Wednesday, September 18, 2013

RETURN TO ASHEVILLE

Asheville street band singing
Jambalaya, crawfish pie...
It's nice to open the windows at night and let in the fresh air of the southern Appalachians. Although we refer to a sojourn  in Asheville as a "Busman's Holiday" because we have the same type terrain on "The Mountain," Asheville does provide a dose of city life we don't get in our village of Sewanee, Tennessee.

We're staying in a renovated Queen Anne style home in Montford, the National Historic District of Asheville. The neighborhood is a homogenous area touted as having 600 structures that reflect a diversity of architectural styles that were built between 1890 and 1920 when Asheville began to burgeon as an important city in North Carolina. Due to the vision of a lumber magnate named George Willis Pack, residences began to spring up in an area designated as Montford near the turn of the 20th century. Some of the residences became boarding houses similar to those immortalized in Thomas Wolfe's Look Homeward Angel, but most of the imposing structures were the homes of businessmen, attorneys, doctors, and architects who represented the upper middle class of Asheville.

Although the architectural style of the homes in the neighborhood is described as Victorian, the prevailing style at the turn of the century was Queen Anne, a style with which I'm familiar because as a child I spent summers in my Grandmother Nell's Queen Anne style home in Franklinton, Louisiana. It's a style that has corner turrets and towers and irregular rooflines—Grandmother Nell's home reflected that description, and her roof boasted a cupola with a stained glass window.

27 Blake Street, Montford historic district, Asheville, NC
We're enjoying a room in the home of Carolyn Spain who once ran a boarding facility and now rents out one room for tourists, a lovely room with woodwork painted a soft shade of mauve and high ceilings, filled with antique oak furniture and an authentic clawfoot tub in the bath. From one side of the room, we can look out at a series of interlocking gardens filled with sunflowers, roses, azaleas, morning glory vines, Echinacea and a gracious plenty of dogwood trees. Carolyn, our hostess, pointed out a small pond that a few days ago held prize coy fish before a blue heron flew in and devoured them.

Carolyn's home is the Bosse Bryan House, circa 1897, a Queen Anne style residence, built by J. H. Bosse who migrated to the U.S. from Germany in 1866. He owned and operated a grocery on Haywood Street and constructed this residence 31 years after coming to Asheville. Later, the Bryan family occupied the house from 1920-1970, and Carolyn bought it during the 1980's when she began massive renovation work. The house's architectural style is described as having "notable features that include irregular massing, a prominent polygonal tower clad in shingles at the upper level, and a recessed porch with Montford brackets." This residence is located not far from the famous sanatorium founded by Dr. Robert Carroll who treated Zelda Fitzgerald, wife of F. Scott Fitzgerald, for a psychiatric disorder. Zelda was among nine women who perished in the 1948 fire that caused the main building of the hospital to burn to the ground.

Another residence in Montford historic district,
Asheville, NC 
The artistic influences of notables like Bruce Price and Frank Lloyd Wright can be seen in several houses in the Montford neighborhood. The homes reflect the upscale segment of society that existed in Asheville at the turn of the century and for several decades thereafter.

We sat on the side porch that is the private entrance to the room in the Bosse Bryan House and enjoyed drinks with Carolyn and her friend, Berry Bate, who does ornamental ironwork and sculptures, one of which is featured in Carolyn's garden—a giant replica of dogwood flowers rendered in copper and iron. Berry has created a plethora of artistic pieces for historic places in Asheville, including the pedestrian entry gate to the Biltmore Mansion and a rhododendron wall piece for the Grove Park Inn.  She has done metalwork for over 2,000 residences, and for cities, universities and corporations.  Berry says she's inspired by forms found in nature and that her mind whirls with new ideas for artwork.  Her studios are located in Asheville and Lake Toxaway, North Carolina.


Adjacent to the Montford residential section is the Riverside Cemetery, known for its natural landscaping and for the gravesites of two of my favorite authors, Thomas Wolfe and O'Henry. Thomas Wolfe used the cemetery as the background for a moving scene in Look Homeward Angel shortly after Ben Gant (Wolfe's brother) dies—a place that Wolfe has a character describe as one in which "…you can get a nice view of the town…" 
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