Preserving the land of the museum

By Jorja Smith – [email protected] – Contributor | April 15, 2015 |
Historically, Asheville attracted many different types of people, from livestock herders to the social elite. Its picturesque location helped it expand into the culturally rich and vastly historical area which attracts many people to the city today, according to historical records.
Since the late 1800s, Asheville’s biggest form of income and success has turned to tourism, subsequently due to its geographic location and ideal climate.
People traveled from all over to take advantage of Asheville’s unique ozoniferous climate, characterized by fresh mountain air and the therapeutic environment, according to Catherine Bisher, author of A Guide to Historic Architecture.
“There was always this tension with the tuberculosis centers. In fact, Grove got this ordinance passed that banned tuberculosis sanitarians out of the city. But it did give Asheville that worldwide reputation of that time which Grove was able to build on to make it a straight tourist attraction,” said Dan Pierce, UNC Asheville history department chair.
Social elites, such as George Vanderbilt and Edwin Grove came to Asheville in the early 1900s and helped established the city further through philanthropy and elaborate architecture, according to historians.
“Historic architecture is the bedrock of a successful economy. A successful tourist economy,” said Jack Thomson, the executive director of the Preservation Society of Asheville and Buncombe County.
Grand buildings, such as The Biltmore Estate and the Grove Park Inn, came out of the increasing number of social elites migrating to Western North Carolina.
More than 1 million people visit the Biltmore Estate each year, according to Biltmore Estate sources.
“One thing that is really cool is all the art deco buildings that are in Asheville. It’s awesome being around the drum circle and really hip bars which are using these historical buildings but not necessarily taking away from them,” said Juliana Grassia, a political science student.
The importance of maintaining Asheville’s growing tourism comes through the preservation of historic attractions, such as the Grove Park Inn and the Biltmore Estate, according to historical architects.
The heart of tourism development in Asheville stems from protecting the surrounding environment to attract the tourists, Pierce said.
“You can’t go wrong with preservation, whether it be buildings or the environment. Because once you tear it down or cut it down and develop it, it’s gone. It’s not what it was and that’s the attraction,” said Pierce, a professor at UNCA for more than 15 years.
Housed on a little corner of Charlotte Street, the mission of the Preservation Society of Asheville and Buncombe County is to preserve the historical integrity of Asheville, according to the executive director.
“Our offices was Edwin Wiley Grove’s real estate as he was developing the Grove Park neighborhood,” Thomson said. “This cute little place was the headquarters for his development and was designed by Richard Sharpe Smith who was the supervising architect for the Biltmore Estate.”
The PSABC’s mission works to sustain the heritage and historic resources in Buncombe County. They preserve many different types of historical sites, from grand to humble, according to the executive director of seven years.
“They tell a part of the American story that is no longer being told in the present day. If we disregard those chapters in the American story just because its modest architecture of associated with a conflict of our past, then we don’t learn from it. We lose that chapter,” Thomson said.
Education becomes one of the biggest missions the preservation society combats. They try to teach people how to properly preserve their houses through technical outreach, they host tours and they fight legal battles over demolitions or new developments, according to Thomson.
“Its been shown time and time again that communities that preserve interesting or important architecture can utilize those resources as part of economic development,” Thomson said. “Downtown Asheville is a museum with sidewalks.”
One of the biggest struggles the city of Asheville encounters becomes preserving or progressing, according to Pierce.
“Now it’s one of Asheville’s great assets that you have these great old buildings,” Pierce said. “Its a balancing act that you have to play in terms of preserving things, the environment or old buildings and things like that and building new infrastructure for tourists which could take out things like that.”
Many of these historical sites keep tourists interested by combining the old with aspects of the new.
The Grove Park Inn attracts visitors with its lavish spa and modern stores within the hotel, while the Biltmore Estate offers new exhibits each season to pique different interests.
“One of my favorite shows is ‘Downton Abbey,’ which is placed in the same era of the Biltmore Estate. Biltmore has a special exhibit where they are showing off clothes used in the show because it’s the same era. It’s really cool because ‘Downton Abbey’ is a popular show and they are tying in the history together,” said Grassia, history enthusiast.