Biltmore
(Vanderbilt Mansion)

home

In the 1880s, at the height of the Gilded AgeGeorge Washington Vanderbilt, youngest son of William Henry Vanderbilt, began to make regular visits with his mother, Maria Louisa Kissam Vanderbilt (1821–1896), to the Asheville, NC area. He loved the scenery and climate so much that he decided to create his own summer estate in the area, which he called his "little mountain escape", just as his older brothers and sisters had built opulent summer houses in places such as NewportRhode Island, and Hyde ParkNew York.

Architecture

His idea was to replicate the working estates of Europe. He commissioned prominent New York architect Richard Morris Hunt, who had previously designed houses for various Vanderbilt family members, to design the house in the Châteauesque style, using several Loire Valley French Renaissance architecture chateaux, including the Chateau de Blois as models. The estate included its own village, today named Biltmore Village, and a church.[2]

Landscape

Wanting the best, Vanderbilt also employed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted to design the grounds, with the immediate gardens in the Garden à la française style, beyond those in the English Landscape garden style. Beyond these were the natural woodlands and agricultural lands with the intentionally rustic three-mile (5 km) approach road passing through. Gifford Pinchot and laterCarl Schenck were hired to manage the forests, with Schenck establishing the first forestry education program in the U.S., the Biltmore Forest School, on the estate grounds in 1898. Intending that the estate could be self-supporting, Vanderbilt set up scientific forestryprograms, poultry farms, cattle farms, hog farms and a dairy.

The Vanderbilts invited family and friends from across the country to experience the opulent estate. Famous guests to the estate have included author Edith Wharton, novelist Henry James, presidents McKinleyWilson and Nixon, and Charles, Prince of Wales.

Vanderbilt paid little attention to the family business or his own investments, and it is believed that the construction and upkeep of Biltmore depleted much of his inheritance. After Vanderbilt died of complications from an emergency appendectomy in 1914, his widow, Edith Stuyvesant Vanderbilt, finalized the sale of 85,000 of the original 125,000 acres (507 km²) to the federal government (in respect to her husband's wish that the land remain unaltered), which became the nucleus of Pisgah National Forest.

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The Biltmore Estate, ca. 1900
The estate today covers approximately 8,000 acres (32 km²) and is split in half by the French Broad River. It is owned by The Biltmore Company, which is controlled by Vanderbilt's grandson, William A.V. Cecil, III. In 1964, it was designated a National Historic Landmark. The dairy farm was split off into Biltmore Farms, run by William Cecil's brother, George Henry Vanderbilt Cecil, and the former dairy barn was converted into the Biltmore Winery.

Tourist attraction

In an attempt to bolster the Depression-driven economy, Vanderbilt's only child, Cornelia Stuyvesant Vanderbilt, and her husband, John Amherst Cecil, opened Biltmore House to the public in March 1930. Family members continued to live there until 1956, when it was permanently opened to the public as a house museum. Visitors from all over the world continue to marvel at the 70,000 gallon (265 cubic meter) indoor swimming pool, bowling alley, early 20th centuryexercise equipment, two-story library, and other rooms filled with artworks, furniture and 19th-century novelties such aselevators, forced-air heating, centrally-controlled clocks, fire alarms and an intercom system. The estate remains a major tourist attraction in Western North Carolina and has over 1 million visitors each year.
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View of the west side of the house from the Shrub garden

 

The grounds include 75 acres (30 ha) of formal gardens, a winery and the Inn on Biltmore Estate, a AAA four-diamond 213-room hotel.

On ongoing program of restoration has seen the Louis XV Suite restored and opened to the public in 2009, and plans program the restoration of the Oak Sitting Room and Second Floor Living Hall in 2012.

Building Biltmore was, at the time, one of the largest undertakings in the history of American residential architecture and the results were astounding. Over a six-year period, an entire community of craftsmen worked to build the country's premier home. The estate boasted its own brick factory, woodworking shop, and a three-mile railway spur for transporting materials to the site.

The celebrated architect Richard Morris Hunt modeled the house on three châteaux built in 16th-century France. It would feature 4 acres of floor space, 250 rooms, 34 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms, and 65 fireplaces. The basement alone would house a swimming pool, gymnasium and changing rooms, bowling alley, servants' quarters, kitchens, and more.

An Environmental Wonder

The grounds of the 125,000-acre estate were designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, the creator of New York's Central Park and the father of American landscape architecture. He not only developed acres of gardens and parkland, but in his efforts to protect the environment and reclaim over-farmed land, Olmsted established America's first managed forest.

A True Family Home

George Vanderbilt officially opened the home to friends and family on Christmas Eve in 1895. He had created a country retreat where he could pursue his passion for art, literature, and horticulture. After marrying the American Edith Stuyvesant Dresser (1873–1958) in Paris during the summer of 1898, George and his new bride came to live at the estate. Their only child, Cornelia (1900–1976), was born and grew up at Biltmore.

Location: AshevilleNorth CarolinaUnited States
Coordinates: 35°32′22.74″N82°33′3.42″W
Built/Founded: 1889-95
Architect: Richard Morris Hunt;Frederick Law Olmsted
Architectural style(s): Châteauesque
Governing body: Private