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 ensure 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
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.