Last month we got together with my brother, sister-in-law and our nephews and went to the Biltmore Estate in North Carolina. Baby said it was one of her favorite things we did while she was here. The Estate is the largest privately owned house in America and is still owned by the original family. The original home is now open for tourists but family members still live on the property. The home has 250 rooms including 35 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms, 3 kitchens and 65 fireplaces. George Washington Vanderbilt started construction on the house in 1889 and it took 6 years to complete. On Christmas Eve in 1895 George Washington Vanderbilt opened the house for family and friends. You can read the history of the home and the Vanderbilt family here.
While we waited for our time slot to tour the house we visited the Biltmore Conservatory. At the time of our visit they had the Biltmore Garden Railway. Through out the conservatory they had hand crafted miniature replicas of some of the buildings on the Biltmore Estate. They had a model train running through out the conservatory.
One of the many cool things about the Biltmore Estate, at least I thought, were all the gargoyles. There are literally hundreds of gargoyles in and on the house and each one has a distinct face. I was trying to find out exactly how many there were but I was unable to fine an exact number.
This is the family music room. This room was not actually completed until the 1970’s. During WWII priceless works of art from the National Gallery of Arts in Washington DC were hidden in this room. There was armed guards around the clock to protect the art. 62 paintings and 17 sculptures were hidden in this room from January 1942 until sometime in 1944. The director of the National Gallery of Arts, David Finley, was friends with Edith Vanderbilt. Mr. Finley had visited Biltmore Estate in the 1920’s and he thought since the house was fireproof and Asheville was a remote location the art would be safe there.
The Tapestry Room is one of my favorites. The Triumph of the Seven Virtues ( faith, prudence, charity, chastity, temperance, fortitude and justice) tapestries were made in the mid 1500’s in what is now part of Belgium. They were created to teach the people of sixteenth century Europe that the seven virtues would always prevail using biblical stories and symbols. There are three of the seven hanging Biltmore Estates ( The Triumph of Prudence, The Triumph of Faith, and The Triumph of Charity). Several sets of tapestries were originally created but only a few remain. Other then the three hanging at Biltmore there are a few museums around the world that house a few more. The only one not in existence anymore, at least that anyone can find, is The Triumph of Temperance. You can read more about the stories and symbols of the tapestries hanging in the Biltmore Estate here.
The next room on the self guided tour was the library. This is one of the most beautiful rooms in the house. George Washington Vanderbilt was an avid reader and there are over 10,000 books kept in the library with another 10,000 – 12,000 kept in storage. You can read more on the history of the library here. One of the most amazing things about the library is the painting on the ceiling. The painting is 64 feet long and 32 feet wide. It is made up of 13 separate canvases. the painting is called “The Chariot of Aurora” and was painted by Giovanni Antonio Pellegrini, it is one of only a few of his painting in existence today.
The Builtmore house was a bit ahead of it’s time. The lower level of the house had a swimming pool, bowling alley, workout room and dressing rooms for the family and guests. Since back in those days swimming pools didn’t have any filtration systems the servants would have to empty, scrub and re-fill the pool when anyone wanted to use it. I can imaging this would take quite sometime since the pool held 70,000 gallons of water. The pool also had underwater lights. The lights were sealed in glass globes and had metal mesh cover to protect them. Most houses during this time were still using candles and oil lanterns for lighting. The architect, Richard Morris Hunt, had the house wired with both AC and DC current when it was being built. Electricity was still very new and he wasn’t sure which current would become the standard.
The bowling alley was also something you didn’t see in most homes. Servants would have to stand and the end of the alley to re-set the pins and roll the ball back.
The gym at the time was considered state of the art. You can see the dumb bells hanging on the wall to the right, there were pins for juggling, pull up bars, jump ropes and other objects I could not identify.
Not only is the inside of the house jaw dropping the the grounds around the house are breath taking. One of my favorite outside areas was the Koi Pond Garden. It was beautiful. There are benches with ivy covered trellises for shade all around the garden so you can just sit and take it all in, there are several statues not only in this garden but all around the estate. The kids were happy to be able run and stretch their legs after the tour of the house.
We ate lunch at the Stable Cafe. This is just what it sounds like, the original horse stables of the house have been turned into a great not so little Cafe. It is a great casual cafe where the original stalls have been converted to booths. A lot of the food served in the cafe (greens, berries, eggs, beef and lamb) are grown or raised right on the Biltmore Estate farm. They also partner with other farms in North Carolina for trout, cheese, beef and pork. There is something for everyone at the cafe from salads and burgers to ribs and steaks.
If you would like to see all the pictures from our visit to the Biltmore Estate, you can see them here.