Ever dream of taking your grandkids to a REAL castle? Me too! William played along with my little scheme, and with the cooperation of our Indiana kids (and lots of schedule shifting on everyone’s part), we were able to pick our three “big” girls up and take them to this gorgeous landmark. We have been here once before, but it’s a whole new world with two 12-year-olds and a 9-year-old along for the adventure. Our Biltmore day began at the visitor’s center at 9:30 am, with a soft rain falling. This is our first summer visit here, and absolutely everything seems to be blooming beautifully. Our kiddos were appropriately impressed with the lovely grounds, though not really with the fact that the entire 3 mile approach is professionally designed. It’s truly spectacular!
The Asheville area is very hilly, with lush vegetation and nearby mineral springs, which made it a popular 19th century health resort destination. One of those early tourists was none other than George Washington Vanderbilt, who visited in 1888 at age 26 with his mother. A bachelor from a family with a tradition for extravagant homes and the fortune to create them, George began construction on his vision of a self-sustaining European manor, including a farm and dairy in 1889. As the grandson of Cornelius “The Commodore” Vanderbilt, money was no object. Despite this, George never wanted anyone to know the total cost of construction. It is estimated that it cost $5 million, and that’s in 1890’s dollars! Filled with priceless antiques and furnishings gathered from George’s world travels, it was completed in 1895, after six years of construction.
This Guilded Age beauty consists of 250 rooms, including 33 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms, 65 fireplaces, 3 kitchens, indoor swimming pool, refrigerators, elevators, and 127 acres of grounds when it was finished on Christmas Eve 1895. While it’s hard to fathom, there are 4 acres under roof. It took 1000 workers, including 60 stonemasons working full time to complete the task. A 3-mile rail spur was added to bring material to the site; it was just so handy that their family owned the railroad! A kiln was constructed on site that cranked out 32,000 bricks per day, it’s mind-boggling to wrap my head around that. George married Edith Stuyvesant Dresser (money always married money in those days) at Biltmore in 1898, having their reception in my favorite room – the winter garden. Lauren’s favorite room in the house is the library (strike a blow for literacy), Abby & Molly liked the beautiful exterior “stair tower”. Molly definitely wasn’t fond of the gargoyles on the roof, even after I explained that they were there for protection. All three girls loved the gardens, but then who wouldn’t? The landscaping was all designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, design architect of New York’s Central Park! Law convinced George that a large portion of the estate should be set aside as the first scientifically managed forest, so from 1898-1913 the Biltmore Forest School was the first foresters school in the country.
Far from just a showplace, this was a home, and George and Edith loved to entertain in it. Rumor has it that presidents McKinley, Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, as well as many authors and artists were guests. They kept a “Nonsense Book”, which was a journal for their guests to record entries and sketches of their time spent at Biltmore. Their only child, Cornelia, was born at Biltmore in 1900. Her parents adored her! The family travelled extensively, and had booked passage on the Titanic, but fortunately changed plans and arrived back in NY a few days before the tragedy.
Today George’s descendants carry on the tradition of welcoming “guests” to Biltmore. The hotel, Antler Village (our girlies LOVED this part of the estate that houses barns, a petting zoo, and blacksmith demonstrations), and grounds can keep you and your family occupied for several days. Ours was just a one-day visit, but the memories of sharing it with our granddaughters will last a lifetime.
Yours from the road,
Cathy & William
About Yours From The Road
Yours From The Road documents the 110,000 mile motor home journey of staff writer Cathy Burford and her husband Bill. Come along as their motor home, affectionately referred to as the “Queen Mary,” casts off her lines and pushes away from the dock to explore the embarrassing wealth of natural beauty, amazing regional cuisine, and rich history of the land we all call home.