Tips on Activities and Attractions


In the last 100 years, Asheville has undergone a tremendous transformation. From a sleepy town in the mountains, where patients cured tuberculosis, to a booming tourist attraction, Asheville’s transformation reached its peak in the 1920s, when streets were paved, high risers built, old buildings were torn down, and hills leveled to make room for grander structures. During that time Asheville became the third largest city in North Carolina just behind Charlotte and Wilmington.

However, this building frenzy ended very abruptly with the stock market crash in 1929 and the following depression. Building projects were canceled, and public life slowed down considerably.

The most significant blow to Asheville’s finances came on November 20, 1930, when eight local banks failed wiping out the fortunes of many families and businesses. The County’s towering debt-load of over $56 million, which it had accumulated to pay for infrastructure improvements and prestigious buildings, brought Asheville and the County almost to its knees.

Instead of defaulting on the debt or selling the buildings, the Commissioners wisely decided to pay the debt off over 50 years.

From the Great Depression to the 1980s growth in the region was slow. As public funds were scarce, many of Asheville’s buildings in the downtown area remained unaltered and were therefore preserved. Asheville now enjoys the most impressive collection of Art Deco style buildings in the U.S.

In the 1980s, finally, Asheville started to re-emerge as a tourist destination. Attracted by cheap rent and plenty of housing, many artists came to the city kickstarting the vibrant arts community we know today. In the last 30 years, Asheville developed into a lively, charming city, which many visitors loved so much that they adopted Asheville as their new home.

Asheville’s rise also got noticed nationally in the 2000s, when television, several magazines, and newspapers ran articles about Asheville describing the city as one of the “Best Places to Reinvent Your Life” or as one of the “10 Most Beautiful Places in America”.

Downtown Asheville

Downtown Asheville probably has “the finest collection of late 19th and early 20th-century urban architecture in North Carolina”.

The arrival of the railroad in October of 1880 made Asheville easily accessible to visitors and tourists and turned the lovely mountain town, almost overnight, to one of the most prosperous resort communities in the U.S.

By 1886, Asheville already counted over 30,000 “summer visitors.”

Among those visitors were Colonel Franklin Coxe, a successful banker and entrepreneur, who built the luxurious Battery Park Hotel, which opened in 1886. One of its early guests was George Vanderbilt, a member of one of the wealthiest families in the U.S., who, while staying at the hotel, decided “to make his home in the Land of the Sky.”

When construction began on George Vanderbilt’s Biltmore Estate, many skilled artisans and famous architects came to Asheville such as Hunt, Olmsted, and Smith. Some moved on later, but some stayed in Asheville and influenced the architectural development of the rapidly growing city.

Another early visitor was Edwin Grove, who, like no other, led Asheville’s transformation from a beautiful mountain town to a modern city.

Growth, prosperity and an unparalleled building boom came abruptly to an end when in November of 1930 the Central Bank and Trust Co and fourteen other banks in and around Asheville collapsed. The City of Asheville alone lost $4 million, while entire family fortunes were wiped out.

By 1933, Asheville had accumulated massive debt. Instead of defaulting on its debt or selling public buildings to raise much-needed funds, Asheville’s commissioners pledged to repay every single cent that the city owed. When in 1976 the last bond was repaid, Asheville’s citizens could not have been more proud.

Despite being very painful in the short term, the decision to honor its debt preserved Asheville’s extensive collection of historic buildings in downtown.

These historic buildings, representing a period of rapid change, creativity, and splendor, became in the 1980s one of the cornerstones of Asheville’s re-emergence as a popular tourist destination.