There are nearly as many styles of architecture throughout the streets of Asheville as there are buildings. No doubt, Asheville was dubbed the "Paris of the South" in the early 1900s for establishing itself as an artisan city with unique style and architectural talent.
A new era of development and settlement came as a result of the construction of the Buncombe Turnpike in 1827. This road paved the way for a new stream of visitors to Western North Carolina and with them a new definition of style, fashion, quality and worldliness. The arrival of wealthy vacationing visitors brought more extravagant tastes and the ability to afford them. Summer tourists, especially landowners from South Carolina and Georgia, began to build their vacation homes in Western North Carolina. Greek Revival and Federal designs, commonly seen on southern plantations, were built true to their fashion but reflected the wilderness of the mountains.
Until the railroad arrived in 1880, Asheville was still a country village where farmland and forest found its way to the front step of the county courthouse. Asheville became the crossroads hub for the emergent railroad, and began to truly grow as an urban center, while Western North Carolina headed into an era of unprecedented development and prosperity. In the three years following the arrival of the first train, Asheville 's population nearly doubled. City residences, factories and buildings of all kinds were constructed with equal speed. In the late 19th century Asheville boomed as a new destination for well-to-do tourists who preferred modern style to rusticity. With the development of lodging like the original Battery Park Hotel and the Kenilworth Inn, both built in Queen Anne and Victorian styles, their desires were more than accommodated.
Much of the residential development in Asheville at this time illustrates styles with more grounded features and natural influences. The Arts and Crafts movement, inspired by nature, local materials and the expression of skill, thrived in Asheville. Exaggerated sloping roofs, big open porches, ornamentation that expressed craft over embellishment and an overall horizontal form are witnessed throughout the city, from a small one-bedroom bungalow to a grand resort hotel with 500 rooms.
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 all but ceased. The absence of building activity in Asheville had the effect of preserving several buildings from the wrecking ball, enabling many to survive today.
Asheville is a city of rich architectural styles, ranging from Victorian to Arts and Crafts, from Art Deco to Modern design. Although still endearingly called the "Paris of the South" now and again, Asheville has matured as a unique destination in built landscape worthy of its own identity and acknowledgements. Asheville's diversity in architectural style reminds us of its distinct cultural upbringing, ever integrating the sophistication of modern styles with the charm of mountain life.
Historic Resources Commission, An Architect and His Time, Richard Sharp Smith. Historic Resources Commission of Asheville and Buncombe County, 1995.
Swaim, Doug. Cabins & Castles, The History Architecture of Buncombe County, North Carolina. City of Asheville-Buncombe County, Department of Cultural Resources, Division of Archives and History, 1981.