When I visited Asheville I was impressed by Biltmore Estate, which is a French Châteauesque-style mansion and museum, and is the largest privately owned house in the United States. Still owned by Vanderbilt's descendants, it is one of the most prominent Gilded Age mansions.
The Biltmore Estate’s history is fascinating. In the late 19th Century, at the height of the Gilded Age, George Washington Vanderbilt II fell in love with Asheville so much so that he decided to build a summer house in Asheville. Construction began in 1889, and in order to facilitate construction a woodworking factory and brick kiln were built onsite—with the construction of a three mile railroad spur to bring materials to the construction site. Construction required approximately 1000 workers and 60 stonemasons.
While construction was going on Vanderbilt purchased rugs, prints, linens, and other decorative items, dated between 15th Century and late 19th Century, from abroad. He purchased very few American-made items, the grand piano and rocking chairs being notable American-made items he purchased. On Christmas Eve in 1895 Vanderbilt hosted family and friends for a Christmas celebration.
George married his wife Edith in Paris a few years after the house was built, with their daughter Cornelia being born in the Louis XV room in Biltmore. Between 1900 to shortly after Vanderbilt’s unexpected death in 1914 from emergency appendectomy complications, 87,000 acres of the property were sold to the federal government to form Pisgah National Forest. Edith sold portions of the land to make ends meet after he passed.
During the Great Depression, Cornelia and her husband, John Cecil, opened the estate up to tourists until WWII in order to generate income. (During WW II pieces from the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, including pieces by Rembrandt, were stored at Biltmore in the event of a WW II attack on DC.) Upon John Cecil’s death in 1954, their sons (George Henry Vanderbilt Cecil and William A. V. Cecil Sr.) managed the estate. (Cecil Sr. turned over control to his son Cecil Jr. in 1995, during the 100th anniversary.) In 1963 the estate was designated as a National Historic Landmark. Dini Cecil Pickering and Bill Cecil inherited the estate after their parents’ death, and they welcome over 1 million visitors each year.
The interior of Biltmore estate is amazing. The estate has 4 acres of floor space, 35 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms, 65 fireplaces, 3 kitchens, banquet room, library, and music room (not finished until 1976). The two story library has over 10,000 books in 8 languages and the second floor balcony is accessible by an ornate walnut spiral staircase. The master bedroom, on the second floor (accessible by the Grand Staircase), connects to the wife’s Louis XV room. Rooms on the 4th floor were inhabited by female servants; male servants stayed above the stable. The basement features an indoor heated swimming pool, bowling alley, laundry rooms, and the servants’ dining hall.
After I toured the interior, I toured the exterior. Right outside the house are the gardens, which include an Italian garden, a rose garden, fountains, a conservatory, an outdoor tea room, and a terrace. On the grounds today are the Biltmore Winery, which until 1985 was a dairy barn, the 210 room Inn on Biltmore Estate that opened in 2001, Antler Hill Village that opened in 2010, and a farmyard area. While touring the exterior, and interior, I was able to pinpoint locations were Forrest Gump, Patch Adams, and One Tree Hill were filmed. I had a very fun time touring Biltmore Estate.