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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Snow! And a warm thanks.

Snow fell that night. It came howling down across the hills. It swept in on us fro the Smokies. By seven o’clock the air was blind with sweeping snow, the earth was carpeted, the streets were numb. The storm howled on, around the houses warm with crackling fires and shaded light. All life seemed to have withdrawn into thrilling isolation. (Thomas Wolfe, The Child by Tiger)ImageDowntown has been exceptionally deserted the last few nights with the wind, and the cold, and the off-season. I had some errands to run yesterday and had little company on the streets. Maybe because I’ve been reading a lot of Wolfe lately (he is really growing on me) it felt like Wolfe’s Asheville, deserted and cold, but familiar, as I hustled around Broadway, up Walnut, down Haywood. The streets and the storefronts all seemed from a different time, transported back in the frozen wind to a quieter simpleness.


While I rushed from the library back to my truck it was obvious a lot of the people that were downtown weren’t in the same hurry to get out of the bitter cold because they didn’t have a welcoming place to go. I am forever thankful that I am so lucky – to have a great family and a warm place to call home. I couldn’t think of a better place to live than Asheville.

I hope everyone finds a little warmth and something to be grateful for today.


Killed by a Desperado

Ben Addison

November 13th, 1906

Asheville’s population wasn’t yet 20,000 people. Street cars were a popular mode of transportation – no interstate, no “cut” through Beaucatcher Mountain. Eagle Street stretched down to Valley Street (where Charlotte cuts a four lane swatch today) and it was the black side of town in a segregated Asheville, full of houses and businesses.

Will Harris, said to have escaped from a chain gang in Charlotte, came to Asheville and bought a rifle and a bottle of whiskey. He went to Valley Street looking for his girlfriend and raising a ruckus. Two policemen were dispatched to the disturbance, and both were shot, one dying from his wounds. Will Harris continued his rampage up Eagle Street, killing a dog, and shooting through a telephone pole near Pack Square at another police officer, James Bailey, and killing him. Three civilians, including Ben Addison, were killed as well.

Will Harris then took off toward South Asheville. Citizens armed themselves, some getting guns on loan from Finkelstein’s pawn shop, and went hunting for Will. They found him two days later in a thicket outside of Fletcher, and lit him up with bullets. His body was brought back to Asheville and put on display for the townspeople.

Thomas Wolfe was living in Asheville at the time of this massacre – he was six years old and sleeping less than a mile from where it occurred. Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction, but sometimes fiction explains the truth better than a newspaper article ever can. Wolfe’s short story “The Child by Tiger” tells the story of the Will Harris rampage through the streets of Asheville and subsequent capture. If you’ve had trouble delving into the complex world of Wolfe’s novels, give his short stories a try. His descriptions are incomparable, and on a small scale they are easily digestible as well. The overt racism is challenging, there is no excuse for it. But is there a better photograph to capture this time than the words and emotions of someone who is completely unfiltered and trying with his whole heart to explain his experience to the world?

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thomas wolfe Bailey

Riverside Cemetery in Asheville is the final resting place of not only Thomas Wolfe, but also Ben Addison, and James Bailey, both victims of the massacre. Will Harris is also said to have been buried there in an unmarked grave.

Asheville’s Flatiron Building

Thank goodness for Asheville’s Flatiron Building! Not only is it a cool piece of architecture, it provided the inspiration for a great sculpture that would rob buskers of prime real estate if it didn’t exist, and it also houses the SkyBar – a lofty establishment that offers great drinks and fantastic views like this:


Last night was a perfect night for downtown Asheville, and I wanted to cap off the end of the hanging-outside-at-night season by enjoying a drink on the fire-escape of the Flatiron building. Built in 1925, during the real estate boom in Asheville when the new Battery Park Hotel, the Vanderbilt Hotel, and the Grove Arcade were all going up in the same neighborhood, the Flatiron building is the younger, smaller sibling of the giant Flatiron in New York. It is located on Wall Street and Battery Park, other names reminiscent of that larger city up North. There seems to be about a dozen other “flatiron” buildings around the country, similarly shaped, that pre-date Asheville’s, but we’re proud of it none-the-less.

Walking into what is now the lobby (the original door was at the skinny front end of the building) it feels like 1920. You press a button for the bell-hop to take you up to the eighth floor in the original elevator:


There was a couple playing a grand piano in the lobby while we waited.


We made it just after the sunset and it was busy, but as soon as it got dark, and a little chilly (although there are heaters and a fire pit) the crowds died down.


We had a drink, and watched for ghosts jumping off the Battery Park Hotel (didn’t see any).

My favorite part of visiting the SkyBar is skipping the elevator on the way back down (I tipped the operator on the way up) and wandering the old halls, with its dark wooden doors, Buddhist and Acupuncture Businesses stenciled on the safety glass in gold letters. The triangular hallways are dizzying, and the old black stairs are worn in the middle from almost a hundred years of foot steps.

After we finally left the Flatiron, we followed the music to Pritchard Park. A friday night in Asheville wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the drum circle. As we stood watching the crowd I though – if I didn’t live here, I would love to visit.


Historic (Haunted) Inns of Asheville

Happy Halloween!

Asheville is the perfect place to spend this most spooky day of the year!

You could stay at the (Omni) Grove Park Inn, dressed in your best and waiting for the Pink Lady to make her appearance.

Or take a walk down Eagle Street, looking for the apparitions of the 5 people killed in the 1906 Will Harris Massacre.

Perhaps some of the victims (and Will Harris) will meet you in Riverside Cemetery, along with Thomas Wolfe, O. Henry, and some of the German Soldiers who died at the Kenilworth Inn during WWI?

The Battery Park Hotel is said to be haunted by Helen Clevenger, a 19 year-old New York College student brutally murdered in room 224 in 1936. Martin Moore, may also be walking those halls, especially if he was wrongly accused (Martin died in the gas chamber in Raleigh).

E.W. Grove spent his last moments in the Battery Park, a hotel he built and owned until his dying day. The hotel is also said to host apparitions falling from the roof – ghostly  suicides replayed.

Is Zelda Fitzgerald still wandering the long lost halls of the Central Building of Highland Hospital, where she died in a fire in 1948?

I’ll be talking about Asheville’s (haunted) Inns on Saturday, at 11am at Accent on Books (Merrimon Avenue – under Steinmart).  I’d love to see you there – and to hear about your Asheville ghost stories!

“Reb Circular”


When the Battery Park Hotel opened in downtown Asheville in July of 1886 the youngest Civil War veterans were just in their forties. As Asheville’s first “modern” hotel, with electric lights and an Otis elevator, the Battery Park was advertised far and wide, hoping to bring a larger tourist base to Asheville now that the railroad had finally made it through the mountains.


The Hotel was built by Col. Frank Coxe, who himself had been drafted as a Union and Confederate soldier, living in the South but having coal investments in Pennsylvania – Coxe actually paid “proxies” on both sides to replace him – men that were killed on the same day at the day battle (reportedly.)

Coxe was the Vice President of the Western North Carolina Railroad, and foresaw that Asheville needed a big modern resort to bring in tourists that were used to such accomodations in cities like New York. Once opened, ads were taken out in newspapers, including the New York Times, and brochures were widely distributed. The Ramsey Library has one of these brochures in its Special Collections, with a special inscription written on the back page:

Better keep you [dam?] Rebel Circurlar to yourselves. Understand already that you are filled with “Rebs” who continually insult any of the Northern fools who come to your place.

Do not Send any more of [?] things North

A. Yank


I love this. It brought me straight into the time – 1886 – just 20 years after the end of the Civil War, and some wounds had not had time to heal. Asheville was South, New York was North, and A. Yank would not be staying at the Battery Park Hotel.

I’d like to think that by the time the Grove Park Inn was built – Yank had decided to give Asheville a try.

Staying in the Land of the Sky: Tourism in Asheville in the 1920s


Tomorrow – 2pm at the Reuter Center on UNC Asheville’s campus – sponsored by the Western North Carolina Historical Association and OLLI.  I will be talking about travel and tourism in Asheville in the 1920s, showing lots of pictures, and answering questions. Everyone is invited!

Found Old Highways

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Quite by accident the other day Kris and I stumbled upon a fantastic surprise – a closed off portion of Old Highway 70 – what used to be a main route from Asheville to Charlotte, that is now resurfaced for bicyclists and hikers/walkers/runners/dog walkers.

Point Lookout

This road was known as the Central Highway, and later U.S. 70, and ran from Beaufort to Murphy. It was extremely curvy, and people would often stop along the way at “Point Lookout” and buy Sally the bear her favorite orange soda for a nickel.  (Postcard images from http://www.swannanoavalleymuseum.org)

Sally the Bear at Point Lookout

We were actually trying to find a man-made geyser in Old Fort – which we did, after following the crazy gravel road around the hills; and we were happy with that discovery as well, even though it is not operational (broken during an August storm and still waiting for repairs.)

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But, thanks to whatever awesome map app I have on my iphone that told us to “turn here” we have a great new place to ride bikes and walk Niche.

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We’ll definitely be back to see if the geyser is working in a few months. If it is – I’ll follow up more on that.

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If you take exit 66 off interstate 40 and follow Yates road to the gate, then turn left, the gravel road is incredibly curvy and a bit of a beautiful adventure, and it will eventually lead you to the Andrews Geyser.

Tourism Fiction

I’ve been thinking a lot about tourism in Asheville in the 1920s in preparation for my lecture at UNC Asheville on the 19th. Last year I picked up a book called “Azure Lure” from the Captain’s Bookshelf, right across from the Grove Arcade in downtown Asheville (they’re very helpful if you’re looking for obscure old books).


Azure Lure was printed in 1924 as a “souvenir” booklet, sponsored by 33 partners, including: the Kenilworth Inn, The Manor, New Battery Park Hotel, George Vanderbilt Hotel, Langren Hotel, the Southern Railway, E.W. Grove Investments and the Biltmore Estate Company (this was before Biltmore was opened to the public in 1930).


This promotional novel, advertised as a “Romance of the Mountains” follows the main character, John, through Asheville and the surrounding area, to different hotels, restaurants, neighborhoods and attractions, marveling at the beauty and wonder of it all as he tries to mend his broken heart after being spurned by his true love, Miriam; a beauty who lives in the Grove Park neighborhood, has a best friend living at the Manor, and for promotional reasons does a little stint at Ambler Heights sanitarium.

I love this book.

It is blatantly obvious in what it is trying to do, but the descriptions are more in the 1920s than any history book could ever take you. I’ve been trying to figure out if this was something that was done in other cities during this time – so far Azure Lure is the only promotional novel I’ve found put out by businesses and individuals.

But, Azure Lure was’t the first novel to promote tourism in Asheville. In 1875 “Christian Reid,” the pen name of Frances FIsher Tiernan (whose father was a senior official of the Southern Railroad) published The Land of the Sky as a serial in Appleton’s Journal. It later was published as a novel by D. Appleton and Company in New York. This novel popularized Asheville as “the land of the sky” – terminology still in use today in promotion of the city. But rather than being purely promotional, The Land of the Sky was part of a “larger body of travel novels written by women after the Civil War,” according to Richard Starnes Creating the Land of the Sky. It not only serves as a travel guide, but it also gave a female voice to the literary scene of Victorian America.


Azure Lure on the other hand, is seemingly written by multiple individuals. The forward was written by Harvey Holleman who won a contest conducted by the Asheville Daily Citizen. Mr. Holleman also came up with the title of the novel. Rev. Louis Joseph Bour wrote The History of Sr. Lawrence Catholic Church, and Maud Mooney Turpin writes about John’s excursion to Lake Junaluska.

So, did Azure Lure contribute to the boom in 1920s tourism in Asheville? I’m still working on that answer, but I’m sure it didn’t hurt. 

Today there are still books that promote tourism. I know from living in Savannah that Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil turned things around for that city. But Midnight wasn’t written to specifically do that. There is an open question on amazon.com right now about creating a category for “Tourism Fiction.” I think that’s an interesting question – as is – what would be put under that category? Novels specifically written to do that? Or books that just happened to make people want to go to a place because they felt such a special connection to the story?

What do you think? Have you traveled to a city, or country, because of a certain book?

There is a lot more to explore here – but I’ll wrap it up for now. Stay tuned for part 2, and possible 3…