We have been posting on this blog about Tourists’ Camps and Tourists’ Courts. In case I dismissed Tourist Homes too quickly, I decided to make amends. They existed longer than I first thought, and probably did a lot to help with boarding for tourists. And besides that, they most likely provided a very good income for women who were willing to work very hard.
It appears that the terms “boarding houses” and “tourist homes” are currently used interchangeably, though boarding house was the term used in the early 1900’s city directories. Both terms refer to homes, sometimes expanded for the purpose, that allow quests, whether for a day or two, or for longer periods of time. Generally all sections of the home are opened and meals are taken in a shared dining room.
Looking through our database at photographs of tourist homes, most of what we have were from the turn of the 19th century, such as Oakhurst, a boarding house at 244 E. Chestnut Street at the corner of Charlotte Street. Note the woman in hat and long dress standing on the front porch and the people on second floor porch. Mrs. Ellen V. Glaser was the proprietor. The city directory for this year listed 71 boarding houses. Of those 71, women owned or managed 55 of them or 77.46%. There were a surprising number of unmarried women among them.
One fellow from Starksville, Mississippi found Mrs. M.E. Alston’s boarding house, The Chatham, as his “hanging out place” in 1911. He wrote on the back of this postcard, “This is my ‘hanging out’ place. I am not feeling the best in the world but hope you all are. I like the place fine, but consumptives are plentiful. . .Don’t forget my cows if you possibly have the time. Joe.”
The most famous Asheville boarding house, made so by the proprietor’s son, was The Old Kentucky Home.
In this photo taken around 1914, Thomas Wolfe stands for a picture with boarders at the Old Kentucky Home. The proprietor, Julia Wolfe, did not use income from the boarding home as family income, but to further her real estate investments, all of which she lost in the 1929-1930 closing of the Central Bank and the ensuing depression.
Moving on into the 1930s-1950s, the number of boarding houses seems to have declined from the early 1900s, but they were still prevalent, and still helped house Asheville’s guests. One popular boarding house was The Belvedere at 73 Merrimon Avenue. Jacqueline A. Ward Britton, a former librarian at Pack Memorial Library, wrote an informative documentary on the house owned by her family: Remembering the Belvedere: Celebrating 50 years of the Ward family in Asheville, North Carolina 1949-1999. Jackie wrote this documentation in 1999 as her family was selling “one of the last of Asheville’s old-style tourist homes.” She sited the City of Asheville’s “stricter building occupancy codes which made compliance difficult, even with liberal tax credits for restoration work.”
In researching the history of this house, she found that it was designed by Richard Sharp Smith and built in 1905 for Captain Thomas Johnston, a former Asheville mayor. When the Ward family, William Henry and Nellie Byers Ward, purchased the house in 1949 it was “already functioning as a rooming house with at least six rooms to let, and had recently been named “The Belvedere.” The author points out that the Belvedere represented an opportunity for an astute woman to support herself and her family. As a great window into tourist homes, she adds, “There were always some long-term residents; people who either rented by the week while they worked in Asheville and returned home on the weekends, or those who lived there full-time, sometimes until their deaths. But there were always one or two rooms kept available for the more profitable tourist trade.”
The Belvedere still stands and as of 2009 houses the Secret Spa and Salon.
Post by Zoe Rhine, Librarian
Wonderful article. And the one before too. Makes me wish I’d lived in
Asheville in earlier times. Thank you for broadening my world.
I haven’t seen any mention of The Pines on North Merrimon. (Maybe I missed it) I thought it might have been a tourist camp, not unlike some you showed earlier with a series of cabins. I knew Mrs. Hyatt in the early 70s, and it is one of the few I believe is still in operation. Are any tourist homes still in operation?
Very curious how you identified the first photo. My family once owned houses directly next to (and diagonal to) 244 E. Chestnut, I believe. Anne Penniman and Charles Penniman. This home seems larger and more removed than what is shown on Sanborn maps beginning in 1913…then again, old photos often convey a different sense of scale.
Also, the name and date are extremely interesting…(“Oakhurst Boarding House, 244 E. Chestnut Street, listed in city directories 1899-1906”) as Oakhurst School wasn’t begun until 1911. Was the school named after the boarding house?
The more you learn, the more you realize you don’t know…fascinating; thanks.
Thank you so much for your interest in this blog post and for commenting on the home at 244 E. Chestnut, idnentified in our records as Oakhurst Boarding. Our information for the address comes from the Asheville City Directories. There is a listing in the 1911 CD for Oakwood Boarding at 268 Chestnut, 1912 as Oakwood Cottage, the 1915 & 1916 directory for Oakwood Boarding at 268 East Chestnut (#244 is shown vacant that year.) In 1917 Oakhurst School for Girls appears at #268 Chestnut. I think the similar name to Oakhurst Boarding and Oakwood Boarding and then 268 taking the name of Oakhurst School made you confuse the two buildings. The Oakwood School is at 268 but is not the same house in the photo on the blog which is at 244. Let us know if this still doesn’t seem right.
Yeah, the floor plan as pictured in the Sanborn map showing the blueprint is really the most conclusive proof for me. Zoom in on both 244 and 268 and note in particular the porch at 268 as one story, but two stories (marked with a “2) in the middle…just like the house in blog photo. Note also the shape, with the dormer/slight curved bulge on the left side. In the photo, much of the back end bulk of the house is not visible. I’m 100% convinced. The name coincidence is secondary, but certainly makes sense that someone could have described the photo with the more recent name for the building, since they were so similar.
Lastly, your comment says nothing about the City Directory listing for 244 as anything but vacant…does it indeed say “Oakhurst Boarding, 244”? (If so, it could still be an error I suppose.) If not, what *is* the basis for thinking this (larger, 2-story-porch) house without a house directly next to it is not the Oakwood Boarding House?
Heardtell blog reader Matt Christie wrote to us several times questioning the address we had for Oakhurst Boarding being at 244 East Chestnut. Matt compared the building in the photo to a building at 268 East Chestnut, believing them to be the same buildings. At first we checked the Asheville City Directories and found the address of 244 to be correct. Then we noticed another photo postcard in our collection that is identified as 268 and the buildings were identical. You can see this image by going to our special collections search page at http://history.abls.lib.nc.us and typing in the keyword search A527-5. The problem is that the street numbers changed. The first city directory that includes street indexes is the 1896-96 directory. It lists 244 as the home of C.E. Graham, who established the Asheville Cotton Mill. The house continues to be numbered as 244 through the 1906-07 directory. So, the house in both views was at first 244 East Chestnut and not listed as 268 until the 1909 directory which has it vacant; the 1907-08 directory is when numbers first started changing as in this year 244 now is on the other side of the intersection with Charlotte Street. The 1910 directory first lists 268 as the Oakwood Boarding House. Address number changes is one of the most difficult problems with researching both homes and businesses. Thank you Matt. We will now add the varying address numbers to both photographs in our collection.
How truly odd. Thanks for taking the time to research this further. I’m glad I’m not crazy to think those two photographs (of Oakwood boarding and Oakhurst School) are indeed of one and the same building.
Sanborn maps of that intersection appear only to exist from 1913 and 1917, but for those online I highly recommend this particular version (complete with contemporary overlay): http://docsouth.unc.edu/gtts/map/asheville
50 years ago (early June, 1972) I was fresh off the bus from Atlanta and the Belvedere was the 1st place I found to stay for the night. I ended up staying there until October. Very comfortable atmosphere, the proprietor was a widow with a young girl. Her mother owned the Evergreen motel where I worked for a short time as a handyman.