Downtown / Asheville

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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.

River Arts District / Asheville

→ River Ars District

The River Arts District is considered by many as a very unique place in Asheville. Attracted by abundant space and lower rent, more than 200 artists working in every medium imaginable have established their studios in the River Arts Districts, each contributing to this vibrant community and giving it its distinct avant-garde flair.

The River Arts District is not large. It only covers an area of one-mile-by-half-mile with train-tracks running through its center. Its beginning can be traced back to Moses and Ceasar Cone, who reorganized the C. E. Graham Manufacturing as the Asheville Cotton Mills in 1893, employing an average of 300 workers over its years. The mill produced primarily denim and soft flannel, but also rayon fabrics during WWII. When efforts to modernize the mill failed, it was closed down in 1953 and stood vacant for 40 years. It was purchased by the Preservation Society of Asheville in 1993 and sadly a fire in 1995 destroyed most of the building. Today, the Cotton Mills Studios is all that remains from this impressive 122,000-square-foot structure.

Today, many art studios are located along Roberts Street, Clingman Avenue and then further south along Depot Street, all attracting an ever increasing number of visitors.

The area west of the train-tracks along Riverside Drive and Lyman Street has become home to many more studios, such as the Riverside Studios, the Curve Studios, the Warehouse Studios and the Riverview Station.

Except for its name, the Depot Street of today has little resemblance to the passenger bustling Depot Area of the 1890s and early 1900s. During that time, passengers taking The Carolina Special from Knoxville TN arrived at the Southern Railroad Passenger Station. Over 60 hotels were located in its vicinity, offering exhausted travelers a place to stay. Others may have boarded one of the waiting streetcars to go on to their resort destinations. When railroad passenger travel declined as a result of the emerging automobile, the Depot Area lost its status as one of the arrival points to Asheville.

West Asheville / Asheville

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In the early 1800s, Haywood Road was the main artery connecting Asheville with Haywood County to the west. During that time, Robert Henry, a revolutionary war veteran, owned all of what is known today as Malvern Hills.

In 1827, he discovered a sulphur spring on his land, which was believed to have medicinal properties. Capitalizing on his discovery, Robert Henry built the luxurious Sulphur Springs Hotel at this site. In 1850, the hotel provided room for 200 guests and featured a bowling alley and a ballroom. However, a fire in 1861 burned down the hotel, which he did not rebuild.

In 1885, after retiring from his lumbar business, Edwin George Carrier (1839-1927) moved to Asheville and began buying land on the west side of the French Broad River.

In 1887, he founded the West Asheville Improvement Company, which developed the land along the Haywood Road corridor as the main commercial area and the land extending south toward the French Broad River as the residential areas.

That same year, on the site of the destroyed Sulphur Springs Hotel, Edwin Carrier built the Hotel Belmont. Two years later in 1889, he provided electricity to West Asheville by building a small dam and a powerhouse on Hominy Creek to the southwest.

In 1891, after completion of his steel truss bridge across the French Broad River at today’s Amboy Road, Edwin Carrier started his own electrical streetcar line, the West Asheville and Sulphur Springs Railway, which provided service to his Hotel Belmont and recreational facilities, traveling along the low-lying banks of the French Broad River. The line operated until 1895. Around the same time a fire had completely destroyed the Hotel Belmont. The streetcar line went into receivership and was taken over by the Asheville Electric Company, the operator of the streetcar system in Asheville.

West Asheville as its own separate township was first incorporated in 1889 and then in 1897 the incorporation was repealed. In 1913, West Asheville was incorporated a second time and W. L. Bright became the town’s first mayor, serving from 1914 to when West Asheville was merged with Asheville in 1917.

West Asheville’s commercial and residential activity undoubtedly received a substantial boost, when a new streetcar service along Haywood Road began in 1911. The line first ran from Asheville to Westwood Place and then, after its extension in 1916, to Brevard Road, where the line terminated (historic End of Car Line District). The line operated until 1934, when its service ended.

The consolidation with Asheville brought rapid growth to West Asheville and greatly affected the appearance of Haywood Road with civic and commercial buildings being constructed at stops along the streetcar line. To some degree, the streetcar line allowed West Asheville to develop as a suburb of Asheville by providing easy access across the French Broad River into downtown.

The residential neighborhoods, which developed on the north and south sides of Haywood Road were also home to the many small business owners and employees living and working in West Asheville or in the industries located along the river. Architects, surveyors, real estate agents, car dealers, garages, barbers, bankers, physicians, grocers, restaurants, dressmakers, cleaners, and bakers were, according to the Asheville City Directory, among the many types of businesses, professions and services that lined Haywood Road.

In the 1990s, younger people, attracted by lower home prices, began moving into the neighborhoods off Haywood Road. They also started opening small businesses sowing the seeds for today’s vibrant and diverse community with many restaurants, bars, music venues, micro breweries and stores, attracting local residents and tourists alike.

This close physical relationship of work and home, found in the commercial areas of Haywood Road and in their adjacent neighborhoods, has contributed to West Asheville’s unique character, which has made it such a sought after and attractive place.

Montford / Asheville

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Montford is primarily an upper middle-class residential neighborhood with many beautiful historic homes residing along tree-shaded streets. The neighborhood with its different architectural styles was developed between Asheville’s 1889-1920s building boom era.

When Montford was incorporated in 1893, its population was only about 50, consisting mostly of retirees, a few tradesmen and household servants. James Edwin Rumbough (1861-1941), who lived with his family in his mansion on Zillicoa Street, today’s Rumbough-House, was Montford’s first and only mayor, serving until Montford’s annexation by Asheville in 1904.

In 1892, an electric streetcar line extended north on Montford Avenue to Chestnut Street and then further on Cumberland Avenue to Montford Park.

With Asheville rapidly growing during that time, so did Montford. Businessmen, lawyers, local politicians, retirees, doctors and architects built their houses in this neighborhood.

However, most of Montford’s residents were not native to Asheville or Buncumbe County. 75% of them came from other cities in North Carolina, neighboring and distant states and even from abroad. This mix of backgrounds drove Montford to adopt trends in domestic architecture relatively more sophisticated in character than those found in comparable suburbs in North Carolina.

In addition to private residences, Montford also attracted a few sanatoria, the most prominent being the Highland Hospital, a psychiatric clinic.

Adjacent to the residential area was the Riverside Cemetery, which was established in 1885 on 87 acres of rolling hills.

To this day, Montford remains a sought after neighborhood for all the same reasons, which once drove its growth. Many of these historic and magnificently restored homes have been turned into beautiful B&Bs and Inns and can be enjoyed by their guests.

Chestnut Hill / Asheville

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Chestnut Hill is a residential neighborhood, which for the most part was formed between the 1880s and the 1920s at the peak of a knoll just to the north of downtown Asheville.

Before these boom years, the knoll to the north was cottage country with simple one-story, one-room houses.

The arrival of the railroad in 1880 and the subsequent growth spurt in population and construction fostered the development of Chestnut Hill into a fine housing district.

Similar to Montford to its west, Chestnut Hill also was an upper middle-class neighborhood, where lawyers, teachers, businessmen and other professionals lived.

Some of the homes were also rental properties, which provided accommodations for longer staying visitors as an alternative to boarding houses.

In the early 1900s, Chestnut Hill became associated with the treatment for tuberculosis, when Dr. von Ruck, a renowned physician and internationally known tuberculosis pioneer, moved to the area. His majestic home, the Dr. von Ruck House, still stands today.

Several sanatoria, including his own Winyah Sanatorium, were just a short distance away.

With an increasing number of patients came an increasing number of visiting family members and a rising need for accommodation. The Princess Anne Hotel, built in the early 1920s by a registered nurse and owner of two sanatoria, provided those families a place to stay during the treatment of their loved-ones.

The history of Chestnut Hill and the diverse backgrounds of its past residents, which they expressed in an amazing array of architectural styles, give the neighborhood today its unique character and cosmopolitan flair.

Grove Park / Asheville

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The Grove Park District was designed and developed by Edwin Wiley Grove (1850-1927).

Edwin Grove was the founder of Grove’s Pharmacy and Paris Medicine Company of St. Louis MS, who became famous for his Grove’s Tasteless Chill Tonic, a bottled quinine mixture.

Quinine is a medication to prevent and treat malaria and was also used against fevers and chills.

Straight quinine, however, had a bitter taste. To prevent this bitter taste, Edwin Grove added sweet syrup and lemon flavoring to his tonic. It is said that by 1890, more bottles of Grove’s Tasteless Chill Tonic were sold than bottles of Coca-Cola.

Edwin Grove wanted Grove Park, like every other real estate venture in which he engaged, to be exciting and innovative.

The Grove Park Inn, the Grove Arcade and the Battery Park Hotel all give testimony to cutting edge designs and a grand vision, which later earned him the title “Father of Modern Asheville”.

The early phases of Grove Park were laid out by Chauncey Beadle (1866-1950), a Canadian-born botanist and horticulturist. In 1890, landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted hired Chauncey Beadle to oversee the nursery at Biltmore Estates. In 1903, Chancey Beadle became estate superintendent, a position he held until his retirement in early 1950. He died later that same year.

Grove Park features curvilinear streets, large tree canopies, retaining walls and stairs, both with notable stonework, as well as a grand entry park, giving the stately neighborhood class and appeal.

Biltmore Village / Asheville

→ Biltmore Village

Before 1888, when George Vanderbilt began purchasing vast amounts of land to create his expansive country estate, the area was known as Swannanoa Bridge or as Asheville Junction by the Railroad Company or simply as Best by the Post-Office. Best stood for William Best, one of the principals of the Western North Carolina Railroad Company. For the railroad, the Asheville Junction became an important shipping point.

George Vanderbilt, after having stayed at the newly opened lavish Battery Park Hotel in Asheville sometime between 1886 and 1888, “resolved to make his home in the Land of the Sky”. In 1888, he began to purchase several tracts of land, which also included the village of Best. Part of that purchase were 100 acres from Samuel Harrison Reed, who built a substantial Queen-Anne style home in 1892 overlooking the village.

Construction on the Biltmore Estate began in 1889 based on plans from architect Richard M. Hunt and landscape architect Frederick L. Olmsted.

According to their plans, Biltmore Estate was to become spectacular in all aspects. The entrance to the Estate, however, was one mile away from the train station, where visitors were to arrive. Olmsted was concerned that visitors, taking a carriage from the train station to the Estate, would not have aesthetically pleasing views of the area as shacks and simple commercial buildings were all too visible.

Olmsted suggested to George Vanderbilt a model village in style similar to villages in Europe. In addition to providing a grand entrance to Biltmore Estate, the village had to be self-sufficient by collecting rent from businesses and residences. It also had to become a real community, where philanthropic programs could be realized.

Work on Biltmore Village began between 1894 and 1895. The Estate Office, All Soul’s Church and a new passenger train station were among the first buildings under construction.

Throughout the years, Biltmore Village, like any other town, lived through phases of prosperity and devastation such as the floods of 1916, 1928 and 1940 as well as neglect. With every event and period the face of Biltmore Village changed.

Today, Biltmore Village with its tree-canopied streets and European flair has become a wonderful shopping destination, where visitors can find art galleries, crafts, clothing boutiques, restaurants and much more to make a visit a worthwhile trip.

Biltmore Estate / Asheville

→ Biltmore Estate

George Vanderbilt (1862-1914), the youngest grandson of steamship and railroad tycoon Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt (1794-1877), was a frequent visitor to Asheville. After the first Battery Park Hotel in downtown opened in 1886, George Vanderbilt and his mother Maria Louisa Kissam Vanderbilt (1821-1896), stayed at this magnificent hotel in the winter of 1887 and 1888, escaping from the hard cold temperatures in New York City.

In spring 1888, during one of these visits, while exploring the countryside on horseback, he discovered a hill from which he could see the French Broad River and Mount Pisgah in the distance. By summer of that year, George Vanderbilt had purchased the first tracts of land, which were to become Biltmore Estate.

Architect Richard Morris Hunt (1827-1895) and landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted (1822-1903) created a masterpiece for George Vanderbilt in many ways. Conceived as a winter retreat to entertain family and friends, the châteauesque Biltmore House, the formal gardens near the house and the surrounding forested grounds, although very different in appearance, show unity through their beauty, elegance and purpose. Biltmore Estate, while being stately and awe-inspiring, was also at the same time self-supporting in everything it needed.

The 250-room Biltmore House was equipped with all imaginable amenities of that time, such as electric lighting, central heating, electric elevators and refrigerators. Even the South Terrace doubled as a wind-breaker to protect the Shrub Garden from icy northwestern winds sweeping over the ridge, which made the Shrub Garden pleasant for walks on sunny winter days. Other parts of the estate were used to grow vegetables and to produce milk from the Jersey cows, which George Vanderbilt had shipped from Staten Island NY, in later years selling the excess milk to private residences, hotels and restaurants.

On Christmas Eve 1895, after just six years of construction, George Vanderbilt officially opened Biltmore House. He was just 33 years old and still a bachelor.

Although George Vanderbilt and Edith Stuyvesant Dresser (1873-1958) were both part of the same elite circles in New York, they did not start courting until 1897, when they were passengers on the same ship crossing the Atlantic from New York to England. They married in June 1898 in Paris, France, with only a small number of immediate family members and close friends attending.

Cornelia Stuyvesant Vanderbilt (1900-1976), their only daughter, was born on the estate in the Esplanade-facing Louis XV room on August 22, 1900.

When George Vanderbilt, age 51, unexpectedly died due to complications following an appendectomy on March 6, 1914 in Washington D.C., Edith Vanderbilt fulfilled her husband’s wish and completed the sale of approximately 87,000 acres from the 125,000-acre estate to the U.S. Forest Service, which in turn established the core holding of Pisgah National Forest.

The family continued to live on Biltmore Estate and on April 29, 1924, Cornelia Vanderbilt and John Francis Amherst Cecil (1890-1954), who had been first secretary at the British embassy, married in a spectacular wedding ceremony in All Souls’ Church in Biltmore Village. Their two sons George Henry Vanderbilt Cecil (born on February 27, 1925) and William Amherst Vanderbilt Cecil (born August 25, 1928) were also both born on Biltmore Estate. To this day, both George and William, through their respective management companies, direct the affairs of Biltmore Estate.

After the stock market crash of 1929 and responding to requests from Asheville’s city commissioners, Cornelia and John Cecil opened Biltmore Estate to the public on March 15, 1930, as a way to attract tourism to Asheville, which had become increasingly affected by the Great Depression.

Today, Biltmore Estate is the largest and the most visited private residence in the U.S. and has over 1 million guests each year.

Asheville High School, Asheville
→ Asheville High School

Between 1910 and 1930 Asheville’s population tripled placing high demand on public facilities. In 1926, school officials anticipated that the capacity of Hall Fletcher High School, which opened in 1927, would be exhausted by 1928. This led to the planning of a third school: the Asheville High School, which opened in early 1929 just before the stock market crash in the fall of the same year.

Smith-McDowell House Museum, Asheville
→ Smith-McDowell House Museum

Built 20 years before the American Civil War by James Smith, one of the wealthiest businessmen and most influential citizen of Asheville, the Smith-McDowell House Museum was once the home of mayors, friends of the Vanderbilts and a Vice-President of moviemaker Goldwyn Corporation. Later, the house was used as a boy’s school dormitory. Dilapidated and to be torn down, the house was rescued in the 1970s and turned into a nice museum.

Antique Tobacco Barn, East Asheville
→ Antique Tobacco Barn

The Antique Tobacco Barn is a 77,000 square-foot warehouse-style barn offering antiques from over 75 dealers.

Highland Brewing Company, East Asheville
→ Highland Brewing Company

The Highland Brewing Company is considered one of the oldest breweries in Asheville. Their large facility offers a spacious Tasting Room with around 10 beers on tap as well as a large outdoor space featuring a stage for live music events, a bar and a deck. In 2016, they opened an incredible Rooftop Bar with views of the Blue Ridge Mountains.