Okay, everything I said about the entrance fees, ignore me. The Biltmore Estate is worth every penny. It’s an unbelievable place, and you can see my pictures here. It took 6 years to build and it was opened in December, 1895. It was built by George Vanderbilt (the grandson of the railroad tycoon) when he was still a bachelor. It has 205 rooms and 1.4 million (yes, million!) square feet. It is the result of a collaboration between the architect, George Vanderbilt, and the landscape architect—who was the first landscape architect.
George decided to marry about 3 years after the house was complete. Can you imagine coming home from your honeymoon to that house? Apparently all the people who worked on the estate (there were hundreds, maybe more than a thousand) lined the road leading to the house to cheer when they arrived.
There were only about 30 servants in the house but the estate also had a nursery that sold seeds via mail order, an enormous dairy (100s of cows) and it was a working farm. So there were many employees and their families that lived on the estate (although, not in the house).
I don’t have pictures of inside the house because I couldn’t take any, but it is mind boggling. No one knows how much it cost to build, but it had to be millions and millions, even in 1895. It was a huge boost to the local economy at the time. Likewise, all the servants were always paid New York wages, which was way more than comparable jobs locally. Obviously, jobs at Biltmore Estate were prized.
The gardens were spectacular. They were designed by the same man who designed Central Park in NYC. In addition to the gardens, he made plans to convert the 125,000 acres of the estate into something beautiful. He recommended creating the small organized park (which is still beautiful today—see the pictures!), farming the river bottom lands, and converting the rest of the tired farmland to forests. Toward that end, they planted more than 2 million plants and trees on the property. Ironically, the landscape architect’s vision is only now realized after 100 years of growth in that forest. It’s all incredibly beautiful.
The Estate was the Vanderbilt’s family home and they entertained extensively until 1915 when George died. His wife and daughter (who was only 13) continued living in the house, but they moved into a smaller apartment within and closed off most of the rest of the house. When the daughter married in 1924, she and her husband lived there and entertained, once again.
When the Depression hit, the family wanted to stimulate economic growth in the region, so they opened the first floor of the house to tourists. That was in 1931. The last time a family member actually lived in the house was in 1951. Today, George’s great grandson and great granddaughter (who are brother and sister) both live on the estate grounds with their families. They run the businesses related to the house, including the winery that was started by their father in the 1970s.
It seems we are running out of time before we have to be in Boston. We were going to drive the entire length of the Blue Ridge Parkway, but after spending some time on it yesterday, we realized that will be a tedious trip. It may be beautiful, but a narrow, two lane road with a top speed of 45 mph is not the way to cover the next 400 miles. So, stay tuned to see what we decide to do next!