Driving through downtown Asheville, people may catch fleeting glimpses of the city’s history as they pass historic buildings and sites. Walking on the Urban Trail, however, offers an up-close view of Asheville’s rich heritage—and the people and forces that shaped it.
“A stroll along this museum-without-walls allows residents and visitors of all ages to explore Asheville history and heritage outdoors in the fresh air,” said Stephanie Brown, president and CEO of Explore Asheville Convention and Visitors Bureau. “The sculptured foot path naturally weaves travelers past buskers, amazing architecture and local art, and into our community’s beloved local, independent businesses.”
Each of the 30 stations along the 1.7-mile downtown trail provides insight into the city’s development and notable people who once lived in Asheville.
A good place to start is at the Vance Monument in Pack Square. At the base of this tall monument are bronze sculptures of pigs and turkeys that seem to be walking on their own path, which denotes the historic Buncombe Turnpike dating from 1827.
Native Americans once traveled this road along with drovers who herded livestock to market in later times, according to information on a nearby bronze plaque. The rails lining the path signify the advent of the train and the electric trolley that helped spur business development on Patton Avenue in the late 1880s.
Continuing down Patton Avenue, trail walkers come across a bronze plaque that pays tribute to O. Henry., a prolific story writer who lived in Asheville before his death in 1910. O. Henry was the pen name of North Carolina native William Sydney Porter who is buried in Riverside Cemetery in Asheville.
Also along Patton Avenue is the historic Drhumor building built in 1895. Its notable design includes the work of English sculptor Frederick Miles, who also carved designs for the Biltmore Estate.
Next to the Drhumor building is the 1929 S&W building created by architect Douglas Ellington. Also a North Carolina native, Ellington designed this and other Art Deco buildings in Asheville in the early 1900s. This historic building features the art nouveau designs of artists Carleton Collins and James Barnhill.
While encountering the numerous stations of the Urban Trail, people also can take in other historic structures such as the Kress Building, another Asheville landmark that features terra cotta tile in neoclassical design.
Other classical architecture can been seen at the Grove Park Arcade, the Battery Park Hotel and the Basilica of St. Lawrence, which has the largest elliptical dome in North America designed by architect and engineer Raphael Gustavino.
Among notable features of the trail is novelist Thomas Wolfe’s neighborhood on North Market Street. In addition to a view of Wolfe’s childhood home, this station features bronze three-dimensional renderings that offer glimpses of the neighborhood, plus another station with a bronze rendering of his shoes.
Also at one of the stations on North Market Street is a movable sculpture with Art Deco details, which denotes the evolving eras of transportation in the Asheville. By spinning the wheel, sounds of varying forms of transportation can be heard.
To help trail walkers locate the various stations, printable maps can be found and downloaded at https://www.exploreasheville.com/urban-trail. There is also a mobile-optimized site with an audio tour to help guide and inform people, which also can be accessed at this website.