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, 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 craftsmen 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 amazing collection of historic buildings in downtown.
These historic buildings, representing a time-period of rapid change, creativity and splendor, became in the 1980s one of the corner stones of Asheville’s re-emergence as a popular tourist destination.