Hendersonville Historian Spotlights Phantom Advertisements
By Lauren Stepp
According to historian and writer Mary Jo Padgett, Hendersonville is alive with ghosts. But not the sinister sort that haunts homes and says “boo.” Rather, the streets of downtown teem with ghost signs: advertisements painted on building facades long ago.
“There are several around town,” says Padgett. “We whiz past them every day and don’t notice.”
It is little wonder why. Faded by decades of mercurial mountain weather, these apparitions are quite bashful, often revealing nothing more than a few faded letters or a dwindling telephone number. Some, like the store sign for Clarke Hardware Company off North Main Street, require that you awkwardly crane your neck for a glimpse. Others on the strip can only be spotted when the lighting is just so.
Needless to say, these specters are soft-spoken. While Hendersonville landmarks like the gold-domed courthouse shout of years gone by, ghost signs whisper. But their stories are worth listening to nonetheless, says Padgett.
In the Seventh Avenue Historic District, for instance, layers of paint “remind us of the old bank and several laundries that were there when the community surrounding the busy train depot was also very busy,” she says.
Meanwhile, a ghost sign for a farm equipment business operated off Second Avenue East in the 1940s hints at Henderson County’s agrarian roots. “That was during an era when farmers still came downtown to buy feed, seed, equipment and supplies,” Padgett says, noting that the store was located not far from the old jockey lot—a First Avenue mainstay where farmers would sell produce and livestock as well as “talk trash, swap and dicker.”
Padgett will unveil other specters during a 90-minute walking tour titled “Murals, Mosaic, and Ghost Signs.” Slated for Sunday, October 1, and Friday, October 27, at 10 a.m., the outing highlights the history of old business advertisements as well as public art like the Rosdon Mall mosaic and the eye-catching bee mural painted on the exterior of Hands On! Children’s Museum.
“My underlying interest through this tour is in how things that happened in the past still influence what we see around us today,” the historian explains.
A longtime Hendersonville resident, Padgett began offering guided walks on Main Street in 2015. In the years since, she has expanded her repertoire, providing history tours of Oakdale Cemetery and the Seventh Avenue Historic District. The ghostly jaunt is her newest addition.
“In all the guided walks,” says Padgett, “I hope people walk away with an affection for how our town and county’s geology; architecture; racial, ethnic and cultural heritage; and history weave together to make our little place on earth quite special and unique.”
“Murals, Mosaic, and Ghost Signs” happens on Sunday, October 1, and Friday, October 27, at 10 a.m. Cost is $10 per person; children under 10 years old attend free with a paying adult. To reserve tickets, call 828.545.3179. Learn more at MaryJoPadgett.com.