Road Trip – Asheville, North Carolina (May 2-3, 2020)

As I drove into Asheville, I immediately came upon Pack Square Park and right off loved the park setting. I was anxious to explore as I knew from my research that there was much history and historic buildings here. Due to COVID it was very quiet with not many people out and plenty of parking so I could park close to things I wanted to see and do. This historic public square has been a central focal point since the city’s creation in 1797, and lays at the intersection of ancient trading paths. It’s named after lumber baron and philanthropist, George W. Pack who donated the land to the county that allowed the old courthouse to be removed from the square and a new courthouse to be built. Pack’s offer required the county to dedicate the historic square as a public park forever. This park was renamed Pack Square in 1903. The park that is here today was a project established in 2000, which was to design and build a 6.5-acre park that opened in 2009. The park has a large open green space on a grassy slope overlooking the main stage, three water features including a splash fountain and original art by local artists.  

Pack Square Park is a really beautiful park inside the city with very unique historic buildings and a beautiful Veterans Memorial. I loved the outdoor amphitheatre and the art work in the surrounding brick work. I could picture people on summer days sitting on the lawn enjoying summer concerts and kids playing in the water fountain on hot, humid summer days.

Asheville’s City Hall

Asheville’s City Hall building was designed by Douglas Ellington in 1926, an architect who came to Asheville in the mid-1920s. The building is a colorful, massive and electric Art Deco masterpiece that is a 8-story building, which was completed in 1928. Originally the project was propsed as part of a joint city-county plaza development, city hall represents the progressive aspirations of the city in the 1920s.

Ellington designed other landmark buildings in Asheville which include the First Baptist Church, Asheville High School, and the S&W Cafeteria. Ellington stated that the design was “an evoultion of the desire that the contours of the building should reflect the mountain background” referring to the amazing scenery that surrounds Asheville and serves as the backdrop of City Hall.

The basic design of the building follows the Classical Architecture principle called “The Rule of Three” or “tripartite organization”. Vertically, City Hall is divided into three parts to represent the three parts of a classical column. The lowest floors which are clad in marble represent a column’s base, the middle floors, mostly done in brick represent the shaft, and then the seventh floor cornice represents a columns capital. This tripartite vertical division had been being utilized by modern architects since the invention (in the late nineteenth-century) with the skyscraper.

The “rule of three” was extended to the lower floor where there are three arched openings into the entrance, and on the second floor by three windows, each surrounded by marble columns and pediments. The name plate above the main entrance and steps to the entrace are also marble.

The unusual octagonal roof is covered with bands of elonagated triangular terra cotta red tiles. Between the two levels of roof are angular pink “Georgia” marble piers between which are precise vertical rows of ornamental green & old feather motifs.

Ellington viewed architecture as a “Fine Art”, and sought to integrate the Fine Arts into his design. He was also a proficient watercolor artist and ornamented his buildings with geometric and natural sculptured ornamentation with a striking use of color. He used naturally colored materials such as brick and stone to achieve the desired colors, highlighted with brightly colored tile and art glass. The main entrance to the building is a groin-valuted loggia, that is beautiful in detail and color. The vaulting and upper walls are covered in colorful mosiac tiles and there are two carved marble crests of the City Seal which are above the north and south entrance doors.

In place of ancient sphinx guarding the entrance, Ellington designed, at the north and south ends on the exterior of the loggia, monumental Art Deco lanterns set on plain marble bases. The copper and art glass lanterns suggest the feathers of an arrow.

Due to COVID-19 the building was not open and so I was not able to go in……my research from google is that the interior of the building is designed in typical 1920s office building-the central core contains the public elevators and an enclosed staircase with offices lie along the perimeter of each floor. The second floor houses the City Managers office and City Council Chambers, both decorated in Neo-Georgian fashion. The interior of the council chambers features murals that portray the story of the American Indians and early white settlers in the area. City Hall has changed little since the 1920s. The building captivates residents and vistors till to this day with its bold and colorful style. I myself thought it was amazing and beautiful building.


Asheville’s courthouse was completed in 1928 and is one of the most extravagent courthouses in North Carolina. In 1792, after its founding, Buncombe County built its first courthouse in what was then known as Morristown, renamed Asheville in 1797. Several log and brick courthouses were constructed during the 19th century, but by 1923, with the rapid growth of the county and Asheville, county court officials decided that a new courthouse was “imperative and essential.” The Washington, D.C. firm of Milburn, Heister & Company was chosen to design the new courthouse in December 1926. The firm had a national reputation for quality work in public buildings across the southeast.

The Courthouse was Milburn’s most opulently finished public building. The building’s complex setbacks, window groupings and overlay of Neo-Classical Revival ornamentation resulted in a distinctive building from this period, when courthouses were normally characterized by simple massing and conservative classical elements. Again due to COVID-19 I was unable to go into the building so I turned to the internet for more information……..The interior lobby has a sweeping marble staircase, bronze and glass screens, a coffered ceiling with ornate plasterwork and a mosaic tile floor that echoes the ceiling’s tones. The lobby is one of the best-preserved and most elegant Neo-Classical interiors in the state.

The new courthouse was initially estimated at $1,000,000, but the final cost ran closer to $1,750,000, and the removal of the old courthouse required another $65,000. Upon completion in 1928, the 17-story building was the tallest local government building in North Carolina.


As I mentioned there is also a beautiful granite Veterans Memorial in Pack Square Park.

The memorial’s main feature is a bronze statue of a woman seated on a granite bench with letters to the “homeland” on her lap. The sculptor Jodi Hollnagel-Jubran was inspired by her own mother and thought it fitting to have a mother figure as the central point in the memorial to veterans, “because we all have mothers.”

On the outside entrance is written: WESTERN NORTH CAROLINA / VETERANS’ MEMORIAL



Before the Europeans arrived in what is now North Carolina, the land around Asheville was a part of the Cherokee nation.  After the American Revolution, Colonel Samuel Davidson and his family received a land grant from the state of North Carolina to settle in the Swannanoa Valley in the Blue Ridge Mountains. This early settlement in 1785 paved the way for the future of what would become the city of Asheville.

In 1792, Buncombe County was established with a city called “Morristown” as its county seat. In 1797, that city was renamed Asheville after North Carolina Governor Samuel Ashe

As a city in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Asheville was an outpost in 1797. Frontiersmen such as Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett traveled through here in those days…..this area was a crossroad of Indian trails on a plateau surrounded by mountains and rivers on all sides. When the railroad arrived in 1880, it transformed Asheville and Buncombe County into a resort and therapeutic health center. Asheville became a destination for visitors who were looking for a mountain escape and the population of permanent residents increased to 10,000 by 1890.

As Asheville began to grow in the 1880s, it drew visionaries, poets and explorers. Among the most notable was George W. Vanderbilt, he came to Asheville in the late 1880s and bought 120,000 acres to build his grand estate on, “The Biltmore”. Construction took six years to complete. He hired a landscape architect to design the grounds and gardens, and a architect to help him plan the house. The Biltmore Estate has withstood the test of time and remains America’s Largest Home.

Author, Thomas Wolfe was born in Asheville in 1900 and grew up in his mother’s boardinghouse, known as “Dixieland.” Wolfe is one of the giants of American literature, and Asheville is the backdrop for his autobiographical novel, “Look Homeward, Angel.” The boarding house where he grew up is still preserved in downtown Asheville.

There are many styles of architecture throughout the streets of Asheville. Asheville was called the “Paris of the South” in the early 1900s for establishing itself as an artisan city with unique style and architectural talent. In the 1920s Asheville grew as an urban center of government, commerce and tourism, more than 65 buildings were built in downton Asheville during the 1920s. The Depression of the late 1920s and early 1930s hit Asheville hard, Western North Carolina’s largest bank, the Central Bank Trust Company, folded. Fortunes vanished, families lost their homes, and the city soon defaulted on its overwhelming debts. Rather than filing bankruptcy, the City of Asheville chose to pay off its debt, taking nearly 50 years to accomplish. Investment in new construction stopped. The absence of building activity in Asheville had the effect of preserving several buildings from the wrecking ball, allowing so many of these buildings to survive.

Basilica of St Lawrence

As I continued to drive around the city of Asheville I ran across this beautiful church, The Basilica of St Lawrence…….I really love these old churches with their amazing architecture and how well they are built to with stand years of time. I was not able to go inside, so the pictures from inside I have inclued here are from the internet, but I was able to walk the grounds and admire the architecture and craftsmanship. I don’t know if any of my readers are interested in the history and details, but I find it interesting and I don’t know a lot about the Catholic churches and the words they use to describe the various rooms and alters so I have used words that I am familiar with to narrate through the information that I have read or learned to try and make it user friendly. I also try to keep the information short so it’s not to boring, but still give at least some information and history. 

So what is a Basilica? I was curious to know as well……The title dates back to the early Greek and Roman times and referred to a type of public building. In the 4th century, Basilicas began to be used as places of worship. It was during this time that construction of the greatest Basilicas of Rome was started. Today, the term Basilica is a special designation given by the Holy Father to certain churches because of their antiquity, dignity, historical importance or significance as a place of worship. At the time of the designation of St. Lawrence (April 1993) there were only 33 other Basilicas in the United States. For a church to be considered a Basilica it had to meet a number of required elements which I won’t list or go into, but one of the requirments was that it should have special significance in the diocese. St Lawrence, with its unique dome, is the only church designed and built by the renowned Rafael Guastavino; and is considered the mother church of Western North Carolina.

St. Lawrence was completed in 1909 and is one of Asheville’s architectural treasures. Designed by Rafael Gustavino and Richard Sharpe Smith, who were renowned architects on the Biltmore House, this Catholic church has the largest freestanding elliptical dome in the country. The exterior style is Spanish Renaissance. The central figure on the main façade is that of St. Lawrence holding in one hand a palm frond and in the other a gridiron, the instrument of his torture. On the left of St. Lawrence is the statue of St. Stephen, the first martyr, and like St. Lawrence, a deacon. To the right is the statue of St. Aloysius Gonzaga, a native of Spain as was St. Lawrence. The lunette over the main entrance is in polychrome terra cotta and represents Christ giving Peter the keys and appointing him head of the church. Immediately below this lunette is a stained glass window displaying the Basilica of St. Lawrence Coat of Arms.

The massive stone foundations and the solid brick super structure give silent testimony to the architect’s desire to build an edifice that would endure for generations. There are no beams of wood or steel in the entire structure; all walls, floors, ceilings and pillars are of tile or other masonry materials. The roof is of tile with a copper covering.

As I had mentioned I was not able to go inside and so much wish I had been able to, so these pictures and information are from the internet. When entering you can easily see the solidity of the structure. The steps to the organ have no wood or nails. The stained glass window to the right is Bishop Haid’s coat of arms and the one to the left is the coat of arms of Pope St. Pius X.

From the start of the main aisle inside the church, one can realize the beauty of the ellipse and the wonder of the dome. It has a clear span of 58 x 82 feet and is said to be the largest freestanding elliptical dome in North America. The four statues in the wall niches are from the Daprato Statuary Company, Italy. On the left, St. Cecilia and St. Peter; on the right, St. Rose of Lima and St. Patrick.

The Main Alter and the Crucifixion table is the main focus of this room. This grouping is rare and a fine example of Spanish wood carving of the middle seventeenth century, and represents Mary, the Mother Jesus, and St. John, at the Crucifixion. The fresco of the Last Supper and the flanking square panels made up the lower facade of the main altar until 1968. At that time they were separated from the base of the altar, moved forward and topped with a 1,800-pound block of Tennessee marble to form a new altar table.

The ornamental partitions that fill the entire wall above the altar are made of polychrome terra cotta. Two archangels, St. Raphael (with the fish in his right hand and a sword in his left) and St. Michael (grasping a sword in both hands), stand on either side of the altar. To the left of St. Michael are the evangelists Matthew and Mark; to the right of St. Raphael-Luke and John. The figures are more than seven feet high; the partitions on each side measure 11 feet by 18 feet in length.


Asheville has a self-guided tour called the Asheville Urban Trail which is a 1.7 mile walking tour through the streets of downtown. Asheville’s history is told through 30 stops, each with public sculputures landmarks. The trail highlights five distinct time periods that are indicated by pink granite markers in the sidewalk; the feather represents the Gilded Age, the horseshoe represents the Frontier Period, an angel for the Times of Thomas Wolfe, the courthouse for the Era of Civic Pride and an eagle for the Age of Diversity. I did not walk the tour but did run across some of the stops as I made my way driving around town.

Station #2 – Crossroads

This sculpture represents a bed of a road (The Buncombe Turnpike) that was once traveled by Native Americans and later, by drovers who herded livestock across the mountains from Tennessee to southern markets, taking turkeys, pigs and cows as far as Charleston. The embedded rails (former Asheville Trolley tracks) represent the coming of the railroad (1880) and the electric trolley (1889).

Station #26 – Past and Promise

This sculpture of a girl in bronze drinking at a fountain represents a simple moment, and one of the trails most cherished stations called “childhood.” She represents both the promise of youth and the reminiscence of times past when children came to play in Pack Square; the freedom of discovery and the promise of accomplishemnt comfortably bound together.

Station #25 – Ellington’s Dream

This granite etching portrays Douglas Ellington’s original working concept of two art deco buildings of government, sitting side by side. Only one followed the plan – the intricately layered city building on the right, controversial at the time. Feather ornamentation throughout the structure honors the history of the Cherokee indians in these mountains.

First Baptist Church

The First Baptist Church was dedicated on March 6, 1927, and was another of Douglas Ellingtons designs. He incorporated traditional Beaux-Arts, the early form of Christian church architecture, and fashionable modern Art Deco details in the new church. This building was the fifth house of worship for the First Baptist Church since its organization in 1829. Membership grew from 37 in 1874 to approximately 1,500 in early the 1920s. The new church provided seating for 2,000 in the main sanctuary and space for another 3,000 in the surrounding educational buildings.

A slightly bellcast dome capped by a copper cupola sits atop the octagonal main auditorium and a full height hectacstyle portico greets visitors at the entrance. Although the outward form of the church is generally Neoclassical, the decorative patterns and surface ornament reflect the Art Deco style, which became popular in the 1920s. The primary exterior materials, brick and marble, are composed in a variety of patterns and low relief planes that enrich the wall surfaces with variations of texture and color. Terra cotta molding forms alternating bands of chevrons and nail head designs, while geometric star patterns set in low relief panels accentuate the entrance doors. The large, open sanctuary is richly detailed with geometric stars, stylized floral and feather motifs, diamond-shaped panels and abstract diagonal fretwork.


Since the mid-19th century, Church Street has been home to a number of congregations. The Central United Methodist Church met in a frame building beginning in 1837, but the current building was not erected until 1902. Designed by Richard H. Hunt of Tennessee and built by James Madison Westall, the imposing limestone church presents Romanesque Revival style massing and forms, but the detailing more closely reflects the Gothic Revival style. A five-bay loggia, set between two pinnacled towers, fronts the large, gable-roofed auditorium. A Sunday School was added and ready for use in 1904 and the first service was held in the auditorium on November 5, 1905. In 1924 a renovation and expansion (costing more that $200,000) included a larger Sunday school additon.


Mt. Zion Baptist Church, a redbrick late Victorian Gothic church, is home to one of Asheville’s largest congreations of African Americans. In the spring of 1880, a new African American Baptist church was established in Asheville, nine blocks west of the current church. Shortly after the church was established a revival was held. At the time the members had not decided on a name for the church, so when the Reverend came to conduct the revival he decided to call this church Mt Zion because he had never known a Mt Zion that did not thrive.

In 1919 a new Mt Zion church was built in its current location. The church is two and one-half stories from the stone foundation to a tin-shingled roof where three towers are topped by ornamental sheet-metal finials. There are large Art Glass windows that ornament the towers walls. The massive church has a cornerstone that reads, “Mt. Zion Baptist Church, Rebuilt 1919, Reverend J.R. Nelson, Pastor,” reflecting the building’s long history and importance to the community.

Vance Moument

Zebulon Baird Vance was Governor of North Carolina during the American Civil War and a United States Senator from 1880 until his death in 1894. He also lived in Asheville. George Willis Pack donated $2000, or two-thirds of the cost towards the design and construction of the monument. Originally, only the word “Vance” appeared on each side. Construction of the 65-foot obelisk honoring him began December 22, 1897, with a band playing “Dixie” as the cornerstone was laid. The location of the obelisk was present-day Pack Square, on land owned by the city of Asheville. The inscription on the plaque read:

MAY 13, 1830 — APRIL 14, 1894

Places like the Vance mounment have been controversial particulary in light of today’s events and the history of slavery in the United States. Zebulon Vance’s family owned slaves and he was a product of the times. During the “Reconstruction era” he opposed allowing African Americans to have equal rights. Vance is also known for and often praised for his famous speech, “The Scattered Nation,” where he calls on society to demonstrate compassion and tolerance for Jews.

Zebulon Vance’s leadership helped the people of North Carolina survive after the Civil War ended. His role as governor and then in the senate helped North Carolina continue to thrive and flourish.

The Vance monument is impressive with its towering height, as an obelisk it was modeled after Egyptian obelisks and the most famous U.S. obelisk, the Washington mounument. The Vance obelisk is constructed of rough cut stones unlike the smooth separate blocks of the Washington monument. Zeb Vance was a 33rd degree Freemason and there are 33 rows in this monument.

Update 2021

Vance Monument is now gone as of May 2021. After standing tall for more than 120 years, the Vance monument has been taken down, stone by stone. The Monument had stood in the middle of downtown Asheville since 1897. The city council voted to remove the obelisk in March 2021, following the recommendation of the Vance Monument task force. The task force was created in June 2020. From there, appointed members discussed the monument’s fate for weeks before deciding removing it was the best course of action. Then in March, the final say from city council came down. Demolition began May 18, 2021 and was completed except for the pedestal by May 30, 2021.

Jackson Building, Downtown Asheville

The ornate Jackson Building is the most beloved skyscraper in Downtown Asheville. The 13-story Neo-Gothic style skyscraper was completed in 1924, the first skyscraper in western North Carolina. It was also the tallest skyscraper in all of North Carolina!

Real estate developer L. B. Jackson commissioned the Neo-Gothic style skyscraper to promote his faith in the continued strength of the 1920s local real estate market. Fitted with a searchlight to draw tourists to the city, the Jackson Building has been a visual landmark since its completion.

The Jackson Building was constructed on a tiny 27 by 60 foot lot that many believed to be too small to build on. This steel-framed brick and terra-cotta structure is adorned with dramatic stone gargoyles near the top. In its early days, one of the buildings most unusual uses was as a “clean-air lookout”. Many of Asheville’s buildings were heated with coal, and every morning the city inspector stood at the top of the Jackson Building to watch for excessive smoke as building furnaces started up. If heavy smoke persisted for more than 5 minutes a citation to clean the furnace was issued.

Asheville High School

When I first gazed up on this building I thought it was the most amazing, beautiful building I had ever seen for a high school. I have always admired the craftsmenship and beautiful designs and materials that the early archictects put into their buildings.

After the railroad reached Asheville in 1881, the population grew from 2,000 to 10,000, so due to the increase in population, Asheville began a public school system in 1888. The new public school system developed and grew over the years until in 1926 when the school board agreed that a “large, central high school” was needed. A committe was formed to locate a suitable location and out of seven architect proposals Douglas D. Ellington (Ellington is also the architect who designed Asheville City Hall) was selected by a majority vote. With a cost of $1.3 million (18.8 million in 2016 dollars) Asheville high school opened on February 5, 1929. When the Asheville High School opened it had a wide variety of vocation programs including automotive mechanics, a full print shop (all yearbooks, newspapers, and magazines were printed on campus), mechanical drawing and photography, including a dark room. When the stock market crashed in September 1929 some schools were forced to close and the city’s economics hit rock bottom. For a time Asheville High School was closed and students were moved to David Millard and Hall Fletcher which were two structures built in the early 1920’s which formed what was the former Asheville High School. In 1949, another vocational facility (known today as the ROTC building) was built by students in the vocational program, as a real world example of construction. In the early 1970’s a media center addition was added to the main building. In 1973, a new gym and atheltic facility was added to the old vocational building. In the early 1990’s, a $3.5 million cultural arts building was built. In 2006, a new $3.1 million cafeterial was added to the campus. In 2016 the city identified $25 million in needed repairs. The biggest problem was the roof, with thousands of clay tiles which would all have to be removed (an possibly replaced afterwards). The executive director of the Preservation Society of Ashville, called the building “a master work of Ellington.”


Pack’s Tavern is a modern tavern in a historic/vintage building with over 35 rotating taps, live music and food that sits in the heart of downtown Asheville’s Pack Square Park. Pack’s Tavern has quite the history……the historic Hayes & Hopson building has served the local community for many years. The building was built in 1907 by a local lumber supply company and remains one of the oldest buildings in Asheville. As the demand for lumber grew, the supply company built an additional building to the north. Erected in 1912, this same building is the location for the main restaurant and bar area. The second-floor is an event center, called the Century Room. In its early years it is rumored that the Hayes & Hopson building operated an illegal liquor distribution hub that served most of Western North Carolina during the 1920’s. When Prohibition began on January 16, 1920, the story goes that a lucrative distribution center for moonshine was established in the basement. Using the lumber supply as it’s front, its “load dock” on the side of the building and a underground passageway enabled the business to thrive. For the next 12 years, large quantities of while lightening were coming and going. Historians say the tunnel or passageway lead directly to the police station right across the street…..the cops were some of the biggest boatleggers……..”The police would raid a still or a barrom and take all illegal liquor dowstairs to what would be the evidence room, impound it, and smuggle it through the passageway to the lumber company, never to be seen again.”

In 1932, the Democratic Party promised, if elected to repeal Prohibition. Nine days after Franklin Roosevelt took office in January 1933, the sale of beer was legalized. Prohibition was fully repealed in December of that year with the ratification of the 21st amendment……the theme of Pack’s Tavern is 1932 – a tribute to the beginning of the end of Prohibition. Taking great care in the design and renovation of what is now Pack’s Tavern, the owners won a prestigious “Griffin Award” for period restoration to the post-Prohibition Era. The 1932 A Ford Truck called “Pack’s Yellow Truck”, has become one of the most photographed icons in downtown Asheville.


The Asheville Fire Department was formally organized in 1882. After a fatal fire on Vance Street, a group of citizens demanded action from town officials. A hand truck and equipment were purchased and the volunteer Hook and Ladder Company #1 was born. Two years later, Hose Company #1 was formed, also hand-drawn.

The Municipal Building/Headquarters directly across the street from Pack’s Tavern at 10 Court Plaza officially opened on March 8, 1926. Over 15,000 people attended the ceremonies at the $100,000 structure. The building housed the fire and police departments, a police court, a city jail, and the City Market in the rear. The fire station first housed four fire companies, two engines, an aerial ladder, and a service ladder. The living areas included dormitories (with 28 beds), reading rooms, a club room, and a kitchen.

In the late 1930s, the City Market relocated to another location, and in 1941, the fire department expanded into part of the old market. Personnel built a maintenance garage with a vehicle entrance on the Market Street side of the structure. By 1956, the remaining old market area was used by the county welfare department.

The interior of the Municipal Building was extensively remodeled beginning in 1998 and completed in 2000. The $11 million project expanded and improved facilities for both the fire and police departments. The emergency communications center was also moved from its basement location to the third floor.


2 thoughts on “Road Trip – Asheville, North Carolina (May 2-3, 2020)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s