Thomas Wolfe Memorial
One of Asheville's most prized homes still stands in downtown Asheville and serves as a living history of one of the nation's most celebrated authors, Thomas Wolfe.
Depicted as "Dixieland" in Wolfe's novel Look Homeward, Angel, the historic Old Kentucky Home boarding house, run by Wolfe's mother, was home to the author for ten years. Strongly influenced by his hometown of Asheville and by the boarding house itself, Wolfe turned to his childhood for inspiration for his writing. His highly realistic portrayals of Asheville and its citizens-including Wolfe's own family-caused Look Homeward, Angel to be banned from his hometown library. In fact, Wolfe himself did not dare visit Asheville for almost eight years. He finally went home in 1937, when he spent the summer in the boarding house with his mother and wrote "Return", an article published in the Asheville newspaper.
Thomas Wolfe is perhaps the most overtly autobiographical novelist in American Literature. During his short life (he lived to be only 38), Wolfe produced four novels: Look Homeward, Angel, Of Time and the River, The Web and the Rock, and You Can't Go Home Again, as well as numerous short stories, novellas, and plays. The historic boarding house has been a memorial to Wolfe since 1949 and is now operated as a North Carolina State Historic Site. A visitor center offers exhibits on Wolfe and his family and an audio-visual presentation on Wolfe's life and writing. Guided tours of the Old Kentucky Home are also offered. Wolfe himself foresaw the future of his mother's boarding house when he wrote in his second novel, Of Time and the River, that the "old dilapidated house had now become a fit museum."
In 1998, the historic Old Kentucky Home suffered extensive damage in a fire that was later discovered to have been intentionally set. Approximately 30% of the original structure and 15% of the artifact collection was destroyed. After intensive restoration to both the historic house and surviving artifact collection, the Old Kentucky Home once again opened its doors to visitors in May of 2004.
A modern visitor center, opened in late 1996, is located at 52 North Market Street, directly behind the historic Old Kentucky Home boarding house. The facility houses an exhibit hall featuring personal effects from the Wolfe family home, Wolfe's New York City apartment, and his father's stonecutting shop. An audio-visual program on Thomas Wolfe's life and writing is shown every hour, and guided tours around the boarding house leave from the visitor center. The building also houses a gift shop.