The history of Asheville, as a town, begins in 1784. In that year Colonel Samuel Davidson and his family settled in the Swannanoa Valley, redeeming a soldier’s land grant from the state of North Carolina. Soon after building a log cabin at the bank of Christian Creek, Davidson was lured into the woods by a band of Cherokee hunters and killed. 

In response to the killing, Davidson’s twin brother Major William Davidson and brother-in-law Colonel Daniel Smith formed an expedition to retrieve Samuel Davidson’s body and avenge his murder. Months after the expedition, Major Davidson and other members of his extended family returned to the area and settled at the mouth of Bee Tree Creek.

The United States Census of 1790 counted 1,000 residents of the area, excluding the Cherokee. The county of Buncombe was officially formed in 1792. The county seat, named “Morristown” in 1793, was established on a plateau where two old Indian trails crossed. In 1797 Morristown was incorporated and renamed “Asheville” after North Carolina Governor Samuel Ashe. 

Nestled between the scenic Blue Ridge and Appalachian Mountains in Western North Carolina, Asheville provides visitors with abundant natural beauty as well as historic and cultural diversity. Since the late 19th century, famous architects, landscape designers, and entrepreneurs have recognized Asheville as an area of great promise. 

In the early part of the 20th century, Asheville’s pristine environment and clean mountain air became known for its ìhealingî qualities. Tuberculosis hospitals and other places of healing brought many famous Americans to our city including Edwin Wiley Grove and George Willis Pack. Often times they fell in love with the mountains and the city and decided to stay. Much of their early influence can still be seen in the buildings and green spaces around our community including the Grove Park Inn and Pack Square. 

Today downtown Asheville, which is known for its early 20th-century architectural treasures is one of the nation’s better small cities for strolling around and gazing at buildings. We will start our walking tour in Pack Square, the public square has been a central feature of Asheville since the town’s creation in 1797...

1.    Vance Monument
Pack Square

Born in 1830 in a log cabin in Reems Creek, Zebulon Baird Vance was the son of a farmer and country merchant who grew up to be a lawyer noted for his sharp and earthy wit. Vance entered politcs and became a United States congressman and eloquent supporter of the Union until the very outbreak of the Civil War. Nevertheless,  Vance chose loyalty to his home state once hostilities began. In Asheville, he organized the Confederate Rough and Ready Guards; as colonel of the 26th North Carolina Regiment, he gained such fame for his courage that he was elected governor of North Carolina in 1862 and again in 1864. Until his death in 1894 Vance spent most of his time either in the Governor’s Mansion or his office in the United States Senate. When he died local benefactor George W. Pack offered to donate $2,000 to help pay for a monument to Vance in front of the Buncombe County Courthouse (then located on the east side of the current Pack Square). By 1898, the obelisk was complete. 

WALK OVER TO THE NORTHWEST CORNER OF THE SQUARE AT BROADWAY.  

2.    Akzona/Biltmore Building
 1 North Pack Square

The Akzona/Biltmore Building was created in 1978-80 by internationally renowned architect I. M. Pei, designer of the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC and the Pyramids of the Louvre in Paris. Designed as the headquarters of the Akzona Corporation, this gleaming ultra-modern office building replaced an entire block of 1890s buildings along the north side of Pack Square, and was a major component in the late twentieth century revitalization of downtown Asheville. 

EXIT PACK SQUARE BY WALKING WEST ON PATTON AVENUE ACROSS BROADWAY. 

3.    Kress Building   
19 Patton Avenue at northwest corner of Lexington Avenue

Samuel Kress founded S.H. Kress & Co. in 1896 and developed five-and-dime stores nationwide. An avid art collector, Kress took pride in creating beautiful buildings and took as much pride in the artistic appearance of his stores as he did in the profits they churned out in the early 1900s. This 1928 storefront/office building features Neoclassic motifs and cream color glazed terra-cotta tile bordered with distinctive blue and orange rosette tiles.

4.    Elizabeth Blackwell Bench  
Patton Avenue opposite Church Street

The third of nine children, Elizabeth Blackwell was born in Bristol, England on February 3, 1821. Her parents moved the family to New York City when Elizabeth was 12, and later to Cincinnati where the family’s financial fortunes turned for the worse. Elizabeth Blackwell began teaching and came to Asheville and started studying medicine on her own.     

Blackwell began seeking a medical school which would accept her. Seventeen rejections later, she sent an application to Geneva Medical College (now Hobart and William Smith Colleges) who believed Blackwell’s application to be a joke. In the spirit of good humor, the faculty played along by voting “yes” when her application was presented for vote. So Elizabeth Blackwell became the first woman in America ever to attend medical school. She graduated at the top of her class on January 12, 1849.   

She was, however, continually thwarted in her attempts to practice medicine in the United States and in 1869, Blackwell returned to London. She established and ran a large practice, and in 1875 helped to found the London School of Medicine for Women.  

5.    Drhumor Building  
48 Patton Street, southwest corner of Church Street

The Drhumor Building was constructed in 1895 by William J. Cocke, an attorney who studied at the University of North Carolina and at Harvard University. The building was named for the ancestral Irish island of Cocke’s Scots-Irish grandfather and rests on the land where Cocke’s childhood home and birthplace once stood.   

The oldest standing commercial building in downtown Asheville is, appopriately, the work of Asheville’s most prominent early architect Allen L. Melton. Many of the important buildings he designed in a life-long career in Asheville have been lost and this grand Romanesque Revival corner structure remains as his best known work. Biltmore Estate stone carver Frederic Miles was called in to provide the limestone frieze above the first floor exterior. Since 1996 the ornate corner building has housed law offices.  

TURN LEFT ON CHURCH STREET.

6.       Asheville Federal Savings and Loan Association
11 Church Street

This is the fourth stop on Church Street for the bank that took its first deposits across the street at #12 in 1936. During the early 1960s, the property at 11 Church Street was purchased from First Union National Bank and turned in to current headquarters.

7.    Central United Methodist Church
 27 Church Street

The congregation began fundraisng for a new church in 1899 and raised enough to hire Reuben Harrison Hunt, one of the late 19th century’s most prolific ecclesiastical architects. His powerful Romanesque Revival design with Gothic Revival detailing, rendered in limestone, boasts two pinnacle towers and a five-bay loggia. The first service was held on November 5, 1905. 

8.    First Presbyterian Church
40 Church Street

The First Presbyterian Church is one of the oldest church buildings in the city. The Gothic Revival church was constructed in 1884 with numerous later additions. The brick nave and tower have deep corbelled cornices and hood-molded windows with blind arcading at the eaves.

9.    Trinity Episcopal Church
60 Church Street

The Trinity Episcopal Church was designed by Bertram Goodhue in 1912 in the Tudor Gothic Revival style. The red brick exterior is trimmed with granite and the corner tower is topped with a gabled belfry. Inside, the sanctuary features a fine hammer-beamed ceiling. 

RETURN TO PATTON AVENUE AND TURN LEFT.

10.   S&W Building
56 Patton Avenue

Frank O. Sherrill and Fred R. Webber, two Western North Carolina natives and former World War I mess sergeants, got their start running the restaurant in Ivey’s Department Store in Charlotte. The got the idea of serving food cafeteria style and left to work in cafeterias in Florida and California. When Sherrill and Webber returned to North Carolina they served up the first cafeteria-style food in the state in their S&W Cafeterias.   

Asheville’s first S&W Cafeteria was located across the street from the Grand Opera House. In 1929, the restaurant moved to Patton Avenue and showcased architect Douglas Ellington’s style of combining early Italian Renaissance forms with Art Deco detailing. The exuberant Art Deco masterpiece includes colorful repeating geometric designs of cream, green, blue, black and gilt glazed tiles.

11.      Public Service Building
89 Patton Avenue

Erected in 1929, just before the stock market nosedived, and executed with a beautifully ornate polychrome terra-cotta exterior and gargoyles at the roofline, the Public Service Building is a fine example of neo-Spanish Romanesque design. 

TURN RIGHT ON OTIS STREET. 

12.   US Post Office and Courthouse
11 Otis Street

The former United States Post Office and Courthouse, a fine Depression-era Federal Building with Art Deco detailing was designed by James A. Wetmore of the Federal Architect’s Office and built in 1929-30. This massive presentation of Asheville architecture is sheathed in limestone with low relief panels and metal doors. Inside, the classic lobby has a stenciled ceiling.

TURN RIGHT ON WALL STREET

13.     Wall Street

Wall Street remembers the retaining wall that held up a 70-foot high hill in the early days of Asheville. 

14.      Miles Building   
14-20 Haywood Street

In 1901, the 20-year-old Asheville Club decided to build itself an impressive new home on land owned by one of its members, Tench Francis Coxe, at the corner of Haywood Street and “Government Street” (now College Street) and a stately three-story mansion with flanking columns was dutifully erected. The Asheville Club’s membership rolls were filled with the prominent names that still adorn buildings and streets all over town -- Grove, Carrier, Coxe, Rankin, Sluder, Hilliard, Rumbough.

It was Herbert Delahaye Miles who transformed the building from a dignified but rather conventional structure into a unique artifact of Asheville’s architectural heyday, the Roaring ‘20s. He was a vice president of Armour & Co. meatpackers in Chicago when his wife contracted tuberculosis. The doctors prescribed a standard treatment: move to the famously pure air of either Arizona or Asheville. Miles chose Asheville.  

In order to have an occupation here, Miles bought the building in 1919 from the Coxe estate, which owned the whole block fronting College Street, and set about converting his new property into office space by adding a striking Italianate exterior on the lower floors that turned the building into a dark red-brick devil’s food cake layered with white terra-cotta frosting. If you go in the Wall Street entrance the wide hallways designed for the 1901 Asheville Club still remain.

15.      Flatiron Building
10-20 Battery Park Avenue

One of the most famous buildings on the Asheville streetscape, the Flatiron Building was designed by Albert C. Wirth and constructed in 1925-26. Wirth was a Buffalo native who came to North Carolina in 1916 and practiced for 15 years beofre returning to New York. here he delivered an elegant Beaux Arts flavored 8-story office building faced with limestone. The term “Flatiron” refers to its triangular wedge shape that was created to fit the irregular lot. Indeed, its eastern side is just barely wide enough to accommodate an entry door.

TURN LEFT ON BATTERY PARK AVENUE.

16.      Grove Arcade  
Battery Park Avenue to Battle Square

Often acclaimed as one of downtown Asheville’s most beautiful buildings, the Grove Arcade covers an entire city block. Commissioned by Edwin Wiley Grove and designed by Charles Newton Parker it was built in 1926-29 as one of America’s last classic indoor shopping arcades (before the modern era of malls). Sheathed in ivory hued terra-cotta tile, this Neo-Gothic emporium is softened and embellished with rich detailing around the roof line and windows. The most dramatic entrance is from the north side, along Battle Square, guarded by a pair of winged lion sculptures. 

Inside, the grand central corridor of this elegant structure is a striking and spacious two-story arcade ornately decorated with medieval style grotesques, shields tucked in Roman style niches, Venetian Gothic pointed arches and spiraling wrought-iron staircases. Overhead, a peaked glass ceiling fills the space with diffused sunlight. As grand as Parker’s building is, it was originally envisioned as an even grander edifice with the addition of a central 14-story office tower which was never built.

TURN RIGHT ON O’HENRY AVENUE.  

17.      Citizen-Times Building
14 O’Henry Avenue

At the time the building opened under publisher/owner Charles Webb in 1939, the Art Moderne styled headquarters was hailed as one of the most progressive structures of its kind in the United States and housed the Asheville Citizen, the Asheville Times and WWNC radio station.

18.      Battery Park Hotel   
1 Battle Square between O’Henry and Page avenues

William L. Stoddart was famous in the 1920s for designing big-city high-rise hotels in towns of modest size. Edwin Wiley Grove financed the Battery Park Hotel in 1923-24 as the first affordable commercial hotel in Asheville built for businessmen and tourists. It replaced the ornate Queen Anne style Battery Park Hotel owned by entrepreneur and railroad mogul Frank Coxe, which was built in 1886. George Vanderbilt stayed there and Theodore Roosevelt and most of the famous visitors who found their way to Asheville at the turn of the 20th century. The original Battery Park Hotel also stood some eighty feet above the current one, as it was placed on a hill that Grove later removed in its entirety to make room for more construction in the downtown area. Stoddart’s T-plan Neo-Georgian hotel is reinforced concrete faced in red brick with limestone and terra-cotta details. Today the Battery park survives as an apartment complex.

TURN LEFT ON PAGE AVENUE.

19.      Basilica of St. Lawrence
97 Haywood Street

This impressive Spanish Baroque Revival Roman Catholic Church is the masterpiece created by internationally renowned Spanish architect/engineer Rafael Guastavino with the help of architect Richard Sharp Smith from 1905-09. Guastavino worked on the Biltmore Estate when he first came to Asheville, but soon decided that the town required a larger Catholic Church. He enlisted the support of his friend Smith, and they planned this spacious and ornate building. The magnificent exterior of red brick stands atop a stone foundation and is built entirely without wood or steel, relying solely on masonry and tile for the floors, ceiling and pillars. The dome is believed to be the largest freestanding elliptical dome in North America. You can enter a side door that opens into the church, where the ornate interior is adorned with exceptional tile work and religious art.  

20.      Basilica of St. Lawrence Rectory
Haywood Street

The Basilica of St. Lawrence rectory was built in 1929.

TURN RIGHT ON HAYWOOD STREET. 

21.      Asheville Civic Center
87 Haywood Street

The Asheville Civic Center is a regional destination for outstanding entertainment, trade shows and events. The bronze figures out front celebrate musical heritage of Appalachia. 

22.      George Vanderbilt Hotel
75 Haywood Street

Hotel specialist William Stoddard was back at work in 1924 with this nine-story structure. The George Vanderbilt Hotel opened with great fanfare and is now used as a seniors’ residence known as Vanderbilt Apartments.

23.      Castanea Building
57-65 Haywood Street

This historic building has anchored the center of Haywood Street since 1921 when it housed among other tenants, the YWCA. 

24.      Asheville Hotel
northeast corner of Haywood and Walnut streets

The Asheville Hotel Building began life in 1915 as Asheville Elks Lodge #608 although today it is neither. Designed by the prolific partnership of Albert Heath Carrier and Richard Sharp Smith, the building was one of the most modern Elks lodge in the southern states. Carrier and Smith designed some 700 buildings in Western Carolina in a variety of styles. Inside this building, “no expense was spared to make it modern in every detail.” In 1931, the building was remodeled and renamed the Asheville Hotel; in 1957 the building was converted into a downtown department store and today houses shops, an eatery and condos. 

25.      Woolworth Company Store   
25 Haywood Street

This store for the iconic five-and-dime chain was designed by Henry I. Gaines in the late Art Deco minimalist style and built in 1939. Completely renovated and restored in 2001, Woolworth’s was returned to its original splendor, including the decorations above the exterior windows and the red sign over the entrance. Inside the grand staircase and terrazzo floors are original, and a 50’s style soda fountain has been rebuilt in its original location. It now showcases the works of local artists.

RETURN TO WALNUT STREET AND TURN RIGHT. TURN LEFT ON BROADWAY STREET.

26.      Masonic Temple
80 Broadway Street

The Ancient Free and Accepted Mason is a fraternal order with a worldwide membership, thought to have arisen from practicing stone masons and cathedral builders in the early Middle Ages. The lodge, first formed in early 18th-century England, is the basic organizational unit. Philadelphia Lodge, formed in 1730, is the oldest Masonic lodge in the United States. The Mount Hermon Masonic Lodge of Asheville was chartered on December 13, 1848, with 107 members, and counted numerous civic and political leaders among them. The lodge had no formal meeting place for more than 50 years until 1909, when the 500 members passed a resolution to acquire a site for the Masonic Temple.

The local architectural firm of Smith & Carrier designed all the fraternal organizations in Asheville, including the Elks Home, Eagles Home and the Asheville Club. The Masonic Temple, designed in 1913 and occupied in 1915, is the only fraternal building that retains its original use. Fronting on Broadway, the striking edifice features robust brickwork and is dominated by a tall portico of paired Ionic columns and a three-story, blind arched window on its Woodfin Street side.

TURN RIGHT ON WOODFIN STREET AND RIGHT AGAIN ON NORTH MARKET STREET. 

27.      Thomas Wolfe House
152 North Market Street

The sprawling frame Queen Anne-influenced house was originally only six or seven rooms with a front and rear porch when prosperous Asheville banker Erwin E. Sluder constructed it in 1883. By 1889 massive additions had more than doubled the size of the original house, but the architecture changed little over the next 27 years.  

In Look Homeward, Angel Thomas Wolfe accurately remembered the house he moved to in 1906 as a “big cheaply constructed frame house of 18 or 20 drafty, high-ceilinged rooms.” Wolfe lived here until 1916, when he entered the University of North Carolina. In 1916 Wolfe’s mother, Julia Westall Wolfe, enlarged and modernized the house, adding electricity, additional indoor plumbing, and 11 rooms. Julia did not operate the boardinghouse out of any financial necessity. Thomas Wolfe’s father, W. O. Wolfe, could well afford to support the family with the earnings of the tombstone shop he owned and operated on Asheville’s city square. But Julia, a former teacher, had an obsession for the real estate market and used her profits to buy more property. Descendants remembered Julia, a shrewd and uncompromising businesswoman, as a “driver of hard bargains.”

TURN LEFT ON COLLEGE STREET TO COURT PLAZA.  

28.      Buncombe County Court House
60 Court Square

Originally this building was designed to be a matching Art Deco structure by Douglas D. Ellington to City Hall next door, but the politics of the day intervened when the county commissioners dissented and commissioned an intentionally more conservative building. This conventional 17-floor Neoclassical steel frame structure with a brick and limestone surface was designed by Milburn and Heister of Washington DC and built from 1927-28. The courthouse’s distinctive setbacks, window groupings and ornamentation were considered opulent in a time when many public buildings were much more conservative. Take time to walk inside to admire the lobby with its impressive mosaic floor, sweeping marble staircase and ornate plasterwork on the coffered ceiling.

29.      Asheville City Building
70 Court Square

The Asheville City Building is a colorful, massive and eclectic Art Deco masterpiece. Douglas D. Ellington, an architect who came to Asheville in the mid-1920s, designed the eight-story building, which was completed in 1928. Ellington stated that the design was “an evolution of the desire that the contours of the building should reflect the mountain background.”

Ellington chose building materials that presented a “transition in color paralleling the natural clay-pink shades of the local Asheville soil.” The unusual octagonal roof is covered with bands of elongated triangular terra cotta red tiles. Between the two levels of the roof are angular pink Georgia marble piers between which are precise vertical rows of ornamental green and gold feather motifs.

WALK BACK TOWARDS PACK SQUARE AND TURN LEFT ON SPRUCE STREET.

30.      Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church
47 Eagle Street at southeast corner of Spruce Street

The congregation was founded in the 1890s and this, the third church building, dates to 1919.

TURN RIGHT ON EAGLE STREET.

31.      Young Men’s Institute
39 South Market Street at southeast corner of Eagle Street

In 1893 George Vanderbilt had this English Tudor Cottage-style rec center built for men who worked on Biltmore. The building was utilized as a social and educational center by the African American community in the segregated South. The structure is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

TURN RIGHT ON MARKET STREET AND TURN LEFT ONTO PACK SQUARE.

32.      Jackson Building
22 South Pack Square

The tall slender building on the corner was the first skyscraper in Western North Carolina, erected in 1923-24.  Ronald Greene draped his Neo-Gothic confection in terra cotta and crowned it with stone gargoyles. In its early days, one of the building’s most unusual uses was as a “clean-air lookout.” Many of Asheville’s buildings were heated with coal, and every morning the city inspector stood at the top of the Jackson Building to watch for excessive smoke as building furnaces started up. If heavy smoke persisted for more than 5 minutes a citation to clean the furnace was issued.

33.      Westall Building
20 South Pack Square

Ronald Greene next went to work on this 8-story office tower in 1925, tapping the Spanish-Romanesque style for the Westall Building. The Westall was not large enough for its own elevator so the two buildings have the same elevator system.

34.      Commerce Building
18 South Pack Square

This Neoclassical building in the center of the square dates to 1904.

35.      Legal Building
10-14 South Pack Square

Albert Heath Carrier and Richard Sharp Smith raised one of the first buildings in town with reinforced concrete for this imposing 5-story Renaissance Revival building in 1909. It was the home of the Central Bank and Trust Company which collapsed in 1930.

36.      Asheville Art Museum
2 South Pack Square

The original Renaissance Revival Pack Memorial Library was designed by Edward L. Tilton of New York. Faced with white Georgian marble and featuring a dramatic two story arched entry with matching banks of arched windows this striking building was completed in 1926. The library and the adjoining theater were renovated into an Education-Arts-Science center in a $15 million project. Pack Place opened in 1992.

YOU HAVE NOW RETURNED TO YOUR STARTING POINT.