Edwin Wiley Grove: The Other Vanderbilt
September 9, 2012 by Susan Murray
Visitors to our Bed and Breakfast in Asheville, NC will almost certainly spend a day at the Biltmore, George Vanderbilt’s grand homage to the French Chateau. While the Biltmore is justly famous and is in many ways responsible for the success of Asheville as a tourist destination, the charm and elegance of downtown Asheville is largely due to the vision of another early 20th century millionaire: Edwin Wiley Grove.
Not much is known about Grove. He came to Asheville from St. Louis, seeking the clean, dry, mountain air to help his bronchitis; having made his fortune through the sale of Grove’s Chill Tonic, a “tasteless” tonic which incorporated quinine and helped alleviate the fever and chills of malaria which was endemic in the South. It is said that in 1890 more bottles of Grove’s Chill Tonic were sold than Coca Cola. In any case, once Grove arrived in Asheville he turned his interest to building.
The Grove Park Inn is the most well-known of his structures. This massive stone building is said to be fashioned after The Old Faithful Inn of Yellowstone National Park with its immense lobby and huge stone fireplace. In the style of the day, Grove endeavored to do better. The lobby of the Grove Park Inn has two stone fireplaces, each of which is large enough to burn a twelve foot log and also house an elevator in the shaft! It is amazing to think that the hotel was built in less than one year (11 months and 27 days to be exact). Today the Grove Park Inn houses one of the world largest collections of the Arts and Crafts movement Roycroft Furniture which can be seen in the lobby and halls. The terrace off the lobby overlooks the golf course and mountains and is a recommended location for watching the sunset. And at Christmas the Grove Park plays host to the National Gingerbread Competition.
It was in downtown Asheville where Grove really left his mark. In the early 1920′s Grove bought the existing Battery Park Hotel, a small Queen Anne Victorian overlooking north
Asheville, and replaced it with a 14 story, 220 room brick hotel whose architecture mixes the styles of the era from Mission-Revival to Neoclassic. Although the hotel still stands it has been converted to apartments with a variety of shops and restaurants on the ground floor. Until recently this was the location of one of our favorite spots: the Battery Park Champagne Bar and Book Exchange (since relocated to the nearby Grove Arcade). The handsome red brick building was something of a controversy at the time it was built with many decrying the loss of the old hotel. This forms an interesting parallel to the current controversy surrounding the development of some downtown areas in Asheville today.
The Battery Park Hotel was completed in 1924 and without missing a beat, Grove moved on to the Grove Arcade built in the hotel’s shadow. In the Arcade, Grove envisioned a new kind of retail center where ladies could park their car, enter the building and find inside a variety of shops and services (sound familiar?). His vision was to top the building with a 14 story office tower. Unfortunately for Grove but fortunately for the sky-line of Asheville he died in 1927 before the building was finished in 1929 and the tower was never built.(The
story that the faces on the building facade are those of his debtors are apocryphal!) The Arcade, like the Battery Park Hotel survived the twists and turns of the Great Depression, WWII and the latter half of the 21st century and it stands today much as originally conceived. Inside you will find candy stores, green grocers, clothing stores, crafts and much more while the outer rim is filled with restaurants with terraced seating from which you can watch the world go by. An outdoor craft market lines one side of the building (and of course our beloved Champagne Bar has moved its books and leather chairs to a new home in the Arcade).
Vanderbilt with all his money built an estate for himself and his friends. Edwin Wiley Grove helped build a town. So the next time you walk from the Carolina Bed & Breakfast, our inn in Asheville, spend a minute to look at the buildings and think of the men who envisioned them!This entry was posted in History. Bookmark the permalink.