Mountain Charm and Culture Make Asheville, NC Popular Vacation Destination
No other Western North Carolina town offers the combination of mountain charm and cultural sophistication found in Asheville.
The Buncombe county seat and the largest city in the state's mountain region, Asheville possesses a curious mixture of literary attractions, architecture, mountain legend, arts and crafts, and outdoor activities.
The Biltmore Estate
Probably the most famous of Asheville wonders is the Biltmore Estate.
The largest private residence in North America, this 255 room mansion was built by George W. Vanderbilt and completed in 1895. Vanderbilt modeled the estate after 16th century chateaus of the Loire Valley in France and worked with architect Richard Morris Hunt to gather materials, including Italian marble and Indiana limestone, from around the world.
The library was built to house an Italian master painting 70 feet in length and special care was taken to perfect the acoustics in the banquet hall so that a whisper could carry past 26 place settings.
But the mansion is just the beginning of the estate. Vanderbilt commissioned Frederick Law Olmstead, designer of New York's Central Park, to landscape the estate and in keeping with the working estates of Europe which were Vanderbilt's model, the Biltmore has its own winery.
Other Famous Homes
The Biltmore Estate is one of several homes to visit in Asheville. Fans of Look Homeward Angel will quickly recognize the Thomas Wolfe Memorial as the novel's "Dixieland." Now owned and operated by the state of North Carolina, the site was originally Old Kentucky Home, a boarding house run by Wolfe's mother where he spent his boyhood years. The 19-room Queen Anne style house was built in the early 1880s and is one of the oldest residences surviving in the down-town area.
Next on the list of famous homes is the Vance Homestead, birthplace of North Carolina senator and Civil War governor Zebulon B. Vance. Located minutes from Asheville in Weaverville, the historic site is one of the Southeast's best examples of a late 18th century farm.
Asheville can attribute its superb collection of varied architecture to the financial hardship suffered from the Great Depression. Afterwards, what few tax dollars the city could raise were used for more pressing needs than the destruction of old buildings.
As a result, Asheville now claims more art deco architecture built in the 1920's and early 1930s than any other southeastern city except Miami Beach.
This art deco style and the French renaissance style of Biltmore, the Queen-Anne Style of the Wolfe home, and the mountain influence of the Vance Homestead, mix with yet another architectural wonder in Asheville.
Edwin Wiley Grove, a medicine manufacturer, came to Asheville in 1897 and set out to reproduce a rustic mountain lodge he had seen at Yellowstone Park with a regional style appropriate for the North Carolina mountains. His son-in-law created the Grove Park Inn in 1913, constructed with large boulders cut from Sunset Mountain. Built at the foot of the mountain, the Grove Park Inn has a lobby 100 feet long and 24 feet high with fireplaces that can hold 12-foot logs.
Architecture is but one of many cultural samplings in Asheville.
Wolfe, for example, wasn't the only author attracted by the city. Poet, biographer, and historian Carl Sandburg spent his later years at Connemara, his farm in East Flat Rock. F. Scott Fitzgerald was a regular visitor at the Grove Park Inn and authors Henry James and Edith Wharton were frequent house guests at Biltmore. Raised in Asheville, contemporary novelists John Ehle and Gail Godwin often use the mountain setting in their writing.
Mountain myth and folk tales undoubtedly explain part of the lure Asheville seems to hold for story-tellers. One such myth tells of the "little people," who hated and feared the Cherokees. Legend has it that a Cherokee Indian transformed himself into a windstorm and drove the little people out of the valley. But over the years many have reported seeing the tiny horsemen.
The mountains are traditionally full of folk tales and folk craft, and Asheville isn't lacking in either. Various arts and crafts festivals and art galleries throughout the area offer a variety of demonstrations, displays and sales of paintings, woven products, pottery, stained glass, jewelry, quilts, woodwork, and leather goods.
Without beautiful views, the Blue Ridge Parkway, winter sports, and gushing waterfalls, a trip to the mountains would certainly be wasted. But Asheville offers all that is expected from Western North Carolina, with a large dose of culture thrown in for good measure.
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