The Ultimate Guide To Asheville and the Western North Carolina Mountains
The Ultimate Guide to Asheville & the Western North Carolina Mountains

The Online Version of the Best-selling Regional Guidebook

Susanna Pantas, Artist

Asheville Urban Trail

Pen & Ink Drawings of Biltmore Estate, by Lee James Pantas

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One of the most creative projects that hasThe Asheville Urban Trail accompanied the revitalization of downtown Asheville has been the development of the Asheville Urban Trail, a walking route through downtown that is centered around Pack Square, the birthplace of Asheville. The trail is highlighted with interpretive displays which commemorate people, places and events of historic, cultural and architectural significance.

In this chapter, we will explore this special Asheville attraction, through the gracious cooperation of the Urban Trail Committee and especially writer Mickie Booth, who contributed the following article about the Trail for this book.

In walking the trail, your starting point will be the Pack Place Education, Arts & Science Center located on Pack Square across from the Vance Monument. Here you can pick up a free map for the self-guided tour. The 1.7 mile-long trail should take an hour or so, depending on your walking pace. And of course, along the way there are plenty of opportunities for refreshment in Asheville’s many cafes and coffeehouses. Maps are available at the Asheville Visitors Center.

Should you wish to get involved in helping to fund or develop the Trail, which is dependent on private donations and is a work-in-progress contact Asheville’s Public Art Administrator at 828-259-5855, FAX 828-259-5606, or write to: Public Art Administrator, Asheville Parks and Recreation Department, PO Box 7148, Asheville, NC 28802. Plaques and artwork may be given in memory of family and friends, or to honor someone who
contributed significantly to the lives of others. The donor’s name or honoree can then be reflected on a plaque at a chosen station.

Location: Downtown Asheville
Address: Pick up maps and rent cassettes at main desk of Pack Place, located on Pack Square
Telephone: 828-258-0710 (Asheville Area Arts Council)
FAX: 828-259-5606
Hours: None, visit anytime
Fees: Self-guided tours, using audiocassettes ($5 per cassette rental). Guided tours are available beginning at 3 p.m. every Saturday. $5 donation per adult, children under 12 free.
Tips: The trail may be started at any point.

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“The Asheville Urban Trail” by Mickie Booth

Beginning and ending at Pack Square, the Urban Trail is a self-guided celebration of Asheville’s history and architectural treasures. Indeed, the Urban Trail has often been likened to “a museum without walls.” Located in Asheville’s historic district, the trail—by means of informative plaques and creative artifacts—seeks to inform and delight those treading its path. Sometimes serious, sometimes whimsical, the trail is immensely appealing, presenting its visitors with an opportunity to pause and experience the very heart of Asheville.

The trail presently consists of thirty stations located at strategic spots throughout the downtown area. Each station has been carefully planned to reflect the people and events which over the years have made Asheville unique. Beginning as a crossroads and layover for drovers and settlers, the city mushroomed with the coming of the railroad in 1880. Asheville’s climate and natural beauty soon attracted men of vision and wealth, and the city more than tripled its population. These stories and many more await the visitor along the Urban Trail.

At present, the Urban Trail is 1.6 miles in length, but one is free to walk as much or as little as desired. The pace is a matter of personal choice. At several stations, benches are an integral part of the art work, and provide a charming spot for rest or contemplation.

Each station is unique. Carefully designed and executed, stops commemorate Asheville’s most significant cultural, educational, social and historic trends, and highlight the myriad of architectural treasures contained within the downtown historic district. To create a station, designers employed informative plaques and a widely diverse selection of art works in stone, bronze, tile, brick and wrought iron, as well as sixteen-inch square thematic markers. Plans call for thematic markers to be placed every fifty feet to guide walkers and allow them to follow the trail un-aided. The markers, etched with a logo, represent the five distinct themes of the trail: Asheville’s Earliest Years (a horseshoe), the Gilded Age (a stylized feather), Thomas Wolfe’s Era (an angel), Civic Pride (Asheville’s court house of 1876), and the Age of Diversity (an eagle).

In addition to the thematic markers, each station has an interpretative plaque cast in bronze. Carefully researched information about the site is inscribed on the plaques, as well as the name of the station’s donor or honoree.

Throughout the trail are beautifully wrought and uniquely designed works of art which catch the eye and further develop the theme of the station. Seeking to engage all the senses, trail designers not only make use of bas-relief, embedded objects and free-standing works, but also employ sound and stereoptic devices to reflect the mood of the station and delight the visitor.

Station 14 is an excellent example of art reflecting mood. A sunbonnet and basket of apples—worked in bronze—are set upon a bench in an area where farmers and their wives once came to sell baskets of produce. Perhaps on this very spot, a young wife—wearied by her travels—paused to lay aside her bonnet and rest before returning to her outlying farm. Careful observation in this area will reveal the outline of market doorways with extraordinary height and breath. These oversized entryways were needed to accommodate farmer’s massive delivery wagons piled high with goods.

"Childhood", Asheville NC, drawing by Lee James PantasSome stations make use of skillfully executed freestanding bronzes. Perhaps the best known of these is a work by sculptor, James Barnhill, appropriately called “Childhood.” This lovely bronze portrays a slender young girl gracefully bending to drink from a horse-head fountain. Located at station 22 in Pack Square, “Childhood” charms all who visit her. Interestingly enough, there are still those in Asheville who can recall playing in the square as a child, and drinking from just such a fountain. Elaine McPherson, who donated the plaque at this station, remembers Pack Square as “her playground.”

A quilt, fiddle, and full-size bronze dancers at the entrance to the Civic Center serve as reminders of the city’s mountain heritage. Indeed, the Civic Center has long celebrated Asheville’s “heritage of the hills,” hosting many performances by local dancers, storytellers, crafters and musicians.

At the corner of College and Market streets, walkers pass a handsome, full-sized bronze bell, reminiscent of the bronze bell which once hung in the old city hall and was rung to warn of fire. The present bell, cast at about the same time as the old fire bell, has a lovely tone and is rung to mark special occasions.

Another interpretation in bronze, interactive and especially appealing to the young-at-heart, is the station commemorating the life and works of Thomas Wolfe. The author possessed rather large feet, and his size thirteen shoes, cast in bronze, invite the visitor to try them on for size.

Innovative and exciting, a large bronze frieze at station 29 depicts the Afro-American contribution to the commercial and spiritual development of Asheville. Innovative as well are the sound boxes and stereoptic viewers planned for several of the other stations. The stereoptic viewer will picture the city as it was in bygone days before the modern street lights and traffic signals were installed and auditory boxes will echo such sounds as hooves striking cobblestone and the clanging of an arriving trolley.

Much progress has been made since the Urban Trail’s inception in 1990. What was once simply the dream of a group of dedicated and gifted residents has become after years of hard work an exciting reality. As news of the trail has spread, tourists, city workers, children, retirees, and residents of the city and surrounding counties have expressed their interest, and many realizing the value of such an endeavor, have answered the call to become involved. Some have generously funded the markers, plaques and large works of art which are the heart of the trail. Others, city and office worker, gardener, student, homemaker and historian, give to the trail the valuable gifts of time and talents. Together they have watched with pride the dynamic evolution of Asheville’s “path through history”—Asheville’s own Urban Trail.


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