The Biltmore Estate

The mansion pictured above is not Versailles; it is not found in France at all, in fact.  No, it is "the country estate" conceived of by twenty-six-year-old George Washington Vanderbilt in the late 1880s after visiting Asheville with his mother.  With the expertise of some of the finest architects of the period, he had the mansion and gardens constructed on a very nice piece of land with stupendous views of the Blue Ridge Mountains.  A trip to the area would not be complete without a visit to the house and its property, which, at some point over the last hundred or so years, was laid out over 228 square miles.

Because his older brothers took charge of managing the various businesses begun by their grandfather, Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt, young George was able to devote himself to his passions: art, architecture, literature, and horticulture.  Once he had decided to build in North Carolina, he enlisted his friend, architect Richard Morris Hunt, to help design the 250-room mansion, based on three chateaux in France's Loire Valley: Blois, Chenonceau, and Chambord.  Still the largest private residence in the U.S., the Biltmore House with its 34 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms, swimming pool, and bowling alley, took hundreds of workers over five years to build.  On Christmas Eve 1895, George opened his home to his family.  Furnished with over 70,000 objets d'art, including paintings by Renoir, Sargent, and Whistler, tapestries, porcelains, bronzes, Oriental carpets, and antique furniture, the house even contains a chess set once owned by Napoleon Bonaparte; it is truly the closest thing Americans have to a castle.  

Since 1930, the family has opened selected parts of the house and its grounds to the public through self-guided tours, mainly to defer the costs of maintaining the mansion and property.  My favorite room is the Winter Garden just off the foyer, not only for the lovely vaulted glass ceiling, but also because of the relative intimacy of the space.  One thing that seemed to bother all of us was the cold formality of the grandiose mansion.  While the house is impressive to see, it is difficult to imagine anyone actually living there.  The Banquet Hall, for example, with its seven-story high ceiling and floor-to-ceiling sixteenth century Flemish tapestries would be better as a movie set than an actual dining room.  No wonder the family used a small table in front of the triple fireplace instead of the one designed to seat thirty people.


The first thing I noticed on the long drive leading to the mansion was how unusual the estate’s forest looked.  While there is certainly beauty in the wildness of nature, it was obvious that something had been done on the property which served to highlight every tree in the woods.  Frederick Law Olmsted, father of American landscape architecture and designer of Central Park in Manhattan, was employed by Vanderbilt for the outdoor design of the estate.  Olmsted encouraged Vanderbilt to have “a scientifically managed forest” by removing poorly formed and damaged trees, thus giving the best trees more room to grow.  To this end, Vanderbilt hired Gifford Pinchot—1st chief of the US Forest Service and future governor of Pennsylvania—whose management plan of identifying species and selective thinning of trees continues to the present day.  Other accomplishments of Olmsted’s last and largest project included planned fields, formal gardens, reflecting pools, greenhouses, and a bass pond. 

The downside is that there are no formal tours of the Biltmore House.  The result is that there is little order to the visit, which can cost as little as $45 per ticket and as much as $67, and still attracts tons of visitors!

posted under |

2 comments:

zoran pericic said...

Magnificent Property... can't wait to go back one more time!!! Amazing Winery as well... :)

Murthy Macherla said...

A dream come true. Couldn't restrain going for the third time. The finish with wine tasting and soiree was equally relaxing.

Post a Comment

Newer Post Older Post Home

Counter



Followers


Recent Comments