Sign on Broadway, near UNC Asheville


The name only calls one person to mind making it obvious that she wasn’t merely the wife of a writer. Therese Anne Fowler cuts it down even farther to just “Z” for her recent novel about Zelda Fitzgerald. And Lee Smith writes about Zelda, not her husband, in her recent book Guests on Earth. I admit I don’t get wrapped up much in the biography of writers, which is why I had to look up whether Hemingway was married – and he was, four times, three of the women were writers. Steinbeck was also married, three times. Faulkner and his wife Estelle were known to sit on the porch of Rowan Oak drinking whiskey together, but outside of that I’m not sure much aura surrounds her. Thomas Wolfe never married, but there is a bit of aura around his long time affair with Aline Bernstein, a married woman eighteen years his senior – and that deserves its own blog.

But sixty-six years after her death in Asheville the world is still fascinated by Zelda.

The Fitzgerald’s had a tumultuous relationship, but it is clear through their continued contact and constant mining of each other’s pain that they had passion. They were obsessed with each other and with the feelings they brought out of each other, loving each other to the point of self-destruction. Obviously these things don’t work out – but it is the quintessential live hard and die young, burning at both ends, story.

Rumbough House
Rumbough House at Highland Hospital


F. Scott Fitzgerald had a strong start, having great literary success in the 1920s, traveling the world and being famous for his partying. Then he seemed to blow it.

Zelda, on the other hand, didn’t seem to give up, but continued trying to make a name and a career for herself at a time when women had just gotten the right to vote. She was searching for peace through art and writing and dance and drinking and  psychiatry and God. Most people can relate to that. It also seems to be what Asheville was about, and why there were and are so many places to search for spiritual and mental peace here, like Highland Hospital where Zelda had checked herself in multiple times throughout the years, starting in 1936. Dr. Carroll’s program of exercise, diet, and occupational therapy seemed to work for Zelda, who was released from the hospital in 1940. In that same year her husband died, and her daughter married, but Zelda missed both events, and by 1943 she was back at Highland Hospital, where she checked in and out until March 10th 1948, when a fire broke out in the Central Building of the hospital, killing Zelda and eight other patients.

Highland Hall
Highland Hall

Their daughter Scottie was quoted as saying that if people aren’t crazy they got themselves out of crazy situations. She, unlike a lot of people in the public, didn’t blame Zelda for F. Scott’s drinking, just as she didn’t think his drinking led to Zelda’s mental illness. Maybe they were just two broken souls who found each other, sparked, burned, then extinguished. But they left behind more than just a trail of ashes – well into the next century the gossip still swirls around the daring couple and their great and terrible love story.

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Homewood. Home of Dr. Carroll and his wife Grace Potter Carroll.


Historic Inns – Walking tour of Asheville!

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Start at the Corner of Biltmore Avenue (previously South Main) and Eagle Street. Here you will find a statue of an eagle that marks the spot near where the first downtown hotel, the Eagle, was built by James Patton in 1814.

Before Urban Renewal in the 1960s and 70s, Eagle Street was the center of African-American commerce in Asheville. On the corner of Eagle and Market stood the Savoy Hotel and Diner, and many other businesses had homes around and along Eagle Street.

Across from Eagle Street, at 65-75 S. Main (Biltmore Avenue) once stood the Swannanoa Hotel, a huge 4-story hotel that was the first to have a bathroom – built especially for frequent guest G.W. Pack.

Head North on Biltmore toward Pack Square Park, named after G.W. Pack, and home to the Vance Monument. Pack commissioned the huge Obelisk to honor his friend Zebulon Baird Vance, Governor of NC during the Civil War and one of the most influential politicians during that time.

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One block North of the Vance Monument is the BB&T parking garage. Not much to look at now, but this parking garage holds a “lot” of history. The 2nd hotel built downtown, the Buck Hotel, was built on that plot of land by James Smith, primarily to house animal drover’s walking from Tennessee to South Carolina along the Buncombe Turnpike. The pens for the animals were located where Pritchard Park is today. In 1907 the Buck Hotel was demolished to make way for a grander hotel for much different clientele – the Langren opened in 1912 to serve traveling businessmen.

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From College Street, follow Broadway north to Woodfin, and take a right.

The large building at the Southeast corner of Market and Woodfin was the Asheville-Biltmore Hotel (now Altamont Apartments).

Asheville Biltmore

Built during the 1920s economic boom, the Asheville-Biltmore was used during WWII as an Army Redistribution Center.

Head east past the Altamont Apartments and turn into the Thomas Wolfe Plaza (the Renaissance Hotel). Tucked between the towering hotel and neighboring apartment building you’ll find “Old Kentucky Home,” the boarding house run by Thomas Wolfe’s mother Julie, immortalized as Dixieland in Wolfe’s classic novel “Look Homeward, Angel.” At this State Historic Site you can learn all about Wolfe, and also about boarding houses and tourism in Asheville in the early 20th century. The tour is well worth the $5 to help maintain and preserve this site.


Behind “Old Kentucky Home,” at the site of the Thomas Wolfe Memorial Visitor Center and Museum, was once the first Harry’s Motor Inn (48-58 N. Market Street.) People staying downtown with motor cars in the 1920s needed a place to overnight them as well (they weren’t quite as waterproof as our automobiles today,) and Harry Blomberg provided that accommodation. He built this “Motor Inn” on land leased from Julie Wolfe, with materials used from the old Battery Park Hotel that was being torn down across town.

Walk South down Market Street to Walnut Street, and turn right heading towards Broadway. On the Southeast corner of Walnut and Broadway was the Windsor Hotel, one of the last residential hotels/low cost boarding houses in downtown Asheville. It opened in 1960, and was the 3rd Windsor Hotel on “Main Street,” (Broadway/Biltmore) in Asheville.

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The parking lot across the street on the southeast side of Walnut and Broadway was once the Charmil Hotel, from 1924-1956. From 1956 until 1980 (when it was razed) it was the Carolina Hotel.

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Head up Walnut (west) to where it intersects with Haywood. On the Northeast corner is the “Asheville Hotel Building.” Opened in 1915 as an Asheville Elks Lodge, it is made entirely of stone, steel, and brick (except for the window panes.) In 1931 it became the Asheville Hotel, and in 1957 a department store. In 1997 Malaprop’s bookstore moved from its former location a few doors North on Haywood.

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Head south down Haywood Avenue to the corner of Battery Park. This building was designed by the same architect, William Lee Stoddart, who built the Battery Park and George Vanderbilt Hotels in Asheville. It was originally home to Asheville’s most famous department store, Bon Marche, from 1923-1937, and then Ivey’s from 1937-1975. Today it houses the Haywood Park Hotel, opened in 1985.

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Head back North up Haywood, toward the Civic Center, to see the former George Vanderbilt Hotel, also designed by William Lee Stoddart. Now the Vanderbilt Apartments, the hotel got the opposite of a face-lift when it was converted to non-profit housing. Check out some historic pictures to see just how different it looks today!

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Continue up Haywood to Page Avenue and turn left. The Battery Park Hotel building may seem imposing, but its former namesake was not only a huge rambling Victorian ship of a hotel, it also sat on Asheville’s highest knoll. Battery Porter Hill – a Confederate Ramification during the Civil War, was considered the “country side” by Asheville residents until the 1870s; so much so that townsfolk went hunting there. In 1886 Col. Frank Coxe opened the first hotel in the area with elevators and electric lights. In the 1920s E.W. Grove, father of the Grove Park Inn, tore down the hotel and 70 feet of the hill to create more real estate space in town. Grove also built one of the first indoor shopping malls – the Grove Arcade, across from his new Battery Park Hotel.

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Pass between the Battery Park and the Grove Arcade to O.Henry Avenue. The stone wall that still stands at O.Henry and Haywood was built as part of Margo Terrace, a 64 room “Family Resort” built in 1889. In 1925 it was purchased by E.W.Grove, who died in 1927 in the Battery Park Hotel. Margo Terrace was razed one year later.

margo wall

Great Walk! Time to reward yourself to some refreshment at the Battery Park Book Exchange and Champagne Bar in the Grove Arcade! If you’re interested in more photos/history – they may have a copy of my book for sale!

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Douglas Ellington at the Asheville Center for History

Every once in a while I still volunteer at the Smith McDowell House, Asheville’s first mansion and oldest surviving house, located on the campus of A-B Tech and run by the Western North Carolina Historical Association. I hadn’t been there for a while, and when I finally made it back yesterday  – everything had changed!

Usually the two rooms to the left of the front entrance are filled with information on the families that occupied the house, but now they were filled with an exhibit:


And as soon as I turned the corner I was immediately brought into the exhibit by this amazing light.

courthouse light

It is so reminiscent of Asheville: Art Deco – highly influenced by Arts and Crafts. In fact, it is from Asheville’s iconic City Hall, designed by Ellington, and on loan from Bruce Johnson, one of the foremost authorities in the American Arts and Crafts movement.

I was brought further into the exhibit by this – a set of Art Deco “boudoir lamps”. A quick search through Google showed me that this style was very popular, often referred to as “bullet,” “candlestick” or “skyscraper.” We’ll leave it at that?

art deco boudoir lamps

Besides showcasing Ellington’s architectural imprint on Asheville, the exhibit also displays information on other important structures built during the 1920s boom in Asheville like the Battery Park Hotel, the Jackson Building (Asheville’s first skyscraper), and the Flatiron Building.

battery park ellington

Your admission to the exhibit also grants you access to the self-guided tour of the Smith McDowell House, taking you through time with period rooms from 1840-1890. I’ve given tours dozens of times, and somehow every time I’m there I learn something new. Yesterday, for the first time, I noticed this cool light in the 1880s parlor.

light in parlor

For more information – https://www.facebook.com/TheCenterForHistoryAtSmithMcdowellHouse



This building, a former nurses’ dormitory for the Oteen VA Hospital, still stands just east of Downtown Asheville off Riceville Road.

From 1924 to 1932, 18 impressive and beautiful Colonial Revival and Stucco Georgian Revival buildings were built on the grounds of the Oteen Veterans Administration Hospital – previously U.S. Army General Hospital No. 19. (U.S. General Hospital No.12 was housed in the Kenilworth Inn, but that’s another post…) Unlike other VA hospitals, Oteen’s focus was treating tuberculosis, and Oteen became the only VA hospital in the south dedicated to respiratory ailments. The patients, many who had contracted TB due to cramped and damp conditions overseas during WW1, were treated with rest and fresh mountain air, not injections of any sort. But even with the best treatment, tuberculosis was one of the most deadly diseases of this time.


Another one of the former nurses’ dormitories is now restored and houses the western branch of the North Carolina State Archives. This state agency handles heritage tourism promotion, archiving of photographs and other historical preservation, public records management and archaeological research. From 1978 until 1981 this agency operated from Oteen, but relocated to Biltmore Village while their building underwent a $3.4 million dollar renovation. I love the current “before and after” picture.  


The restored “Building 13” was originally built in 1932 as a dorm for African-American nurses.

According to http://www.nps.gov/nr/travel/asheville/ote.htm, 13 of the 18 original buildings remain today, some still used by the VA hospital, the other occupied by apartments and the Laurels of Summit Ridge, an assisted living facility.