James Vester Miller

Historic James Vester Miller Trail 

Developed by Andrea Clark

Take a free, self-guided walking tour of buildings crafted by master brickmason, James Vester Miller, an African American who built many of Asheville’s most remarkable historic buildings during its Golden Age of the late 19th century and early 20th century. Though best known for his churches, James Vester Miller also built commercial buildings and residences. Family stories and local tradition credit him with many buildings for which there is little documentation. In fact, we will probably never know how many projects on which either he or his company worked as a brickmason or subcontractor.

You can learn more by picking up a free printed brochure of the James Vester Miller Trail at the Asheville Visitor Center or the YMI, or follow the digital trail by clicking on one of the stops below.

About James Vester Miller (1860 – 1940) 

Born in Rutherford County, N.C. to an enslaved mother, Louisa Miller, and a slavemaster father, James Vester Miller learned his craft by working at brickyards and construction sites, eventually apprenticing with the city’s best brick masons. His exceptional brickwork caught the eye of Asheville’s leading architects, including Richard Sharp Smith, the supervising architect of the Biltmore House. Later, Miller formed his own construction company, Miller & Sons, and won contracts in the competitive, White-dominated construction industry. Moreover, his career spanned the Jim Crow years, often described as a low point of African-American history − an era of systemic disenfranchisement, lynchings and rigid segregation codified into law. He built a 15-room home in the Emma community of west Asheville, and reared 6 children with his wife, Violet. Four of his sons became master bricklayers; a fifth became one of Asheville’s first Black physicians.

Y.M.I Drugstore  

Miller's Work Shines in Asheville's East End

The James Vester Miller Walking Tour focuses on Asheville’s “East End,” the African-American neighborhood closest to Asheville's Pack Square in downtown. As Asheville’s economy steadily grew and boomed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the segregated East End expanded to become a thriving community of homes, schools, churches, businesses and nightclubs. 

The 1920s were the Golden Age of the East End. On Eagle Street, the Wilson Building offered office space to African-American businesses and professionals, and the YMI (Young Men’s Institute) was home to a “colored library,” classes and events. Stephens-Lee High School, the pride of the neighborhood also known as “the Castle on the Hill,” was the only public high school for African Americans in western North Carolina. Businesses across the neighborhood included barber shops, beauty salons, a movie theater, a pharmacy, an ice cream shop, flower shops, clothing shops and professional offices. Much of the area, including Stephens-Lee High School, was demolished in the 1970s and 1980s as a part of the urban renewal effort which swept the entire United States. Following years of redlining practices and a failure to enforce building codes, many of the structures in the East End were in need of repair. In what amounted to a landgrab, these as well as maintained homes, deemed to be “dilapidated” were razed to clear a so-called “blighted” area. Against the wishes of the majority in the neighborhood, the East End’s main artery, Valley Street, was renamed South Charlotte after the sister-in-law of slaveowner James W. Patton.

Andrea Clark  

Andrea Clark and

Twilight of a Neighborhood

Andrea Clark, granddaughter of James Vester Miller, is a photographer who documented life in the East End before urban renewal. Born and reared in Cambridge, Mass., Clark came to Asheville in 1968 to live with her father in the East End. Her photographs reflect an exploration into her roots, and into a world very different from the one she had known in New England. They provide a valuable portrait of a neighborhood, as well as an exploration into the meaning of community.

It has been Clark's vision to create a walking tour of her grandfather's buildings to honor his work and to highlight the important role that African Americans have played in building Asheville.

James Vester Miller Trail Locations

St Matthias

James Vester Miller and his new construction company built this building when Miller was a young man in his thirties,

Mt Zion

This is the third of four churches built in the downtown area of Asheville by the James Vester Miller & Sons…


As hundreds of workers built the Biltmore Estate, African-American leaders Dr. Edward Stephens and Mr. Isaac Dixon urged…

J A Wilson Building

Built in 1924 by Miller for African-American businessman J. Alfred Wilson, this building housed a wide range of business…

Asheville Municipal Building

This two-story brick-faced building was designed by architect Ronald Green and originally housed the city’s police,…

James Vester Miller Office

According to the 1906-1907 Asheville City Directory, the office of Millers & Sons Construction was at 22 S. Pack Square…

Masonic Temple

According to Miller family sources, the Temple’s brickwork is by James Vester Miller.

St. James

Completed in 1931, this is the most recent of the four churches in the East End/Valley Street neighborhood built by…

Hopkins Church

Designed by architect Richard Sharp Smith, this Gothic church was the second of the four churches constructed in the…

James Vester Miller Trail Interactive Map