The home of author Thomas Wolfe is now a museum, with the furnishings very much as they were when he lived there. In his room, his clothes and possessions are on display, right down to the very large white underwear that he wore. His rooms are as they were when he lived and visited in later years, with his small desk and pen, and a few pages of his original writing on the desk as if he had just finished them.
Wolfe was raised in a busy boarding house.
The house was built by an affluent local banker in 1883 with six or seven rooms and front and back porches. Additions over the years doubled its size, but didn’t change the basic look of the house. Julia Wolfe, the author’s mother, added electricity, indoor plumbing and eleven more rooms. The house is a strange rambling place as a result of these additions, which did not always fit smoothly into the rest of the house. She needed these additions because she used the house as a boarding house.
Thomas Wolfe lived in his mother’s boarding house in Asheville, North Carolina from the age of six. He was born in 1900, the last of eight children. Although his father had a tombstone business and could support the family, his mother, a former teacher, had the desire to make her own way in the world. She took young Thomas to live with her in the Queen Anne house which she bought as a real estate investment.
Our tour guide said that if the house was really full and busy, his mother would even rent out Thomas’ room, and he would have to find a place to sleep that night. Even as a child, he had to go to the train station and give out cards, encouraging people to come to their boarding house. When it got busy, he was not too eager to encourage more visitors, as he would have to give up his room again.
The guests were Inspiration for the writer Thomas Wolfe.
The constant stream of guests provided inspiration for the young writer. Thomas Wolfe made generous use of the characters staying in the boarding house and those in town. However, in his novels Look Homeward Angel and You Can’t Go Home Again, some people were only vaguely fictionalized and the portrayals were not always flattering. When his first novel was published, he was not very welcome in his home town, and neither were copies of his book. After about seven years, the town realized what a celebrity and an important writer Thomas Wolfe was, and began to enjoy his fame. Those on the tour of his house can find the rooms he described, and recognize which characters in his books had lived in those rooms.
The Wolfe boarding house becomes a museum.
Thomas Wolfe moved to New York City where he was able to interact with other writers and artists. He traveled around Europe, but returned to New York as his home. He died of brain tuberculosis at only 38 years old.
Wolfe’s mother, Julia, continued to live in the boarding house until her death in 1945. Fortunately, her surviving children sold the property with most of the furnishings and personal possessions in it to be a museum. The details of everyday life are fascinating in themselves. The kitchen has the appliances and utensils, the laundry room has the iron and washing facilities, and the dining room is set the way it would have been when it was a busy boarding house. The bedrooms are furnished as they would have been when they were occupied, including the one belonging to Thomas Wolfe, with his clothes hanging or on display. His clothes are quite big, much bigger than he looks in photographs.
Visiting the Wolfe house and the museum nearby.
Visitors start in the small museum next to the house where there are exhibits of his work, some oral history tapes, and a video. Our tour guide was pleasant and informed, adding stories about the author and his family, and answering questions from the group. We had plenty of time to stop and look around in each room, and imagine what they would have been like when filled with family and boarders, and a young writer making notes.
Asheville, North Carolina is a wonderful scenic town to visit. There are lovely bed and breakfast places and famous hotels and homes such as the huge Biltmore mansion. The small boarding house where we could see how Thomas Wolfe lived before becoming famous was an interesting contrast to the wealth of some of the rest of the town.
Note: Thomas Wolfe is not to be confused with current author Tom Wolfe.
Source: Personal experience visiting the museum.