West Fork of the French Broad River above its confluence with the North
Fork was investigated.  This site, which would
have required a dam on the North Fork to impound a sufficient amount of water
and either piping waste to a point beyond the Rosman Tannery and providing
clean water to the tannery, was deemed unsatisfactory.

A more
appealing site was located in the valley downstream from Cascade Dam and Power
Plant on the Little River.  It required
building a spur from the main rail line and a piping water to the plant.  The plan was to purchase the power plant as
well as property for the new paper mill. 
At the time Duke Power Company purchased all of the power produced at
Cascade and was willing to terminate their contract, which had 10-12 years
remaining.  Mr. Picklesimer, owner of the
dam and power plant, was also willing to sell or negotiate a long-term lease.  However, the condition of the plant
necessitating costly repairs and updates along with other complications
resulted in it being eliminated.

A site
on the Davidson River downstream from the Pisgah National Forest was looked at and
although it was included on a list of eight recommended sites dated July 7,
1937 this list seemed to change frequently. 
The Davidson River site was not on an August 25, 1937 list of active
sites that did include the Little River site. 
By September 10, 1937 neither Transylvania County site made a list of
four preferred sites.

This aerial view of Ecusta shows the fresh channel diversion
of the Davidson River north of the plant.  It also shows
Highway 64 along present day Deavor Rd. to the east of it 
current route.

In his
book, Ecusta and the Legacy of Harry H. Straus, Brian Du Toit states, “Harry
Straus had earlier passed by the Davidson River site without giving it much
attention, but on a second visit on November 23, 1937 he was struck by the
large flat open space, the proximity of the railroad, good paved roads giving
access to Asheville, Hendersonville, Greenville and other large towns.  The presence of a college and good schools
and a ready, eager workforce were also attractive.”

Once
it was confirmed in early January 1938 that Hendersonville got its water from
the South Fork Mills River and not from the Davidson River watershed Straus was
ready to move forward quickly acquiring property along the Davidson River.  Less than two years later the Ecusta paper
mill was operational.

Documents
from J.E. Sirrine & Company summarizing the site investigations are
available in the Local History Collection at the Transylvania County
Library. 

Photographs
and information for this column are provided by the Rowell Bosse North Carolina
Room, Transylvania County Library. For more information, comments, or
suggestions contact NCRoom staff at [email protected]
or 828-884-1820.

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