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History of Asheville, North Carolina

Asheville, the county seat of Buncombe County, lies in pleasant surroundings in the Blue Ridge Mountains at the confluence of the French Broad and Swannanoa rivers. Like Asheboro, it gets its name from Samuel Ashe, who was governor of North Carolina in the 1790's. Asheville was founded in 1794 by John Burton. In its early years, it was known as Morristown and then Buncombe Courthouse, until it was incorporated in 1797. The first courthouse was constructed and the open area around it functioned as the public square. Growth was slow until the arrival of the railroad in the middle of the 19th century. By 1882, Asheville had grown enough to be reincorporated as a city. Mission Hospital began as a five-room operation around this time. In 1889, George Vanderbilt began work on his mansion Biltmore, which is the largest private residence ever built in the United States. The effect of Biltmore was to attract others to Asheville, which resulted in some large and elegant hotels being constructed. Philanthropist George Willis Pack gave Asheville additional land adjacent to the courthouse, and the public square, which by then was known as Court Square, and was renamed Pack Square. The biggest boom took place during the 1920's, when a number of residential subdivisions were developed. Many Asheville landmarks were built around Pack Square. The Pack Memorial Public Library opened in its new building in 1926 and a new Buncombe County Courthouse was constructed in 1928. Then The Great Depression struck. When the largest bank in the county went broke in 1930, it caused financial ruin for the city government. Refusing to accept the option of bankruptcy, Ashevile struggled to meet its debts for decades, until finally clearing them up in 1977. The silver lining for Asheville was that when other cities were undertaking "urban renewal" in the 1950's and 1960's, Asheville didn't have the funds. As a result, its downtown core was not replaced with more modern buildings, and were still standing when people began to realize the value of historic structures. Asheville was the boyhood home of Thomas Wolfe, who wrote "Look Homeward, Angel" in 1929. The Thomas Wolfe Memorial is open to the public. E.W. Grove built the Grove Park Inn in 1913 and the Grove Arcade in 1929. The arcade flourished as a public market until World War II and has been restored to that role today. Asheville Art Museum is the only arts facility serving western North Carolina. The University of North Carolina at Asheville is a public liberal arts university, founded in 1927. Warren Wilson College grew from an elementary school established by Presbyterians in 1894.