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Fletcher group aims to research and preserve history

Fletcher is a lot more than a wide place in the road with lots of hamburger stands, branch banks and muffler shops. Kenneth Youngblood and Bob Davy think a lot of people don't know that, and they aim to change that.


"I started doing reading and some research and Fletcher has a really glorious history," said Davy, a transplant from Florida. "It just hasn't been well documented."
Kenneth YoungbloodKenneth YoungbloodYoungblood's roots go much deeper, to the 18th century, and he knows plenty about Fletcher. He's a walking encyclopedia of all things Fletcher: who were the pioneer families, what shaped its culture, which large landowners developed commerce and farms, what well-known doctors, lawyers and politicians were raised in an area blessed with transportation (Howard Gap Road and the Buncombe Turnpike intersected there) and water (the French Broad, Cane Creek and Hoopers Creek).
"The Murrays participated in the locating of the county seat, they participated in the laying out of Pack Square in downtown Asheville, and they were selected as one of the outstanding families in Western North Carolina in the early 1800s, so they were a significant family," said Youngblood, a patriarch of the Henderson County legal community and partner in Prince, Youngblood and Massagee.
Youngblood mentions Murrays because the Samuel Murray family, one of the largest landowners in the Fletcher area in the first half of the 19th century, is the subject of the first book to be published by the Fletcher Arts and Heritage Association. Formed several years ago to promote the arts and highlight and preserve Fletcher's history, FAHA has commissioned three histories already, including upcoming books on the Westfeldts of Rugby Grange and Dr. George Washington Fletcher, a physician, merchant, farmer and builder for whom the town is named.
BobDaveyWritten by Brenda Bagwell Coates, "At the End of the Road, the Journey Begins" traces the history of the Murray clan from its Scottish roots to its land acquisition and life in the Fletcher area (then Buncombe County). Coates will speak about the book Monday (April 15) at the Fletcher Public Library at 6 p.m.
At the time of his death, Samuel Murray owned more than 8,000 acres on either side of present-day U.S. 25, along Fanning Bridge Road to Long Shoals Road and either direction to the French Broad River, Cane Creek and Hoopers Creek. Samuel Murray Sr. moved his family from Ninety-Six, S.C., around 1795 and immediately began accumulating vast tracts of land. He was among the community leaders who selected the site of the Square in Asheville, donated money to help start one of the first schools, Mills River Academy, and gave land for Cane Creek Presbyterian Church.
One of his better-known assets was the Murray Inn, which his son, William, sold to Daniel Blake Sr. in 1826.
Coates' book contains plenty of genealogy but less reporting than what might expect on what became of the Murrays in more recent generations. Prominent in the early to mid 1800s, they seem to have faded.
The Murrays "dispersed with the four winds," Youngblood said. But that's one reason the Murray history is important. FAHA aims to "save it before it gets more dispersed and the locals get more removed and remote from it."
Davy, a Fletcher Town Council member who helped incorporate the modern-day Fletcher in 1989, has caught the history bug himself.
"Other than protecting all this stuff, it's like the flier says, 'Fletcher, Do You know Where You Live?' It's very important for the people that live here to know the history that's gone on here and to take pride in the local area, and unfortunately there wasn't any good source to go to to find this information," he said.
Now there is, at least a first installment.
Coates covers the area's early history as she traces the Murrays' business and land buying and selling, and their role in the founding of a church, a school and post office.
Asked about the audience for the book, she said, "I think people interested in colonial and later than colonial history in Western North Carolina."
She has discovered what many researchers before her have found. A lot of people in the mountains are interested in what happened a long time ago and how it shaped us today.
"It's amazing how many history buffs are out there," she said.

At the End of the Road, the Journey Begins: How the Murray Clan Shaped the Character of Western North Carolina
Brenda Bagwell Coates, 372 pages.
Softcover, $19.95 plus shipping; hardback, $29.95 plus shipping; Kindle, $9.95. Available at Mr. Pete's markets, LuLu's in Fletcher, and (click on books).
Coates will speak on the book 6-7 p.m. on April 15 at Fletcher Public Library Auditorium.