American author Thomas Wolfe spent much of his youth at this boarding house, which was purchased by his mother in 1906. While most of his brothers and sisters lived with their father in their house a few blocks away, Wolfe’s mother insisted that he live with her at the boarding house.
Wolfe chronicled his early life in Look Homeward, Angel, a novel that drew heavily from his time at Old Kentucky Home. One of the defining moments of Wolfe’s time at the boarding house was the death of his beloved brother Ben, who died in the house.
Today, the Old Kentucky Home is the Thomas Wolfe Memorial. It’s an interesting slice of American literary history. Behind the house is a museum celebrating Thomas Wolfe. Both the house and the museum are well worth a visit.
The Buncombe County Courthouse is a beautiful Neo-Classical Revival structure completed in 1928. The 17-story building was designed by Frank Pierce Milburn, an architect whose work focused on public buildings. The Buncombe County Courthouse was Milburn’s last public work and is still the tallest courthouse in North Carolina. Although Milburn passed away before the completion the Courthouse, his son, Thomas Y. Milburn saw it through to completion.
The original intention was for the Courthouse and the adjacent City Hall to be a matched pair, but the city government favored Douglas Ellington’s Art Deco design, while the county commissioners preferred Milburn’s more classical plan. Ellington ended up with the design of the City Hall while Milburn’s design was chosen for the Courthouse. The two completed buildings are quite beautiful and are as different as night and day.
As I said, the construction of the building was completed in 1928, with the dedication ceremony being held on December 1st of that year. Less than two years later, the United States was rocked by the Great Depression. Buncombe County and the City of Asheville were left with massive debt. While counties and cities across the country were defaulting on their debts, the governments of Buncombe County and Asheville vowed to repay their debt. For nearly forty years the government made their payments until, in 1977, their debt was fully paid.
Their determination to bring Asheville out of debt had a lasting effect on the city. Because they could not afford to finance new construction while repaying their debt, many of the beautiful structures, like the Courthouse, the Grove Arcade and the City Hall, remain intact today. The beautiful old buildings of the city are one of the things I love about Asheville. Imagine if these old buildings had been razed to make way for newer, more modern structures. The city would have lost much of the history that contributes to its appeal.
Built in 1772, the House in the Horseshoe, also called the Alston House, gets its name from its location, a horseshoe shaped bend in the Deep River of North Carolina. The house was the site of a Revolutionary War battle between Philip Alston, a colonel in the Cumberland Militia, and a troop of Tory Loyalists led by the infamous David Fanning. During the battle, Fanning and his men attempted to burn the house down by pushing a wagon loaded with hay bails against the building and setting it ablaze. The attempt failed and, after numerous casualties on both sides, Alston’s forces surrendered to Fanning under terms negotiated by Alston’s wife.
Both Alston and Fanning went on to lives marked with controversy. Alston was accused of murdering Thomas Taylor during the war. The death was found to be a legitimate act of war and Alston was pardoned by Governor Richard Caswell.
Alston was then elected to the General Assembly, but his seat was contested by George Glascock and several others on the grounds that Alston had been accused of Taylor’s murder and that Alston had threatened to instigate a riot if he lost the election. Alston was removed from his seat, but a bitter feud broke out between Alston and Glascock. Glascock was murdered by Dave, one of Alston’s slaves, but Alston had an alibi. He had thrown a party on the night of the murder and made sure that his presence at the party was beyond doubt.
A year later, Alston was arrested for contempt of court and jailed. He escaped from jail and fled to Georgia, only to be murdered a few years later. Legend has it that the murderer was none other than Dave, the slave who murdered George Glascock, and who had fled shortly after being bailed out by Alston.
David Fanning, the Tory who had captured Alston and his men at the battle of the House of the Horseshoe, moved to the Bahamas before settling in New Brunswick. In 1800, he was accused of raping 15-year old Sarah London and was found guilty and sentenced to death. He was eventually pardoned but exiled from New Brunswick. He settled in Nova Scotia, where he died in 1825.
After the Revolutionary War, the House in the Horseshoe was sold to future North Carolina governor Benjamin Williams. The Alston House is now a North Carolina Historic Site and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1970. The house, now nearly 250 years old, still bears the scars of the battle between Alston and Fanning. Bullet holes mark the walls, both inside and out.
We were able to visit the house on a beautiful summer day a few years ago. Alston picked a beautiful place to make a home. The grounds and land around the house are beautiful.
The house is a beautiful plantation house built in the coastal lowlands style. Four rooms have been furnished and there was a small, but interesting, display of medical tools that would have been used by a doctor during the Revolutionary War. The most interesting aspect, to me, was the bullet pocked walls. After nearly 250 years, I would have expected one of the owners to patch the walls. Luckily, history won out and the scars of the battle are there for us to see.
If you’re ever in Moore County, North Carolina and want to get close enough to Revolutionary War history that you can literally touch it, the Alston House would be a great place to visit. Walk the grounds and take a tour of the house. It’s well worth the trip.
These wonderful sculptures were part of the collection at the now defunct Chinqua Penn Plantation near Reidsville, North Carolina. Built in the 1920s by tobacco magnate Thomas Jefferson Penn and his wife Betsy, it was once one of the best preserved early twentieth homes in North Carolina. Eventually, the financial failures of the last owner led to the foreclosure of the property and the sale, at auction, to all of the wonderful art that had been collected by the Penns.
We were able to visit the home a few years before it was sold, while it was still a tourist attraction. The Penns had collected many works of art from around the world. These particular sculptures were outside the gift shop and winery. I love the expressions on the faces.
This beautiful painting peaks out of an alley along Woodfin Street in Asheville. I love the colors, but I also love that if you look closely, the “feathers” of the rooster are made up of words and letters. I can’t figure out what the words say, but it adds a dimension to the art that keeps you studying the painting.
Asheville is full of beautiful works of art. If you visit the city, it would be worth the time to follow the Asheville Urban Trail, which explores many of the city’s highlights. This painting is not an official stop on the trail, but you’ll pass it along the way.
Asheville, North Carolina is a food lover’s paradise. My wife and I love visiting this great little city and make a point of visiting restaurants we haven’t yet been to. There are a few restaurants, however, that we have on our must visit list, no matter how many times we’ve been there. 12 Bones Smokehouse is one of them.
12 Bones came to prominence when then President and First Lady Barack and Michelle Obama dined at the restaurant not once, but three times on trips to Asheville. We’ve been there three times as well- once to their Arden location, once to the original riverside restaurant and, most recently, to the new location in the River Arts District.
I loved the Arden location, a converted automobile service station, for its funky feel. The now-defunct riverside location had a great outside dining area next to the river. The new location, though, is probably my favorite.
The River Arts District was once a run down industrial area, but it’s been converted into art space for Asheville’s creative community. More than 200 local artists have studio space here and, with the artists, several restaurants have moved into the district. One of the things I love about the River Arts District is that the exteriors of many of the buildings are covered with art. 12 Bones is no different.
Dining at 12 Bones is a little different from most restaurants. First, you have to wait in a queue to get into the restaurant; as the group at the counter places their order and moves into the dining room, the next group moves into the restaurant. Second, by restaurant standards 12 Bones’ hours are unusual. The restaurant is only open for lunch Monday through Friday (it’s actually open for takeout until 6pm, but the dining room closes at 4). If you get there late you’re out of luck.
We got there just before the Friday lunch rush, so our wait outside wasn’t long. We placed our orders and chose to sit outside to enjoy the great weather and the fascinating wall art of the surrounding buildings. We enjoyed watching an eagle soar high overhead against the beautiful blue sky.
The food at 12 Bones is great. Ann Marie ordered their award winning blueberry chipotle ribs with potato salad and collards and I had a pulled pork plate with mac and cheese and collards. I tried several of the barbecue sauces- a vinegar based sauce, a mustard based sauce, and an awesome jalapeno sauce. It’s country cooking, but taken to a whole new level.
There are no secret sauces at 12 Bones. They don’t keep their recipes locked in a safe. If you’re up to it, you can “try this at home.” They’ve got a cookbook with recipes for pretty much everything they serve, including their blueberry chipotle sauce. Ann Marie makes a pretty awesome barbecue, but she’s always looking for new things to try. The cookbook was one we definitely needed. I see blueberry chipotle ribs in our future.
If you make it to Asheville, head to 12 Bones River. You won’t be disappointed.
The River Arts District in Asheville is a fascinating place. Until the mid 1980s the area was an industrial area, when Asheville artists began looking for inexpensive studio space and found it in the neglected warehouses along the river. Today it’s home to over 200 artists.
One of the coolest aspects of the River Arts District is that the buildings have been turned into works of art. Murals and graffiti cover the virtually every surface of the buildings. Some of the murals are quite beautiful. One of my favorites is this tribute to the late “screaming eagle of soul”, Charles Bradley.
Bradley found musical success late in his life, with all three of his albums being released when he was in his sixties. Bradley released three critically acclaimed albums and was a popular performer at festivals. Unfortunately Bradley succumbed to cancer in 2017 at the age of 68.
This mural, outside the Summit Coffee Company, is a beautiful and fitting portrait of the man.
Asheville has two iconic flatirons. The first is the Flatiron Building, designed by Albert Wirth and built in 1926. It’s reminiscent of Manhattan’s Flatiron Building.
The second is the Flatiron sculpture, designed by artist Reed Todd, and located at the end of Wall Street. It’s a giant replica of the kind of irons used by laundries and housewives at the turn of the 19th century.
Asheville is one of my favorite places to go. Art and music are everywhere in this great little city. It’s also known for it’s food and many great local breweries. To top it off, it’s a very progressive city, friendly to people from all walks of life. All in all, Asheville is a great place.
North Carolina folk artist Vollis Simpson didn’t start creating his whimsical sculptures until he retired. Making use of his skills as a mechanic and using rigs he developed as a house mover, Simpson began creating huge kinetic sculptures out of scrap metal. The creations were based on weather vanes and handcrafted “whirligigs” that could be found on barns and in yards across the South.
Simpson’s art has been widely recognized. Four of his whirligigs were displayed in Atlanta during the 1996 Olympic Games. Museums from the North Carolina Art Museum to the Folk Art Museum in New York City have displayed his sculptures.
Simpson passed away in May 2013, at the age of 94. A month later the North Carolina House and Senate designated his whirligigs as the State Art of North Carolina.
The Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park was opened in December 2017. The park has about 60 of the colorful whirligigs, which were relocated from fields of Simpson’s farm. It can be almost hypnotic to watch the many moving parts slowly rotate in the wind. We visited on a sunny day, but the park has special lighting so that at night the many reflectors attached to the sculptures catch the light and recreate the effect of car lights reflecting off the whirligigs as they drove past in the dark.
Tryon Palace, in New Bern, was the official residence of the British Governors of North Carolina from 1770 until 1775. Eventually, to be more central in the newly formed state, the capital was moved to Raleigh in 1792. Some time shortly after that, the original palace was destroyed by a fire.
The palace was recreated, according to the original plans, in the 1950s. It’s an interesting part of North Carolina’s early history.
My favorite places at Tryon Palace are the formal gardens. While the plans for the original palace included garden plans, the original gardens were never implemented. The current gardens were designed by Morley Williams, who had assisted in the restoration of the gardens at Mount Vernon and Stratford Hall.
This walk along the garden wall is one of my favorite spots in the gardens. It’s a peaceful place where you can sit quietly and enjoy the beauty of the gardens. I also like that it’s just a little shaggy, not as well manicured as other parts of the garden. It just feels warmer to me.