by Sandy McLeod[caption id="attachment_
by Sandy McLeod[caption id="attachment_707" align="alignright" width="300"] The Thomas Wolfe Memorial is the site of the 'Old Kentucky Home' boarding house, owned and run by Wolfe's mother, and is well worth a visit on a trip to Asheville. Photo by Ken Lax.[/caption]
One not-to-be-missed Asheville literary pilgrimage is the Thomas Wolfe House and Memorial, which has been one of Western North Carolina’s most renowned attractions for generations. The Memorial, a sprawling, historic house, is famously known as “The Old Kentucky Home.” It is equally famous for being depicted as “Dixieland” in Wolfe’s iconic novel, Look Homeward, Angel. This local, national and international literary treasure is a treat to visit for many reasons.
Thomas Wolfe, was a contemporary of writers Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, and F. Scott Fitzgerald (who also famously spent time in Asheville at the Grove Park Inn). He was born in Asheville in 1900, the youngest of eight children. The Old Kentucky Home was originally a boarding house run by Wolfe’s mother; the noted Asheville figure Julia E Wolfe. When Wolfe was six, his mother opened the boarding house and moved there with Wolfe; the rest of the children, and their father, remained at the residence on Asheville’s Woodfin Street, where Wolfe spent his infancy and very early childhood.
Thomas Wolfe Memorial Presents a Vivid portrait of early 20th Century life in Asheville
Thomas Wolfe lived at the Old Kentucky Home until he set off for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill at the prodigious age of fifteen. He later drew heavily upon his boyhood in Asheville for his acclaimed debut novel, Look Homeward, Angel. Some locals thought his depictions of life in Asheville drew too heavily on the real people of the City for comfort. As an expression of local outrage, the book was famously banned from Asheville’s local library for a number of years. In the wake of the book’s tremendous success, which catapulted Wolfe to fame, Wolfe himself did not return to Western North Carolina for almost a decade.
In the contemporary age, Wolfe—like F. Scott Fitzgerald—is one of the city’s most beloved ghosts. And Wolfe’s novels are celebrated for their excellence in craftsmanship as well as being priceless snapshots of day-to-day life and culture as it existed in the early 1900s in Asheville.[caption id="attachment_709" align="alignleft" width="300"] Some travelers came to the 'Old Kentucky Home' with nothing more than a suitcase and hat. Photo by Monty Combs.[/caption]
The Wolfe Memorial is a North Carolina Historic Site that welcomes hundreds of tourists a year. It is open for tours Tuesday-Saturday, from 9-5, for only $5.00 per person, or $2.00 for students. Visitors can purchase tickets at the visitor’s center, which is located conveniently on Market Street in downtown Asheville, behind the house.
The house’s rooms are the scenes of many celebrated episodes from Wolfe’s novels, like the bedroom where Wolfe’s father died, as chronicled in Of Time and The River. Thomas Wolfe’s own bedroom (where the seeds of his novels formed), the house’s piano parlor where the guests gathered, and the kitchen and dining areas are highlighted in the tour of the rambling home. Guests are treated to a fascinating video presentation as a primer, and led around the house by knowledgeable tour guides. Much Wolfe memorabilia is viewable, and the full oeuvre of the author’s novels is for sale.
The Old Kentucky Home suffered an act of arson in 1998, which did considerable damage to it that took seven years to repair. However, the damage was fully restored, and the house reopened to the public in 2004.[caption id="attachment_710" align="alignleft" width="300"] The parlor of the boarding house was a popular place for guests to gather and share stories about their travels. Photo by Monty Combs. [/caption]
House a treat for history-buffs
The appeal of the home is by no means limited to literary-minded visitors; those who love history and historic buildings for their own sake will also find much to delight in a tour of it. The house’s architecture and period-era furnishings are marvels in themselves. The Memorial’s location on Spruce Street, in vibrant and bustling downtown Asheville, makes visits easy to incorporate into a full day of sightseeing, wining, dining, hiking, and relaxing.
Wolfe himself died of tuberculosis at the tragically young age of thirty-seven. He is buried in Asheville at the Riverside Cemetery, for literary enthusiasts who want to visit Wolfe’s grave. His grave has been visited by countless fans over the years, and many people have incorporated their pilgrimage to his peaceful resting place with a tour of his childhood home. Visiting the Old Kentucky Home is something visitors to Asheville will always treasure and remember. More information can be found by visiting the Memorial’s official website.
Book a cabin in Asheville, only 10 minutes drive from the Thomas Wolfe Memorial.