Wagner, John A. (1836-1924)
John A. (Adam) Wagner (July 16, 1836-December 5, 1924), a Union veteran and “pioneer builder” in Asheville, came to the mountain city in the 1880s and remained there for the rest of his long life. He was best known for constructing the original Battery Park Hotel (opened 1886), which was razed shortly before his death.
According to his obituary in the Asheville Citizen of December 6, 1924, Wagner was born to John Adam and Sophie Smith Wagner in Pendleton County, Virginia. Both of his parents came from long established Virginia families. This account related that when John was twelve, the family moved to Washington County, Tennessee; the 1850 census showed Adam and Sophia Waggoner and their six Virginia-born children including John A. residing in Tennessee. (The Asheville Times of December 5, 1924, reported erroneously that John A. Wagner was born in Tennessee). In 1860, Wagner married Emily Brown of Greene County, Tennessee. Early in the Civil War he enlisted in the Union army in the Fourth Tennessee Regiment; he was made captain and served through the war. After the war, according to his obituary, he lived in Greenville, Tennessee, where he worked as “architect, contractor, and builder.” In 1870, John Wagoner, house carpenter, appeared in United States census for Greene County as aged 38, with his wife Emily, 24, and their young children John, Fanny, and William. He is said to have moved to Hot Springs, in Madison County, North Carolina, in the 1870s.
In the 1880s Wagner made a lasting move to Asheville, the mountain city then experiencing a railroad boom era with the arrival of the Western North Carolina Railroad in 1880. There, according to the Asheville Citizen, “In the days of his activity, Captain Wagner constructed some of the chief buildings in Asheville,” including the original Battery Park Hotel, the court house, the United States Post Office, the First Presbyterian Church, and “a number of dwellings and business houses.” The Asheville Times of December 5, 1924, also asserted that he “did some architectural [unspecified] work on the Biltmore house.”
In 1890 Wagner was listed in the city directory as superintendent of construction of the United States Post Office (from designs by Willoughby J. Edbrooke; see also Peter Demens). A few years later he was a partner in “Wagner and Wills, Architects and Contractors,” listed in the Asheville city directory of 1896-1897 as J. A. Wagner and A. J. Wills (Arthur J. Wills)—”architects, builders and contractors (for public bldgs, churches, offices, theatres and large works only), 32-34 Patton Avenue.” The census of 1900 showed John and Emily Wagner and their family in Asheville and indicated that he was “building houses.” In 1910, John was listed as a retired architect in Asheville and a widower, heading a household that included four of his adult children.
Wagner took an active part in civic affairs. He was a Republican, a Mason, and a Presbyterian, reported the Citizen: his “character was of the positive type, and he never vacillated in his beliefs.” He and Emily (who died in 1904) had eight children who survived them: sons Charles R., James L., John A., Natt T., Robert L., and daughters Frances W. Betts, Carrie L. Wagner, and Lillian Mitchell.
- Asheville Citizen, Dec. 6, 1924.
- Asheville Times, Dec. 5, 1924.
- David R. Black, Historic Architectural Resources of Downtown Asheville, North Carolina (1979).
- United States Census, 1850-1920.
- Daniel J. Vivian, “Public Architecture, Civic Aspirations and the Price of ‘Progress’: A History of the Buncombe County Courthouse,” in Robert S. Brunk, ed., May We All Remember Well: A Journal of the History and Cultures of Western North Carolina, Vol. 2 (2001).
- Dates:1886-1888Location:Asheville, Buncombe CountyStreet Address:Asheville, NCStatus:No longer standingType:CommercialImages Puslished In:Catherine W. Bishir, North Carolina Architecture (1990).
Catherine W. Bishir, Michael T. Southern, and Jennifer F. Martin, A Guide to the Historic Architecture of Western North Carolina (1999).
Douglas Swaim, ed., Cabins and Castles: The History and Architecture of Buncombe County, North Carolina (1981).
- Dates:1903Location:Asheville, Buncombe CountyStreet Address:Pack Square, Asheville, NCStatus:No longer standingType:PublicImages Puslished In:Daniel J. Vivian, "Public Architecture, Civic Aspirations and the Price of 'Progress': A History of the Buncombe County Courthouse," in Robert S. Brunk, ed., May We All Remember Well: A Journal of the History and Cultures of Western North Carolina, Vol. 2 (2001).Note:The courthouse built in 1903 from designs by Asheville architect Kenneth McDonald was a neoclassical edifice that replaced the courthouse of 1877 and was in turn replaced by another in the late 1920s (see **Frank P. Milburn**) and was razed in 1929.
- Contributors:John A. Wagner, builderDates:1884-1885Location:Asheville, Buncombe CountyStreet Address:NE corner of Church St. and Aston St., Asheville, NCStatus:No longer standingType:ReligiousImages Puslished In:David R. Black, Historic Architectural Resources of Downtown Asheville, North Carolina (1979).
- Dates:1890-1891Location:Asheville, Buncombe CountyStreet Address:Pritchard Park, Asheville, NCStatus:No longer standingType:PublicImages Puslished In:Mitzi S. Tessier, Asheville, A Pictorial History (1982).