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The History of Silvermont Mansion

Mr. & Mrs. Silversteen

In 1902, Joseph Simpson Silversteen and his wife Elizabeth moved to Transylvania County from Pennsylvania. They started a family, and amassed their fortunes while residing in Transylvania County. They also built a large 33-room colonial revival house with spacious grounds on East Main Street in Brevard. After their death, through a gracious donation, the home remains as a gift to the citizens of Transylvania County.

Part of the mystique of Silvermont is the period it represents and the inhabitants it housed. Joseph Silversteen, a tanner by trade, established the Toxaway Tanning Company when he and Elizabeth, an extremely active member in Daughters of the American Revolution, moved to Transylvania County. The town of Rosman, named after two associates of Silversteen's named Rosenthal and Osmansky, sprang up around the tanning company. Silversteen would later own and operate several other tanning companies in western North Carolina.

In 1910, he established the Gloucester Lumber Company. Silversteen obtained his lumber from 20,000 acres of forestland that he had purchased from George Vanderbilt. With lumber being the leading industry in the county until the 1930's the Gloucester Lumber Company grew and prospered. When Silversteen's economic enterprises were at their peak he was responsible for the employment of several hundred men and provided the single largest tax source for Transylvania County until the 1950's.

Silversteen's accomplishments and contributions to the county extended far beyond his economic impact. He built the first brick elementary school building in Rosman and donated the land on which the high school gymnasium was constructed. In addition to his support for the schools, Silversteen also gave graciously to local churches and civic organizations.

But of all Silversteen's accomplishments, the most identifiable is Silvermont. (The name Silvermont is a combination of Silversteen and Mount, the maiden surname of Silversteen's wife.) In 1917 the mansion was completed and became home for the Silversteens and their three daughters: Miriam, Dorothy, and Adelaide, who was called "Babe". Miriam (Mid) was the oldest (10/6/04), followed by Dorothy (10/22/06), and then Adelaide (1/24/10).

Dorothy graduated from Brenau College with a degree in music and married a merchant marine captain named Thorvald Askel Bjerg in 1932. She later became the director of the Toxaway Tanning Company and, after her father's death, the president of the Gloucester Lumber company until it merged with Champion Paper Company in 1967.

Miriam attended St. Mary's College in Raleigh and later married Alfred Weiss. She became the general manager of the Transylvania Tanning Company and held administrative positions in the Gloucester Lumber Company and the Weiss Machine Company.

Unlike her two older sisters, Adelaide sought a career in music. She obtained a music degree from Salem College in Winston-Salem and married Robert N. (Bill) Hill. She became a successful singer and performed with such noted conductors as Arturo Toscanini, Otto Klemperer, Leopold Stokowski, and Serge Koussevitsky.

As if imitating a chapter from a Faulknerian novel, however, the demise of the Silversteen family began. In 1956 Elizabeth died. In 1958 Joseph died. In 1965 Miriam died. In 1968 Adelaide died. The last living daughter, Dorothy (Bjerg) died in 1972. With no posterity, Bjerg willed the entire Silversteen residence to Transylvania County.

Bjerg's will states that Silvermont "be used as a recreation park and community center for the benefit of the citizens of Transylvania County. It is my desire and wish that the facilities be adapted to provide accommodations for gatherings of elderly people and the youth of the community, and that it serve as a center for art and craft programs and such other useful and educational purposes as the Board of County Commissioners shall deem appropriate."

But Silvermont was neglected and it fell into a state of disrepair. The home was not maintained and most of the furnishings, which Bjerg had willed to the county along with the furniture and books in the home, had been removed.

In January of 1981 it appeared that Silvermont would meet a fate similar to that of the Silversteen family. A committee appointed by the Board of Commissioners recommended that the Silvermont mansion be demolished. But on January 26 of 1981 a group of concerned citizens informed the board that they were strongly opposed to such a destructive action.

The Board then voted to salvage the Silvermont mansion and approved the formation of the Friends of Silvermont, a group of local citizens who oversee the use and maintenance of Silvermont. From that time, the progress of Silvermont has been steady.

The home was placed on the National Register of Historic places. For nearly two years, volunteers from the community repaired, remodeled, and cleaned the building. In the fall of 1982, the first floor of Silvermont was opened to the public. Since then the first floor of the Silvermont mansion has been used by several organizations on a regular basis and the desires expressed by Bjerg in her will are being met. In 2009 an eighteen month restoration began resulting in the opening of the Second Floor House Museum in January of 2011, reflecting the era and lifestyle of the Silversteen family.

The Silvermont Opportunity Center

sitting room

One of the organizations consistently using Silvermont through the years is Western Carolina Community Action (WCCA) with their congregate nutrition program. This program has been active for over 30 years. In February 2008, with the help of Land of Sky Regional Council and Area Agency on Aging, Transylvania County Council on Aging, and Transylvania County Government, the congregate program expanded into a full service Senior Center. The Center was named Silvermont Opportunity Center. In March 2009 there were over 550 visits to the Center, with people participating in activities and classes ranging from computer instruction, keyboard lessons, painting, and Tai Chi to writing your autobiography, golf lessons, bridge, and international cooking. The legacy of the Silversteens lives on.