The buildings that make up today’s River Arts District are repurposed relics of Asheville’s history.
In 1880, the railroad came to Asheville for the first time. This new arrival would irrevocably change the trajectory of this little mountain town.
The tracks ran along the banks of the French Broad River, and soon manufacturers came and used the railroad to transport their goods to market.
Throughout the late 19th century and into the 1920s, cotton mills, leather tanneries, and other industries built large facilities along the tracks.
In 1916, Asheville experienced its worst natural disaster in modern history. A large tropical system made its way up from the south and dumped torrential rains on Western North Carolina. The runoff from the surrounding mountains caused the French Broad River to jump its banks, flooding low lying areas and destroying the railroad.
After the flood, most of the companies that had built their facilities along the banks moved to higher ground. The stock market crash and ensuing depression a decade later caused Asheville’s economy to collapse further. Many of the buildings were left abandoned for decades.
Asheville began a sort of renaissance in the mid 1970s. Calculated efforts to attract artists and restauranteurs in an effort to revitalize the mountain community began.
The old buildings throughout the downtown area and down by the river were perfect for renovation. Soon, painters, sculptors, photographers, glassblowers and more came to bring new life to the forgotten warehouses down by the river.
The River Arts District official website is an excellent resource to find open artist studios. Many have restricted their hours during the Covid pandemic, but most are open on a limited basis. Asheville’s artists work in every medium imaginable, and the RAD website will point you in the right direction.
The French Broad River Greenway runs alongside the artists’ studios on Riverside Drive before turning onto Amboy Rd. You’ll travel through Carrier Park and along the French Broad River before ending at the French Broad River Outfitters Hominy Creek location. The Greenway is a perfect scenic bike ride any time of year. If you’re feeling adventurous, stop in at Carrier Park and take your bike for a spin on the velodrome!
No visit to Asheville would be complete without a stop at 12 Bones Barbecue. A local favorite for over fifteen years, 12 Bones serves up delicious pulled pork, ribs and smoked turkey from their River Arts District location. Keep in mind their hours, though. Unlike most restaurants, 12 Bones is not open for dinner and they’re not open on the weekends.
If you’d like to stop for a drink while you’re exploring the RAD, you’ve got quite a few options.
Craft beer fans will want to include Wedge Brewing on their electric bike tour. They’ve got two locations in the River Arts District, and both are a great place to pop in for a pint. Our personal bias is the original location in the Wedge Studios building. Sit out back and watch the freight trains go by.
Wine drinkers might prefer a visit to Pleb Urban Winery. Pleb makes their wines from grapes grown in the surrounding mountains of Western North Carolina. Our local growing conditions create new and interesting flavors from well-known varietals. Pleb’s tasting room is big and airy and features a large outdoor seating area as well.
There is so much to see and do in the RAD, Asheville E-Bikes recommends a four hour rental to see it all. That should give you some time to check out some local art, cruise the greenway and grab a bite to eat or a drink before heading back. You’ll get out of the tourist zone for an afternoon and have a lot of fun exploring!