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  • Writer's pictureInger and Jeff Latreille

The Grandaddy of All Mansions!

~Thursday, April 29, 2021~

Day 319

The Asheville area is checking many of our boxes, folks. Here are a few things that are giving us the “new home” vibe (not in any particular order):

Elevation changes ☑️

Friendly people ☑️

Music scene ☑️

Great food scene ☑️

Beautiful landscape (mountains and trees as far as the eye can see) ☑️

Lots of hiking trails ☑️

Outdoor activities (people seem to live an active, healthy lifestyle) ☑️

Art scene ☑️

Brew scene ☑️

4 seasons (not too hot, not too cold) ☑️

Affordable for us ☑️

Sense of community ☑️

We’ll also be checking out some other areas just outside Asheville, like Brevard, Hendersonville and Black Mountain. So stay tuned!

The pride and joy of Asheville is definitely the Biltmore Mansion Estate. I’m proud to say that I haven’t gotten a preview of what it looks like, so that I would be completely surprised and in awe when I finally saw it in person. Leaving Sadie behind all nice and cozy in the trailer, we drove to the estate. Even though our home tour wasn’t until 2:45, we wanted to tour the gardens first. You could easily spend the entire day here as it’s enormous. They have a shuttle service that promptly picks you up from your parking lot to the mansion/garden area. The curvy driveway alone is 2 miles long from the parking lot. Thank goodness for the windiness, so you slow down and really take in the beauty. And when you turn that corner to see the house for the first time, it seriously takes your breath away.

The Chateauesque style and the grandness of it are something we’d never seen before. In fact, I feel funny even calling it a house.

The first thing we wanted to do was walk out on the terrace that overlooks the Blue Ridge Mountains.

It’s here that we imagined being George Washington Vanderbilt himself, seeing this pristine land for the first time with his architect friend, envisioning what his beautiful estate would look like. Just off the terrace was another long section just a few steps down from the terrace, where they were setting up for a wedding, or so it appeared. Wow, that would be quite some wedding!

Next, we walked the pond area. There are 3 ponds all in the same general area, 1 with Koi fish in it. The other 2 looked like they were being worked on, like they had just dredged them and added new dirt, preparing them for lilypad planting, so the dirt hadn’t quite settled yet. From there, we walked down into the gardens, some of it planted in perfectly lined rows and other sections more naturally layed out. In fact, if we do end up living here, we would definitely get the annual pass, so we could see the ever changing garden. Right now, it’s all about the Dogwoods, Azaleas, Rhododendrons, Lilies of the Valley, Tulips, and Daffodils, just to name a few. The whole time, I’m just thinking about the army of people it must take to keep things pruned, weeded, and beautiful. It’s mind boggling to think just how much maintenance it really would be. While we were there, one of the gardeners was working in the rose garden and I just had to ask about the markers in the rose garden. Many of the varieties have dates on them….some from the early 1900’s. He said the dates refer to when the variety was introduced. He also mentioned there is a rose variety from Europe known to exist for the past 700 years. Amazing! We started to get in the long line for the Conservatory viewing, but thought we wouldn’t have enough time to really see it, with our tour in 15 minutes. Good decision.

Then, the mansion tour. Entering through the massive iron/glass doors we were greeted by a docent who then took us to the security checkpoint. My backpack was thoroughly inspected which I totally completely got. This mansion is a very important piece of our history and totally understand how they want to make sure it stays that way. We are so happy that we signed up for the audio tour. They do hand out tour brochures, but you get a richer background on all the rooms with the audio tour. The brightest and most grand space in the mansion is the atrium room. With its flying buttress style ceiling, richness of mahogany, glass dome, and gorgeous pendant lights, it makes for a very welcoming aspect to the house. The whole time you are touring the home, you can’t help but wonder why anyone would want a place that you could easily get lost in. Some of the rooms are as big as 1 house. But back then, wealth and luxury were a way of life, especially if you were one of the richest men in the world. The family fortune amassed by the shipping/railroad business, would only get passed down and expanded even further. When George was a young boy, the family traveled extensively throughout Europe, mostly to expand their already large art collection. It was on these travels that George also developed a love of the arts, and French architecture...the seeds that were planted for his vision of the Biltmore Mansion. He also became an avid book collector, so of course the library is simply amazing.

The other rooms we toured were the Billiard Room, the 7-story high, barrel ceilinged Banquet Hall, the Breakfast Room, Salon (which was never completed in George Vanderbilt’s lifetime), the Music Room, and Tapestry Room. On the second floor, Mr. Vanderbilt’s Bedroom, The Oak Sitting Room, and Mrs. Vanderbilt’s Bedroom. The third floor were the guest rooms, some more simplistic, some lavish, and the Louis XV Room where Edith Vanderbilt gave birth to their daughter, Cornelia. Next, was our descent down to the basement which includes rooms such as a bowling alley, swimming pool, dressing rooms, gymnasium, pastry kitchen, rotisserie kitchen, main kitchen and the servants’ dining room. This 250-room French Renaissance chateau truly is a marvel of architecture and artistry.

After our fabulous tour, we needed a little afternoon pick me up, so we headed to the Biltmore Ice Cream Parlor for the best chocolate milkshake I’ve ever had, and Jeff, the best root-beer-float he’s ever had. It was a perfect energy boost for touring the rest of the gardens and to check out the conservatory, this time, with no line. Check out our photos of this amazing room.

I told Jeff, if we do end up living here, the Biltmore Estate just might fit the bill for a fun job in the future while getting my gardening fix! We also made a stop at the bookstore to add another “state” book to our expanding trip library. We found the perfect book to add to our collection: National Bestseller and Pulitzer Prize winner “The First Tycoon….the Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt” by T.J. Styles.

The 250-room French Renaissance chateau truly is a marvel of architecture and artistry. Even with their opulent lifestyle and vast amounts of wealth, the Vanderbilts demonstrated humility and an unwavering commitment to their community. Here are a few other things we learned on the tour:

  1. The Biltmore Mansion got its name from De Bilt (Ancestors’ lace of origin in the Netherlands. And “more” (Anglo-Saxon for moor) means open, rolling land.

  1. Located in the Blue Ridge Mountains-the Biltmore Mansion is the largest privately owned home in the U.S.

  1. George Washington Vanderbilt was the grandson of famed industrialist and philanthropist Cornelius Vanderbilt

  1. George had numerous visits to Asheville with his mother over the years. Construction of the mansion began in 1889 and was opened to friends and family Christmas Eve, 1895.

  1. The home, designed by famed architect, Richard Morris Hunt is 175,000 square feet with 250 rooms, 35 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms and 65 fireplaces.

  1. There are 75 acres of formal and informal gardens designed by renowned American landscape architect, Frederick Olmsted. Olmstead designed formal gardens to be incorporated with the remaining natural acreage.

  1. George married Edith Dresser in 1898, with their shared interest in reading and travel. After their 4-month honeymoon abroad, Mrs. Vanderbilt arrived at Biltmore as the new lady of the house. They had one child, Cornelia Vanderbilt, born in the Louis XV Room at Biltmore in 1900.

  1. The property was a pioneer in sustainable land use practices in 1895, thanks to the joint efforts of George and his landscape architect Frederick Olmstead.

  1. The original acreage was approximately 125,000 acres and included property later sold to the federal government to create Pisgah National Forest.

  1. Currently, the estate covers 8,000 acres.

  1. George Vanderbilt’s grandson, William Cecil, began planting grape vines in the 1970’s, establishing Biltmore’s winery in 1985.

  1. Much of what’s inside the home is the family’s original collection of art, furniture, china, and crystal.

  1. Today, the Biltmore Company is still run by descendants of George Vanderbilt. The President and CEO is currently Bill Cecil Jr. The home employs over 2,400 people who maintain the 8,000 acres of the estate, hotel, winery, restaurants and shops.

  1. The family stopped living in the mansion in the 1950’s, but is still owned and run by the fourth generation of Vanderbilt descendents.

  1. The local tax authority recently assessed the Biltmore Estate at $157 million.

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