Where Research is a Delight!
We have been posting on this blog about Tourists’ Camps and Tourists’ Courts. In case I dismissed Tourist Homes too quickly, I decided to make amends. They existed longer than I first thought, and probably did a lot to help with boarding for tourists. And besides that, they most likely provided a very good income for women who were willing to work very hard.
It appears that the terms “boarding houses” and “tourist homes” are currently used interchangeably, though boarding house was the term used in the early 1900’s city directories. Both terms refer to homes, sometimes expanded for the purpose, that allow quests, whether for a day or two, or for longer periods of time. Generally all sections of the home are opened and meals are taken in a shared dining room.
Looking through our database at photographs of tourist homes, most of what we have were from the turn of the 19th century, such as Oakhurst, a boarding house at 244 E. Chestnut Street at the corner of Charlotte Street. Note the woman in hat and long dress standing on the front porch and the people on second floor porch. Mrs. Ellen V. Glaser was the proprietor. The city directory for this year listed 71 boarding houses. Of those 71, women owned or managed 55 of them or 77.46%. There were a surprising number of unmarried women among them.
One fellow from Starksville, Mississippi found Mrs. M.E. Alston’s boarding house, The Chatham, as his “hanging out place” in 1911. He wrote on the back of this postcard, “This is my ‘hanging out’ place. I am not feeling the best in the world but hope you all are. I like the place fine, but consumptives are plentiful. . .Don’t forget my cows if you possibly have the time. Joe.”
The most famous Asheville boarding house, made so by the proprietor’s son, was The Old Kentucky Home.
In this photo taken around 1914, Thomas Wolfe stands for a picture with boarders at the Old Kentucky Home. The proprietor, Julia Wolfe, did not use income from the boarding home as family income, but to further her real estate investments, all of which she lost in the 1929-1930 closing of the Central Bank and the ensuing depression.
Moving on into the 1930s-1950s, the number of boarding houses seems to have declined from the early 1900s, but they were still prevalent, and still helped house Asheville’s guests. One popular boarding house was The Belvedere at 73 Merrimon Avenue. Jacqueline A. Ward Britton, a former librarian at Pack Memorial Library, wrote an informative documentary on the house owned by her family: Remembering the Belvedere: Celebrating 50 years of the Ward family in Asheville, North Carolina 1949-1999. Jackie wrote this documentation in 1999 as her family was selling “one of the last of Asheville’s old-style tourist homes.” She sited the City of Asheville’s “stricter building occupancy codes which made compliance difficult, even with liberal tax credits for restoration work.”
In researching the history of this house, she found that it was designed by Richard Sharp Smith and built in 1905 for Captain Thomas Johnston, a former Asheville mayor. When the Ward family, William Henry and Nellie Byers Ward, purchased the house in 1949 it was “already functioning as a rooming house with at least six rooms to let, and had recently been named “The Belvedere.” The author points out that the Belvedere represented an opportunity for an astute woman to support herself and her family. As a great window into tourist homes, she adds, “There were always some long-term residents; people who either rented by the week while they worked in Asheville and returned home on the weekends, or those who lived there full-time, sometimes until their deaths. But there were always one or two rooms kept available for the more profitable tourist trade.”
The Belvedere still stands and as of 2009 houses the Secret Spa and Salon.
Post by Zoe Rhine, Librarian