Tuesday History: Seeking rest at the Battery Park Hotel, 1886

A FINE PLACE TO RELAX: Built by Col. Frank Coxe, the original Battery Park Hotel opened on July 12, 1886. With a fireplace in each room, modern steam radiators and electric lights, it was considered among the finest and most modern resorts of its day.
A FINE PLACE TO RELAX: Built by Col. Frank Coxe, the original Battery Park Hotel opened on July 12, 1886. With a fireplace in each room, modern steam radiators and electric lights, it was considered among the finest and most modern resorts of its day. Photo courtesy of North Carolina Collection, Pack Memorial Public Library, Asheville, North Carolina

The 1880s marked the start of Asheville’s urban growth. The decade began with approximately 2,600 permanent residents.  Advances in transportation, communication and the health industry would contribute to the city’s population increase.

On Oct. 2, 1880, the first train pulled into town, offering visitors greater access to the mountains. A few years later, the arrival of two prominent doctors — Samuel Westray Battle (1885) and Karl Von Ruck (1886) — helped transform Asheville into a center for tuberculosis care. The second half of the decade also brought Asheville’s first telephone service (1886) and the city’s electric car line (1889). By 1890, the population reached 10,000.

Asheville’s popularity and appeal is captured in an Aug. 4, 1886 correspondence, published by The Courier-Journal, a newspaper based out of Louisville, Ky. Titled, “Boyhood’s Experiences Renewed in Mature Manhood — Life Among the Mountain Ranges of the South,” its writer (identified by his initials P.B.S.) highlights many of the factors that contributed to the city’s growth, including the convenience of the train and the health benefits of the area’s clean mountain air.

As noted by its dateline, the letter was written on July 31, 1886, during P.B.S.’s stay at the Battery Park Hotel. The establishment had opened only a few weeks prior, on July 12, 1886, making P.B.S. one of its earliest guests.

On July 31, 1886, P.B.S. writes:

Battery Park Hotel, Asheville, N.C., July 31. — Many years ago, when a college boy, I sought rest and recreation during vacation in these mountains. … Then the trip was a stage coach, a whole week, and a jolt. Now, through the accommodation of my friends of the L. and N., I am taken from a sick bed to a sleeper and waked in Knoxville for early breakfast. I am beguiled through the East Tennessee valley by fertile fields and gentle slopes, when suddenly the attention is enrapt by the sight of the French Broad … The mountains grow higher and come nearer. A broken plateau is reached, and on a commanding height we discover a great building with turret and tower and balcony, and recognize the new Battery Park Hotel. Asheville is a novel blending of what is primitive and modern-old-time home-spun and the latest novelties in style commingle in daily street parade, yet withal the old-time, seedy look, is being rapidly effaced by the push and thrift and taste of its recent railroad days.

It is dusty and muddy oft-time, and driving is rough at all times and in all ways. Nevertheless with an abundance of well-adapted livery, every body rides and drives, gladly exchanging smoothness of roadbed for the beguiling interest of adventure and sightseeing.

….

While everybody takes boarders, there are very few boarding-house keepers. You are well served and at the end of the month pay $30 or $50. The people are of the best Carolina stock generally, and are kind, polite and hospitable. The best families take boarders during the summer season, and treat you after the style of the doctor, who will go through cold and wet, and watch you in night time and day, and happy in the service, never think of pay until the time comes to send in his bill.

ON THE HILL: . When E. W. Grove purchased the building in 1921, he used early steam shovels to demolish both the building and Battery Porter Hill, on which it had stood, removing an estimated 250,000 cubic yards of earth (about 100 feet of height) in the process. Photo courtesy of North Carolina Collection, Pack Memorial Public Library, Asheville, North Carolina
ON THE HILL: When E. W. Grove purchased the original Battery Park Hotel in 1921, he used early steam shovels to demolish both the building and Battery Porter Hill, on which hotel had stood, removing an estimated 250,000 cubic yards of earth (about 100 feet of height) in the process. This 1892 photo was taken from Patton Avenue, looking north. Photo courtesy of North Carolina Collection, Pack Memorial Public Library, Asheville, North Carolina

The selection of the site of the new Battery Park Hotel is admirable. It is pitched on the highest hill in the town, from which you can see all that is beautiful and grand on every side. On its vast porticos you are rarely without the movement of pure mountain air.

Col. Frank Cox[e] has plenty of money, fine judgment and strong nerve, and in erecting this splendid hotel on this elevated spot is the bold leader in this and a score of such enterprises in this vast health resort.

Already I have seen enough to say the accommodation everywhere is kind and attentive and good, while the milk and beef I have found at some places good; both can and will be more generally provided in richness and tenderness. This is the climate for those needing rest and having diseases of waste and nervous exhaustion. If the feeding will be made equal to the air, this region will become a vast sanitarium. The best results of consumption cure will be found in this all the year round climate, and especially will it be found on the protected slopes and plateaus of the mountains of Western North Carolina. P.B.S

 

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About Thomas Calder
Thomas Calder received his MFA in Fiction from the University of Houston's Creative Writing Program. He has worked with several publications, including Gulf Coast and the Collagist. For his weekly #tuesdayhistory tidbits on Asheville, follow him on Instagram @tcalder.

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