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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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!

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).

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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).

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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.

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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…