This is the Ultimate Southern Legacy: Biltmore Estate
When thinking on America’s Gilded Age of architecture, few pieces of property stand out as proudly and magnificently as Asheville, North Carolina’s Biltmore Estate. Built and owned to this day by the prestigious Vanderbilt family, Biltmore is an American fortress and the closest thing to an American royal castle that still stands.
The History of the Biltmore Estate
Biltmore was originally constructed to be the summer home for George Washington Vanderbilt II, the youngest son of William Henry Vanderbilt. Vanderbilt wanted to create his own summer chateau, much like his siblings had done in the Northeast. Construction began in 1889 and continued into 1896.
The home encompasses just under 179,000 square feet and is the largest privately-owned structure in America. To facilitate such a massive undertaking, a woodworking factory and brick kiln were built on-site just to produce the amount of materials needed for such a job, along with a three-mile railroad track specifically created to carry materials to the home.
On Christmas Eve, 1895, Vanderbilt opened his estate to his friends and family to stay and view the property and enjoy its lavishness. Upon completion, the estate boasted an astounding 250 rooms, including 33 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms, three kitchens, 65 fireplaces, and state-of-the-art electric systems, with the entire house wired for electricity at the time of its construction.
The Layout of the Biltmore Estate’s Main House
The main floor’s masterpiece is the Banquet Hall, which measures 42 feet wide by 72 feet long. The table inside could seat up to 64 guests and a triple fireplace took up one entire wall of the large hall. The other main features of this floor are the large music room and a two-story library that housed over 10,000 tomes.
The second floor was predominately used for bedroom suites, including George Vanderbilt’s own bedroom along with his wife’s bedroom and guestrooms. Many of these were done in the French chateau style and were designated for family members and close family friends.
The third floor consisted only of bedrooms for house guests, each designed and named after the artist or designer who created the room and style of the furnishings. These rooms weren’t designated for family like the second floor rooms, though they were used for spillover family guests during large get-togethers. The fourth floor was used to house female servants and staff members; in addition, it contained an observatory.
The home boasts a Billiard Room that housed a pool table and carom table. The interesting feature of this room was the fact that it had many secret doorways that led to the Bachelors’ Wing. This Wing was the location of the Smoking Room and also housed George’s gun collection. It was rumored that only men were allowed in these secret rooms, while women were only permitted in the initial billiards room.
Along with the amazing rooms featured throughout the immense home, the basement featured entertainment opportunities such as a 70,000-gallon indoor swimming pool and the first indoor bowling alley, which was housed in a private residence along with its own gymnasium. Also in the world’s largest basement was the service hub of the house that housed the three kitchens — the main kitchen, the pastry kitchen, and the rotisserie kitchen — as well as the servants’ dining hall and more living quarters for servants.
Not only did the Biltmore Estate encompass the main dwelling, it also included the Biltmore Village. This all-inclusive town was intended for the estate’s employees and their families, and included many homes, shops, a general store, a post office, doctor’s office, a school, and a church that is now known as the Cathedral of All Souls. Meant to be completely self-sustaining, the village also had its own poultry, cattle, and dairy farms along with produce gardens — all housed on the 8,000-acre parcel of land set aside for that purpose.
The Biltmore Estate Today
Eventually George Vanderbilt fell onto hard times, as just keeping the large estate running and paying for the large number of employees and servants the estate required took up most of his sizable inheritance. As a result, Vanderbilt decided to sell a portion of the land the Biltmore was built on. Following his sudden death in 1914, his wife continued with the sale.
Left with the still-enormous estate to herself, Vanderbilt’s wife sold Biltmore industries and Biltmore Village in 1917 and 1921, respectively, before occupying the home in an apartment in the Bachelors’ Wing until her daughter married and moved into the property with her family in 1924.
The home and property remains in the Vanderbilt family up to the present day. The Estate opened up as a tourist attraction for guests to tour the grounds and witness a large part of American history and the home of American royalty. Biltmore, along with the winery and Inn that stand on its grounds, attracts up to one million visitors every year. Additionally, the property is a popular destination for weddings, vacations, and appearances in modern-day television and movies.