A Visit to Biltmore

A few weeks ago, my husband and I took a short trip to Asheville to visit Biltmore Estate. He had been before but I never had. I was really excited to visit the house and grounds…it’s so much bigger than I expected! I knew it was the biggest private residence in the US but I still wasn’t quite prepared. Some of these pictures were taken on my DSLR but it was so dark in the house (and so crowded!) that I used my phone for most pictures.

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Biltmore is George Vanderbilt’s palatial estate in the Blue Ridge Mountains. The house covers over four acres of floor space, has 35 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms, and 65 fireplaces for those chilly mountain nights. The entire estate, as it is today, covers 8,000 acres.

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One of the many John Singer Sargent portraits in the house. I got excited every time we found a new one!

Vanderbilt opened Biltmore to friends and family in 1895. The house wasn’t yet finished and parts of it remain unfinished to this day. Three years after opening his estate, he married Edith Stuyvesant Dresser.

The Vanderbilts loved entertaining and George built Vanderbilt with entertaining in mind. The house has 20 dressing rooms for both men and women so they could enjoy the indoor pool without being indecent. There is also a billiards room, two-lane bowling alley, and gun room for guests to choose their weapon for on-site hunting.

George Vanderbilt passed away at the age of 51 in 1914. He got to enjoy his estate for less than 20 years. Upon his death, Edith sold approximately 87,000 acres of the estate to the US Forest Service for less than $5 an acre.

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There is also a rose garden on the estate. Ok, there are quite a few gardens at Biltmore. There is also a bass pond, miles of trails, and massive greenhouses. It’s all very beautiful but we went during a heat wave and the greenhouses were almost unbearable.

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Something else I was very excited about is the fact that Frederick Law Olmstead designed the grounds. He was the landscape architect in the late 19th century and designed spaces like Central Park, Prospect Park, and the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair (AKA “The White City”).

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But let’s rewind for a second. In 1900, work began on the construction of a dairy farm on the estate. George wanted the dairy to provide dairy products for his family and those that worked on his estate and, of course, the dairy farm provided another source of income. When his dairy produced more than they could consume or sell, he donated it to local hospitals. In the 1980s, though, dairy was out at Biltmore. Wine was in. Where the dairy farm once stood, there is now the Biltmore Winery. I had purchased Biltmore Wine before and was pleasantly surprised at how good it is. I know how weird that sounds given that it bears the Biltmore name but I have to be honest, North Carolina does not always produce the best wine. A free tasting is included with your admission, which is really nice.

In Antler Hill Village, a separate part of the estate with the winery, shops, hotels, and restaurants, there is an exhibit space where there was an exhibit about weddings in the Biltmore family. The highlight was this veil. It is known as the Lee Family Veil and was worn by Mary Lee Ryan at her marriage to George Vanderbilt’s grandson, William A.V. Cecil. Oh, it was also worn by Jacqueline Bouvier at her marriage to John F. Kennedy. Small detail there.

There are still animals in Antler Hill Village, some of which you can pet! These goats just wanted me to admire them from afar, though.

I barely scratched the surface of the history of the estate and its impact on the economy of Asheville (which is absolutely fascinating). For more information, visit the Biltmore site, read this article from Our State magazine, and listen to this episode of Stuff You Missed in History Class!

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