Follow the Vagabonds’ epic roadtrip to Asheville

While embarking on one of the first iterations of the great American road trip, this iconic group made several stops in and around the Land of the Sky — and you can follow their journeys too.

The Vagabonds posing outside of a lead mine on their 1918 journey.

The Vagabonds posed outside of a lead mine on their 1918 road trip.

Photo from the Henry Ford Museum via James Gardner

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Before the term “glamping” was coined, American trailblazers Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone, and John Burroughs were some of the first to set up camp in style. The group called themselves “The Vagabonds” and took almost yearly vacations across the US from 1914 to 1924, playing a role in creating the great American road trip as we know it today. And in the summer of 1918, these four men made a stop right here in Asheville.

Here’s the rundown on where the Vagabonds went — and how you can recreate a portion of their trip.

First stop: Mars Hill

Rolling out of Hot Springs, the group set their sights on Mars Hill. After traveling through about 25 miles of rocky roads and cliffsides, they were greeted with flowers and fruit from children and college students upon their arrival.

Although you likely won’t get the same welcome, you can follow in their footsteps. On Saturdays during the spring semester, consider making a stop at Mars Hill University’s campus to visit the Rural Heritage Museum and uncover more WNC history.

The four men take a break at their campsite next to a lake.

The four men taking a break at their campsite.

Photo from The Henry Ford Museum via James Gardner

Next up: Weaverville

After departing from Mars Hill, the Vagabonds split up, and Edison and Firestone made their way 10 miles south to Weaverville. Celebrities in their day, they were greeted by excited crowds. Though neither were keen on public speaking, Firestone addressed the crowd and thanked them for being there.

Any crowds you find at Blue Mountain Pizza will probably be waiting for a table and not a speech, but you can grab a pie and have a picnic in Lake Louise Park.

Lastly: The Omni Grove Park Inn

On the evening of Aug. 27, 1918, the Vagabonds arrived at the Grove Park Inn. It was here that Burroughs, considerably older than the rest of the group, decided to end his trip. The Vagabonds took a group photo in front of the inn to commemorate their travels.

What better way to finish your corresponding trip than with dinner and drinks at EDISON? The restaurant and bar inside Grove Park Inn is the namesake of one of the Vagabond’s most famous members.

For details on the historic travels described here and more, James Gardner’s “A Chance to Breathe: Stories from a 1918 Road Trip” covers the rest of the Vagabonds’ epic trip.

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