The Haunted Smith-McDowell House

Posted by junketseo in Asheville Ghost Tours
The Haunted Smith-McDowell House - Photo

Asheville, North Carolina, is a gold mine of fascinating history dating back thousands of years. It’s been millennia since natives resided in the lands east of the French-Broad River, and in that time, its serenity has been chipped away by the barbarity of mankind. Formerly the home to Indigenous creatives who manufactured stone tools and left a minimal imprint, the hilltop now houses a landmark stained by generations of slave ownership.


The contrasting ways of life have had differing effects on the land, and the latter bred a darkness that many believe manifested over the years. Brick by brick, the mansion atop the hill absorbed lifetimes’ worth of negative energy as the blood, sweat, and tears of the fettered unwilling were poured into the grounds. 


While not every moment of the Smith-McDowell House’s past has been gloomy, its more controversial history is more than likely responsible for the dark entity believed to reside within its walls. 


It’s another exhibit in haunted Asheville’s menagerie of apparitions, spirits, and wayward souls.    


What is Smith-McDowell House’s haunted history? 


From Indigenous tribes using the land to the red-bricked mansion and the slaves that catered to it, the Smith-McDowell House is brimming with the makings of an unearthly presence. See how active the home and land are on your Asheville ghost tour.


The “Indian Fighter” and His Heir


The history of native people living on the hill where the Smith-McDowell House was built is rather vague, but one part of their past is fairly well recorded. Colonel Daniel Smith moved into the region in the later 1790s, purchasing a plot east of the French-Broad River. He was a known belligerent to Asheville locals, frequently seen riding through the city streets atop his white horse, his rifle “Long Torn” at his side. To many, he’d claim to have taken the lives of over 200 natives, a figure that can’t be verified but is likely not far from the truth. 


Though the Colonel purchased the land, his son, James McConnell Smith, is who would build what is thought to be Asheville’s oldest standing structure. The younger Smith may not have adopted his father’s love for slaying natives, he had his own brutal views of social hierarchy and enslaved African Americans, forcing them to work on his property. While James didn’t live at the mansion, he was alleged to have at least 40 slaves caring for his mansion, “Victoria,” and the land that stretched along the north side of the Swannanoa River, along the slopes of Beacatcher Mountain, and across South Main Street.


Sadly, the slaves who worked tirelessly under James Smith weren’t suddenly freed after his passing in 1856. According to his will, his slaves were divided amongst his heirs, including his wife, Polly; his daughters Harriet, Emeline, Ruth, Ann, Elizabeth, Jane, and Sarah; and his son, John. He bequeathed Victoria to Polly, who passed it down to John upon her passing, but his unexpected death the following year landed the property in auction.


Seeing an opportunity, James’ daughter Sarah and her husband, Confederate Major William McDowell, purchased the mansion and land, ensuring her family’s legacy would live on. As a sign of their willingness to uphold her father and grandfather’s values, Sarah and William built six new slave houses.

The Hidden Cemetery


As the first family to call the mansion home, Sarah and her family continued to operate Victoria much in the same way as her father. The enslaved still oversaw the land and tended to their needs. One of the family’s enslaved, George Avery, had the distinct job of upkeep a troubling plot of land located within the woods behind the Saint Johns-A-Baptists Church in what’s now the developed Kenilworth neighborhood.


Known today as the South Asheville Cemetery, the hidden location was used by Major McDowell as a burial ground for African American slaves. Avery was forced to dig graves of those he worked alongside and, for a stipend collected and retained by the McDowells, slaves owned by others in the region. Most gravesites at the cemetery were left unmarked, and those buried within them were forgotten forever by all except Avery. Even Avery’s grave, marked by a headstone, was lost over time as the cemetery fell into disrepair. 


As the war ended and McDowell could sense the Union victory, he released Avery, encouraging him to join the North so he could have a pension after being freed. Even after the war ended and the McDowells lost much of their land as their finances dried up, Avery returned to watch over the cemetery. It was his legacy until he died in 1938, at which point he joined the many he buried, including his first wife, Maggie.   


Though the bodies of those who died while working for the McDowell family reside in South Asheville, miles from the mansion, their troubled souls may very well be forever tied to Victoria and the land east of the river. Could their anger and hatred for the McDowells be the true source of the dark entity said to inhabit the home? Some claim it’s a former slave owner, but it very well may be a darkness manifested by the restless seeking to be remembered—to receive a proper burial and ceremony.


The Dark One and Victoria’s Girls 


Years after the McDowells were forced to sell the land, it changed hands multiple times. From the mayor of a small community that took over Smith-McDowell property to a Catholic boy’s school, many different types of people and energies passed through the main door of the red-bricked mansion. But no matter who owned it, none left as heavy an imprint as the Smith and McDowell families.


Along with the cold and ominous Dark One, who, despite its name, has yet to cause harm to any guest, the mansion is believed to be haunted by the ghosts of two little girls. The name Carrie often comes up, and it may refer to the daughter of the widowed Mary McDowell, who passed away from an unidentified illness. According to the death announcement, Carried died at the residence of Sarah L. McDowell at 417 South Main Street, an address that very well may have been part of McDowell’s property. 


The second girl is known only as Sarah, which could be a misidentification of James Smith’s daughter, Sarah McDowell. Whether the young ghost has blood ties to the family or was the child of a former slave remains unknown, but her spirit keeps guests on their toes.


Think you can identify the young spirits that call the Smith-McDowell House their eternal home? Or do you want to feel the icy presence of the Dark One? You’ll need to book your Asheville ghost tour with Asheville Terrors today, or you can read more about haunted Asheville and the Smith-McDowell hauntings on our blog. Be sure to visit and follow us on our socials on Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok for even more haunted history.