The Vanderbilt family is one of the oldest, and most wealthiest families in American history. The Vanderbilt Patriarch, Cornelius Vanderbilt, amassed his fortune through inland water trade and the railroad in the early to mid 1800’s. When he died in 1877, he left the bulk of his fortune to his son William and to William’s four sons, Cornelius, William, Frederick, and George. The Vanderbilts built large, beautiful mansions that have become known to signify the Gilded Age in America. After visiting the beautiful Vanderbilt estates in Newport, Rhode Island, I decided that I absolutely NEEDED to visit the Biltmore estate. So, I took a roadtrip to Asheville, North Carolina to visit beautiful Biltmore.
The Seed Was Planted
Biltmore was built for George Washington Vanderbilt II between 1889-1895. Vanderbilt often made trips to Asheville with his mother, and ended up falling in love with the area. He decided to build his summer home amongst the trees and rolling land in western North Carolina. Vanderbilt purchased the land, which included 50 farms, and a small town, and started construction in 1889. The material requirement for the house was so great that a woodworking factory and a brick kiln had to be built onsite to keep up with the demand. There was also a 3 mile branch of railroad that was constructed to bring supplies and materials to the property.
The Lay of the Land
The house stands at over 178,000 square feet (four acres) with 33 bedrooms, 65 fireplaces and 43 bathrooms. Close to 10 million pounds of limestone was used to build it. The entire estate originally covered 125,000 acres, it has since been sold down to 8,000 acres. Much of the land was sold to the federal government, with the stipulation that the land remain the same and the estate would be the center of the Pisgah National Forest. But we’ll save all of that history for another time. On to the gorgeous house….
When I walked into the house, the first thing I noticed was the winter garden to the right of the entryway. The ceiling is glass and wood and is a marvel all on its own. The natural light streams in and douses all of the plants and flowers, and at the center of it a bronze and marble sculpture by Karl Bitter, Boy Stealing Geese. Unfortunately, there were so many people when I went that it was impossible to get a full shot of the winter garden without the crowds of people. One of the other things that I noticed was the light fixtures. As beautiful as the natural light was, I wonder how it looked in the evening, illuminated by the fixtures.
Throughout the entire first floor, the wealth of the Vanderbilt family was extremely evident. The artwork, the china, the tapestries, and the furniture were absolutely amazing. The home was built to impress, and it definitely achieved that. The florals that were set up throughout the house were stunning. I assume they were all real because there is a florist work area, within the house. If they weren’t real, then the floral designer is even more amazing because they florals were gorgeous!
One of the things that I thought was really awesome was the outfits. There were different outfits worn by George and his wife Edith, as well as some notable Biltmore guests, recreated and staged in various rooms. It added an extra touch of history to the home. Most historical places don’t have clothing on display at all, due to their delicate nature.
In the photo above, the Edith recreation is wearing a recreation of the brooch that George had given to her in celebration of asking her to marry him. The detail with all of the clothing and accessory pieces was really awesome. This Edith and George were staged in front of one of the large fireplaces in the long Tapestry Gallery. The tapestry gallery holds Flemish tapestries from the 1530’s. I was one of the few visitors that stayed to marvel at the tapestries. If you didn’t know what you were looking at, they would just look like large rugs hung from the walls. People were eager to get down the hallway to the library.
The first thing that I said was, “WOW!” The library was definitely a beautiful spectacle, it’s easy to see why that was George’s favorite room. There are over 10,000 books in 8 different languages. The large fireplace, the sumptuous velvet upholstered furniture, the walnut paneling and the ceiling painting all added to the decadence of the room. I could definitely imagine curling up with a book next to the fireplace. This room had a very narrow walkway for people to view the room, and since there was so much to take in, the area was extremely crowded and pictures were very difficult to take.
The Grand Staircase
I could literally write an entire article on the beauty of the chandelier and the staircase. I am a sucker for beautiful ironwork and this piece is by far the most beautiful that I’ve ever seen. The chandelier is a 1,700 pound, multi-tiered masterpiece. Held in place by a single bolt, the 72 bulb chandelier descends down the middle of the grand staircase. One of the things that I learned was that the dome above the chandelier opens so that there is easy access to it.
The cantilever staircase itself is a structural marvel; the weight of each step is offset by the weight of the wall bearing down. It spans the first floor to the fourth. Windows adorn the staircase, so the natural light pours through.
One of the things that I didn’t like about the house was that the drapes were shut in almost all of the rooms. I realize that the sun does quite a bit of damage, and there are priceless pieces in the house, but it was a major letdown. Quite a few of the photos I took were too dark to include in this article.
Although the photo for the Louis XV room is a little dark, I had to include it. The room is absolutely gorgeous; named for the King that the furniture was inspired by. Edith Vanderbilt gave birth to her daughter Cornelia in this room, and Cornelia gave birth to her 2 sons in this room as well. I was glad that the drapes were semi-pulled back in order to see the grandness of the room.
By far the most grand room in the entire house was the Banquet Hall on the first floor. There are carefully placed draperies between the banquet hall and the winter garden. If you look at the small space above the drapes, you can see the dome from the winter garden. I can understand why they do it though, they want to give the visitor the OOH! moment. The banquet hall is one of the last rooms that you walk through on your tour of the house (after what seems like climbing and descending a million stairs.)
As you walk around the corner and the banquet hall comes into view, you are met with a pretty awesome sight. The banquet hall ceilings stretch seven stories high and there are so many intricate details throughout the room that it’s really difficult to decide what you want to see first. One end of the hall had a large restored pipe organ. The organ was not original to the construction of the home, there was actually a piano there. According to the Biltmore website, the organ wasn’t installed until 1998. You would never know that it was not original to the house, it fit beautifully.
On the opposite end was a massive fireplace with Flemish tapestries all around. The tapestries date from the mid- 1500’s. Another of the intricate details that I enjoyed was the place settings. The table was set as though it would have been when the Vanderbilts were entertaining. You can read more detail about each of the place settings on the Biltmore’s website.
There were many more points of interest throughout the house, but it was almost impossible to capture a photo due to the lighting or the crowds. Biltmore attracts more than 1 million visitors a year, so I suppose I was lucky to get the shots that I did get. As grand as Biltmore is, I was actually more impressed with the Breakers. I think that the entirety of the Breakers was stunning, whereas the exterior of Biltmore was far superior, but the intricacy didn’t stretch throughout the entire house.
The first floor held the majority of the awe-inspiring rooms. The music room, was definitely one of those rooms. The intricate ceiling was only one detail of this gorgeous room. Above the fireplace sits the Triumphal Arch, c.1512, an engraving by Albrecht Durer. If you have ever sat a day in an Art History class, you’d have learned that Durer was one of the most important artists of the Renaissance period. On the mantle Durer’s life dates are engraved, as well as his initials.
There is no way that I could capture everything about Biltmore in one article. The home is massive and there are so many more things within the house: a personal gym, a bowling alley, an indoor swimming pool, and much more. This article is one of two that I will be writing about my visit. The other article will cover the gardens, conservatory, and winery.
I highly encourage anyone to visit Biltmore, and to read the various articles that they post on their website. You can get a glimpse into a glamorous time in America that I doubt that we will ever return to. As always, thank you for following along on my Adventuring journey. I welcome all comments and feedback. If you’d like to see more of the photos I took, please check out my Instagram.
Until the next Adventure,