The City of Asheville (population 69,308) is nestled between the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Great Smokies of Appalachia, at the confluence of the French Broad and the Swannanoa Rivers. Established by the state legislature in 1797 as the seat of newly created Buncombe County, the city was named in honor of Governor Samuel Ashe. The city prospered as a thoroughfare for settlers moving west and drovers moving livestock south.
With the arrival of the railroad in 1880, the population nearly doubled and Asheville blossomed as a destination for well-to-do tourists. George W. Vanderbilt declared Asheville “the most beautiful place in the world” and in 1889 broke ground on the celebrated Biltmore Estate, now a National Historic Landmark. The Great Depression abruptly ended Asheville’s financial boom, leaving the city with highest per capita debt of any city in the country, but by 1977 all bonds were paid and the city committed to urban renewal. Dozens of Art Deco buildings erected during the city’s heyday were preserved.
Today Asheville is a regional center with a thriving downtown full of historic buildings reborn as galleries, museums, bistros, and shops. Local attractions, including the childhood home of author Thomas Wolfe, are interpreted stations on Asheville’s Urban Trail. An on-line National Register Travel Itinerary and a driving tour brochure featuring three local historic districts are also available. The city also actively participates in the 24 county Blue Ridge National Heritage Area.
Asheville’s Grove Arcade, built in the 1920s as a retail center, was taken over by the federal government during WWII and later served as headquarters of the National Climatic Data Center. Planning began in the 1980s to return it to its original function, and with the help of funding from the Heritage Area and the Save America’s Treasures programs, it is now a downtown shopping and dining destination featuring an Arts and Heritage Gallery with an interactive “Maps in Motion” exhibit.
Another exciting partnership project created exhibits showcasing historic weather forecasting equipment and demonstrating how climate observation has evolved over time. Together with the Colburn Earth Science Museum, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Climatic Data Center, the University of North Carolina-Asheville and other partners, the city helped turn its heritage as a weather forecasting center into a large permanent exhibit, tied in to state educational guidelines, that last year attracted more than 11,000 students and many other visitors.
Designated a Preserve America Community in October 2006.