Situated on a plateau amidst the Appalachian Mountains, Asheville is the cultural and economic center of western North Carolina and the seat of Buncombe County. The city serves as the gateway to several national parks and forests, including the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Settled in 1794, Asheville did not see rapid growth until the coming of the railroad in 1880 and the investments of George W. Vanderbilt and other wealthy businessmen. What has become the city's most famous attraction, is the Biltmore Estate. Biltmore is one of the largest and most opulent estates of the Guilded Age, and was built by Vanderbilt just to the south of the city. Asheville is also famous as the hometown of author Thomas Wolfe.
Historically, the city's economy rested on tourism. However, the city has since diversified its economy and has grown to become western North Carolina's leader in healthcare, retirement, education, as well as several industries such as textiles, wood products, and processed foods.