Asheville is the site George Washinton Vanderbilt chose for his country retreat, a sprawling French chateau that is the largest house in America. He was the grandson of steamship, railroad and shipping magnate Cornelius “Commodore” Vanderbilt.
Visit Asheville and you will discover many of the reasons people have been drawn to this mountain region in western North Carolina. One of the easiest ways to get this kind of overview is with the narrated two-hour Gray Line Hop-On Hop-Off Trolley Tour. It departs from the Asheville Visitor Center. The full loop takes just under two hours.
Asheville’s prosperity and population surged after the railroad came to town in 1880. Tourism and medical facilities, still Asheville’s top industries, boomed. George Vanderbilt, who vacationed there with his mother, who suffered from malaria, in the 1880s, was one of the visitors who decided to stay.
By the turn of the century there were dozens of hotels, over 100 boarding houses and many city parks. Asheville was second in the nation to get street cars, after Richmond, Virginia. With arts and entertainment and sightseeing tours by carriage or motorcar Asheville became the “Paris of the South.”
Wealthy tourists from cities like Atlanta and Savannah came to escape the summer heat. People with medical problems, especially tuberculosis, came for fresh air and treatments at the sanitariums.
Highland Hospital, originally known as Dr. Carroll’s Sanitorium, is the best known treatment center. It was established for nervous conditions and other psychiatric disorders. Carroll’s wife, Grace Potter Carroll, a former patient and world-renowned concert pianist, ran a music school and held performances at their home here.
“Dr.” Edwin Wiley Grove, “Father of Modern Asheville,” made millions selling Grove’s Tasteless Chill Tonic, a product that outsold Coca-Cola. His doctors suggested visiting Asheville to recuperate from his chronic bronchitis. Noting the railroad expansion and opening of Biltmore House, he invested in 408 acres, demolished some of the sanitariums and embarked upon residential development.
The Arts and Crafts-style Grove Park Inn is constructed of hand-cut boulders from Sunset Mountain. It was built in just under a year. Nine women died in a fire in the main building, including author and artist Zelda Fitzgerald, wife of F. Scott Fitzgerald, who stayed at the nearby Grove Park Inn.