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The historic Old Kentucky Home boardinghouse operated by Thomas Wolfe’s mother was depicted as “Dixieland” in Wolfe’s 1929 novel Look Homeward, Angel. It had been his home for ten years. Strongly influenced by his childhood in Asheville and by life in the boarding house, Wolfe turned to his early experience for inspiration in his writing. His highly realistic portrayals of Asheville and its citizens, including Wolfe’s own family, caused Look Homeward, Angel to be banned from the local library. Wolfe did not return to Asheville for almost eight years. He finally came home in 1937, where he spent part of the summer in the boardinghouse with his mother. Here he wrote “Return” a short article published in the Asheville Citizen newspaper.
Thomas Wolfe is considered one of the most autobiographical novelists in American literature. During his short life he wrote four novels; Look Homeward, Angel, Of Time and the River, The Web and the Rock, and You Can’t Go Home Again, as well as numerous short stories, novellas, and plays. The historic Old Kentucky Home boardinghouse has been a memorial to Wolfe since 1949. It is now operated as a North Carolina State Historic Site. A visitor center offers exhibits about Wolfe and his family and an audio-visual presentation about Wolfe’s life and writings. Guided tours of the Old Kentucky Home are also offered daily. Wolfe foresaw the future of his mother’s boardinghouse when he wrote in his second novel Of Time and the River that the “old dilapidated house had now become a fit museum.”
In 1998, the historic Old Kentucky Home suffered damage in a fire that was later determined to have been the result of arson. Approximately 20% of the original structure and 15% of the artifact collection were destroyed. After intensive restoration to both the historic house and surviving artifact collection, the Old Kentucky Home once again opened its doors to visitors in May of 2004.