Foster A. Sondley, scholar and bibliophile, was born on August 13, 1857, at Montrealla, his grandmother’s home, in Alexander, a few miles north of Asheville. He was the youngest of Richard and Harriet Sondley’s six children. Sondley’s parents stressed proper education, and he attended several schools in the Asheville area before entering Wofford College in 1873.
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After graduation in 1876, Sondley returned to Asheville to practice law. Admitted to the bar, he received his law license from the North Carolina Supreme Court in 1879. Sondley’s knowledge and abilities, coupled with his charismatic courtroom presence, garnered him a reputation as one of the most capable civil attorneys in the state. However, at the peak of his career in 1905, Sondley retired to pursue other interests, specifically his study of North Carolina history.
Widely read and expert in state history, Sondley served on the first North Carolina Historical Commission in 1903, and fostered the development of the Buncombe County Historical Society. In 1911, Sondley moved to Finis Viae, a massive home built along Haw Creek near Asheville. At his new residence Sondley collected every document and artifact he could locate concerning North Carolina history.
By the time of his death on April 17, 1931, Sondley had amassed a library of nearly 30,000 volumes including many rare works pertaining to North Carolina history. An avid writer, Sondley produced Asheville and Buncombe County in 1922 and A History of Buncombe County in 1930.
A lifelong bachelor, Sondley held an estate which was broken up at his death and distributed among his nieces and nephews. However, Sondley left his library to the city of Asheville, and it formed the nucleus of the Sondley Reference Library at Asheville’s Pack Memorial Library.
William S. Powell, ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, V, 397-398—sketch by James D. Lee
James D. Lee, “Foster Sondley: Attorney, Scholar, and Bibliophile,” North Carolina Libraries, XXX (1972)
Asheville Citizen, April 18, 1931
Asheville Citizen-Times, April 19, 1931