October 22, 2013
Asheville, North Carolina
Lake Powhatan Campground
We were looking forward to coming to this area for some time, but had never researched the campground options. Fortunately, I was able to find a National Forest campground with full hook-ups only 15 miles from downtown Asheville. Our back-up plan was to stay at Bear Creek Campground, but we were hoping to go for the less expensive option after our major Jeep repairs in Niagara. Lake Powhatan Campground operated by the Cradle of Forestry in America Campground Division (CFAIA)was closed during the gov’t. shutdown. When they re-opened they went down to one host and no longer took reservations for the rest of the month they would be open. I was able, however, to call ahead and find out there were plenty of sites. We were delighted to stay here for the senior pass daily rate of $20. No hook-ups would have saved even more at $11 per night, but the full hook-up sites were paved and much roomier. In addition to the savings, we were excited to get out on some of the trails in this national forest.
As soon as we arrived and got settled, we drove into Asheville to get the lay of the land. I usually research new towns on Trip Advisor to discover the top attractions in the area. We already knew the Biltmore Estate was the top attraction and decided we would dish out the $$$ to see the largest private home in the United States, but that would have to wait until we had a full day to devote to it. I also knew about another museum that I wanted to see last time I was here (in my 20s!). Asheville is the childhood home of North Carolina author, Thomas Wolfe (1900-1938). The setting of his most well-known novel, his mother’s boarding house, has been preserved as a memorial to him. I read Wolfe’s fictional autobiography, Look Homeward Angel, as an undergraduate and knew his importance as one of the 20th century’s finest American authors. Critics have said, had he lived past his 37 years (he died just shy of three weeks before his 38th birthday), he would have been likely to be ranked as the greatest of his time which is saying a lot since his contemporaries were Faulkner, Hemingway, and Fitzgerald.
Vic knew of Tom Wolfe, author of The Right Stuff, but not Thomas Wolfe. He likes to learn anything about American history, so I sold the idea of seeing Wolfe’s home as an historical tour. The $5 entry fee was also a selling point.
We first watched a film about Wolfe’s life in the Visitor Center. The film was really helpful in setting the context of the tour of the boarding house and explaining Wolfe’s influence on the town of Asheville. From here we walked over to Old Kentucky Home, the 1895 Victorian style boarding house his mother ran and where Wolfe spent part of his youth. The home is remarkably preserved in spite of a large arson fire that occurred in 1997. Almost all of the furnishings were original making the home quite a relic to the past even if you had never heard of Wolfe himself.
Perhaps the most poignant part of the tour was standing in the room where his brother Benjamin died. His brother’s death had a profound impact on his life and is a famous scene in Look Homeward Angel.
Wolfe’s novel was not well-received in his home town of Asheville because of its brutally honest portrayal of its thinly disguised characters. The book was even banned in the public library, As a result, Wolfe no longer felt welcome in his hometown—leading him to pen his most famous line: “You can’t go home again.”
In case you are curious about his prose, here is a little taste of his writing style: “The mountains were his masters. They rimmed in life. They were the cup of reality, beyond growth, beyond struggle and death. They were his absolute unity in the midst of eternal change.”--Thomas Wolfe, Look Homeward, Angel.
I really enjoyed visiting his home and I think Vic was pleased to learn about this lesser known, but important writer.
After the Wolfe home, we enjoyed walking around downtown and discovered the Mast General Store. I think I had heard of it before, but what a great place it turned out to be. In addition to all kinds of penny candy, toys, kitchen ware, and mountain food items, the store’s largest inventory was outdoor gear. We enjoyed perusing all the shelves but mostly refrained from any big purchases.
We headed back to our secluded campground around dusk with plans to head out the next morning to the Biltmore Estate. I had heard that you should allow a whole day to explore the home, the gardens, and the ancillary attractions such as the winery. Since I have not kept up with our travels too well, I need to do the Biltmore as a separate post--Asheville: Part II. Stay tuned!