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From the Biltmore Estate
In the late 1880s, George W. Vanderbilt, then a young man of 25, came upon the perfect spot in the North Carolina Blue Ridge for a 250-room French Renaissance château to be built by his friend, architect Richard Morris Hunt. The great château would be called Biltmore.
Vanderbilts decision to locate his mountain mansion near Asheville, NC, led to his purchase
of a total of 125,000 acres surrounding the site. Today, Biltmore Estate encompasses
approximately 8,000 acres, including formal and informal gardens designed by Frederick Law
Olmsted, the father of landscape architecture in America.
While the incomparable beauty of Biltmore Estate is the result of the combined creative
talents and vision of all three menVanderbilt, Hunt and Olmstedit is Biltmore House which
continues to be the centerpiece of Vanderbilts legacy. This great house remains the largest
private residence in the United States, a National Historic Landmark.
Begun in 1890, Biltmore House is constructed of tons of Indiana limestone transported by
a special railway spur built specifically to bring the massive amounts of material and supplies
to the site. It took hundreds of workers five years to complete the house.
On Christmas Eve 1895, George Vanderbilt formally opened his doors for the first time to
friends and family. In the late 20th century, Biltmore House remains much as it was when the
Vanderbilts occupied it over 100 years ago, showcasing George Vanderbilts original collection
of furnishings, art and antiques.
Vanderbilt, grandson of industrialist Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt, was an intellectual,
fluent in several languages, well-traveled and knowledgeable about art, architecture, music,
agriculture, horticulture and literature.
Vanderbilts diverse and cultured tastes influenced his travels with architect Hunt while
Biltmore House was being built. The two men journeyed throughout Europe and the Orient,
purchasing paintings, porcelains, bronzes, carpets and furniture. All of it would eventually
become part of the collection of 70,000 objects still in Biltmore today. Indeed, it is the nature
of the collection, reflecting Vanderbilt's interests and tastes which guests then, as well as now,
find most fascinating.
Inside the house, artworks by Renoir, Sargent, Whistler, Pellegrini and Boldini adorn the walls
and, in one case, the ceiling. The furniture includes designs by Sheraton and Chippendale.
A chess set and gaming table which belonged to Napoleon when he was in exile at St. Helena
are on display in the salon and Chinese goldfish bowls from the Ming Dynasty can be admired in the library. Eight 16th century Flemish tapestries are in the process of being cleaned and
repaired by Biltmore House conservation staff. Fifty Persian and Oriental rugs cover marble
and oak floors while fresh flowers from the estate gardens, greenhouses and conservatory
decorate the rooms.
Upstairs on the third floor, in addition to more bedrooms, are areas where guests once
played parlor games and took afternoon tea, as well as rooms formerly occupied by ladies
maidservants. Downstairs, the domestic servants kept the entire house running smoothly
with the help of a state-of-the-art domestic nerve center, complete with a main kitchen, two
specialty kitchens, large laundry complex, refrigeration systems and pantries.
Fully electric and centrally heated, Biltmore House, at the time of its completion, was
considered one of the most technologically advanced structures ever built and in many ways,
is admired today for its innovative engineering. It used some of Thomas Edisons first light
bulbs, boasted a fire alarm system, an electrical call box system for servants, two elevators,
elaborate indoor plumbing for all 34 bedrooms, and a relatively newfangled invention called
Vanderbilt also wanted his mountain home to provide family and friends with lifes recreational
pleasures: an indoor swimming pool, bowling alley and gymnasium are located downstairs.
Guests who take one of the behind-the-scenes tours visit unrestored areas of the house
such as guest bedrooms, now used for storage, and Mrs. Vanderbilts sculpture studio. In
addition, this tour enables guests to see the intricate inner workings of the houseits massive
steam furnace and its giant electrical panels, heating and lighting all four acres of floor space
inside the mansion.
While Biltmore House is the focal point of the estate, it is clear when you walk onto
Vanderbilts library terrace and gaze below into the gardens that Olmsteds genius is an
integral part of Biltmorehis sweeping landscape providing a fitting backdrop for this
magnificent château. Rare Franklinia and Persian ironwood trees grow side by side with
mountain laurel, rhododendron, native azaleas and white pines. A four-acre English Walled
Garden features 50,000 Dutch tulips and iris each spring as well as an All-America Rose
Garden and summer annuals in warmer months and chrysanthemums in autumn.
Biltmores unique horticultural environment creates a blooming season that begins in early
spring and continues until the first frost: in other words, something is blooming at Biltmore
from March through November. Even during winter months, the conservatory is full of colorful
tropical plants such as poinsettias, orchids, lilies, cacti and bougainvillea.
In keeping with the Vanderbilt tradition of entertaining in style, todays guests at Biltmore are
treated, not only to the elegant sights of a 19th century country estate, but to the epicurean
pleasures of living like a Vanderbilt for a day as well. Biltmore Estate Winery, housed in a
former dairy barn designed by architect Richard Morris Hunt, was opened in 1985,
Here guests can learn about viticulture and oenology as well as sample Biltmores award-winning wines. The estate currently produces approximately 100,000 cases of wine annually.
Another Hunt structure on the estate which was also once part of the dairy operation is
Deerpark Restaurant, where guests can again taste estate wines, that complement
an array of fine seasonal entrees. If they are lucky, Deerpark guests might even catch a
glimpse of deer grazing in the woodland, originally designated by Olmsted as a deer preserve,
and now surrounding the restaurant.
Adjacent to Biltmore House is a large stable area, restored to reflect the original character
of the work and storage rooms. The main stable is now a café where guests are seated in
renovated horse stalls and may select from an enticing menu featuring slow-cooked rotisserie
chicken and Biltmores estate-raised Angus beef.
And for those still looking for a different dining opportunity, The Bistro, located adjacent to
the winery, serves a unique menu combining traditional French bistro recipes and mountain
fare. The menu features wood-fired pizzas and freshly-made pastas, as well as signature
entrees prepared with Biltmores own estate-grown vegetables.
Biltmore Estate is located near the intersection of Interstates 26 and 40. Entrance to the
estate is three blocks north of Exit 50 or 50B on Interstate 40.
The estate is open daily from 9 A.M. until 5 P.M., except Thanksgiving Day and Christmas
Special celebrations take place at Christmas, when the house is fully decorated in
Victorian Tradition and each spring during Biltmore Blooms festival of flowers. A new event, Roaring 20s at
Biltmore Estate will revisit the jazz age in June and Biltmore Estate's Summer Evenings
Concerts offer performances by nationally known artists on Saturday evenings in July and
August. In the fall, Biltmore Estate celebrates the coming of autumn with Michaelmas: An
English Harvest Fair in the Italian Garden.
Admission to the estate includes Biltmore House, gardens and winery and enables the estate
to remain private and self-sufficient, receiving no governmental funding or grant monies. For
guests who enjoy visiting Biltmore every season, Twelve Month Passes, providing year-round
admission, are available. Prices for Christmas Daytime and Candlelight Christmas Evenings
vary from regular admission prices.
For more information, contact The Biltmore Company, One North Pack Square, Asheville, NC
28801, or phone (828) 274-6333, or toll-free at (800) 543-2961.
See our Asheville Real Estate page.