Asheville’s local hero is a man they once shunned.
Born October 3rd 1900, Thomas Clayton Wolfe’s literary production includes four lengthly novels and a number of shorter works. Most of the characters and story were derived from life around him — so much so that local Ashevillians easily recognized themselves in the stories. While this caused some consternation when his first novel came out, some years later he was given the warm welcome he deserved.
Enter the lobby and get a ticket for the guided tour. It’s offered once an hour, and you’ll depart from the lobby at 30 minutes past the hour. If you arrive early or just miss it, there’s a large room of exhibits and a twenty-minute video to watch, both of which document the man’s life.
From American artist Connie Bostic, A Thorn of Memory, these oil-on-birch panels are the artist’s interpretations of Thomas Wolfe quotes.
To be clear, this isn’t quite the all-American family here. The tour guide speaks little of Thomas’ father, but goes on about his mother’s speculative real-estate business. The house you’ll tour is exhibit A in that business — a boarding house named the ‘old Kentucky home’ where Thomas lived until he left for college. If you watched the twenty-minute video comprised of period photographs and typewritten pages before starting the tour, the house may feel like a review of sorts.
What’s only mentioned in passing in the video is his mother’s ambitions towards speculating in real estate. This boarding house, for about $1 a day in the early 20th century, was on the low-end of what was available in the area. Instead of going towards significant upkeep, money went to expanding the house and to future real estate deals.
A part of the kitchen. Once you get past the dining room, things are as they were nearly a century ago — arson damaged the dining room and a portion of the house, though you’d never know by looking at it now.
Your dollar back in the 20th century wouldn’t have got you much — a bed or cot, some basic food, but very little in the way of privacy.
One of the sun rooms, complete with an early 20th century paper on display.
One of the nicer-looking bedrooms — but there was no guarantee which room you’d get!
It looks almost small from the outside, but this is one fairly large house. To be clear, The tour guide is very knowledgeable, and he’ll sprinkle in a tidbit or three about how a particular room inspired a similar room in one of Thomas Wolfe’s books.
Whether you go before or after, ensure the museum is part of your visit. Consider the house the authentic side, the museum the side more focused on Thomas himself. The museum is great for showing the various places where he lived and some of his personal belongings, while the info panels essentially repeat the video.
In case you can’t read the text, this was a doorstop made by W.O. Wolfe (Thomas’ father) for Julia Westall (his mother) as a Christmas present. Three weeks later, they were married… That must’ve been some doorstop…
As a lookback on a semi-famous writer you’ve probably never heard of, it’s a fine addition to your Asheville itinerary. The tour guide is great, the house as authentic as it gets, and it feels like you’re stepping back in time.
Next up: exploring downtown Asheville.
Name: Thomas Wolfe House / Thomas Wolfe Memorial
Address: 52 N. Market Street, Asheville, NC, 28806 (GPS: 35.597638,-82.550853)
Directions: Get on I-240 East in Asheville, then get to exit 5A. Turn left onto Broadway, then the 3rd left onto Woodfin. Take the 1st right on North Market, and look for the memorial on your left. Free parking for customers.
Hours: 9am-5pm — Guided tours start hourly at half-past the hour.
Admission: $5 USD
Phone: (828) 253–8304