George Vanderbilt: His 4-Acre House Is The BIGGEST!

October 26, 2009

One of the most famous landmarks around is the Biltmore House in Asheville, NC. (At 175,000 sq. ft., it’s only 3,000 sq. ft. short of 4 acres.) Originally completed in 1895 on 125,000 acres, its lot has been pared down over time to a mere 8,000 acres, which is still an immense piece of property. George Vanderbilt, scion to the vast fortune originally amassed by his grandfather Cornelius Vanderbilt, seemed to take seriously the task of spending as much money as he could to create for himself a fantastic residence, not only the largest place to ever be built on these shores, but also a place full of unimaginable art treasures, books, and other collectibles. One example: An impressive number of bigger-than-life portraits by famous painter John Singer Sargent. Here’s a frontal photo of Biltmore:

The Biltmore House, Asheville, North Carolina

The Biltmore House, Asheville, North Carolina

Now, you must understand that photography is not permitted inside the Biltmore; however, they didn’t take my camera away, and through an old “hip shooting” technique, I was able to squeeze off a few surreptitious photos of some of the interesting sights within Vanderbilt’s behemoth. To see how this was done (if you’re interested) check out the 15th photo in today’s gallery. It’s a little blurry, but shows a distant reflection of Jane and me with my hip-shooting camera. In the low light inside, all shots were slow (1/8, NO flash), so I also relied on my camera’s image stabilizer to get anything at all!

The scale of the Biltmore interior is mind-boggling. Here’s a shot of the 7-story high Grand Dining Hall, modeled after sumptuous English palaces, which seems at least as large as a full-size basketball court:

The Biltmore House's Grand Dining Hall

The Biltmore House's Grand Dining Hall

To me, the most fascinating room was Vanderbilt’s huge library. The walls of this room were what, 30 feet high? And all were covered with book collections, the docent said in eight languages, as Vanderbilt liked to exercise his language skills and those of his many guests:

Biltmore's Library

Biltmore's Library

The Biltmore is nearly ready for Christmas, witness the beautiful tree in the photo. One example of George’s collectibles is the huge Ming Dynasty ceramic urn in the photo. But Vanderbilt also had a fetish about things owned by Napoleon. Not shown here, but also in the room, is a chess set sitting on a small table. Both originally were Napoleon’s, and the table itself served the macabre role as a temporary resting place for Napoleon’s heart, it’s said. Napoleon was paranoid and believed he was being poisoned. (Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean that they’re not out to get you?) So he insisted that after his death, an autopsy should be performed on his heart to ascertain the cause of his mortality before returning it to its rightful place in his chest for burial. So his heart was kept on the very table we saw in the Library. Bizarre? I thought so.

One impression I had of the Palace of Versailles, in France, was that its property extended as far as the eye could see in every direction. The Biltmore estate, even though whittled down to a mere 8,000 acres, still exudes that same impression. Its impressive landscape architecture was performed by none other than Frederick Law Olmsted, who is often referred to as the “Father of Landscape Architecture,” Here’s a shot I took through a 2nd-story screen of the view from the front:

The "Front Yard" of the Biltmore Estate, a statue of Diana at the far end.

The "Front Yard" of the Biltmore Estate, a statue of Diana at the far end.

Out on the grounds on this wet and rainy Saturday, we visited Biltmore’s Conservatory of Flowers, reminiscent of the Golden Gate Park’s Conservatory of Flowers where our younger daughter Heidi was married. Here’s what it looks like:

The Conservatory of Flowers, Biltmore Estate

The Conservatory of Flowers, Biltmore Estate

It rained on the Conservatory when Heidi was married, and it was also raining on the Biltmore Conservatory for another wedding the day we visited, witness the futile attempt to keep this poor bride dry for some post-wedding photos?

A New Bride at Biltmore's Conservatory of Flowers, Her Enthusiasm Undampened?

A New Bride at Biltmore's Conservatory of Flowers, Her Enthusiasm Undampened?

If you ever decide to visit the Biltmore, allow yourself a day for it. We entered the house itself around 11:30 AM that Friday morning, and toured the innards for about 3 hours. (Take along some water, there are no fountains inside!) Be mindful of the fact that the Biltmore sustains itself partly on gate revenues, hence the $45/person admission fee. After the house tour, we lunched at the excellent Stable Loft restaurant, soggily sauntered around the grounds, and finally drove over to the Biltmore Winery, where we indulged in a “Red Wine and Chocolate” sampling lecture, which was quite interesting and informative. Surprisingly, Biltmore’s 95 acres of grapes are said to house more European grapevines than any other winery east of the Mississippi, and our sampling proved that their wines are indeed competitive and enjoyable to drink.

While in the Asheville area, we stayed in a B&B slightly north in the little town of Weaverville, as the first photo of our gallery shows, at the Dry Ridge Inn. After leaving Biltmore, we returned to Weaverville in a driving rainstorm, not an easy task in a state where they don’t clearly mark the lane dividers, making those important divisions very difficult to see! But we survived, and by Sunday night we’d traversed the last of the Blue Ridge Parkway, and also the Great Smoky Mountains, where we’re now poised in Gatlinburg, TN, ready to choo-choo off to Chattanooga sometime today, more about which later. See you soon!

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6 Responses to “George Vanderbilt: His 4-Acre House Is The BIGGEST!”

  1. Jan Fenwick said

    We visited the Biltmore estate in April – a bit early for the spring “show” of flowers. We were amazed at the technology Vanderbilt incorporated into the estate. Inspite of all this, he had a rather sad life… Money isn’t everything!

  2. Don McDonald said

    Thanks for persevering with such inginuity—those inside shots are excellent. The Biltmore (an appropriate name) would seem to dwarf the Hearst Mansion’s floor space, although the latter would probably have more bedrooms, imported artifacts & swimming pools.

  3. a neighbor said

    That Biltmore guy- couldn’t he figure out how to add the last 300 sq ft?

    Seriously, it’s a nice place, but not as nice as your home. 🙂

  4. I am really thankful to this topic because it really gives up to date information ,-:

  5. […] the largest private home in the United States Biltmore House boasts an impressive at-home library.  Biltmore House is in Ashville, North Carolina and you can take tours of the home year round.  […]

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