Asheville History

Unlock the secrets to Asheville’s storied past. Hidden among the tree-lined streets of Asheville lies a rich history waiting to be discovered. 

A Brief History of Asheville, NC

Asheville: Early Beginnings at a Crossroads

Before the Europeans arrived in what is now North Carolina, the land around Asheville was a part of the Cherokee nation. 

After the American Revolution, Colonel Samuel Davidson and his family received a land grant from the state of North Carolina to settle in the Swannanoa Valley in the Blue Ridge Mountains. This early settlement in 1785 paved the way for the future of what would become the city of Asheville. 

Blue Ridge MountainsIn 1792, Buncombe County was established with a city called "Morristown" as its county seat. In 1797, that city was renamed Asheville after North Carolina Governor Samuel Ashe.

As a city in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Asheville was an outpost in 1797. Frontiersmen such as Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett traveled through in the early days. Asheville primarily served as a crossroads of Indian trails on a plateau surrounded by mountains and rivers on all sides.

When the railroad arrived in the area in 1880, it transformed Asheville and Buncombe County into a resort and therapeutic health center. Asheville became a hub for visitors searching for a mountain escape, its population climbing to 10,000 permanent residents in 1890.

Asheville's Tradition of Attracting Pioneers, Philanthropists and Artists

As Asheville began its rise to prominence in the 1880s, it continued to draw visionaries, poets and explorers -- a tradition that lives on today.

Among the most notable, George W. Vanderbilt came to Asheville in the late 1880s and purchased 120,000 acres to build a grand estate: Biltmore. The endeavor would took six years to complete. Vanderbilt commissioned renowned landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted to design the grounds and gardens, and famous architect Richard Morris Hunt to help him plan the house. Biltmore Estate has withstood the test of time and remains America's Largest Home. 

Thomas Wolfe HouseAuthor Thomas Wolfe was born in Asheville in 1900 and grew up in his mother's rambling boardinghouse, known as "Dixieland." Wolfe is one of the giants of American literature, and Asheville is the backdrop for his autobiographical novel, "Look Homeward, Angel."

The boarding house where he grew up is still preserved in downtown Asheville today (pictured left). You can explore the Thomas Wolfe Memorial State Historic Site with a guided tour.

How the Depression Preserved Asheville's Rich Architecture

As Asheville rose as a hub in Western North Carolina, confidence soared. The city moved its public library into a beautiful new building and constructed a brand new courthouse. 

But when the stock market crashed, Asheville was hit hard. With so much bonded debt to pay for new construction in the "Roaring Twenties," Asheville had no money to invest in urban renewal projects that were so popular in other cities following the crash. While growth slowed in Asheville, the difficult times actually helped preserve the city's historic architecture. 

S&W Building FallThe magnificent buildings built during the boom years were spared as a result of Asheville's commitment to repay its debt. This is why Asheville remains a snap shot of what an American boomtown looked like during the turn of the century. As you explore the city, you'll see restaurants, galleries and independent shops housed in elegant art deco buildings.

You can explore Asheville's rich architecture and history along the Asheville Urban Trail. This self-guided walking tour of downtown Asheville features 30 sculptural trail station that help bring Asheville's history to life.

 


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Asheville's African-American History Tours Uncover Voices from Past & Present

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