Monday, January 4, 2010


I used Literary Trails of the North Carolina Mountains: A Guide last week while in Asheville with my family. The book is divided into tours that work geographically. I was able to do parts of tours 8 and 9 (Weaverville and North Asheville, and Downtown and South Asheville, respectively), though a bit out of order.

The night we arrived we visited the Biltmore House for the Candlelight Tour and saw the house in all its Christmas finery. I had read ahead in my Guide to know that:
  • George Vanderbilt’s library housed 24,000 volumes.
  • Henry James and Edith Wharton (childhood friend of Edith Vanderbilt) had visited the house in 1905. Wharton had just published The House of Mirth. Each author is the namesake of a suite of rooms at Biltmore.
We found a monument to O. Henry’s story, “Gift of the Magi” set in bronze in a sidewalk on a street in downtown Asheville, and later we visited the Riverside Cemetery and saw O. Henry’s gravesite.

Also at Riverside Cemetery is the grave of Thomas Wolfe, and the gates of the cemetery also honor him.

My dad and I drove by the Richmond Hill Inn one morning while we were out to see the site where Georgia-born Poet Sidney Lanier camped one winter before he died in 1881. The Inn was later built on the site and the Sidney Lanier Garden was planted behind the Inn. Well, supposedly. When we arrived, the Inn was closed, but a gate was open just wide enough for us to get in to look around. I poked all around but couldn’t find the Garden. Instead, we did find this (see picture below). An arsonist set fire to one of the buildings of the Richmond Hill Inn early in 2009 and authorities have yet to solve the case. It caused $7 million in damages. You can read more about it in the Asheville Citizen-Times here.
Near the Inn is the last building that remains of Highland Hospital. Zelda Fitzgerald, wife of F. Scott Fitzgerald, was hospitalized here in the summer of 1936 and several other times before her death. She suffered from schizophrenia. In 1948, hospital’s main building, which housed Zelda and other patients, caught fire and Zelda died of smoke inhalation. Today what remains of the hospital is Homewood, a home on the property for the hospital’s main physician, Robert Carroll. It’s now a special events facility.
In 1936 while Zelda was at Highland Hospital, Scott lived at The Grove Park Inn. He had tried to rent a space at Julia Wolfe’s boarding house, The Old Kentucky Home, but was turned away because Julia didn’t rent to alcoholics. The Grove Park still celebrates Scott’s birthday each year on September 24, though he was reportedly a difficult guest due to heavy drinking, an extramarital affair and a suicide threat during his stay.

A number of other writers have stayed at the Grove Park including Charles Frazier, Margaret Mitchell, Alex Haley and Pat Conroy.

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