Q: What was the significance of “Hell’s Half Acre?” What propelled it to infamy?
A: At the turn of the twentieth century, at least eighteen saloons and bars served beer and liquor to Ashevillians. Most of these saloons were clustered in a couple of blocks on S. Main Street (now Biltmore Avenue), which came to be known as “Hell’s Half Acre” for its rowdy licentiousness.
In the first decade of the twentieth century, seventeen men died violent deaths in Hell’s Half Acre. Five of those deaths occurred one November night in 1906, when a drunken desperado, a man named Will Harris, took his Savage rifle to the streets.
Q: Which was your favorite character to write about and why? Were there any standout research moments or surprises along the way?
A: I’ve heard about the Will Harris murders of 1906 for years, but delving into some of the source documents describing what happened was fascinating. Both the extreme violence of the murders and the response to them was striking (the posse riddled Harris’s body with more than one hundred gunshots). I was also intrigued to learn that the man who was killed by the posse was never identified positively as Harris.
I also loved learning about F. Scott Fitzgerald’s time in Asheville, downing up to thirty beers a day while trying to write in a suite at the Grove Park Inn.