Highland Hospital

Updated: April 2019


“Dr. Carroll’s Sanatorium”

Dr. Robert Sproul Carroll (1869-1949), a well-known psychiatrist, moved to Asheville with his family in 1904, where he founded the Dr. Carroll’s Sanatorium in downtown, which specialized in the treatment of mental and nervous disorders based on exercise, diet, and occupational therapy, attracting patients from across the country.

In need for more space due to the increased number of patients requiring treatment, he moved the sanatorium to a site next to the Rumbough House in 1909.

After 1912, the Dr. Carroll’s Sanatorium became known as the Highland Hospital.

The campus included landscaped grounds for patients to recover through “diversion” and “productive occupation”. Several buildings were constructed to accommodate patients and medical facilities, such as Highland Hall, one of the few structures still standing today.

Highland Hall is a three-story Colonial Revival style institutional building with a semicircular portico supported by Doric columns.

After the death of his first wife Lydia, Dr. Carroll married the famous concert pianist Grace Potter Carroll (1883-1978) in 1918. Construction of their residence Homewood was completed in 1922. This beautiful medieval-looking English stone manor house was situated on campus just down the street.

In 1939, Dr. Carroll donated all of the property associated with the Highland Hospital to Duke University, but remained a director until 1944, after which Duke University completely took over all operations.

Highland Hospital ceased operation when Duke University sold the property in 1981.


Highland Hall was part of the Highland Hospital complex and is the last remaining structure still standing today. Seen here is the semicircular portico.

Highland Hall was part of the Highland Hospital complex and is the last remaining structure still standing today. Seen here is the semicircular portico.


Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald (1900-1948)

Zelda Sayre was born in Montgomery AL as the youngest of six children of Alabama Supreme Court Justice Anthony D. Sayre (1851-1933). She was very active but was also seeking attention, often by openly disregarding societal convention. It is said, that she “drank, smoked and spent much of her time with boys” at a time when “Southern women were expected to be delicate, docile and accommodating.”

Zelda first met the future novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940) in 1918, when he was stationed at Camp Sheridan, outside of Montgomery, after volunteering for the army. Scott was never deployed as the First World War ended in November of 1918.

Although deeply affectionate for each other, Zelda broke off the engagement over concerns, that he would not be able to support her. Viewing the publication of his first novel as the way to Zelda’s heart, Scott worked diligently to finish his first novel This Side of Paradise, which was published in March of 1920. They married just a week later. The book was a resounding success.

Scott and Zelda quickly became celebrities in New York City, mostly due to their wild and unconventional behavior, smoking and excessive drinking. The newspapers portrayed them as icons of youth and success, and the couple soon became a symbol for the Jazz Age.

Alcohol played an important role in Scott’s writing. He believed that “he needed a drink to stir his memory, heighten emotions and thoughts, and give his style brilliance.” However, his addiction to alcohol and the pressure to finance their expensive lifestyle undoubtedly had an impact on their marriage.

In 1928 at the age of 28, Zelda decided to pursue a lifelong dream of becoming a professional ballerina. She began taking lessons from a famous dancer in Paris, France. In 1930, exhausted from three years of full eight hours a day training, she had a mental breakdown. After hearing voices and exhibiting delusional behavior, she was admitted to a clinic in Switzerland and then transferred to another hospital near Geneva, Switzerland. There she was diagnosed as schizophrenic.

I don’t need anything except hope, which I can’t find by looking backwards or forwards, so I suppose the thing is to shut my eyes.
— Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald

After returning to the U.S. in 1931, Zelda began treatment at a psychiatric hospital in Baltimore, where she wrote her first and only novel Save Me the Walz, which is said to be an almost autobiographical account of her life up to that point. It was published in 1934. Unfortunately, the book was not successful, which led to Scott scathing her for having written her novel. He felt, with her book she had given away “his material” for characters and events, which he would have used as a source in his works.

In 1936, she was admitted to the Highland Hospital in Asheville, where she stayed until 1940.

Between 1937 and 1939, Scott worked in Hollywood CA at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, earning around $600 a week. He was drinking heavily. In 1938, after a drunken and violent fight with Sheila Graham, a movie columnist, with whom Scott had a serious affair, Scott went to Asheville to see Zelda. As Zelda had missed the opportunity to go on a trip to Cuba, organized by the hospital, Scott and Zelda decided to take this trip on their own.

The trip turned out to be a disaster. Upon the couple’s return to the U.S., Scott, highly intoxicated, was hospitalized. Zelda and Scott never saw each other again. Scott died of a heart attack in December of 1940. Zelda did not attend his funeral.

In March of 1940, Zelda was released from Highland Hospital but returned in August of 1943 for a six months stay. Three years later in 1946, she checked herself in again for roughly nine months as well as in November of 1947 for what turned out to become her final stay.

During these stays, she swam, played tennis and regularly visited her mother in Alabama and at her summer home in Saluda NC.

Tragedy struck Highland Hospital on March 10, 1948, when the central building of the hospital caught fire and burned. Nine female patients died in the inferno, among them Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald. Eleven patients were rescued.

According to the Associated Press’ report of the fire, “the fire was seen around midnight, shot up through an elevator shaft and by the time neighbors and firemen had rushed to help, the roof was already ablaze.”

Later investigations revealed that the fire swept from the kitchen through the dumbwaiter to all four floors. It is believed, that Zelda died of smoke inhalation, but her remains were identified by a pair of charred slippers. Further reports conflict in whether the doors were locked.

The hospital building was never rebuilt. Today, there are only trees and grass on the site, where the tragedy had occurred. A granite memorial with a brass plaque is placed at the foot of a large tree, quoting a line from a letter Zelda had written to Scott:
“I don’t need anything except hope, which I can’t find by looking backwards or forwards, so I suppose the thing is to shut my eyes.”

On March 10, 1948, tragedy struck, when the central building of the hospital caught fire and burned. Nine female patients died in the inferno, among them Zelda Fitzgerald. The brass plaque in her memory quotes a line from a letter she had written to Scott.

On March 10, 1948, tragedy struck, when the central building of the hospital caught fire and burned. Nine female patients died in the inferno, among them Zelda Fitzgerald. The brass plaque in her memory quotes a line from a letter she had written to Scott.



163 Zillicoa Street, Asheville, NC 28801

 
 
 

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All year.

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Public bus stop: Montford Ave at Zillicoa St.