Published by Carl Hedinger. Last Updated on October 17, 2023.
Whether you’re a new visitor or a permanent resident, these facts about Asheville, North Carolina will help you better understand this city. After years of enjoying the many fun things to do in Asheville, we wanted to provide perspective behind “The Land of the Sky.”
Our guide covers the history of Asheville through the important events, places, and people who eventually settled here. Even if you think you know the city pretty well, we know there will be at least one or more facts that you didn’t already know.
We used a variety of official sources when creating this guide to facts about Asheville. These sources proved especially useful for our research:
We have a lot of fun and interesting facts about Asheville, so we’ve broken it up into the following sections:
- Facts About Asheville
- The History of Asheville
- Facts About Asheville Today
- Things to Do in Asheville (and Nearby)
- More Facts about Asheville’s North Carolina Neighbors
Facts About Asheville (Stats and Geography)
The first collection of facts about Asheville is for the stats and geography aficionados:
- The City of Asheville is located in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Western North Carolina.
- It is the Buncombe County seat and the largest city in the county, with an area of about 46 square miles.
- According to the 2020 US Census, the population of Asheville is 94,589.
- Asheville’s average elevation is about 2,200 feet above sea level.
- The weather in Asheville is relatively less extreme than in other places, due to its location. Surrounding mountain chains help prevent severe weather from reaching Asheville, though the city has experienced natural disasters over the years.
- The Swannanoa River runs through the city from the east and joins the French Broad River near Biltmore Village and Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College.
- Multiple mountain towns and outdoor attractions are within a day trip from Asheville. They include:
You can visually travel to these places and more through our Western North Carolina Map.
The History of Asheville
You’ll find quite a few interesting facts about Asheville when digging into its history. Events are presented in chronological order with some exceptions.
- Before Asheville became Asheville, the land was within the bounds of the Cherokee Nation.
- Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto and his men passed through the area in 1540 as they searched for gold.
- The Cherokee sided with the British during the Revolutionary War, partly to regain previously lost land from settlers. In 1776, Cherokee attacks on settlers led to the destruction of settlements and more than 30 white settler deaths.
- In response, Brigadier General Griffith Rutherford led a campaign through the Swannanoa Valley and destroyed Cherokee towns and food supplies. The Cherokee were largely removed from the war effort and also, from the Swannanoa Valley during a westward retreat.
- After the Revolutionary War, lands that included present-day Asheville were officially seized from the Cherokee people through treaties. You can learn about these and other important stories at the Museum of the Cherokee People in Cherokee.
- In 1791, Buncombe County was formed from parts of Burke County and Rutherford County. It was named for Revolutionary War Colonel Edward Buncombe.
- The new county’s government, made up of wealthy landowners, first met in 1792 in the barn of Revolutionary War Colonel William Davidson.
- A settlement from state land grants was established in the area we now know as Asheville by John Burton in 1794. It was called Morristown to honor Robert Morris, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and “Financier of the American Revolution.”
- Dates differ depending on the source, but the name was changed to Asheville and incorporated in 1797. Like Asheboro and Ashe County, the town was named for NC Governor Samuel Ashe.
Read More: 25 of the Best Waterfalls in North Carolina
19th-Century Facts About Asheville (Before the Civil War)
- For much of its first century, Asheville had a relatively small population. Starting in 1800, its population was 38.
- On January 1, 1801, the first post office was established in Asheville.
- The 75-mile Buncombe Turnpike was constructed between 1824 and 1828. The route connected much of Western North Carolina, including Asheville, and opened it up to trade and further settlement.
- Asheville’s population reached 500 by 1840.
- The Asheville and Greenville Plank Road was completed in 1851 and further boosted the region’s commercial prospects.
- Around this time, Asheville’s reputation as a health retreat and summer resort town was gaining recognition. Wealthy families (and their slaves) began traveling here to take advantage of the more favorable conditions.
- The overall enslaved population of Asheville grew to support the growing (and lucrative) commercial agriculture industry needed to take care of guests.
- Prior to the Civil War, locals sensed a battle over slavery and organized the Buncombe Rifles, a militia group of more than 100 men.
Post Civil War-Facts About Asheville (The Land of the Sky)
- Asheville was largely spared during the Civil War, except for a short skirmish known as the five-hour Battle of Asheville and thievery during Stoneman’s Raid in 1865.
- After the war, Asheville gained further recognition as a summer retreat. A series of technological advances helped the city attract some important visitors and future residents.
- In 1878, author Francis Tiernan described Asheville as “The Land of the Sky.” This phrase became commonplace and helped spread the word about Asheville.
- The first Western North Carolina Railroad train arrived on October 2, 1880, a huge event in the history of Asheville.
- Asheville became a market hub for livestock and tobacco following the railroad’s arrival.
- The historically African-American community of Shiloh was first settled in 1880s.
- George W. Vanderbilt visited Asheville for the first time in the 1880s, traveling here with his mother.
- Asheville was incorporated as a city in 1883.
- The city’s first telephone service began in 1886.
- An electric streetcar began operating in the city in 1889.
- In 1890, Asheville’s population had reached more than 10,000.
- The Young Men’s Institute Building was constructed in 1893. It originally served as an educational institution for black construction workers employed at the Biltmore Estate. Today, the YMI Cultural Center preserves the heritage of Buncombe County African Americans in the same space.
- On Christmas Eve, 1895, George Vanderbilt’s Biltmore Estate opened. The project took six years and 1,000 craftspeople to complete. Christmas at Biltmore remains a tradition at Biltmore Estate.
- George Vanderbilt’s All Souls Episcopal Church was consecrated in November 1896. This immaculate cathedral served as the Biltmore House’s parish church. The Cathedral of All Souls remains a Biltmore Village landmark and community leader.
- Pharmacist and entrepreneur Edwin W. Grove first visited Asheville in the 1890s and fell in love with the city. He would begin buying real estate and develop the Grove Park neighborhood, among other soon-to-be mentioned projects.
20th Century Facts About Asheville
The 20th century began and ended on high notes, with some troubles in between. The 1900s were a period of overall growth, with Asheville establishing itself as a premier tourist destination and place to relocate for people from all walks of life.
- On October 3, 1900, acclaimed author Thomas Wolfe was born in Asheville.
- Biltmore Estate Industries was formed in 1905. The company sold chairs, picture frames, and other woodcarvings.
- St. Lawrence Catholic Church was built in 1905. Its status was elevated in 1993 by Pope John Paul II and today, it’s known as the Minor Basilica of St. Lawrence the Deacon & Martyr.
- In 1913, the Grove Park Inn opened its doors to guests. Many famous guests have stayed here over the years, including 10 presidents.
- In July 1916, 22 inches of rain fell in Western North Carolina in just 24 hours. The Flood of 1916 resulted in 80 deaths and the devastation of buildings, roads, and railroads along the Swannanoa and French Broad Rivers. This was one of the worst natural disasters in North Carolina.
- Fred Seely bought Biltmore Estate Industries in 1917 and changed its name to Biltmore Industries. He also moved the company to its current location next to the Grove Park Inn. Today, it’s known as Historic Grovewood Village.
- The population of Asheville surpassed 28,000 by 1920. Its future looked promising at the turn of the Roaring Twenties.
- The 15-story Jackson Building was completed in 1924. This was the first skyscraper in Western NC.
- McCormick Field was built in 1924 and has hosted various teams over the years, including the Asheville Blues of the Negro Southern League. Concrete has replaced the original wooden structure. Today, the Asheville Tourists of Minor League Baseball call it home.
- The historic First Baptist Church building was completed in 1927.
- Buncombe County Junior College opened in 1927. It changed names a couple of times before chartering as Asheville-Biltmore College in 1936. The college moved to its current location in Asheville in 1959. Its name changed to UNC Asheville in 1969, after joining the University of North Carolina system.
- The art deco Asheville City Hall and the neo-classical revival Buncombe County Courthouse were completed in 1928. Originally, the two neighboring buildings were supposed to be connected but those plans never came to fruition.
- The S&W Cafeteria was built in 1929. The iconic building recently reopened as the S&W Market—a food hall and taproom.
- Grove Arcade opened in 1929, two years after the passing of E.W. Grove. After years of ups, downs, and recent renovations, Asheville’s original mall remains a city landmark.
- Thomas Wolfe published Look Homeward, Angel in 1929. The mostly autobiographical and frank work was based on Wolfe’s early years in Asheville. It was so realistic that the book was banned from the Asheville Public Library for more than five years.
- The Great Depression took its toll on Asheville, forcing eight local banks to fail on November 20, 1930. Both the City of Asheville and Buncombe County spent 50 years paying off their respective debts. As a result of the debt, many of Asheville’s historic buildings have remained intact.
- Although the city was in the throes of the Depression, some achievements occurred during the 1930s.
- The Southern Mountain Handicraft Guild was chartered in 1930. Its name changed to the Southern Highland Handicraft Guild in 1933 and in the 1990s, dropped “Handi.” The Southern Highland Craft Guild is the second oldest craft organization in the US, just behind the Boston Society of Arts and Crafts.
- Brothers Burnham Colburn and William Colburn helped found the Southern Appalachian Mineral Society in 1931. It is one of America’s oldest mineral societies.
- In 1934, bus service came to Asheville.
- Great Smoky Mountains National Park was established nearby in 1934.
- Construction on the Blue Ridge Parkway began in 1935. The scenic road would connect Shenandoah National Park in Virginia with the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina and Tennessee. Many prominent Blue Ridge Parkway stops (including hikes and waterfalls) are located in and around Asheville.
- The Grammy-award winning singer Roberta Flack was born in Asheville in 1937.
- On September 15, 1938, Thomas Wolfe passed away at age 37 from tubercular meningitis in Baltimore, Maryland. He was laid to rest in Asheville.
- A tragic fire occurred at the Highland Hospital on March 10, 1948. Among those who died was Zelda Fitzgerald, the novelist, painter, and wife of author F. Scott Fitzgerald.
- The Asheville Art Museum was established in 1948. It remains a wonderful showcase of the local arts scene.
- The privately managed Thomas Wolfe Memorial opened to the public on July 19, 1949. The City of Asheville took over the property’s operations in 1958 and the NC Department of Cultural Resources acquired the now-state historic site.
- The Southern Appalachian Mineral Society opened the Burnham S. Colburn Memorial Museum in July 1960. This museum would change names and move multiple times before settling into its downtown Asheville location as the Asheville Museum of Science. We love taking our kids to this wonderful museum!
- A group of Asheville leaders and local nature lovers established the Asheville-Biltmore College Botanical Association in November 1960. The Botanical Gardens at Asheville has evolved from its earliest days to become one of the most beautiful botanical gardens in North Carolina (and the world).
- In 1961, the Asheville Regional Airport (AVL) near Fletcher began operations.
- The 1970s are believed to be when Asheville began its recent renaissance, after paying off its debts and attracting new residents and increasing visitors.
- The Asheville Mall opened in 1971, ushering in a new shopping era.
- In 1973, a groundbreaking ceremony is held for a new zoo and nature center. It opened four years later on May 7, 1977, and the WNC Nature Center remains one of Asheville’s most beloved attractions.
- The WNC Farmers Market opened in 1977 on property purchased from the Biltmore Estate.
- Electronic music pioneer Robert Moog moved to Asheville in 1978. He founded Big Briar after leaving Moog Music.
- The Folk Art Center opened to the public in 1980. The Southern Highland Craft Guild has operated here ever since.
- Malaprop’s Bookstore opened in downtown Asheville in 1982. Many loyal customers and new visitors continue to peruse one of the best bookstores in North Carolina.
- In the mid-1980s, Highwater Clays moved from its Biltmore Village location to a part of town previously abandoned after the Flood of 1916. This was the first arts-focused business to move into what would become the River Arts District. Today, more than 200 artists work here.
- The NC Arboretum was established in 1986 by the NC General Assembly. The space is largely influenced by the “Father of American Landscape Architecture” Frederick Law Olmsted, whose last project was the landscape design at Biltmore Estate. Each year, Winter Lights at the NC Arboretum brings even more holiday cheer to the Asheville area.
- In 1994, Oscar Wong moved to Asheville from Charlotte and opened Highland Brewing Company, the city’s original craft brewery. It has been joined by many more breweries in Asheville, both locally owned and conglomerate-managed. The city more than deserves the “Beer City USA” nickname.
Facts About Asheville Today
The 20th century was full of interesting facts about Asheville but the city’s story isn’t over. Here are some events that bring us to today:
- In 2002, Big Briar became Moog Music again when Robert Moog bought back the naming rights. Robert Moog passed away in 2005, but his legacy lives on.
- Another important event in Asheville’s music history was the opening of The Orange Peel in 2002. It’s usually included in any list of the best music venues in the US.
- Dalton Distillery opened in 2010 as Asheville’s first legal distillery. Today, it’s been joined by a handful of other craft spirit makers.
- In 2011, the Moog Factory moved into a much larger space in downtown Asheville. You can tour the facility during designated times throughout the week.
- The Asheville Music Hall opened in 2011, adding another great venue ot the city’s music scene.
- The Asheville Pinball Museum opened in August 2013, featuring classic pinball machines for visitors to play after paying admission.
- After multiple moves and name changes, the Asheville Museum of Science opened on November 11, 2016. There is a Colburn Hall of Minerals inside to honor Burnham S. Colburn’s collection.
- The Moogseum opened in 2019 to honor Robert Moog’s work and legacy.
We’re excited to see what’s to come from Asheville and its surroundings in Western North Carolina. It’s typically one of our favorite downtowns to explore, and also a great base for hiking (and waterfalls), amazing food, and nearby day trips to mountain towns.
Until we return for more adventures, do you have any facts about Asheville to share with us? We’d love to hear about them!
Things to Do in Asheville (and Nearby)
Here are some Asheville, North Carolina travel guides that we’ve created.
More Facts About Asheville’s North Carolina Neighbors
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