Built in 1883 by prosperous Asheville banker Erwin E. Sluder in the Queen Anne style of architecture, the wooden two-story frame house began life as a boarding house known as the ‘Old Kentucky Home,’ which was run by Wolfe’s mother and where he lived until he went to university in 1916. The sprawling boarding house was originally built with only six or seven rooms and a front and rear porch, but by 1889 many renovations and additions had more than doubled the size of the original house, but managed to retain its architectural style.
Heavily influenced by his childhood in Asheville and his life in the boarding house, Wolfe used these early years as inspiration in his writing, and the boarding house was used as the setting for Wolfe’s first novel which he wrote in 1929, Look Homeward, Angel. In this autobiographical fiction, Wolfe changed the name of the boarding house to ‘Dixieland’ and includes highly realistic portrayals of life in Asheville and his own experiences among family, friends, and boarders into the book, which caused it to be banned from the local library.
Considered by many to be one of the most autobiographical novelists in American Literature, Thomas Wolfe wrote four novels during his short lifetime, namely Look Homeward, Angel, Of Time and the River, The Web and the Rock, and You Can’t Go Home Again. He also wrote numerous shorts and plays, articles, novella, and scripts.
Wolfe died at a relatively young age from tuberculosis and later, after his mother’s death, the 29-room house became a memorial to Wolfe and was opened to the public in the 1950s. The house was set alight by an arsonist during the Bele Chere Street Festival of 1998 and more than a quarter of the house’s original artifacts and pieces of furniture were destroyed. In 2004, the State of California spent over $2 million restoring the house to its former glory and its stands today as it once did more than a century ago.