The Age of Boarding Houses

The Age of Boarding Houses

Sitting room at the Thomas Wolfe Memorial State Historic Site. Courtesy of the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources

Digital Heritage Moment

Before motels and restaurants became widespread in Appalachia, most towns had at least one boarding house. They were usually operated by women, providing important earning opportunities in an age when women suffered discrimination in the job market.

Some boarders were single men who worked in the mills or for the railroad. A few were married men who worked away from home, but returned to their families on weekends. Tourist boarders increased dramatically in numbers as the railroad spread throughout Appalachia from the 1880s on. Boarding houses also acted as restaurants, serving meals to local people.

The most famous Appalachian boarding house was the Old Kentucky Home in Asheville. It was operated by the mother of author Thomas Wolfe, who immortalized it as Dixieland in his autobiographical fiction.

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