Thomas Wolfe State Historical Site
Novelist Thomas Wolfe spent a decade of his childhood here in his mother's Asheville boardinghouse. Called "Old Kentucky Home" the house was patronized by summer tourists and health seekers during the early years of the 20th century. These boarders would later inspire many of the colorful characters in Wolfe's 1929 novel, Look Homeward, Angel. The house itself was recast as "Dixieland" and would provide much of the setting for the story. Today, tours of the Old Kentucky Home provide a glimpse into Asheville's early rise to prominence as a resort for health and recreation as well as the stories associated with Thomas Wolfe's colorful and turbulent childhood here. An adjacent visitor's center and museum contains a self guided exhibit hall and 22 minute film presentation on Wolfe's life and writings.
Backstory and Context
*From Thomas Wolfe Memorial website:
"Thomas Wolfe left an indelible mark on American letters. And his mother's boardinghouse in Asheville, North Carolina—now the Thomas Wolfe Memorial—has become one of literature's most famous landmarks. Named "Old Kentucky Home" by a previous owner, Wolfe immortalized the rambling Victorian structure as "Dixieland" in his epic autobiographical novel, Look Homeward, Angel. A classic of American literature, Look Homeward, Angel has never gone out of print since its 1929 publication, keeping interest in Wolfe alive and attracting visitors to the setting for this great novel.
Today the boardinghouse where Thomas Wolfe spent his childhood and adolescence feature furnishings that evoke the daily routine of life in both fact and fiction. In Wolfe's second novel, Of Time and the River (1935), 14 years before the "Old Kentucky Home" became a memorial, Wolfe already had intuitively assessed the house's true importance. He said his mother's "old dilapidated house had now become a fit museum." It is preserved almost intact with original furnishings arranged by family members very much the way it appeared when the writer lived there. Memories, kept alive through Wolfe's writings, remain in each of the home's 29 rooms.
Of Time and the River was a continuation of Look Homeward, Angel and Wolfe's last two major novels (published posthumously), The Web and the Rock (1939) and You Can't Go Home Again (1940), followed the events of his life in New York and Brooklyn, his wandering travels through Europe, his success as a novelist, and his final sad revelation of "you can't go home again." Thomas Wolfe died in the prime of his life of tubercular meningitis on September 15, 1938, 18 days short of his 38th birthday.
Wolfe's mother lived in the "Old Kentucky Home" until her death in 1945. Four years later her surviving sons and daughters sold the house to a private organization, the Thomas Wolfe Memorial Association, and it opened to the public as a house museum on July 19, 1949. The association continued to operate the memorial until 1958, when it was taken over by the City of Asheville. On January 16, 1976, the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources acquired the property."