A small Madison County town, Marshall, NC has made the most of riverside living by focusing on community.
Marshall, population 800, is the Madison County seat and sits on the banks of the French Broad River some 20 miles north of Asheville. The area is rich with local history, as it was a key way station on the Buncombe Turnpike, an early trading route that ran from Tennessee though Western North Carolina to South Carolina.
Marshall’s Main Street offers signs of the town’s unique blend of old and the new. There’s a bookstore and numerous cafes, galleries, antique shops, and eateries. Hovering above it all is the historic, cupola-domed county courthouse, which was built in 1906 and designed by the famed Biltmore Estate architect Richard Sharp Smith.
Thriving Arts in Marshall, NC
Today, Marshall is an enclave of artists that’s in the midst of a renaissance. “I’ve been in Madison County for 14 years now. Zuma Coffee has been open about 12 and a half of those years,” said Joel, founder and owner of the regionally popular caffeine-infused community focal point.
“When I moved here, it was basically offices for the county that were here,” said Joel. “Those moved to the bypass, so it really opened up this huge space for people to move in and kinda create a neighborhood as we went along. So, very organically, it’s kind of transformed into an arts and music community.”
There are dozens of local galleries and studios in this small mountain town, including the epicenter of local arts: Marshall High Studios. Marshall High Studios occupy a former high school on Blannahassett Island in the middle of the French Broad River that’s connected to downtown by a bridge. The building, which dates to 1925, was renovated and reopened in 2007 as a home for 28 artist studios. In addition to hosting working artists who specialize in numerous different media, the 28,000-square-foot facility hosts regular classes, exhibitions, and performances.
“You know, I’m real fortunate to live in a community where everybody’s an artist of some sort,” said Joel. “It made way for a lot of new people to move here and to become part of the community. In particular, the artists studios across on the river. And that has, again, solidified the whole idea of this as an arts community.
“Since then, we’ve developed the Downtown Marshall Association, which is really great about doing our Mermaid Parade every year. It does a festival for the arts. So, it’s really made the community much more accessible to outside of the particular area.”
Thriving Community Events in Marshall, NC
One Main Street mainstay in Marshall is The Depot, an old-timey general store. It’s a great community shopping spot that doubles as a performance venue on Friday nights, when local musicians strike up a soundtrack of traditional bluegrass and country music. Music can also be heard at the town’s regular French Broad Fridays, a series of free outdoor concerts.
Several other local institutions keep Marshall’s art scene humming. The Madison County Arts Center, also on Main Street, presents regular exhibitions of both traditional and contemporary art.
A couple of blocks away is the volunteer-run French Broad Institute (Of Time and The River). “The FBI” was opened in 2007 in a former Methodist church built in 1912. It serves the community “by providing a forum for curated collaborations, multidisciplinary performances,” and “an investigative think tank for reimagining the relationship between traditional and avant-garde arts, and between the time-based arts and the natural sciences.”
“I love that it’s growing very slowly and very organically, and that it happens through the people,” said Joel. “There’s a real impetus on keeping it community based. So, I see it still continue to grow in this pattern and becoming a real living community, as opposed to a tourist community. When I say community—because that’s the word that just always comes up here—we’re a town that all like each other.”
Learn more about Thriving Marshall, NC
See the beauty of Marshall for yourself! Read more about Marshall, NC, see more photos, or search for homes in the area, from our Beverly-Hanks Marshall community page.
— Beverly-Hanks WNC (@beverlyhanks) February 14, 2017