James Mitchell Alexander, Part Two

by Bruce Whitaker

The Buncombe Turnpike opened in 1827. It ran from the Tennessee line along the French Broad River to Asheville and then on to the South Carolina line. The road was the main highway from Kentucky and Tennessee to South Carolina and Georgia. It closely followed the French Broad River to Asheville to avoid driving livestock over a mountain, causing lost weight, and reducing their value at market in Augusta, Georgia. James Alexander was the contractor for a large section of the turnpike. He later bought a large section of land on both sides of the French Broad River.

Alexander built a hotel on the east side of the river at the place now called Alexander. The hotel was said to have been one of the best between Cincinnati to Charleston, SC. Alexander built a store, tan yard, shoe shop, harness shop, farm, blacksmith shop, wagon factory, grist mill, saw mill, ferry and bridge at the site of his hotel. He also built many holding lots for the drovers to keep their livestock at night.

Between 140,000 and 160,000 hogs passed through each year, mainly in the months of November and December. The hog herds would travel eight to 10 miles a day. It has been estimated that it took 25,000 bushels of corn a year to feed the hogs that passed through Alexander’s inn every year. Sometimes 10 to 12 droves, each with 300 to 1,000 hogs each, would stop at Alexander’s in one night. The hogs would be put in separate lots. Alexander would employ 10 to 12 men to dump out bushels of corn for the hungry hogs to eat.

Hogs were by no means the only animals driven by the inn. Thousands of horses, cattle, mules, sheep and turkeys would also pass by Alexander’s inn and need to be fed. Even ducks were driven from Kentucky and Tennessee to Augusta. One guest recalled seeing a herd of 4,000 ducks go by.

The need for corn at Alexander’s was so great that, in the fall, wagons carrying corn would be lined up waiting to unload corn for over a mile from 7 in the morning to midnight. Farmers would buy goods and services of all kinds on credit at the store and other businesses that Alexander owned. In the fall they would return and pay for their debts with bushels of corn. The corn would be put in the large number of corncribs Alexander had built. They were paid 50 cents a bushel for the corn. Alexander would then sell the corn to the drovers for 75 cents a bushel.

The drovers who had more money would stay at the inn. The others spent the night in one large room with a large fireplace. They slept on the floor covered with blankets brought with them. They had to pay for their meals. Once a day, a stagecoach carrying people and mail would pass by the inn, traveling between Asheville and Greeneville, TN.

Later in his life, Alexander turned over his businesses to his son, Captain Alfred Mitchel Alexander, and his son-in-law, Reverend Jackson S. Burnett. He then built a “handsome” home, called Montrealla, three miles nearer to Asheville. Alexander moved into his new home in 1856. The house burned down in 1929. James Alexander died at Montrealla on June 11, 1858. He was buried at Alexander’s Chapel Methodist Church. The church had been built by Alexander and named after him. His widow, Nancy Foster Alexander, died at the home on January 14, 1862. She was also buried at Alexander’s Chapel.

James and Nancy (shown above) had six children.

Harriet Elizabeth Alexander was born in Asheville on December 28, 1816. She married Elisha Ray. He was born in Union, SC, on March 19, 1810 and died in Alexander on June 21, 1844. They had five children. Harriet then married Richard Sondley Jr. He was born in Newberry County, SC on September 5, 1800 and died on January 28, 1858 in Richland County, NC. They had one child, Foster Alexander Sondley (1857–1931).

Alfred Mitchel Alexander was born in Asheville on January 11, 1819. He married Susan M. Coffin Farnsworth (1818–1870). Alfred died on October 24, 1889.

Mary Eliza Alexander was born in Asheville on October 4, 1821. She married Rev. Jackson S. Burnett. He was born in Knox County, TN on February 1, 1820 and died in Athens, Clarke County, GA on November 9, 1893. Mary Eliza died in Buncombe County on September 11, 1861.

Orra Anne Alexander was born in Asheville on November 22, 1824. She married Judge John Baxter, who was born in Rutherford County, NC on March 5, 1819 and died on April 2, 1886 in Hot Springs, AR. Orra died on December 25, 1859 in Knoxville, TN.

Sarah Matilda “Sallie” Alexander was born in Buncombe County on July 2, 1827. She married David Love, who was born on April 25, 1818 in Elizabethton, Carter County, TN and died on Sept 1, 1876 in Johnson City, Washington County, TN. Sallie died on October 13, 1871 in Johnson City, TN.

R. Catherine Alexander was born on Nov. 13, 1830 in Alexander. She married George Washington Baxter, who was born on July 21, 1824 in Rutherford County and died on October 1, 1854 in Rutherford County. She then married her brother-in law, Judge John Baxter (1819–1886). Catherine died on July 22, 1865 in Knoxville, TN.

Local historian Bruce Whitaker documents genealogy in the Fairview area. He can be reached at 628-1089 or [email protected].

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