Preservation Society Tells History of American Enka and its Dutch Founders


By Dasha Morgan

The Preservation Society will be presenting the history of American Enka and its Dutch founders on Thursday, January 24th at the Enka Baptist Church Sanctuary at 5:30 PM. in Candler.

photo from Pack Library Archives

Presenter Carol Hensley will take the listeners through this exciting story from the beginning up through WW II to the present and future plans. She will travel back to 1901 when Edwin Wiley Grove’s son in law, Fred Seely, visited the Dutch colony of Java and met several important Dutch businessmen.

Originally seeking a source of quinine for Grove’s famous malarial chill tonic in Java in 1928, Seely enticed them to Asheville with assurances of local water, trees for fiber, and manpower.

This became “Nederlandse Kunstzijdefabrik”: “ Netherlands Artificial Silk Company” bringing thousands of jobs to Asheville as the Great Depression began. It became the largest rayon company in America and was on the original Fortune 500 list. The founders created what was a historic community for employees: Enka Village, with full scale amenities, educational programs and college scholarships, benefitting all.

With its long history here in the area there are still many families in this area who remember, or worked for, American Enka and then BASF. Thus Hensley’s program should be of great interest to many.

The company was known for its superior rayon. In the mid-1950s, the American Enka moved its headquarters from New York’s Madison Avenue to the site of its Asheville campus. Expansion plans were announced in 1969, and the facility opened in 1970. By that time, the American Enka Company had ten plants around the country and about 11,000 employees nationwide.

Also, it was then that Akzona, Inc. was created to serve as a holding company for the American Enka, International Salt Company, and Organon Inc. Later, buildings were razed at Pack Square in downtown Asheville in 1979, so that the I. M. Pei designed Akzona headquarters could be built. Toward the end of 1985, the ENKA was purchased by the Badische Corporation; and its fibers operation combined with those of Badische’s to form BASF Corporation Fibers Division.

photo from Pack Library Archives.

Carol Hensley is a multi-generation native of Western North Carolina with strong ties to the Candler area. Her paternal grandparents owned a 50 acre farm in Hominy Valley and were one of the founders of Hominy Baptist Church. Her career began as a market research analyst with American Enka, researching end uses for textile rayon and raw petrochemicals.

Hensley holds both BA and MA degrees in communication and psychology from Wake Forest and Purdue Universities. She is president elect of the venerable Vetust Study Club dedicated to conservation, restoration and preservation for civic and cultural advancement. She is on the Board of Directors of the Preservation Society of Asheville & Buncombe County and serves on its governance and communication committees.

The Preservation Society of Asheville-Buncombe County will present this program on Thursday, January 24 at 5:30 in the Enka Baptist Church Sanctuary, 1310 Sand Hill Road, Candler. The Alternate snow/ice weather date is Thursday, January 31st (if schools are closed).

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