Asheville History: 1850 - 1900
Commerce was greatly expanded with the construction of the “Asheville and Greenville Plank Road,” made accessible in 1851. Asheville’s reputation as a health resort attracted many of the more privileged, and the wealthy began to arrive on four and six horse stages.
Although, Asheville was slowly becoming a refuge from the world, its history also has a less peaceful yore. During the Civil War, the city of Asheville was a hotbed of activity and a vital Confederate military center. Marching forth on April 18th, 1861, the Buncombe Rifles became the first Confederate company west of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Their flag was woven from the silk dresses of the belles (refined southern women) of the town.
Zebulon Baird Vance
Captain Zebulon Baird Vance was known as the war governor of the south, and seen as a maverick for his liberal advocacy of individual rights and local self-government. He shortly thereafter organized the Rough and Ready Guards, and of the ten companies of the 60th North Carolina Regiment, seven of them were Buncombe County men.
In 1878, writing under the name of Christian Reid, Francis Tiernan established a popular description of WNC that not only stuck but flourished as a slogan of civic pride. He described Asheville as, “The Land of the Sky.” This quickly caught the attention of thousands and the area’s fame spread like wildfire.
In 1880, a new era was initiated for WNC when the railroad broke through the Eastern continental divide. In the middle of the 1800’s, Asheville’s population numbered between 500 and a 1000 people, whereas by the end of the century more than 14,000 people inhabited what was once a sleepy mountain town. This rapid expansion brought a hopeful future for its people, along with an air of affluence.
George W. Vanderbilt and the Biltmore Estate
Upon his visit to Asheville in the 1880’s, young aristocrat George W. Vanderbilt purchased 125,000 acres, and constructed one of the world’s greatest private residences, The Biltmore Estate. The name is derived from "Bildt", the Dutch town home to Vanderbilt ancestors, and "moore," an old English word for rolling, mountainous country. His choice of setting came from his later affirmation, “Asheville is the most beautiful place in the world.” Vanderbilt’s idea was to replicate the working estates of Europe and commissioned Richard Morris Hunt to design the Biltmore and renowned landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted to design the grounds and gardens. He also commissioned conservationist Gifford Pinchot to manage the forests. Vanderbilt, endeavoring for the estate to be self-reliant, set up scientific forestry programs, poultry farms, cattle farms, hog farms, and a dairy(still in operation). The estate even boasted a village with its own church. The 255 room Biltmore House took hundreds of workers, five years(1890-1895), and was done in the style of a French Renaissance Chateau.
Vanderbilt had a great dream to replicate the great estates of Old Europe, and in doing so brought romance and an elegance of a human kind to an area already blessed with such natural beauty. Family members and friends were invited from all over the world to visit his extravagant paradise. The house boasted Olmsted’s lavish gardens, delectable meals served at the 64-seat banquet table, an indoor pool, bowling alley, exercise equipment, a library, rooms filled with art works, and other treasures collected from all over the globe. Such precedence brought other lavish hotels and inns such as the Battery Park in 1889 to be erected. With such growth and expansion Asheville became the second city in America to get street cars. At night when the street cars were shut off Vanderbilt would have the power redirected to the Biltmore to power his mansion, being one of the only people in town to have private electricity.
In 1897 the first professional baseball game was played in Asheville by the Asheville Moonshines as a member of the Southeastern League.