Everyone knows that Asheville has some sort of special “it” quality. There’s something to the food, the music, the climate, the architecture, and the people. There’s just a soul present that many other cities simply cannot contend with. Asheville has held onto a quality many cities have lost in sky-scrapers, public transportation systems, and technology. It’s funny really, because this apparition, this spirit, draws artists, celebrities, and intellectuals as strongly as a magnet lures metal. I set out to discover why.
I started researching my city a couple years ago, which prompted me to tour my own city through La Zoom Tours. After the research and the tours, I chocked up the town’s charisma to a couple different things: it’s birth, and it’s death. In the late 1700s Asheville was nothing but a convenient patch of dirt, sitting in a valley at the crossroads of a Cherokee trading route. They say real estate is all about location, location, location. This meeting place of sorts just happened to have a nice river running through it, and some trails elevated low enough for the horses to hoof it without falling sideways off a cliff. The white settlers came in, realized its potential, and noticed it wasn’t hard to look at either. We all know how the rest of that story went…luckily the hills kept their secrets and preserved a lot of that early heritage with folk art, and a respect for nature unparalleled in much of our country.
The death of Asheville was as important as the birth. What death? Some may be wondering how they missed the memo. Asheville became a huge part of the jazz age, and one of the major hubs of the 20s scene. It’s this flashy era that Asheville can trace some it’s progressive roots. The city became a regular stomping ground for the Fitzgeralds and their cronies (I think Hemingway actually made it Beer City U.S.A. back then). That on top of Thomas Wolfe hailing from here, the city was a literary hot spot. Intellectuals and writers had now entered the scene. The ingredients that make Asheville were in the pot and boiling. People were building new buildings next to the old, rubbing elbows with Vanderbilts, and mixing deep southern culture with new ideas, causing ignition. It was a city of steam, and it was smoldering from the inside out.
Sadly, Asheville couldn’t hide from the stock market crash in ’29. Asheville had the most debt per capita of any city in America. There was no money left, and the charming streets once filled with trolleys, bootlegged liquor, and new money had no more hustle and bustle. Blood stains from self-inflicted wounds sadly decorated the walls of too many banks, and too many bedroom walls in the upscale Montford neighborhood. For the next 50 years much of the city looked like a ghost town, a shell of what once was. The city had died.
Now for the triumphant part. Here in Asheville, we believe in ghosts. We believe that the soul of the city that hosted so much life would not go gently into the night. A city that produced singers like Roberta Flack, war heroes like Kiffin Rockwell,and awe inspiring evangelists like Billy Graham would not simply succumb to becoming a “once upon a time”. This was a city with too much presence. People started pouring in, enamored with what was left behind. The city was like a beautiful, intricate bees nest preserved by time, built in a season that thrived. However, those bees work was done, and they had laid down their duties. They became Zelda Fitzgeralds dying in fires on a knoll in Montford, or artists knowing moonshine all to well, or angels knowing they could never go home again. They didn’t thrive, but instead left legacies in the form of art deco buildings, great literary works, soulful music, and museums. We were left untouched French gothic buildings, art deco masterpieces (one of the greatest collections in the nation), and the largest privately owned home in America; ours to tour. Why? We couldn’t afford anything else, so we held onto that abandoned space and filled it with art, breathing sweet honeysuckle scented life back into its spirit, and gave birth to this town once again. If you ask me, this Mecca of art and humanity should be one any bucket list in the world.
I got more acquainted with this when I toured my own city on a La Zoom tour, and feel I’ve truly tasted it now. La Zoom is a comedic tour featuring all the hot spots I mentioned. Tours run daily, and meet on Biltmore Avenue right outside the French Broad Food Co-op (which is a great place to buy your local beer to take on the tour)! After this tour you’ll have a lengthy list of places to visit time and time again. Bring a change of pants though, in case your pee yourself laughing!
My husband and I having a great time!
Post by: Lorna Hollifield
http://www.lornahollifield.com Click here for more on aspiring author, Lorna Hollifield!