Carnegie Library and Other Rich Discoveries

Comprehensive architectural tour turns Main Street inside out

Doug Gelbert will tell you what’s so special about this bank.
Portrait by Rachel Pressley

Doug Gelbert has literally written the book on walking tours. More accurately, he’s written hundreds of books on walking tours. More than 400, to be exact. 

His expansive “Look Up!” series plots informative strolls through towns and cities in all 50 states and up into the Canadian provinces. The books, which can be downloaded on Amazon for 99 cents apiece, are historical and architectural journeys through some of North America’s most intriguing urban areas. 

Gelbert, a former professional tour guide and current board member for the Arts Council of Henderson County, has now turned his attention to Hendersonville. The town boasts one of the most intact 1920s Main Streets in Western North Carolina. With that in mind, he’s been giving free weekly walking tours of its downtown throughout the summer, usually to groups ranging in size from 15 to 25 people. 

For those who wish to self guide, Gelbert has published a book version of the tour titled Hiding in Plain Sight in Hendersonville. It’s sold at the Malaprop’s Bookstore pop-up shop at 125 South Main Street (inside the Center for Arts and Inspiration.

Where the historic district of a city like, say, Philadelphia, deliberately features “almost no buildings that Benjamin Franklin … wouldn’t have seen,” as Gelbert puts it, Hendersonville brims with a patchwork of architectural styles spanning several eras. “The cityscape you see today is the result of an organic evolution,” he explains. “You still see Italianate architecture that’s 170 years old, Richardsonian Romanesque details from the 1890s, neoclassical buildings from 100 years ago, aluminum facades from the mid-1900s space-age craze, and so on.”

Gelbert’s favorite stops are those that, as the title of his book suggests, hide in plain sight. The glass transom found on a door along the 300 block of North Main Street makes the cut. As do cast-iron columns located on the 200 block, the flagpole outside city hall, and the former Carnegie Library — the first free public library in town.

“During the tour, I always point out that the county should give that building to the arts council to become the Hendersonville Arts Center,” Gelbert says. “That fires up the crowd. They want to sign a petition or call a congressperson to make it happen.”

The final Gelbert-guided tour of 2019 will take place Saturday, Sept. 14, at 9 am, starting at Woodlands Gallery (419 North Main St.). 90 minutes long Free. Dogs are welcome. A fundraiser dubbed “Art and Architecture Day” happens Saturday, Oct. 19, at the Center for Art and Inspiration (125 South Main St.). Tickets for the October event cost $50 and include a tour of downtown in the morning and the first official tour of the West Side Historic District in the afternoon. Also included in the ticket cost is coffee, pastries, a catered lunch, and a copy of “Hiding in Plain Sight in Hendersonville.” Make reservations at 828-693-8504. See thecenterai.com, acofhc.org, or walkthetown.com for more information.

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