Thursday, October 31, 2013

Playing tourists in Asheville: Part I

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.

wolfe collage

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!


  1. Lake Powhatan Campground is on our list! Thanks for the info...we stayed at Bear Creek and I would not recommend it to anyone. We love the area and it's close to Joe's family in Spartanburg, SC. Will give it a try next time.

    You will love the Biltmore!

  2. Asheville should be on everyone's list of places to visit. The Biltmore estate is truly the "Crown Jewel" of the area. Enjoy the rest of your stay.

  3. That was one of the few sites in the Asheville that we missed. I hope you enjoyed the Biltmore house and that you spent the extra money for the headphone tour. It was well worth it. If you get a chance, we loved Mt. Mitchell. I hope you didn't get any bad weather last night.

  4. You are in a great area. North Carolina is such a wonderful state. We stay in Murphy, down on the very southwestern corner, for a month one October. We motorcycled all over for the month.

    I need to read Thomas Wolfe's novel. I've heard of it but haven't read it. Thanks for the information and tour.

    I hope you enjoy the Biltmore.

  5. I too read Thomas Wolfe in my early English Major career and thought he was wonderful. I have been to Ashville several times but always for some specific week-end event. I obviously need to return for a longer time. The Wolfe House is my favorite vintage of architecture and furnishings. Great pictures!! I have seen the estate though a very long time ago however I remember clearly how amazing it was. Excellent find in the campground. Thanks for the tip.

  6. We had an awesome time in Asheville.

    I love visiting any place that has the original furnishing. Gives me a better idea of what it would be like to live in that time. Excellent tour.

    Your header photo is awesome.

    If you are still there, do the Urban Trail/Public Art Walking Tour. It gives you a great idea of the downtown area. We think most of the people are still living in the 60's....hehe


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