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.

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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.

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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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“Reb Circular”

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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.

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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

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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

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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!

Another Stone Wall

I’m just going to keep running with the “Old Stone Wall” theme because I walked past another one last night, heading from the Visitor’s Center to Malaprop’s to hear local historian Richard Russell talk about his new book Robert Henry: A Western North Carolina Patriot. If you want to avoid the hassle, and sometimes $5 parking fees of downtown, the Visitor’s Center offers free parking and it’s a quick block walk to downtown. If you do this you will pass by this stone wall on the corner of Haywood Street and French Broad, right across from Hotel Indigo:

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I noticed this wall right after I had completed Historic Inns of Asheville, and I thought – I’ve seen a picture of that wall – and sure enough, I had. It’s from the William A Barnhill Collection at Pack Library:

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This was Margo Terrace. Originally built in 1890 by G. Hunt. Margaret Gano ran it as a boarding house, and the name came from Margaret and the large terrace that ran along the front. In 1904 P.H. Branch bought the boarding house and enlarged it from 22 to 64 rooms. He also bought the house beside it to further expand the hotel.

The pamphlet Information to Visitors Concerning Western North Carolina published in 1913 by the Greater Western North Carolina Association cites Margo Terrace had 60 bedrooms, 45 baths, and was large enough to accommodate 125 guests.Margo WNC Digital

(Photo from WCU digital collection)

Other newspaper advertisements at the time describe Margo Terrace as the “Leading Family Resort of Asheville. Reasonable Rates and Special Adaptability for Families and Ladies Traveling Alone.”  

The Margo Terrace was sold to E.W. Grove in 1925. The New York Post on March 14th 1925 states that Grove had recently bought the Margo Terrace with plans to “make this family hotel one of the leading hostelries of the city.” Grove had just built the new Battery Park Hotel, and was building the Grove Arcade on an adjacent lot. Grove died in 1927 before the Grove Arcade was finished, and his estate was transferred mainly to his son, Edwin Grove Jr. The Margo Terrace was demolished in 1928.

Would Grove have saved Margo Terrace had he lived? He had a track record that didn’t necessarily speak to historic preservation – in 1924 he demolished the huge Victorian relic that was the old Battery Park Hotel, and the historic hill it stood on, and replaced it with the tall brick Hotel that is still standing today. He is also said to have bought and burned down many sanitariums in Asheville to dissuade people with tuberculosis from visiting Asheville and driving other tourists away.   But Grove also purchased the Manor Inn on Charlotte Street and continued to operate it as an Inn, so perhaps he wouldn’t have demolished the Margo Terrace.   

Who knows? If he had survived perhaps the Grove Arcade would have rose 14 stories higher, and the Margo Terrace would still be standing in what is now a fenced in parking lot and an AT&T building.

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