Asheville's Original Battery Park Hotel
Before 1880, Asheville was hard to get to. The city is surrounded by mountains, so whatever way you came in, you pretty much had to climb your way in. But, already Asheville was becoming a destination for the wealthy. People were attracted by its temperate climate, clean mountain air, and healing mineral waters. Rich planters escaping the heat of the lowlands in the summertime and rich industrialists escaping cold winters up north saw Asheville as the perfect place for rest and relaxation. And, if you could afford to have somebody else carry over the mountains, it wasn’t so big of a deal.
In 1880, the railroad connected Asheville from the east. Now with easy access, visitors began to arrive in droves. One of the first people to capitalize on the railroad was a man named Colonel Frank Coxe. In 1886, Coxe built the original Battery Park hotel. On the site of what is now the Grove Arcade, Coxe built a sprawling Victorian style wooden hotel that was state of the art for its time. It had an elevator, it had lights in the rooms, it even had free Wi-Fi! OK, so two of those three were true.
The Original Battery Park Hotel
The site of the original Battery Park hotel actually sat 70 feet higher than what we see today. A small mountain sat in the middle of downtown in those days allowed the hotel to tower above the surrounding city. The Battery Park hotel attracted the “right” clientele. Some of the wealthiest people in the nation spent time in Asheville and the Battery Park was the first choice in lodging.
In fact, the Battery Park is where George Vanderbilt stayed when he looked to the West and decided to build the Biltmore Estate. Vanderbilt had come to Asheville with his mother in hopes of improving her lung condition. The area was famous for its clean mountain air, and the Battery Park hotel offered the perfect place for people of means to stay and enjoy it. Vanderbilt fell in love with the area, and construction on Biltmore was completed in 1895.
But by the early 1920s, the original Battery Park hotel had fallen into disrepair. It was made of wood, and time had taken its toll. It wasn’t the nicest hotel in town anymore, it needed work, and when Frank Coxe’s descendants were approached by EW Grove they were happy to sell it to him.
It turns out though, that Grove wasn’t interested in the hotel. Grove wasn’t even interested in the land of the hotel was on. What Grove saw was the potential in the land underneath the land that the hotel was on. Grove figured that if he could just get rid of this stupid mountain in the middle of downtown, he could do something with it.
Construction of the New Battery Park Hotel
So, in 1922, the hotel was demolished, as well as the small mountain it sat on. Using steam shovels, ox carts and a whole lot of manual labor, the small mountain in the middle of town was leveled flat. The stones that were removed found their way into a lot of the foundations of new construction projects of that era, as well as filling in a large ravine that ran alongside the far side of today’s Coxe Avenue, allowing for the land to be developed. Once demolition was complete, Grove began construction on the Grove arcade. During this time, Grove also built the “new” Battery Park hotel we have today. It sits on the land just behind where the original stood, and it was designed as a replacement hotel for visiting guests.
Not everyone in Asheville was excited about the progress Grove ushered in. Thomas Wolfe wrote about this time in You Can’t Go Home Again with sadness and disgust:
“An army of men and shovels had advanced upon this beautiful green hill and had leveled it down to an ugly flat of clay, and had paved it with a desolate horror of white concrete, and had built stores and garages and office buildings and parking spaces—all raw and new—and were now putting up a new hotel beneath the very spot where the old one had stood. It was to be a structure of sixteen stories, of steel and concrete and pressed brick. It was being stamped out of the same mold, as if by some gigantic biscuit-cutter of hotels that had produced a thousand others like it all over the country.”
Today's Battery Park Hotel
Today, the “new” Battery Park hotel serves as housing for Asheville’s senior population, with retail and restaurant space on the bottom floor. By all accounts, it is a beautiful art deco building in its own right, but to many it could never replace the original.
If you’d like to learn more about Asheville’s history, as well as exploring some of the best breweries in town, please join us one of our downtown Asheville brewery tours!