Hidden gem in plain sight
Kenilworth is considered a downtown neighborhood. Although it is located about a mile south of the vibrant downtown scene, it feels remarkably quiet and peaceful. Residents live conveniently close to shopping, restaurants, and schools, yet enjoy the feeling of living in a forest retreat.
My husband and I put down roots in Kenilworth in 2008. We were searching for a quiet neighborhood near amenities, where privacy would be equally as valued as making new friends and sharing activities. We both work from home and were looking to reduce driving time for errands, and enjoy the benefits of living in town.
Every morning we walk the dogs and greet the other early risers. Even though by now the neighbors have become our friends, we still refer to them as “Bailey’s mom” or “Jasmine’s dad.” Dogs and babies — nature’s icebreakers. We stop to share news or just to say hello. I take comfort in the rhythm of routines encouraged by good neighborhood design.
Kenilworth is distinguished as the oldest established neighborhood in Asheville. In fact, it used to be an independent city, and was annexed to Asheville in the 1920s. Intriguing nuggets of local history are hidden in plain view on every street. Many of these tidbits are only noticeable if you’re on foot, or take the time to get to know the people who live here, who will pass on the stories.
For example, Waverly Street looks like an ordinary blacktop road to anybody zooming over it in a car. But a closer look at the ground reveals that beneath the asphalt lie lovely old red bricks, placed there by hand more than one hundred years ago. These roads, that once echoed with the rhythm of horse hooves and carriage wheels, curve and wind uphill and down because they were originally paths trod by the horses kept in the stables at the historic Kenilworth Inn at the top of the hill.
People from outside the neighborhood are often surprised to learn there is a small lake at the heart of the Kenilworth community. There are few lakes in Asheville where it’s possible to own a waterfront home. 18 acre Kenilworth Lake is one of them, where lakefront homes with modest docks and kayaks wait at water's edge. The lake is small enough to freeze over in winter, and last year while on my dog-walk during a cold snap, I noticed a lone figure out ice-skating across the glimmering surface. An older resident who has lived on the lake for decades, once told me about a time way back in the 1940s, when a pilot traveling through had made a frightful emergency landing on the small gleaming bit of ice inside the thick forest, in his private plane.
The lake is cherished by locals, and supports countless numbers of wildlife. I’ve seen fish jump, turtles amble, hawks study, owls stare, and Canada geese fly in formation overhead. Flashing red cardinals dash and dart through the rhododendrens and azaleas. Ducks, foxes, rabbits, and a generous population of wild turkeys all live here. Gazing out my window into the stream below one afternoon, I spotted a tiny blue river heron—no bigger than six inches tall—move like a master martial artist to snap up a brilliant silver fish.
This being Asheville, we also live respectfully with a few families of black bears, who can occasionally be spotted lumbering through the streets or uncannily vanishing into swaths of forest. I once witnessed a mama bear and her cub swim across the lake. We respect the wildlife, it keeps away from us, and the neighborhood seems to maintain a natural equilibrium. I think one of the big reasons people are drawn to WNC is because, like me, they’re looking for an environment just like Kenilworth with its blended mix of urban enjoyments and natural beauty, spiced with a pinch of wildlife—just enough to keep us on our toes.
Active families eager for a game of tennis or soccer, or a quiet morning run have their pick of possibilities here. Looking for a basketball hoop and a playground? Impromptu games and neighborly chats often occur at the Leah Chiles Park, one of Kenilworth’s many neighborhood city parks. This park sits nestled beneath maples and oaks on the gentle slope below the Chiles house, a historic Spanish Revival home recently restored by its loving and devoted owners. Catty-corner to the Chiles house is another architectural gem, a gothic beauty with steep slate roof tiles, that was designed by renowned architect ___ Greene, who also designed the ___ building downtown.
Made up of single family homes, Bed & Breakfast Inns, and multiplexes, Kenilworth is a mix of old Arts & Crafts gems, Tudor homes, angular modern houses overlooking the city, lake cottages, and new construction.
My husband and I fell in love with it because of the proximity of the lake, the forested spaces, and most of all the friendly people we were meeting. All that and only a mile from downtown? It didn’t take us long to figure out that the Kenilworth neighborhood was what home should feel like.