Yep, that’s how Asheville was promoted in the late 1800’s, as a place of relief for tuberculosis patients. It’s one of the things we learned about the city during our two-hour narrated trolley tour.
Asheville was a destination for health seekers, and it rose in prominence as a curative place for tuberculosis. The city’s location – nestled in between the scenic Blue Ridge and Appalachian Mountains in Western North Carolina – has clean, pristine mountain air. That fresh mountain air was considered optimal and a good place for those patients to recuperate. Asheville’s population exploded as it became the place for boarding houses, luxury inns and resorts, and, well, sanitariums. By 1930 there were no fewer than 25 sanitariums in the city with a total of 900 beds. I guess even crazy people enjoyed the mountain air!
While tuberculosis has been brought under control, Asheville remains a health care center for people who require specialized medical care, and for others who just want to enjoy the fresh air. We were not concerned in the least about contracting TB as we wandered around the downtown area. We also learned that most of the sanitariums have been converted into apartment and condominium complexes.
Among the many notable people who came to seek cures here were the ailing mother of George W. Vanderbilt, and Edwin Wiley Grove was also a patient. These folks fell in love with Asheville, so much so that G.W. Vanderbilt had the Biltmore Estate constructed here (more on that fascinating place later), and E.W. Grove built the Grove Park Inn and the Grove Arcade. Their influence can still be seen in the buildings today, restored and preserved as major tourist attractions.
One of the landmarks of Asheville is the 100-year-old historic Grove Park Inn. Built using thousands of local stones reinforced with concrete and capped with a burnt-orange tiled roof, it was constructed in less than one year in 1913. Since then and until today the inn has welcomed countless famous folks.
After the tour, we continued on our own and followed the Urban Trail. This 1.7-mile-trail in the downtown area consists of thirty stations with bronze plaques and several sculptures. Each station illuminates a part of the very interesting history of the city’s development, and the various notable people who once lived here.
Strolling along the streets, we noticed the many styles of interesting architecture throughout the city, it’s incredible! In this walkable city we noted remarkable collections of beautifully preserved buildings from the late 1800s and early 1900s and below are just a few fine samples.
As we rounded one corner, we were struck by the beauty of the Basilica of St. Lawrence Catholic Church. It was designed and built by architects Raphael Guastavino and Richard Sharp Smith, who also worked on the Biltmore Estate project.
I had a hard time praying here as the inside is so architecturally beautiful that I ended just sitting and looking around. This Spanish Renaissance-style church supports the largest freestanding elliptical dome in North America, with a clear span of 58 by 82 feet.
Asheville is also a destination for art lovers. Art galleries and studios abound, with artists, musicians and writers all inspired by the colorful downtown environment and the nearby mountains.
Ashville’s additional bragging rights now include being named Beer City, USA. If we had arrived a day earlier we could have sampled the latest handcrafted brews from 16 craft breweries during the Beer City Festival. After being in the sun for several hours we needed to cool off, so we stopped at one of the popular local breweries. It wasn’t exactly a tough decision, as we had noted several during our tour. We ended up tasting at the Wicked Weed one day, and then at the Lexington Avenue Brewery the next time we were in town.
At the end of the day, the proof of Asheville being nature’s health spa is the fact that many people continue to be drawn to the magic of these mountains and the surrounding natural beauty. For us, our Asheville stop showed us once again that each city we visit has its own unique charm and interesting people.