Established in 1885, Asheville’s Riverside Cemetery is the burial place for infamous authors and prominent local citizens. Still an active cemetery today, read why Riverside Cemetery is a must for your AVL itinerary.
When people talk about the best things to do in Asheville, I’m pretty sure very few recommend a Sunday morning stroll through the local cemetery.
But, that’s why we are here. As literary travelers and history enthusiasts, we travel wanting to know so much more about a place. Sure, Asheville has food and beer, but it also has spunk, ghosts, and loads of stories.
Historic Riverside Cemetery in the Montford District of Asheville, North Carolina is perfect for diving deeper into the beauty of AVL’s beating heart.
Thomas Wolfe, for example, aired out Asheville’s jovial dirty laundry and gossip in Look Homeward, Angel. Along with his parents, you can pay homage to Wolfe at Riverside Cemetery. Literary great O. Henry is also buried here.
In fact, you’ll find many of Asheville’s groundbreaking citizens and key historical players laid to rest at Riverside. Visitors will encounter intricate tombstones and 3.5 miles of paved walking trails.
Is a stroll through Riverside Cemetery right for you? As Asheville locals, we’ll share what to see and expect at historic Riverside Cemetery. We, of course, think it’s worth a visit or ten. Let’s get started.
*Much of our information was cross-referenced from the thorough handout provided at the gates of Riverside Cemetery. Thank you to the overseeing cemetery and park staff for laying out such a comprehensive map and guide.
See what else you can do in Asheville’s Historic Montford’s District.
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Riverside Cemetery Walking Information
Address: Riverside Cemetery, 53 Birch St, Asheville, NC 28801
Parking: Along the paved roads
Walk Difficulty: Easy
Length: 3.5 miles of roads to explore
Duration Of Walk: One hour
Type Of Walk: Casual stroll and kid-friendly
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Why Visit Historic Riverside Cemetery?
About Riverside Cemetery
Designed in 1885, historic Riverside Cemetery is a must for history and literature lovers. Explore 87 acres of picturesque grounds filled with flowers that overlook the French Broad River.
Plus, you’ll learn a lot about Asheville’s rich history — good and bad.
Asheville Cemetery Company bought this land and named the burial site “Asheville Cemetery” before it became Riverside Cemetery. As of the 1950s, when funds were low, the City Of Asheville’s Parks and Recreation Department adopted and now maintains the grounds.
Riverside Cemetery is still an active cemetery — you can purchase a plot. According to the National Park Service, 13,000+ people are buried here.
There are also 9,000 monuments and 12 family mausoleums. Many of the structures are Victorian-style.
Today, you’ll find 3.5 miles of paved roads perfect for a stroll. Many of the gravestones are intricately designed and don’t miss a detailed map with descriptions of notable spots at the cemetery entrance and information board.
The most famous graves, like Thomas Wolfe and O. Henry, have signs along the road to indicate where to look.
According to Asheville Parks and Rec, about 4,000 people visit Riverside Cemetery each year. For historical and genealogical research or cemetery tours, you can call (828) 350-2066 to schedule an appointment.
Notable Graves & Memorials At Riverside Cemetery
Thomas Wolfe (1900-1938)
Around .25 miles past the cemetery entrance on a small hill, you’ll discover the final resting spot for beloved local author, Thomas Wolfe.
Thomas Wolfe is most famous for his Asheville-based novel, Look Homeward, Angel. Although a well-known American historical fiction novel, the story is a loose retelling of Wolfe’s life growing up in Asheville, NC.
Most notable, Wolfe changed the names and spellings of his Asheville community members — but barely. They all recognized each other. Talk about gossip…
Of course, Asheville residents weren’t stoked to see their dirty laundry aired out for the world – until Wolfe’s fame grew. Although a bit long-winded, Look Homeward, Angel is a vibrant tale of Asheville in the early 1900s.
The story follows a young boy — presumably Wolfe — dreaming of escaping ‘provincial’ life through higher education.
Some visitors leave pens in a vase to honor Wolfe.
William Oliver (W.O.) Wolfe (1851-1922) and Julia Elizabeth Westall Wolfe (1860-1945)
Along with Thomas Wolfe’s grave, find W.O. Wolfe and Julia Elizabeth Westall Wolfe — his parents. Julia is famous for her downtown boarding house that you can tour today.
As a monument mason, you’ll see W.O.’s “Angels” throughout Riverside Cemetery. They are labeled on Riverside Cemetery’s map, too.
Look for the Buchanan Angel imported from Italy and installed by W.O. Many think this is the “Look Homeward Angel” from Wolfe’s novel, but it’s technically not.
W.O. also built the McElveen Mausoleum in 1900, which dons a Wolfe angel on top from Carrera, Italy.
William Sydney Porter (O. Henry) (1862-1910)
Although William Sydney Porter is said to have died in NYC, he is buried at Riverside. Also, note that some of the remains at Riverside Cemetery were removed from other burial grounds and reinterred here.
William Sydney Porter is most famously known as O. Henry. His short stories encapsulated the life of the everyday people of New York. Visitors leave pennies in honor of a few lines from “The Gift of the Magi:”
ONE DOLLAR AND EIGHTY-SEVEN CENTS. That was all. She had put it aside, one cent and then another and then another, in her careful buying of meat and other food. Della counted it three times. One dollar and eighty-seven cents. And the next day would be Christmas.The Gift of the Magi by William Sydney Porter
O. Henry penned this short story in 1905, and it’s about an impoverished couple saving pennies to buy each other Christmas gifts. Read the full short story here.
More Notable Burial Sites & Monuments
The Walking Guide provided at the gates of Riverside marks 76 notable sites, including prominent Asheville citizens, educators, doctors, politicians, generals, city developers, and ministers.
To name just a few more:
Born a slave, you’ll find the burial site for Isaac Dickson (1839-1919). After the Civil War, Dickson became the first African American on the Asheville City School Board.
George Masa (1881-1933), born Masahara Iizuka, was an influential Japanese photography. He started out in Asheville as a valet at the Grove Park Inn and was instrumental in the creation of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
In addition, James Harrison Posey (1833-1917) was one of Abraham Lincoln’s bodyguards. Lillian Exum Clement Stafford (1894-1925) was the first woman elected to the North Carolina General Assembly at 26 years old.
You will also find Confederate generals including Robert B. Vance, and NC’s governor during the Civil War, Zebulon Baird Vance.
There are sections for veterans of war, as well. Fred Miles constructed a monument in memory of the stone masons that worked on Biltmore Estate. Many passed away from accidents or illness before completing the project.
If you love casual strolls, you may also enjoy these Parks & Gardens Around Asheville.
Is Riverside Cemetery Haunted?
**Let me preface this section by saying it is not necessarily grounded in science and fact…
Many say that Riverside Cemetery is haunted. In fact, it might be one of the most haunted cemeteries in NC. How’s that for click-bait?
There are most likely unmarked graves, and people claim to have heard gunshots and cannon fire; the Battle of Asheville took place decades before in 1865 around what is today the University of North Carolina – Asheville.
People have mentioned sightings of marching Confederate soldiers. Others have seen ghostly children running around and playing, reminding visitors of a yellow fever epidemic.
During WWI, Hot Springs, NC was an internment camp for German officers. Eighteen of the interred officers died from typhoid fever and are buried at Riverside Cemetery.
We think Riverside Cemetery is more peaceful than haunting, but atrocities, tragedies, and wars have occurred around this area.
When Is The Best Time To Visit Riverside Cemetery?
Riverside Cemetery is open all day, every day during daylight hours, usually around 8 AM. I find the cemetery especially beautiful and peaceful early in the morning on a spring day. Others love a walk in the mist and fog.
My husband says that he might have been hesitant to go on a second date with me if he knew I’d enjoy walking a cemetery ‘for leisure’ on a Sunday morning.
If you love walks around AVL, don’t miss our Guide To Hiking Asheville.
Where In Asheville Is Riverside Cemetery?
Find Riverside Cemetery’s at 53 Birch Street in Asheville, NC 28801. You’ll drive through gates and can park anywhere alongside the paved roads. Just drive slowly and watch for pedestrians.
Located in one of the best Asheville neighborhoods, Historic Montford, you’ll find multiple areas here that land on the National Register of Historic Places.
Montford sits between downtown Asheville and North Asheville, showcasing the diverse architecture around Asheville’s big boom, including the construction of The Grove Park Inn and Biltmore.
Encounter Neo-Classical apartment buildings, Victorians, Colonial Revivals, and bungalows.
Montford was also home to Highland Hospital, a progressive mental health institution back in the day. Zelda Fitzgerald along with 8 other people died in the Highland Hospital fire.
She and F. Scott Fitzgerald would visit Asheville in the summers. He would stay at the Grove Park Inn.
While Montford is a mostly residential area, visitors will find a plethora of quaint Bed and Breakfasts, restaurants, and easy access to downtown. You can also catch Shakespeare in the Park by the Montford Park Players.
What Can You Do After Visiting Riverside Cemetery?
Tour The Thomas Wolfe Memorial
Are you inspired by the history of Riverside Cemetery and craving more? Even if you have never read Thomas Wolfe’s books, we highly suggest taking a tour of the Thomas Wolfe Memorial. We’ve been multiple times and love it.
This memorial on Market Street is Wolfe’s mother, Julia’s, boarding house. His childhood home no longer stands. However, Wolfe spent most of his youth at this boarding house. Julia was quite the character, entrepreneur, and feminist.
Visitors can take a guided tour of the home, drop into the museum, and watch a short and educational film. Go for the stories…they are so entertaining.
Soak Up More History At Biltmore Estate
Think George and Edith Vanderbilt, Frederick Law Olmsted, and Richard Morris Hunt as just a few prominent names behind America’s Largest Home, Biltmore Estate.
Constructed in the late 1880s with 250 rooms, George W. Vanderbilt built this iconic Châteauesque-style mansion. You’ll love the gardens, hiking trails, Estate tours, and winery.
As annual passholders, we always recommend visiting Biltmore at least once. Grab our Complete Guide To Making The Most Of Biltmore.
Explore The Local Murals Around Downtown
If art and history are your jam, you’ll love Asheville’s mural scene. Find street art that honors some of Asheville’s most noteworthy citizens as well as one giant canvas for stellar local artists.
Here are a Few Murals You Don’t Want To Miss.
Grab A Drink At The Omni Grove Park Inn
Don’t miss a breathtaking sunset at The Omni Grove Park Inn. Another historic Asheville icon, grab dinner at the Edison along with seasonal cocktails and that famous mountain sunset.
Explore Asheville’s Museums
If you love history, art, and science, be sure to check out these must-visit Asheville museums. Find exploratory museums for children, modern art, and haunted historic sites.
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Where Can You Stay Around Asheville?
Asheville, NC Hotels
Hotels and B&Bs tend to book up fast in Asheville, especially in the fall, spring, and around holidays. Make dinner reservations wherever you can, too. A few hotels to consider that either we, our friends, or others highly recommend include:
Near The Asheville Outlets/Biltmore
Hampton Inn And Suites Asheville Biltmore Area *Our second favorite pick. We stayed here before we moved.
DoubleTree By Hilton Biltmore/Asheville
Grand Bohemian Hotel Asheville
The Omni Grove Park Inn *We frequently stop by the Grove Park Inn for sunsets, drinks, and food.
1900 Inn On Montford
Don’t miss our Top Asheville Hotel, Resort & B&B Picks Here.
Have you been to Riverside Cemetery in Asheville?
Have you visited Riverside Cemetery? What parts of Asheville’s history fascinated you the most? Which memorials and sites did you visit? Let us know in the comments.