The dilapidated Monteith Farmstead would be given new life under a proposal made this week by the Appalachian Women’s Museum, a group dedicated to honoring women’s role in the history of this region.
The AWM asked Dillsboro town board members on Monday (March 11) to allow them to lease the farmstead for $1 a year. If significant site restoration was taking place, a 1.14-acre tract and the Monteith house itself would be given to the group after five years. The group would continue to lease the barn and a to-be-determined amount of land surrounding the 1.14-acre tract. This would take in outbuildings that are part of the historic farmstead.
“I honestly think it would take a big headache away from us,” town board member Jimmy Cabe said. “I’m really kind of for it.”
Other board members, too, said they supported the proposal (board member David Gates was absent). There were, however, questions about leasing land in addition to the 1.14 acre-tract where the house is located.
“The house is fine,” town board member David Jones said. “But that much property I feel uncomfortable with because it belongs to the town’s taxpayers.”
And one request of the Appalachian Women’s Museum, that the town maintain its existing comprehensive insurance coverage on the property, was simply impossible, according to information gathered by town clerk Debbie Coffey. She said the group would need its own insurance policy.
The Monteith farmhouse was built in 1908 by E.B. and Mary Magdalene Monteith. The Monteiths farmed on the property until their deaths in the 1950s, when it passed to their daughters, Edith and Edna, who continued to live there. Edna Monteith, who worked at the Dillsboro post office for 45 years, died in 1988. Edith Monteith died in 2001 and the property came up for sale.
Dillsboro officials purchased the Monteith property in 2013 for $112,000. The Monteith house was placed on the National Register for Historic Places five years later.
Tim Osment, AWM board president, said the group wanted extra land because it foresees the museum “being more than just the footprint of the house … if we’re going to put $500,000 into the structure we want to keep it spruced up around it.”
“What about if we agree to maintain it,” Jones said, “and give you permission to work on these other buildings?”
Osment said that proposal might work.
“What I basically was doing was taking it off Dillsboro’s plate,” Osment said.
“What assurance do we have that you are going to keep it clean?” Beauford Riddle said, half smiling.
“You could write something into the lease on how the property ought to be kept,” Osment said in reply.
Town board member Tim Parris asked what Osment thought would happen if the Appalachian Women’s Museum went defunct after restoring the house. Osment said he believed the house would go on the market and Dillsboro would have right of first refusal.
Mayor Mike Fitzgerald, with a consensus of the board, said a decision would be made about the Monteith farmstead at the board’s next meeting, which is April 8 at 6 p.m. The matter will be discussed prior to the meeting during a 5:30 p.m. workshop.
In other business, board members:
• Heard Jones say that Mike Beck, Sylva’s fire chief, has been looking in Dillsboro for a place to put a substation. He told fellow board members that he thought the old Shuler property in Dillsboro was worth at least a look by the fire department. Jones said a substation requires about an acre of land, preferably with water and sewer. “I think it would really benefit the whole town if we could work with him,” Jones said.
• Unanimously passed a memorandum of agreement with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission for recognition of Dillsboro as a Mountain Heritage Trout City. The commission, in part, will provide specified waters for a Mountain Heritage Trout Waters fishing license and will promote the program.
• In response to a request by Jackson County commissioners, passed a resolution in support of the return of steam train service to Dillsboro. The county is negotiating with Great Smoky Mountains Railroad to bring the train back to Jackson County. Dillsboro served as the railroad’s headquarters until 2008, and about 60,000 people a year rode the train. That business boost largely ended when the railroad moved its headquarters and main depot to Bryson City.