5 Awesome Ways to Explore Asheville’s Rich History
By Del Holston
Unlock the Secrets to Asheville’s Storied Past
Hidden among the tree-lined streets of Asheville lies a rich history waiting to be discovered. Take a trip back in time with local historians to learn how our thriving mountain town came to be, and about the amazing people who helped shape it along the way. Whether you prefer traveling by foot or by bus, in a group or solo, these are five of the best ways to get your history fix.
Get an up-close account of what it was like to live as a servant in America’s largest home, or get an incredible bird’s eye view of the estate on a guided tour of the rooftop. These specialty tours take you behind the red ropes of the main tour, and offer a unique perspective as to what life was like on the Biltmore Estate when George W. Vanderbilt still roamed the halls. Advanced reservations are required for specialty tours so it’s best to call ahead prior to your visit.
Many of Asheville’s buildings have a storied past. From the bold Art Deco architecture dotting the downtown landscape to the Basilica of St. Lawrence, which boasts North America’s largest free standing dome, the stories behind these treasures are as fascinating as the structures. Stroll through the streets with an Asheville native, historian, and storyteller, and get an in-depth understanding of how this quirky southern city came to be. This 90-minute easy walking tour includes rest stops, handicapped accessible routes, and headphones so you won’t miss a word. Other tours include Biltmore Village and the Historic Montford District.
One of the best ways to see all of Asheville’s historic treasures, and for new visitors to become oriented with the Asheville area, is with a hop-on, hop-off trolley tour through Asheville’s most-storied neighborhoods. The iconic red trolley cars serve as a throwback to the days when Asheville’s streets were filled with electric streetcars. Buses eventually replaced this mode of transportation, but the nostalgia of the era lives on today. Stop by the Asheville Visitor Center to purchase tickets.
When George W. Vanderbilt began construction of his winter chateau, known today as Biltmore, he sought to create a grand entrance to his estate filled with shops, housing for his staff, and the beautiful All Souls Cathedral, erected for the wedding of his daughter, Cornelia. Today Biltmore Village still retains its turn-of-the-20th-century charm, and is a perfect location to tour, especially for fans of the Downton Abbey series. You can also choose to tour other iconic locations around Asheville, including Riverside Cemetery, the Historic Montford neighborhood, and downtown Asheville. Bus tours are available if you don’t feel like walking.
Weave through downtown Asheville along this self-guided walking tour that is one-part art tour, one-part history lesson and one-part scavenger hunt. Along the way you’ll discover a collection of sculptures and plaques highlighting the unique history, architecture, and people that shaped Asheville’s vibrant mountain culture over the years. These exhibits include downtown Asheville’s iconic flat iron sculpture, a tribute to Appalachian music heritage, and a bronze replica of Thomas Wolfe’s shoes, signifying the location of his mother’s famous boarding house. A downloadable map and mp3 audio tour are available online to help guide the way.