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A glimpse in the life of 1900s Asheville with a tour of the Old Kentucky Home

Posted By ShoutCarolina,Date: 07.28.2011

Stay at the Old Kentucky Home
“Healthiest Location/Rates Reasonable.”

At the turn of the 20th century Asheville emerged as a summer resort destination. With its cool climate, beautiful mountain scenery and fresh air it drew visitors for all over the country. By 1915, the city boasted 20 hotels and over 100 boarding houses. Entertainment included an opera, sightseeing tours by carriage or motorcar and leisurely strolls in the 13 city parks.

The best way to experience the boarding house accommodations of the early 1900s is to tour the Thomas Wolfe Memorial, aka Old Kentucky Home as it was called back then. Admission to the museum is free, while the 1 hour house tour is $1 per adult (practically free!). Open Tuesday to Saturday 9AM - 5PM, Sunday 1-5PM.
Old dilapidated house had now become a fit museum
Nicknamed “Dixieland” by writer Thomas Wolfe
The Queen Anne style house was built in 1883 by Erwin E. Slunder, one of Asheville’s most prosperous bankers.

In 1906, Thomas Wolfe’s mother purchases the house and opens it for boarding, “a big cheaply constructed frame house of eighteen or twenty drafty, high ceiling rooms” (Look Homeward, Angel).

In 1916 she adds eleven more rooms, electricity and indoor plumbing.

The dining room served breakfast and dinner ($1.50 a day gave you room and two cooked meals…not bad!) Some of the furniture is in its original condition while the plates and tableware were restored after the devastating 1998 malicious fire, when 30% of the original structure and 15% of the artifact collection was destroyed.

Where Julia Wolfe served dinner Old Kentucky Home boarding house

The kitchen where Julia Wolfe did most of the cooking. Most appliances are in their original condition. My favorite was the heavy set iron stove.

Old Kentucky Home 1900s kitchen table stove fridge

The bedroom where Benjamin Harrison Wolfe, Thomas’ older and most beloved brother, died of influenza in 1918, just shy of his 26 birthday. His last moments were captured in a heart-breaking scene in Look Homeward, Angel.

Benjamin Wolfe bedroom most famous scene Look Homeward Angel

Julia Wolfe was a shrewd, frugal and stubborn businesswoman, “a driver of hard bargains”.
Proof of Julia Wolfe frugality yet good business sense She knew how to squeeze a buck out of nothing.

Here you see a minuscule halfway turned into a bedroom. You hardly have room to get in and out of bed.

Not too mention you had to enter another guestroom to get to yours.
Forget about privacy!

“‘Spruce up, boy! Spruce up! Make folks think you’re somebody.’ And she gave him a pocketful of business cards which bore the inscription, Spend Your Summers At Dixieland…. and the admonition, ‘You’ve got to help me drum up trade if we’re to live boy…’”, , Thomas Wolfe “Look Homeward, Angel”

The playhouse is where the children spend most of their free time. The building was in a different location and brought to the museum in recent years.

The children's playroom house brought to the museum

Examples of dolls and toys children played with in the 1900s. Most items where found during foundation excavation in the 1970s.

What kids played with in early 1900s

Got laundry? Try the high tech washing machine of the late 19th century.

How guests got clothes washed in 1906

Curious to see what kind of medicines and home remedies people used in the 1900s? Well take a look…how about a “Chill Tonic” for the kids to make them behave?!

Chill tonic perfume found at Old Kentucky Home boardinghouse

If you want to grow big you got to have a train station. Here is a look of Asheville’s in the 1890.

Historic Asheville mountain destination for the rich and famous

“I was a child here; here the stairs, and here was darkness; this was I, and here is Time”, Thomas Wolfe, “Return”

More fun things to do in and around Asheville

Dig gold stories, old mining photos, and incredible discoveries at the Colburn Earth and Science Museum ($6 adults, free for children under 4)

Brave the whitewater river raft on the French Broad River (half an hour drive from Asheville, $51 per person)

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