John Fletcher McBrayer simply loved land. So when the opportunity arose in 1877 to purchase a picturesque mountain tract at the foot of the Swannanoa Mountains in southeastern Buncombe County, McBrayer couldn’t resist. “Any time he would get any money, all he thought about doing was buying land,” explained Alma Spicer, McBrayer’s granddaughter. Alma thinks that it was his Scotch-Irish heritage that led to her grandfather’s affinity for that land. But a walk around the charming slopes of her Dyeleaf Mountain property will confirm that just about anyone would have difficulty resisting its allure.

“Fletch,” as McBrayer was known, knew it wouldn’t be easy to obtain the property. When the land went up for auction, he put in a bid but wasn’t convinced it would win. Much to his surprise, the bid succeeded. Fletch was astounded. Yet in spite of his excitement, he had concerns about how he would pay for his new land. To quell his worries, Fletch’s friends pledged their support. “Don’t worry Fletch, we’ll help you, we’ll stand beside you,” his friends told him after the purchase. They all knew how deeply he wanted the land and how much it meant to him.

The sacrifices that Alma Spicer’s grandfather had to make to acquire that land were only one reason that she and her children chose to indefinitely protect it with a conservation easement through Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy. The Spicer family’s connection to the property grew stronger through each successive generation. Alma’s mother was born in a small log cabin on Dyeleaf Mountain. And though Alma wasn’t raised on the mountain itself, she visited it frequently and accumulated countless memories that would ultimately define her childhood.

“It was just different, it was kind of an adventure,” Alma recalled of her visits to Dyeleaf Mountain during her youth. Fletch and his wife lived on the property and utilized it as a working farm. They grew hay and tobacco and raised livestock, too. Alma remembers helping in the large vegetable garden. But her favorite memories were those of her entire family gathering at the farm for meals. Her grandparents, parents, and four siblings joined around a massive dining room table. “It was as long as that hall,” she stated proudly, while pointing to a lengthy corridor in her present-day home. “The table was always groaning with food— beef, pork, all kinds of pies, all kinds of cakes.” Fletch always made sure the family had a good time when they visited. “He was always hollering at you, ‘Have some more, have some more!’” she remembered.

After the passing of Alma’s grandparents, the land’s ownership was divided among five children. A portion of the land was inherited by Alma’s mother, who hired a tenant to reside on the property and work the farm. Alma’s trips to Dyeleaf Mountain grew fewer as she got older, but she still made occasional visits with her parents to oversee the farm—even in the dead of winter. The family kept warm around a large fireplace, where they stayed up late cracking walnuts. “Sometimes, it was so cold you would need to take a hot rock with you to bed,” she recalled.

Alma cherished the memories of her family on the farm throughout her life. Her appreciation for land was further enhanced by her mother’s deep connection with the property, a sentiment that was undoubtedly passed down from Fletch. Alma credits her mother as the family’s motivating factor for conserving the property. “She was just like her father, she loved the land,” said Alma. Her mother indicated to Alma and her siblings that she wished for the land to remain in the family and that it never be developed. “She always used to say, ‘They’re not makin’ any more land.’”

Alma and her family, with the help of Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy and a generous grant from Buncombe County’s Land Conservation Advisory Board, honored her mother’s wishes by putting 161 acres of their Dyeleaf Mountain tract into a conservation easement in 2009.

by Peter Barr, CMLC Trails & Outreach Coordinator

Read more stories of CMLC’s conserved lands at

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