In recent years, a vigorous local effort has been made to preserve and restore remnants of the city's colorful past. The Asheville Urban Trail brochure, available free from the Asheville Chamber of Commerce or at the Asheville Visitor Center, is a self-guided tour through the historic downtown district.
Biltmore Village (www.biltmorevillage.com) is a cluster of 24 cottages housing boutiques, crafts shops, and restaurants. The best of these shops is the New Morning Gallery, 7 Boston Way (tel. 828/274-2831); it started in 1972 and today is a 6,000-square-foot showcase of "art for living." The New Morning Gallery is one of the South's largest galleries of arts and crafts. It offers a fresh mix of functional and sculptural pottery, fine-art glass, furniture, jewelry, and other handmade objects. It's open Monday to Saturday from 10am to 7pm and on Sunday from noon to 5pm.
Another attraction, the Montford Historic District, has more than 200 turn-of-the-20th-century residences. In the downtown area, amid Art Deco buildings, you'll see the Lexington Park area, a center for artists and artisans whose workshops are tucked down a little alleyway, and Pack Place, a developing center for a wide variety of cultural activities.
Thomas Wolfe, a native of Asheville, immortalized the town and its citizens in his first novel, Look Homeward, Angel. His mother's boardinghouse, at 48 Spruce St., is maintained as a literary shrine. The house was severely damaged by a fire set by an arsonist in 1998, but the building was restored and it reopened in 2004. The author lived here from 1906 to 1916. ("I was a child here, here the stairs, and here was darkness; this was I, and this was Time.") Called Old Kentucky Home, the 30-room house with a wooden porch was referred to as "Dixieland" in his novels. Tours of the house are offered Tuesday to Sunday every hour on the half-hour, costing $1 and lasting 45 minutes. Before the fire, the city of Asheville opened the Thomas Wolfe Memorial; because many of his personal belongings, such as his typewriter and writing table, were on display in the site's visitor center, they were not destroyed. The exhibit was expanded just after the fire to include a 22-minute video biography and a slide show that depicts the Wolfe house as it was before the devastation. The biography is shown at the beginning of every half-hour from 9am to 4pm, and the slide show runs from 9:30am to 4:30pm. For information, call, visit, or write the Visitors Center, 52 N. Market St., Asheville, NC 28801 (tel. 828/253-8304; www.wolfememorial.com). Hours are Tuesday to Saturday 9am to 5pm and Sunday 1 to 5pm (winter hours Tues-Sat 10am-4pm and Sun 1-4pm).
Both Wolfe and short-story writer O. Henry (William Sydney Porter) are buried in Riverside Cemetery (entrance on Birch St. off Pearson Dr.).
Asheville's Grovewood Gallery (tel. 877/622-7238 or 828/253-7651; www.grovewood.com) features the work of some of the Southeast's finest craftspeople, including the artists of Grovewood Studios, whose workshops are in the adjoining buildings. The gallery is located in what was for 70 years the home of the Biltmore Homespun Shops, adjacent to the Grove Park Inn Resort. Grovewood Studios continues the tradition of craftsmanship begun by Edith Vanderbilt in 1901 as Biltmore Estate Industries. Established as an industrial school to teach boys and girls the traditional skills of woodcarving and hand weaving, the Industries became a thriving business, producing homespun cloth, woodcarvings, and furniture. Industries was sold in 1917 to Fred Seely, manager of the Grove Park Inn, who built the charming cluster of English-style workshops known as the Biltmore Homespun Shops and further developed the woolen cloth into a product known around the world. Cloth production finally ceased in 1980, but the history of Biltmore Estate Industries and the Biltmore Homespun Shops is told here at the North Carolina Homespun Museum. Also on the grounds are the Estes-Winn Memorial Automobile Museum and the Grovewood Cafe. The gallery is open year-round Monday to Saturday 10am to 6pm and Sunday 11am to 5pm. The museums are open April to December Monday to Saturday 10am to 5pm and Sunday 11am to 5pm. Admission to the two museums is free. You can reach the gallery and the Grove Park Inn via Charlotte Street and Macon Avenue. Once you are on the grounds of the inn, follow the signs.
As intriguing as all the preceding attractions may be, they're dwarfed by the premier attraction in Asheville: the magnificent Biltmore Estate.
The Greatest Mansion in the Mountains -- George Washington Vanderbilt, a young man of 25 in the late 1880s, came upon the perfect spot in the Blue Ridge for his French Renaissance-style château, which was to be built by his friend, architect Richard Morris Hunt.
The great château would be called Biltmore. Vanderbilt's initial purchase of 125,000 acres outside Asheville has diminished to 8,000. It includes formal and informal gardens designed by the father of landscape architecture in America, Frederick Law Olmsted.
Biltmore remains the largest private residence in the United States, a National Historic Landmark now owned by Vanderbilt's grandson. Begun in 1890, the house is constructed of tons of Indiana limestone, transported by a special railway spur built specifically to bring the massive amounts of material and supplies to the site. It took hundreds of workers 5 years to complete the house. On Christmas Eve 1895, George Vanderbilt formally opened the doors for the first time to friends and family members.
Like William Randolph Hearst, Vanderbilt journeyed through Europe and Asia buying paintings, porcelains, bronzes, carpets, and antiques, all of which would become part of the collection of 50,000 objects that are still in Biltmore today. Artwork is by Renoir, Sargent, Whistler, Pellegrini, and Boldini, and furniture includes designs by Chippendale and Sheraton.
Fully electric and centrally heated, Biltmore was one of the most technologically advanced structures ever built at the time of its completion. It used some of Thomas Edison's first light bulbs and boasted a fire-alarm system, an electrical call-box system for servants, two elevators, elaborate indoor plumbing for all 34 bedrooms -- and a relatively newfangled invention called the telephone.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.