The Land Of The Sky
“…if you want fresh air and glorious scenery…you must go to Western North Carolina to find them.”
– Christian Reid, “The Land of the Sky,” Appletons’ Journal, 1875.
Originally built as the Oakland Heights Hotel in 1889 by the Garrett family, owners of the Smith-McDowell House, this building was later used as a boarding school. The hotel was intended as a key feature of the Garretts’ major real estate venture, the founding of the village of Victoria. Located on the same ridge as the old brick house built by James McConnell Smith, the village quickly became a prestigious residential location. The May 8, 1889 issue of the Asheville Daily Citizen said of Victoria, “A drive through its borders presents at every point, a view such as is rarely equaled and in no place surpassed. Every dwelling in Victoria seems to vie with its neighbor in setting a good example of neatness and thrift.”
By the 1890s Asheville was developing into a thriving city. Electric lights lined its main streets and street cars connected the neighborhoods. The Battery Park Hotel, built in 1886, was the most luxurious of the many hotels built for well-to-do visitors.
In 1875 this story, published in a national magazine, spurred a stampede of enthusiasm for these mountains as a tourist destination that has continued to this day. Tourism has been the driving force for new roads and new industries to serve the visitors. And as the world came in, many have also moved here to live. This growth has created new challenges to the ecology and way of life of the region.
END OF AN ERA
After being sold by the Garrett family in 1898, the Smith-McDowell House would have a number of different owners through the 20th century. The brick house that began its life in 1840 as a fine country home outside a town of 500 persons was, by 1900, a mansion in one of the most fashionable neighborhoods in a city of 15,000. Through nearly two centuries of change, the old house remains standing as a testament to the endurance of the past. And the combined forces of population growth, railroads, roads, industry, commerce, and tourism have continued to transform the use of the land throughout western North Carolina.