“Dixieland was a big cheaply constructed frame house of eighteen or twenty drafty high-ceilinged rooms: it had a rambling, unplanned, gabular appearance, and was painted a dirty yellow.”
Those words so poignantly penned by novelist Thomas Wolfe described his childhood home in his autobiographical novel, Look Homeward, Angel. The novel featured a coming of age tale tinged by the grief Wolfe experienced at the house. Most tragically, the death of his older brother, who fell victim to the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918.
The house referred to as “Dixieland” in the novel was actually known around the neighborhood as the “The Old Kentucky Home.” Wolfe’s mother Julia purchased it in 1906. She took a then-six-year-old Wolfe and transformed the new residence into a boardinghouse, leaving the rest of the family two blocks away at their family home. The years that followed would become pivotal in shaping Wolfe’s first novel.
When Look Homeward, Angel was published, it became an international bestseller. To this day, the novel has never gone out of print and writers such as Jack Kerouac, Ray Bradbury, and Philip Roth have credited the book and Wolfe as influences. Although Wolfe fictionalized the name of his hometown, the novel’s brutally honest (and very thinly veiled) portrayal of the places and characters around Asheville caused outrage. Wolfe didn’t return to his hometown for eight years after the novel’s release.
Visitors to the historic boardinghouse can explore the same rooms that Wolfe described with unparalleled accuracy, still preserved in their historic state. A visitor’s center resides just across the backyard, and boasts a rendition of Wolfe’s later apartment inside the Chelsea Hotel. It also displays artifacts relating to his life and family.