The Ghost of 22 Church Street

Sometimes we discover the evidence of something that once was, but is no more. We can see the outlines or echoes of a form that existed and is now only described by its absence.

While walking around Asheville, NC I discovered what appeared to be the ‘ghost’ of a church in the side of an adjacent building.

I took a few pictures and continued on my way.

Later that night, I started to wonder what exactly I’d seen and the story behind it. I began searching. An explanation wasn’t easy to find, so I’m documenting here to make it easier for others in the future.

In Search of a Church

At first, I wasn’t sure of the exact address of the lot (which is now a parking lot). It sits between 18 Church Street (loft apartments) and 40 Church Street (First Presbyterian Church).

I began searching for addresses like ’20 Church St’ or ’30 Church St’ and came across this discussion from 2007. The local planning commission was discussing demolition of 22 Church St. and some online wanted to know what existed at that address.

The discussion mentions the address as the (presumably former) location of Swannanoa Cleaners (a local business with a long history in the area and several locations).

Hearing that a clothes cleaning company used to have a building at that location didn’t seem to get me any closer to understanding why the outline of a church would be present on an adjacent building. I was concerned this was a dead-end.

The discussion thread showed an aerial view of Church St from 1919. A building with a roofline that would fit the ‘ghost’ image I’d found can be seen at the 4 o’clock position in the photo. A close-up of that section of the linked image is below.

At first I had trouble making sense of the image as it looked like one building had ‘eaten’ another. But it did provide another clue…the “Swannanoa Laundry” sign on the side of the building.

A search on “Swannanoa Laundry Church St” uncovered this video from May of 2012 showing an exploration of the empty/abandoned Swannanoa Laundry building.

I watched the video and still couldn’t find any indication of why the specific ‘ghost’ image of a church would have been created by the Swannanoa Laundry building.

Some additional searching at this point uncovered an article from September 2015 referencing the “‘Ghost church’ visible on Church Street”. This article explained the mystery (and has a photo from inside the roof of the old building).

Summarizing loosely from the available articles: The First Christian Church was built in the 1840s and stood on this site but went bankrupt in 1885. The laundry structure was built in 1891 and because the foundation of the church was solid and the walls strong, they were incorporated into the new structure. (additional details come from an article from June 7th, 2007 and another article from February 15th, 1980 which also provides a closer view of the church roof)

The laundry building was demolished sometime between 2012 and 2015, revealing the ‘ghost’ church.

The church existed as a church for ~50 years. For ~120 years it was hidden within another building, and was (based on the articles above) largely forgotten. And now since the early 2010s its echo is visible for any who stroll along Church St. From house of worship to laundry to ‘ghost’ church..what an interesting history.

And there it is, an answer to the question, “what was here?” for 22 Church St, Asheville, NC.

Outline of church wall