Nestled on the summit of Pompey’s Knob near Little Switzerland, North Carolina, Wildacres boasts a colorful history. Its original owner, Thomas Dixon, author of the novel the "Klansman" which was made into the movie "Birth of a Nation," had actually begun transforming the property into a haven for creative thinkers when the Crash of '29 forced him into bankruptcy.
For seven years the land lay idle. Then in 1936, as the country struggled to recover from the Great Depression, a Charlotte real estate agent persuaded I.D. Blumenthal to bid on the property which was about to be auctioned by a court in Austin, Texas. Acting on the agent’s advice, I.D. offered $6,500, an unheard of amount for 1400 acres of mountain real estate, complete with the buildings Dixon had initially built.
On the day of the auction, his was the only bid received. Because his offer was so low, the Texas court sent a representative to appraise the real estate’s worth. Certain the man would reject the bid once he laid eyes on Wildacres, I.D. met the agent at the Asheville train station, and together they set forth for the mountain. It was a glorious day when they started out, but as the car wound its way up Pompey’s Knob, a storm rolled in, shrouding the mountain in mist. It was raining when they reached the summit, and impossible to see a thing through the impenetrable fog.
Wet, miserable, and no doubt unaccustomed to the eerie quality the Blue Ridge can assume on such a day, the agent from Texas didn’t care to tarry. He returned to Austin and within a few weeks, the bid was approved.
All his life, I.D. considered Wildacres to be something of a miracle, a divine gift with which the Blumenthals had been entrusted. In 1946, he dedicated Wildacres to "the betterment of human relations," and in the years hence, it has enriched the lives of tens of thousands of people serving as a retreat and conference center for nonprofit groups.
A public charity since 1972, Wildacres is a fulcrum for innovative programs designed to meet the challenges of the twenty-first century.
The Wildacres Leadership Initiative was started in 1995 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Wildacres Retreat, to honor the human relations focus of the Blumenthal family, and to expand it to meet the emerging needs of an increasingly diverse and globally connected North Carolina. The Initiative seeks to create a community of leaders committed individually and collectively to promoting improved human relations among and expanded opportunities for all North Carolinians.
The William C. Friday Fellowship for Human Relations is the core program of the initiative, and provides a two-year leadership development program to assist North Carolinians who have depth of feeling, breath of knowledge, and a network of relationships that are necessary to meet the leadership challenges of the 21st century. The aim of the program is to nurture passionate individuals to pursue their ideas for a better future for our state and its people; and to build a diverse and sustained network who will address North Carolina's most pressing issues, particularly in the area of human relations.
In October 2010 Wildacres Leadership Initiative celebrated its 15th anniversary and is proud of the 166 Fellows who have graduated from the program and who play important roles throughout the state of North Carolina.