Tag Archive | Thomas Wolfe

Thomas Wolfe and “The Old Kentucky Home”

The Old Kentucky Home in Asheville in 1946. Photo from the State Archives

On October 18, 1929, Charles Scribner’s Sons published Look Homeward, Angel, the best-known novel by Asheville author Thomas Wolfe. Inspired by a marble angel outside his father’s monument shop on Pack Square, Wolfe wrote his first and largely autobiographical novel about the fictional Gant family wherein the father is a volatile stonecutter and the mother a business-minded boardinghouse operator.

Wolfe was only 6 when his own mother, Julia Westall Wolfe, left her husband and older children and bought the “Old Kentucky Home,” a rambling Victorian boardinghouse in downtown Asheville, to which she brought young Tom. With his family divided, Tom felt lost amongst his mother’s tenants and resentful of the changes the tourists were wreaking on his hometown.

Always aware of the life and people around him, Wolfe later turned his observations into a novel in which his mother’s boardinghouse became “Dixieland” and Asheville, the fictional town of “Altamont.”  Although names were changed, Asheville residents still recognized Wolfe’s characters as themselves and were scandalized. Only in 1937, a year before he died, did Wolfe return home to visit. He was, however, buried in Asheville’s Riverside Cemetery. His mother’s boardinghouse is now the Thomas Wolfe Memorial, one of 27 state historic sites.

Other related resources:

For more about North Carolina’s history, arts and culture, visit the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources online. To receive these updates automatically each day, make sure you subscribe by email using the box on the right, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Asheville’s “Old Kentucky Home,” Now State-Owned

Thomas Wolfe and his mother Julia pose on the front port of the "Old Kentury Home." Image from N.C. Historic Sites.

Thomas Wolfe and his mother Julia pose on the front port of the “Old Kentury Home.” Image from N.C. Historic Sites.

On January 16, 1975, the state of North Carolina obtained Thomas Wolfe’s “Old Kentucky Home” from the city of Asheville. The boardinghouse at 48 Spruce Street was the setting for Wolfe’s first novel, Look Homeward, Angel. He renamed it “Dixieland” and incorporated his own experiences among the boarders into the novel.

The property dates at least to 1883, when Asheville banker Erwin Sluder built a smaller residence on the site. Between 1885 and 1889, Alice Johnston Reynolds, who had purchased the property from Sluder, made a massive addition to Sluder’s original structure and began operating the building as a boardinghouse in 1890. A subsequent owner, Rev. Thomas M. Myers, named it the “Old Kentucky Home” in honor of his home state.

Julia E. Wolfe, Thomas’s mother, bought the house for $6,500 in August 1906, and used it as a source of income to reinvest in real estate. Her husband, W. O. Wolfe, disliked boardinghouses and, although he went for meals and visits, rarely stayed the night. The Wolfes maintained two residences, with all the children except Tom living with their father. As the youngest child, Tom stayed with his mother at the boardinghouse.

Visit: The building is now the Thomas Wolfe Memorial, open to the public as one of 27 state historic sites.

Other related resources:

For more about North Carolina’s history, arts and culture, visit the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources online. To receive these updates automatically each day, make sure you subscribe by email using the box on the right, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Thomas Wolfe and “The Old Kentucky Home”

The Old Kentucky Home in Asheville in 1946. Photo from the State Archives

On October 18, 1929, Charles Scribner’s Sons published Look Homeward, Angel, the best-known novel by Asheville author Thomas Wolfe. Inspired by a marble angel outside his father’s monument shop on Pack Square, Wolfe wrote his first and largely autobiographical novel about the fictional Gant family wherein the father is a volatile stonecutter and the mother a business-minded boardinghouse operator.

Wolfe was only 6 when his own mother, Julia Westall Wolfe, left her husband and older children and bought the “Old Kentucky Home,” a rambling Victorian boardinghouse in downtown Asheville, to which she brought young Tom. With his family divided, Tom felt lost amongst his mother’s tenants and resentful of the changes the tourists were wreaking on his hometown.

Always aware of the life and people around him, Wolfe later turned his observations into a novel in which his mother’s boardinghouse became “Dixieland” and Asheville, the fictional town of “Altamont.”  Although names were changed, Asheville residents still recognized Wolfe’s characters as themselves and were scandalized. Only in 1937, a year before he died, did Wolfe return home to visit. He was, however, buried in Asheville’s Riverside Cemetery. His mother’s boardinghouse is now the Thomas Wolfe Memorial, one of 27 state historic sites.

Other related resources:

For more about North Carolina’s history, arts and culture, visit the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources online. To receive these updates automatically each day, make sure you subscribe by email using the box on the right, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Famed Writer Thomas Wolfe is Born in Asheville

On October 3, 1900, Thomas Wolfe, the famed writer from Asheville, was born. Wolfe attended public schools in Asheville for seven years while living in his mother’s boardinghouse with the rest of his family.

Growing up in Asheville formed the basis for his thinly-veiled autobiographical novel Look Homeward, Angel, which was published in 1929. Asheville residents easily recognized themselves in the text, and Wolfe received letters from irate readers who felt wrongly portrayed in the book. It was 1937 before he would return to his childhood home, having published many short stories and a second novel, Of Time and the River, in the meantime. Although he planned to spend the summer writing in a rented cabin, Wolfe worked little, being constantly disturbed by visitors and undergoing family strife. He began to ponder the many implications of the phrase “You can’t go home again,” the title of a novel that would be published in 1940, two years after his death.

His mother’s former boardinghouse known as the “Old Kentucky Home,” made famous as “Dixieland” in his first novel, is now a State Historic Site.

Other Resources Related to Thomas Wolfe:

For more about North Carolina’s history, arts and culture, visit the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources online. To receive these updates automatically each day, make sure you subscribe by email using the box on the right, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.