November 1, 2021

ISAAC DICKSON

STORIES FROM THE APPLEWOOD MANOR

ISAAC DICKSON, The Applewood Manor Another early citizen of Asheville to make an enduring mark on the city was Isaac Dickson–the first person of color appointed to the Asheville City School Board. In 1892, he convinced Dr. Edward Stephens, principal of Asheville’s first public school for African American Students, that Ashville needed a YMCA-like facility for black men. Dickson and Stephens approached George Vanderbilt, founder of the Biltmore Estate, with the idea for their “Young Men’s Institute.”

They couched their proposal in terms of helping the black construction workers employed at the Biltmore Estate: “to improve the moral fiber of the black male through education focusing on social, cultural, business and religious life.” Moved by their presentation, Vanderbilt loaned the organization $32,000 for a building to be designed by one of the Biltmore Estate architects, Richard Sharp Smith.

The Young Men’s Institute Building, also known as the YMI Building, opened in 1893. Today the two ½ story, 18,000 square foot building of pebbledash coated masonry with accents of brick, stone and wood is on the National Register of Historic Places. Located on Eagle Street, it is only 1 ½ miles from Applewood Manor. The facility was the true center of the civic, cultural, and business life of Asheville’s black community. It featured a public library and classes for children and adults, dormitory, and athletic facilities. It served as a social and spiritual center and included office space on the ground floor for a doctor, pharmacist, barber, undertaker, and restaurant. By 1910 it had its own orchestra.

As times changed the need for a separate facility for black men faded. In 1980, a coalition of nine black churches, with the support of both the black and white communities, bought the YMI. The new owners restored the building and re-established it as a Cultural Center. Today, organized around five core components (community programming, community forums, cultural exhibitions, economic literacy and fifth, an annual cultural festival) it continues to serve the black community. The building is now more commonly known as the YMI Cultural Center.

The annual three day cultural festival, known as Goombay, is a display of sights, sounds, and tastes of the African-Caribbean. The free event delivers a variety of entertainment including dancing and the beating of West African drums ringing with the harmonic live music featuring gospel, reggae, funk, and soul.

After more than a hundred and twenty five years, Isaac Dickson imprint on the city remains and his YMI Building is still used to promote and celebrate the black community of Asheville.


Asheville has been called many things—weirdest, happiest, quirkiest place in America, Santa Fe of the East, New Age Capital of the World, Paris of the South, Beer City USA, Most Haunted, Sky City and others. It has many secrets, mysteries, and legends—some factual, some alleged, some exaggerated and some just plain lies.

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ISAAC DICKSON, The Applewood Manor

62 Cumberland Circle, Asheville, NC 28801 | 828-254-2244 | contact@applewoodmanor.com


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