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“Asheville History and Literary Tour” 4 of 5 bubbles
Review of Thomas Wolfe Memorial

Thomas Wolfe Memorial
Ranked #15 of 183 things to do in Asheville
Certificate of Excellence
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Owner description: Thomas Wolfe's childhood home, immortalized in his 1929 novel, "Look Homeward Angel," is preserved intact as a lasting monument to one of the 20th century's most prominent writers. The house, originally operated as a boardinghouse by his mother, retains most of its original furnishings and is designated as a National Historic Landmark. Tours of the 29 room house are offered hourly. The adjacent visitor center and museum highlight Wolfe's life and major literary accomplishments.
new york
Level Contributor
172 reviews
108 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 106 helpful votes
“Asheville History and Literary Tour”
4 of 5 bubbles Reviewed February 7, 2014

The Visitor center has a short film and a small exhibit of Thomas Wolfe.
The highlight is the 45minutes guided tour of the Old Kentucky Home which the author grew up. The docent tied in the history, events of Asheville while giving us the tour of the house. This basically gives you an orientation of old Ashevile as well. This tour gives you a lot of information but in a manner that is light, easy to absorb.
I did not know about the author prior to the tour and still find this interesting.
After the tour, buy a book and walk 5 minutes to Park Square or Biltmore Ave. for coffee and a good read.
Admission is $5.00 which is a great bargain, and free parking on site.

Visited January 2014
2 Thank CDEMOM
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
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368 reviews from our community

Visitor rating
Date | Rating
  • English first
  • Any
English first
Alexandria, Virginia
Level Contributor
32 reviews
3 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 30 helpful votes
“Fascinating Contrast to the Biltmore Estate”
5 of 5 bubbles Reviewed January 7, 2014

Most people visit Asheville to tour the Biltmore Estate, but if you have the time and would like to see a fascinating early 20th century contrast to the opulence of the Biltmore, don’t miss the Thomas Wolfe Memorial and tour of his mother’s boardinghouse, where the author spent his formative years. I recently visited it for the third time, in conjunction with taking friends from the West Coast to the Biltmore, and each time I learned something new. Yes, it certainly makes the visit more interesting if you have read Wolfe’s novels, even in high school or college. The short movie presentation is well done and informative, and the artifacts in the museum are fascinating and revealing of the artist’s life in particular and the time period in general. And since his work was largely roman a clef set in a fictionalized version of Asheville, the excellent tour of the boardinghouse, led by a well-versed and engaging historian, helps pull back the curtain to display the reality behind the stories. But the Old Kentucky Home boardinghouse is reflective of how the middle class might have visited Asheville at the time, versus the extravagance of the Biltmore, and fascinating in its own right. The Thomas Wolfe Memorial is a definite “to do” when visiting Asheville.

Visited January 2014
1 Thank ElVarguito
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Durham, NC
Level Contributor
306 reviews
84 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 332 helpful votes
“A Literary Lover’s Delight”
5 of 5 bubbles Reviewed January 7, 2014

Anyone that is an English major will make this house their first stop in Asheville. Anyone that has a great appreciation for the arts will make sure the Thomas Wolfe Memorial is on their itinerary. This is the original boarding house that Thomas Wolfe’s mother ran. Almost all of the original furniture and furnishings are in this house that is dwarfed by the neighboring buildings. A small portion of the house had to be repaired due to an arsonist torching the place in July 1998. The rest of the house remains the way it was when Julia Wolfe died in 1945.
My husband, who appreciates the arts, really wanted to see the Old Kentucky Home that is thinly veiled in "Look Homeward, Angel”. Thomas Wolfe’s name is mentioned along other famous American authors such as William Faulkner. The man was a genius. He went to UNC Chapel Hill at the age of 15. After graduating from the nation’s oldest state university, Wolfe went to Harvard to study playwriting.
Since we visited the boarding house on the last day of the year, free parking was available right next to the building. The admission fee is now $5 – still a bargain. We were told that a small documentary film should be watched before touring the home. This worked out perfectly as we had 40 minutes before our tour began. My husband was very appreciative of the advice as he had a better understanding of what he saw on the guided tour.
There is an exhibit hall of Wolfe’s memorabilia. It should be noted that a good portion of Wolfe’s correspondence, manuscripts, and legal documents are housed in the Wilson Library, at UNC Chapel Hill – about 225 miles east of Asheville. Having a tour guide for the 45-minute visit of the Old Kentucky Home gave us a really good feel of what it must have been like to grow up in Asheville at the turn of the twentieth century. We totally understand why our guide glossed over Wolfe’s adult drinking problems, but it would have been nice if she had mentioned it as that contributed to his problems during his short life (He died at the age of 37).
We were able to see many of the rooms. It was great to see so many of the original furnishings, giving one the feeling that they are reliving Thomas Wolfe’s childhood. The original electrical wiring in the house is still there. Since many rich Americans came to Asheville at the beginning of the twentieth century, the city had electricity before most places in the South. About the only thing that is missing in the boarding house is the soot from the coal that was used to heat the home. A modern HVAC system keeps the house at the right temperature all year long.
My husband left the memorial with a better understanding of this gifted writer and his life in Asheville. Now, he wants to read Thomas Wolfe’s books to have a greater appreciation of this great city.
Make the Thomas Wolfe Memorial one of your first stops while in Asheville. It is a lot cheaper than the “castle” on the south side of the city. And like my husband, you may want to pick up a copy of “Look Homeward Angel” in the near future.

Visited December 2013
4 Thank MagyarNC
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Carshalton, United Kingdom
Level Contributor
311 reviews
111 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 177 helpful votes
“Interesting if you like the author, quite detailled”
3 of 5 bubbles Reviewed December 13, 2013

I was a huge fan of Thomas Wolfe when I was a teenager and planned a road trip via Asheville without realising this was the "Alamont" from Look Homeward, Angel - so when I discovered that I was really excited and decided we must visit the house, which actually meant changing our itinerary as the place is closed on a Monday and Sunday!

There is a small car park next to the house and a visitors' centre with a small exhibition and video inside (though we found the video repeated a lot of what was in the exhibition). But we watched it anyway - you are only allowed in the house (across the road from the visitors centre) on a guided tour, which take place every hour (at 9.30, 10.30 etc). We got there at 9.35 and they wouldn't let us join the tour which had just started (in restrospect I don't see why not as we wouldn't have missed anything) and had to wait nearly an hour for the next one!

The boarding house is interesting and there is a lot of detail about Thomas Wolfe's life and books, which was great but I felt sorry for my boyfriend who had never heard of Wolfe! The guide was very good and brought it all to life, but I did feel the tour was a little long (45 mins) - after you have seen three or four bedrooms in the boarding house you have probably seen enough. Still, it was a little bit of history and great that I could say I visited the house - I am now re-reading Look Homeward, Angel, and have a much better understanding of the locations now!

Visited November 2013
2 Thank Smileycat16
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Dover, New Hampshire
Level Contributor
893 reviews
406 attraction reviews
common_n_attraction_reviews_1bd8 2,753 helpful votes
5 of 5 bubbles Reviewed December 1, 2013

As a person with an A.B. in English Literature, I'm always interested in seeing how authors lived. So, when in Asheville, I was drawn to the Thomas Wolfe Memorial.

Tom, the guide, was very knowledgeable. His hour-long tour was very informative, beginning with Thomas Wolfe's life story. I'll recount a condensed version with only the highlights.

Born in October 3, 1900, Thomas Wolfe was the youngest of eight children. He was one of six to live into adulthood.

His father William "W.O." Wolfe ran a successful headstone business. His mother Julia was a very successful businesswoman who ran boarding houses and speculated in real estate. Julia Wolfe bought the boarding house named Old Kentucky Home in 1906. Thomas lived there with his mother until 1916 when he left for college at University of North Carolina (UNC) at age 15. The rest of the family lived with W.O. at his house nearby. The family living arrangements raised some eyebrows.

After UNC, he studied playwriting at Harvard. He was unsuccessful as a playwright because his plays were too long. He became an English instructor at New York University in 1924. Returning from a trip to Europe, he met Aline Bernstein. They had a five-year affair and lived together. She was married but refused to divorce her husband. She was a positive influence on Thomas Wolfe's writing career. During this period, he wrote what would become his autobiographical novel “Look Homeward, Angel” which chronicled his life at his mother’s boarding house as well as characterized Asheville locals and boarders. The book’s 1929 publication caused an uproar in Asheville. Wolfe stayed away from Asheville for 8 years.

In 1938, he toured 11 U.S. national parks in the west with a friend. Wolfe crossed over into Canada. He took ill. Back in Seattle, he was hospitalized. He was treated for pneumonia; however, when complications developed, he was transferred to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. His family accompanied him on the train journey which took three days. Wolfe was eventually diagnosed with what Tom, the guide, said was tubercular meningitis of the brain. The disease was too far developed for the neurosurgeon to operate. On September 15th, he died several days before his 38th birthday.

“The Web and the Rock” was published in 1939, followed by “You Can’t Go Home Again” in 1940 and “The Hills Beyond” in 1941.

The Wolfe family was subject to young deaths.
1) Leslie, the first-born, died at age 9 months of infant cholera.
2) Grover, one of older twin boys, died of typhoid fever at age 12 while the family was in St. Louis for the World's Fair in 1904.
3) While home for a visit in 1918 during the Influenza Pandemic (1918-1920), Ben, the other twin boy, contracted pneumonia and died at age 25. He died in an upstairs bedroom. It was very sad to stand near that bed while Tom, the guide, recounted Ben's days of illness in that very bed. Thomas Wolfe wrote of Ben's death in "Look Homeward, Angel."
4) Then, Thomas died at age 37 in 1938 of a rare, bizarre disease.

The boarding house had most of the original furnishings, except for the boarding house dining room and the bedroom above it. In July 1998, someone had started a fire, but someone across the street witnessed it and called police and fire. The house was saved. Staff from Biltmore Estate and Carl Sandburg Home NHS helped with salvage and storage of what was left while the damaged areas were rebuilt.

Mrs. Wolfe bought a lot of sturdy oak furniture which has withstood time and the summer heat and humidity of this area for over 100 years. She had some magnificent chests of drawers and a very nice secretary desk with intricate carvings on the desk's writing panel that I really liked.

Mrs. Wolfe and boarders lived well here. There was a lot of silver service and crystal pieces.

At the Visitor Center, there is video and a small museum that had a lot artifacts, including furnishings from Thomas Wolfe's apartment in New York.

The $5.00 fee for the house tour was well worth it.

I enjoyed my look into Thomas Wolfe's boyhood life in the home/boarding house that became the setting for "Look Homeward, Angel."

I highly recommend this historic site to anyone interested in American Literature.

Visited November 2013
7 Thank Maurene_K
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.

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