I went to visit my sister this past month. She lives in western North Carolina. On the way home, I stopped at the Biltmore Estate. I was moved by what I saw.
It was a crisp, cool day when I visited the Biltmore. The Estate is set in the natural beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
The Blue Ridge Parkway in the Southern Appalachian Foothills is beautiful any time of year. But this day the mountains seemed to wrap itself in the beauty of the autumn season.
Driving you get a breathtaking mountain view that is dotted with rivers leading to waterfalls. The landscape is sprinkled with small towns, farms and fields.
As I drove it looked like God had painted a rich tapestry of brilliant colors of red and orange on the leaves. It was a spectacular show of seasonal color.
The Blue Ridge Parkway
It is the boundary of the ancient Cherokee Indian Reservation.
The Vanderbilt Family
The Vanderbilts were an American family of Dutch origin that was prominent during the Gilded Age. The Gilded Age is the late 19th century, from the 1870s to about 1900.
The term was coined by writer Mark Twain in The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today, (1873). He satirized an era of serious social problems disguised by a thin gold gilding.
America was still trying to recover from the devastation left after the four bloody years of the American Civil War (1861-1865). It was a time of the beginning of the Industrial Age. America was on the move.
The expansion of trade and commerce due to the Industrial Age attracted a large number of immigrants to the shores of America. The Vanderbilts were in the middle of it of all and becoming filthy rich.
Cornelius Vanderbilt (1794–1877) built a shipping and railroad empire. Later, his descendants expanded the family fortunate into other areas of industry. The family is mainly remembered for the way it generously treated its employees and philanthropy.
George W. Vanderbilt (1862-1914) was the grandson of Cornelius.
George W. Vanderbilt
George decided not to follow his brothers into the family business. He chose a life of the mind. He was a man with an inquisitive nature and broad interests. He had a lifelong habit of learning and many travels.
He had an extraordinary idea- his magnificent Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina. Using his fortune he gathered experts in architecture, landscaping and forestry to create his idea of a self-sustaining European-style estate.
He had an idea of the preservation of what he called, “The Biltmore Experience.” He wanted to create a place where the visitor could travel back in time and see new possibilities for the future.
His vision was an undertaking of enormous propositions. It all started with the estate name, a play on words. The name “Vanderbilt” literally means in Dutch ” Man from the village of Bilt”. “More” is used to describe a country estate.
The house is a 250-room castle. It covers four acres and has four levels. It was built as a French Renaissance chateau by George’s friend, architect Richard Morris. It is modeled after a working European estate in form and function. It is the American version of Downton Abbey.
The home still features the original furnishings and art objects collected by George. Each room has is done in rich individual colors. Many of the rooms feature hand-carved walnut furnishings designed for that room. George was a huge Francophile and there is a large French influence.
The Biltmore Mansion
The house took 400 workers working 24 hours a day and six years to complete. Remember, the home was built in a time when all labor was done by hand. All the material to build it was brought up by horse and buggy. It was an icon of ingenuity.
The immense exterior of the house sits peacefully in pictures, you bet the inside was alive with activity. The thirty full-time staff was consumed with the cleaning and running of this massive home.
My favorite room, of course, was the library. The tour guide was especially helpful in explaining the grandeur of it. The library housed over 10,000 of the 23,000 books in the Biltmore House collection.
The library was the size of a gymnasium and two stories tall. Each level was wrapped with books on of at least 12 shelves.
George was a voracious reader and was said to have read over 3,300 of the books in the collection. The library reflected his love of learning and the arts.
On the ceiling is an 18th century canvas painted by Giovanni Pellegrini. It was brought to the Biltmore House from the Pisani Palace in Venice, Italy.
The Banquet Hall
The Vanderbilts hosted large formal dinner parties in the regal Banquet Hall. The hall seats 64 guests and has a ceiling that arches 70 feet into the air.
The walls are lined with beautiful artwork that represents the collision of European and American style that is the hallmark of Biltmore. It has five priceless sixteenth-century Flemish tapestries and the flags of the original 13 colonies of America.
The Banquet Hall
The Victorian Era
Biltmore was a product of the Victorian Era (1837-1901). Named after the reign of Queen Victoria of England. It was a time that caught the imagination. It was a period of new literary schools and artistic styles in the arts.
Religious and political movements flourished. It was the golden age of imperial expansion for both the US and the UK. It was a time of a Second Renaissance.
The period was also a time of “prudishness” and “repression of the sexes.” Men and women had very traditional roles.
Men would smoke, drink and do as they liked. Women rarely did anything outside the home except raise children. It was the beginning of Modern Times.
The horror and carnage of World War I would change all that.
The estate is still a working a 125,000 acre property that is a working estate with gardens, livestock and vineyard.
It is a testimony to one man’s great vision. It is a refuge of an exceptional lifestyle complimented by the beauty of the landscape.
Biltmore captures the spirit of optimism and splendor. It recalls the romance of hope and expression of the turn-of-the century elegance. It is a glimpse of a bygone era when everything seemed possible in the world.