Asheville’s Estes-Winn Antique Car Museum is a hidden gem
By CARLA BECK
Photos by RYAN THEEDE PHOTOGRAPHY
With majestic mountain views that promote outdoor adventuring and a thriving arts scene that promises unique cultural experiences, Asheville is one of Western North Carolina’s vacation hot spots. Widely known for its top attraction, the 8,000-acre Biltmore Estate, Asheville’s historic landmarks dot the city streets and offer tourists a variety of choices ranging from retail shopping in the 1920s Grove Arcade to museum tours of author Thomas Wolfe’s childhood home. Locals and frequent visitors would also suggest a few “hidden gems” as noteworthy options. Among those suggestions, The Estes-Winn Antique Car Museum stands out as a must-see destination.
Situated adjacent to the historic Omni Grove Park Inn, The Estes-Winn Antique Car Museum houses vintage automobiles from the private collection of Harry D. Blomberg, an Asheville Cadillac and Pontiac dealer for more than half a century. Blomberg’s legacy continues with what remains a family-owned dealership, Harry’s on the Hill, celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. According to the Museum’s manager, Tom Anders, “Harry invested in real estate rather than more car dealerships,” which is how he acquired what is now known as Grovewood Village, home to The Estes-Winn Antique Car Museum. Purchased by Blomberg in 1953, the property originally served as the site for Biltmore Industries, which led the textile industry in the 1920s with a global reputation for “quality and wearability.” Blomberg established the museum in 1966 as the textile industry became increasingly automated, and he scaled back the weaving production of Biltmore Industries. Grovewood Village includes six English-style cottages, and Blomberg’s automobile collection occupies the former weaving shop, which is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Museum visitors open the massive wooden door and enter a bygone era. The building’s original hardwood floors, open-beamed ceiling, and two 6-foot Roycroft chandeliers reflect its early 20th-century roots. The chandeliers and overhead beams boast inspirational quotes that were placed there at the direction of the original owner, Fred Seely, who hoped to inspire his employees with words of wisdom. Along the walls, large windows offer natural light where talented weavers once worked their magic and now highlight prized cars in Blomberg’s collection. After a brief introduction from a knowledgeable museum guide, guests may stroll through the museum referring to the plentiful visual displays that provide historical context and background information for each car. Many of the vehicles share specific connections to Asheville, including a 1922 American LaFrance Fire Truck that was in service for 40+ years in Asheville. In addition to the vintage automobiles on display, the museum also features four antique carriages, one once owned by Edwin Wiley Grove, “the visionary of The Grove Park Inn.”
According to Anders, who has managed the Museum for the past decade, the most valuable and rare find in the showroom is the Lake Placid Blue 1957 Cadillac Eldorado Brougham. Although Cadillac manufactured 704 of the Eldorado Brougham between 1957 and ‘58, only 400 were produced in 1957, signifying both the value and prestige of the one in Harry’s collection. Each car was hand-built and featured the latest high-tech gadgets, including one of the first all-transistor radios available in a car. As both a dealer and distributor for Cadillac in the 1950s, Harry had the distinct privilege of acquiring the most sought-after automobiles. He originally sold the 1957 Eldorado Brougham to Edith Bryant, a woman from Biltmore Forest whose late husband helped establish the Champion Paper and Fibre Company in Canton, N.C. Harry added the car to his Museum’s collection in the 1980s after purchasing it back from Mrs. Bryant’s daughter. Undoubtedly the “crown jewel” in Blomberg’s collection, the magnificent blue exterior along with the spotless stainless-steel roof of the Cadillac immediately demands guests’ attention both as they enter and exit the showroom floor.
The son of Lithuanian immigrants, Harry Blomberg lived his entire life in Asheville, and although he was one of the most prestigious and respected businessmen in the community, he was more than that. He was also recognized as a “civic leader, and leader in the Jewish community.” Harry’s generous and admirable spirit is reflected in his motto, “Work hard, treat your customers and employees fairly, and always give back to your community.” In a nod to Harry’s philanthropic principles, The Estes-Winn Antique Car Museum offers free admission and free parking; however, donations are appreciated as they help with the collection’s maintenance. According to Anders, upkeep of the automobiles involves the unique challenge of periodically starting them all up while using the windows to vent the exhaust. “If we don’t burn down the building, and nobody gets hurt,” says Anders, “it’s a good day!” The Museum's operating hours are Monday-Sunday 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. April-December. Additionally, the Museum is available as a small event venue for those seeking a unique experience for their special occasions.