I asked today, “Why is this town here?” Now, in print, that could read like a terrible dis. Actually, it could sound that way in person as well, but I didn’t mean it that way.
If you’ve never been to Asheville, I would highly recommend stopping by. It might not be your cup of tea, but just like rauchbier, it will be a memorable experience. Asheville is a nice little town of just under 78,000 people, tucked away in the hills (they call them mountains, but really…) of western North Carolina. While it is the largest city in its half of the state, a visitor may wonder what keeps it going. I did. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of industry in the area filling the coffers: no mining, no railroad, no river freight, etc. BB&T bank does seem to have a decent presence in town, but that’s all.
Most of the town is filled with restaurants, art galleries, and restaurants, and galleries, and coffee shops, and art studios. Did I mention the places to eat and the artists? Well, that’s about all of the town. If you were to move to Asheville, you may have a hard time finding a job–unless you like waiting tables, making pottery, or being a hotel desk clerk. What keeps people coming here? Well, that question is tied to the question, “Why’d they come here in the first place?”
The Vanderbilts. Yes, those Vanderbilts. Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt. As the 19th century was winding down, he was looking for a place to build an American castle. He settled on a location in western North Carolina and built his estate, Biltmore.
A group of artisans was brought in to support the state and the town of Asheville grew around it. This artsy, resorty, touristy setting has a great effect on the populace. I am convinced that the great majority of people you meet in Asheville fall into either of two categories: Tourists or Transients. One out of five men you meet in Asheville seem to have a full-on mountain man beard. And there’s an equal chance of the man being a mathematics professor at UNC-Asheville or living in a canvas army-surplus tent in the woods just outside of town. Or, knowing Asheville, he could be a mathematics professor at UNCA who also lives in a tent outside of town.
A great place, they seem to like beer: The Biergarden