Did you know that America’s largest privately owned home is the Biltmore Estate in North Carolina? After hearing about it, I knew I had to see this place! So I gathered my friends for a girls trip to nearby, Asheville. I’ll show you what the Biltmore Estate interior looks like and describe why it’s one of the most amazing properties in the world. Join me and take a step back in time to America’s Gilded Age. Most importantly, feel the awe I felt, as I drove up to and toured the Biltmore Estate.
I was fascinated by Biltmore’s:
- (including 43 beautiful bathrooms)
- (and let’s not forget the vast number of intricate Gargoyles)
- (Christmas is celebrated on a grand scale from early November through January)
- (including 80 miles of estate horseback riding!)
This mansion in the Blue Ridge Mountains was built by George Washington Vanderbilt who was a member of the prominent and wealthy Vanderbilt family. He grew up in New York and lived there into adulthood. He inherited millions from his Grandfather and Father who made their fortunes in shipping, railroads, and real estate. George didn’t work in the family business, so he spent his time traveling the world and learning foreign languages, collecting art and reading books( he was known as a bookworm!). He decided to build a home of his own in the country where he could pursue his interests in books, art, horticulture, architecture and science. It was to be his legacy.
Biltmore House opened to friends and family on Christmas Eve in 1895. George married Edith Stuyvesant Dresser in 1898 and they made Biltmore their home. Their only child, Cornelia was born there.
Only the best would do for Biltmore house and that included the latest technological innovations. Biltmore was fully electric, centrally heated and one of the first to use Thomas Edison’s lightbulbs! There was a fire alarm system, 2 elevators, indoor plumbing, call box system and a telephone.
Biltmore Estate Beginnings
The late 19th century brought reconstruction and an economic boom. Industrialization led to Captains of Industry like Rockefeller, Carnegie & Vanderbilt. Cornelius Vanderbilt earned his fortune in shipping and railroads. The Vanderbilts were one of the wealthiest families in America. His sons and grandsons built 10 grand mansions on New York’s 5th Avenue, and country homes in Newport, Rhode Island, and Asheville.
America’s elite lived like royalty with servants, European goods, designer clothes, jewelry, & art. They hosted and attended magnificent social events that would last for days.
In 1888, on a trip to Asheville with his Mother, George Washington Vanderbilt stumbled into the perfect place for his country home. As a result, he began purchasing parcels of land in Asheville and eventually amassed 125,000 acres.
He hired two of the most distinguished designers of the 19th century to create this house; the architect Richard Morris Hunt and the landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted. The estate has four acres of floor space, 250 rooms including 33 guest rooms, 43 bathrooms, 65 fireplaces, three kitchens, a bowling alley, and an indoor swimming pool. George envisioned a self sustaining home – they raised pigs, ran a poultry farm and operated a fully functioning dairy which allowed to become somewhat self sustaining. Based on the recommendation of Olmsted, George hired a trained forester to manage and conserve the forests surrounding Biltmore house.
Building the Biltmore
For 6 years, an army of artisans labored to create a country estate that would rival the great manors of Europe. The estate would embody the finest in architecture, landscape planning, and interior design. Construction began in 1889 and ran well into 1896.
First they had to build a woodworking factory, brick kiln & a 3-mile railroad spur to support the massive building project.
One thing that stood out to me was the vast number of gargoyles on the mansion.
Apparently, there were so many to be carved that the superintendent gave artistic license to the stonemasons to carve whatever they wanted. As a result, they carved the likeness of their family members, co-workers, and animals.
Biltmore House Interior
French mansions were the inspiration for the exterior of the home and English country homes were used for the interior. George and Hunt frequently traveled to and from Europe and the Orient to buy furnishings, linens, tapestries, bronzes, artwork, rugs & carpets for the mansion. This expansive collection is still in Biltmore house today. Very few American made items were used inside!
The library was designed to showcase George’s collection of books. It contained over 22,000 books of which 10,000 were selected to be on display in the 2 story library. Books filled the walnut shelves from floor to ceiling.
Grand Central Station of Biltmore house was the Butler’s Pantry where guests could make requests through the call box system. It was nestled in between the dining room and breakfast and had 2 floors full of china. Meals would arrive on the dumb waiter from the basement kitchen where they would be plated and delivered.
After dinner, the men would gather in the smoking room. The bookcases in here were filled with books from Vanderbilt’s collection and a fireplace on the center wall provided extra warmth.
In addition to elaborate dinner parties, guests could take a dip in the indoor swimming pool. Located in the basement, it is a 70,000 gallon pool with underwater lights and ropes along the side were for swimmers who got tired.
The first ever private home bowling alley was also in the basement of Biltmore house.
There are both formal & informal gardens on the estate. The most famous formal garden is known as the walled garden, envisioned by Mr. Olmstead to be like an English kitchen garden. A traditional English garden is meant to be a space where fruits, vegetables, and flowers were to be grown for the Biltmore house. At George’s direction, this garden became an ornamental garden and was enclosed by a wall.
Biltmore Special Events
Candelight Christmas Evenings celebrates Christmas on a grand scale from early November through January. They have live nightly performances of Christmas music.
It’s an enchanting time to visit!
Spring’s arrival brings Biltmore Blooms from early April through May.
It’s a splendid time to visit and immerse yourself in the beautiful color and aroma of the flowers. Thousands of tulips fill the walled garden in a tribute to the Vanderbilt’s Dutch heritage. Stroll through the rose garden with 250 varieties of roses.
Biltmore Estate Activities
Live like a Vanderbilt and stay in one of their 3 overnight properties.
Spend your day exploring the estate forest and French Broad River on the 22 miles of hiking trails, or the many miles of biking trails. Saddle up your own horse or take a guided trail ride along the 80 miles of estate horseback riding trails. Try any number of other outdoor activities like fly fishing, river floats, sporting clays, and others!
Activities Near the Biltmore Estate
Visit Antler Hill Village where life in the 1890’s is recreated. Tour the winery, walk the vineyards, sip the wine! Go for a scenic drive along the highest tops of the Appalachian mountains on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Also, stop in downtown Asheville’s vibrant arts scene filled with galleries and museums.
Treat yourself and visit the majesty of The Biltmore Estate. It truly is the stuff that fairy tails are made of!
Photo credits: Biltmore Estate, travel & Leisure, Carolina Living, World Lifestyle