October, 2012. Asheville, North Carolina. Feeling Like a Vanderbilt At the Grove Park Inn

Posted on October 5, 2012


Asheville, once known as Morristown, was re- named after then-North Carolina Governor Samuel Ashe in the hopes of receiving special favors and considerations – a hope never realized, as the city received no favors, no considerations and not even one visit from its namesake.

However, if Samuel Ashe was alive today, he’d sure beat a path to Asheville.

Great vibes, thanks in part to a lively art and music scene, Asheville’s temperate climate and outstanding architecture makes it a place you want to come back to.

Everyone knows Asheville is the home of the Vanderbilt family’s lavishly-appointed 250 room little getaway, but there’s more impressive architecture here than just the buildings on the 8,000 acre Biltmore Estate.

For instance, there’s the Grove Park Inn.

E. W. Grove had a little patent medicine business in Paris, Tennessee. The business didn’t amount to much until Grove invented a tasteless (so the advertising said) quinine-based tonic to combat the scourge of the southern summer – malaria.

As every southerner in the hot, humid coastal states would try anything to avoid or get relief from this then-common affliction, orders poured in. The Paris post office would not expand to accommodate Grove’s growing shipping needs, so he moved to Asheville. He chose this city partly because of its reputation as a year-around health resort – Grove suffered from bronchitis – but mostly because the post office agreed to add extra workers to expedite his large tonic shipments.

Grove soon became a millionaire looking for something to do with his money.

He decided to build a hotel, envisioning a place that, he said, would be like “…a big home where every modern convenience could be found, but with all the old-fashioned qualities of genuineness with no sham.”

Grove approached local architects and contractors with his vision of building with uncut boulders from nearby Sunset Mountain, but none of them seemed to get the idea. Frustrated, he turned to his son-in-law, Fred Seely, who was neither an architect nor builder, but in whom he had great confidence.

Fred sat down and made a sketch, and the Grove Park Inn was born.

Designed from this drawing, the hotel was constructed by a crew of 400 men in less than 12 months. These men dragged hundreds of tons of boulders, some weighing as much as 10,000 pounds, with mules, wagons, ropes and pulleys, and a lone steam shovel.

Chains, pulleys and timbers manipulated granite boulders inside to form twin fireplaces in the Great Hall, each one composed of 120 tons of granite, rising two stories high and 36 feet wide, capable of burning eight-foot logs.

The laborers who stuck with this difficult and exhausting job were rewarded with high wages and free housing, as circus tents were erected on the job site to house them.

The Grove Park Inn opened July 12, 1913.

The use of natural boulders inside and out combined with Arts and Craft furnishings by the White Furniture Company, fixtures by the Roycroft Copper Shop, and carpets woven in France, it was at once quite grand – and rustic too. Today, the resort claims to have the largest public display of Arts & Crafts style furniture in the world.

The Inn quickly became the hotel of choice for the rich and famous – in the1920’s it was a favorite hangout of F. Scott Fitzgerald, who partied many a night away in one of the Inn’s many lounges. Drawn by the Inn’s elegance, service and awe-inspiring vistas, presidents, foreign dignitaries and movie stars still frequent the Inn nearly a century after its opening.

But there’s a common element here, too.  Grove Park Inn is on the Asheville Grey Line hop on, hop off trolley tour, allowing even us poor folk a few minutes gaze across the mountains, enjoy a drink or a cup of coffee and feel like a Vanderbilt…at least until the next trolley arrives.