Just a few miles from George Vanderbilt’s grand Biltmore Estate is Buck House, a different kind of mansion – one that was nearly 50 years old when Vanderbilt began construction. Saddled on a ridge between two hills south of Asheville, ringed by picturesque mountains and overlooking the confluence of two great rivers, Buck House was constructed around 1840, over twenty years before the Civil War, primarily – and most likely exclusively – by enslave laborers.
During a time when most people lived in wood frame houses, the imposing structure was composed of brick, a rarity in early 19th century Asheville. Today it is known as the Smith-McDowell House and functions as the headquarters of the Western North Carolina Historical Association, a historic house museum, an exhibit space, and a center for youth history education. It is included on the National Register of Historic Places and is the finest surviving example of brick antebellum architecture in western North Carolina.