It’s the childhood home of Thomas Wolfe and lays claim to America’s largest private residence. Asheville historic attractions draw visitors from across the globe, to discover the secrets of a rich past. It all began when John Burton founded the town in 1794. Now, you’ll see remnants from those who contributed to growth, architecture and mountain living, blending seamlessly with modern times.
One of the most popular tourist attractions in the world, the Biltmore House and Estate was built by George Vanderbilt in the late 1800s. Originally constructed as a retreat, the mansion includes 35 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms and 65 fireplaces. You can immerse in the luxury and explore accessories, art, furniture, vintage clothes, tapestries and the majestic Banquet Hall inside. Outside, weave through miles of trails to admire gardens designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and enjoy complimentary wine tastings at Biltmore Winery.
The Asheville Urban Trail
If you love walking, the Urban Trail is the perfect way to explore Asheville historic attractions downtown. It’s divided into five eras, with symbols placed on pink granite blocks to mark the way on the sidewalks. Within about two hours, you’ll discover fascinating tidbits into events, history and people. There’s the Blackwell Memorial – dedicated to the first woman awarded a medical degree in the United States – City Hall and the Thomas Wolfe House, just for starters.
Asheville City Building
Completed in the 1920s, the Asheville City Building is an Art Deco marvel, designed by Douglas D. Ellington. At eight stories high, the interesting octagonal roof defines the skyline, with pink marble piers and green and gold feather motifs. Inside, you’ll find murals depicting stories of American Indians and early settlers, by New York artist Clifford Addams. Not much has changed in it since the 1920’s and it’s now on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Basilica of Saint Lawrence
The Basilica of Saint Lawrence boasts one of the largest freestanding elliptical domes in the United States. It was named for a deacon, who served the church in the 3rd century. Lawrence was a caretaker of funds and dispensed alms to the needy, before meeting a grisly death. The Spanish Renaissance building was designed by architects who also worked on the Biltmore House and free tours are offered, with a self-guide brochure available on site.
Asheville’s oldest surviving house and, in fact, Buncombe County’s oldest brick structure, was built around 1840. Back then, Asheville home sites offered mainly wood frame houses and brick was a rare material indeed. It once functioned as a boy’s school dormitory, however, what’s now known as the Smith-McDowell House is a museum, exhibit space and center for youth history education.
Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site
Winner of three Pulitzer Prizes, poet Carl Sandburg’s legacy lives on just 30 miles from downtown Asheville. His home in Flat Rock is a National Historic Site, in honor of Sandburg’s poetry and journalism depicting the lives of American people. “Coonemara”, as it’s named, is a 262-acre property, where the poet wrote many works across 22 years. There, you’ll stroll through scenic trails, admire historic buildings and visit the farm with dairy goats.
Originally conceived as a home for Biltmore Estate workers, Biltmore Village is now the site of some of Asheville’s premier restaurants, shops and galleries. However, it still retains its quaint, English charm, with historic cottages and period architecture to explore as you shop, dine and play. It’s home to the Cathedral of All Souls, as the central focus of the action. The church features Romanesque Revival style and opalescent art glass windows.
Thomas Wolfe Memorial State Historic Site
20th century American literature wouldn’t be the same without Thomas Wolfe and he made his hometown famous in the autobiographical novel, Look Homeward, Angel. Under the fictitious name, “Altamont”, Wolfe describes places in the city and you can see them through his eyes, on a walking tour including the Old Kentucky Home and Pack Square. On a tour of the home, which was his mother’s boarding house, you’ll be in the very spot where he created characters and crafted famous passages.
From giants of literature to architectural treasures and sprawling mansions with secrets to tell, Asheville historic attractions offer compelling insights into a fascinating bygone era.