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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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.

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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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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.