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).

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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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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:

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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:

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

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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.

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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.

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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”

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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!

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.

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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.

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:

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

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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?

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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.

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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.

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

The Colonel’s Court & Cafe – Asheville, NC

Corbin Kentucky’s claim to fame is the Colonel Sanders Museum and Cafe, the birthplace of KFC. But is it? What about that second city listed on this postcard – Asheville!

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 (from http://www.motelamericana.com)

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That’s right, Harland Sanders’ 2nd Motor Court, and Cafe, were located just north of Asheville, on Highway 25, which was a well traveled highway before the “future” Interstate 26 broke through town.

We’ll let Kentucky keep the title of birthplace, since they bestowed him with “Colonel,” but it is neat that Asheville once had a little piece of the Sanders’ Pie.

The first Cafe the Colonel started was in Corbin, Kentucky in 1930 after customers at his Shell Oil gas station were requesting something to eat. Sanders was 40 at this time, and had already been a farmhand, a streetcar conductor, a soldier in the Army, an insurance salesman, owner of a steamboat ferry company, secretary of a Chamber of Commerce, a railroad man, a lawyer, and probably a few more things in between.

By 1935 his Cafe, Motel and gas station was so popular he earned an honorary “Colonel” title from  Governor Ruby Laffoon. Sanders didn’t actually use the title until he needed better branding to sell his fried chicken on the road in 1949. After failing at starting a restaurant chain in Kentucky, Sanders built another motor court in 1939, this time in Asheville, NC!

This soon failed as well, but as we know, everything turned out fine for the Colonel.

The Asheville Sanders Court has lost the “s” at the end, but it still stands today, as an apartment complex just north of Asheville.

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And, you can still follow 25 all the way from Asheville to Corbin; my sister and brother-in-law can attest to this, as we had to get a not-fast-enough for the interstate Jeep from Elizabethtown to Asheville. It takes a while, but its a pretty drive, and that’s what road trips are for – take your time, see some America, and get some fried chicken!

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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That Old Stone Wall – Harris Teeter and the home of G.W. Pack

If you’ve driven down East Chestnut Street to get to Greenlife or the new Harris Teeter, you’ve no doubt noticed the big stone wall covered in graffiti. It wasn’t until I saw a Facebook post on “Asheville the way it WAS” that I thought about the history of that wall – what had been there before the giant construction fiasco?

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Before the Harris Teeter went up on Merrimon Avenue there was a car dealership – Deal Buick Company, owned by Walter A. Deal. But Deal didn’t build that wall. The wall originally stood as the border for Manyoaks, the grand three-story Asheville home of George Willis Pack.

Pack is a familiar name in Asheville, but who was George Willis Pack? He was timber baron, a real estate developer, and a philanthropist. If Pack hadn’t ever come to Asheville we wouldn’t have Pack Square, the Vance monument, Pack Library, the Grove Park Golf Course (the previous Asheville Country Club), or Montford Park.

Pack was born in Madison County, NY on June 6th 1831. In 1857, at the age of 26 his family moved to Michigan and became involved in timber and sawmill interests. Pack found success in both lumber and real estate. He moved with his wife, the former Frances Brewster Farman, to Cleveland in 1870 where his successes grew.

Pack came to Asheville in 1885, most likely to help his wife’s respiratory problem. Many people were coming to Asheville for the same reason at the time – tuberculosis, or consumption as it was often called, was one of the most deadly diseases in the late 19th and early 20th century, before antibiotics were invented to treat it.

In 1887 Pack built Manyoaks on Merrimon Avenue. He lived there until 1900.

During the time Pack lived on Merrimon he helped shape the history of Asheville. He donated the land and money used to build a new courthouse, along with a designated “park for the people,” to replace the ramshackle 1876 courthouse positioned right in the middle of town. He helped get electric lights in the new square, pave the streets downtown, create sidewalks and improve the sewer system. In 1899 he donated a building and land at the end of Charlotte Street to the Swannanoa Hunt Club, to become the Swannanoa Country Club, and later in 1909 the Asheville Country Club.

He donated 11 acres for Aston Park, and 4 acres for Montford Park. Pack took over Asheville Loan, Construction and Improvement Company that had been created in 1889 to create the Monford neighborhood. The ALC&IC had grandiose plans for Montford, but these were never fully realized until Pack stepped in.

Pack also assisted in the development of what is today Mission Hospital, and donated the First National Bank building in 1899 to house the Asheville Public Library. It remained on Pack Square until 1926 when it was razed to create Pack Memorial Library, now part of “Pack Place” as the Asheville Art Museum.

After Pack left Asheville “Manyoaks” had multiple owners. From 1937 until 1967 it served as the Morris Heandon funeral home.

In 1969 Walter A. Deal bought the house and tore it down to make room for his Buick dealership. The dealership stayed on the site until 2007 when it moved to Brevard Road. Since 2007 many plans for the eight acre lot hit the drawing board, including a proposal for a 13 story condo development.

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Today it is the new Harris Teeter, but who knows what the next hundred years will bring? I think if Pack’s ghost stumbles upon his old homeplace he would be in awe of how far we’ve come in the last century – in diversity, technology, access to fresh food, and a wealth of information. But he’ll probably be wondering what everyone is doing staring at those little devices in the palm of their hands.

 

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