The History of Vanderbilt Biltmore House in Asheville, North Carolina
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The History of Biltmore House in Asheville, North Carolina
In 1889, George Vanderbilt traveled to the Asheville, North Carolina area, where he purchased land and began constructing a family home. By 1895, the 250-room mansion was completed and became a place for Vanderbilt to continue his studies in forestry and farming. The estate has remained the largest private home in the United States and has intrigued tourists, who have made it the most visited historic destination in the country. George Washington Vanderbilt II purchased a tract of 125,000 acres in the Blue Ridge Mountains in 1889.
His immediate plan was to begin building a massive 16th-century French chateau-style home as the primary residence for him, his wife and their daughter that he would name the Biltmore.
It would be the most elaborate residential architectural project in American history, and would take six years and 1,000 men to complete the Biltmore Mansion!
Standing four stories high and covering more than 4 acres of floor space, the Biltmore House was designed in conjunction with architect Richard Morris Hunt. An astounding 65 fireplaces were erected to heat the 34 bedrooms, 43 baths and 3 kitchens. Over 11 million bricks were placed during the construction. An impressive staircase made of stone contains 102 stairs as it spirals four floors high.
The grounds of the estate are admired for their foliage, flowers and design. Landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted conceptualized an area of private gardens surrounded by preserved forest. Fountains, ponds, an arboretum and a nursery were added for interest. Vanderbilt spent most of his time living the life of a gentleman farmer, whose goal was to make Biltmore a self-sustaining estate.
Often touted as the most impressive room of the Biltmore House, the Banquet Room was where the family did their entertaining. Vaulted ceilings rising over 70 feet give the room an awe-inspiring feel. Original masterpieces and works of art from renowned painters and sculptors are displayed in the room and throughout the house. Original period furniture has remained in the residence and lends a sense of livability.
A modern addition to the estate, the winery has become the most popular in the nation. The previous dairy complex was converted into a working winery that produces over 75,000 cases a year. A wine-tasting experience is included in the tour admission price, and seasonal events are held as weather permits. Live music, dining and a gift shop make the visit memorable.
Stay at the Biltmore
The family-owned property has been meticulously cared for and restored as needed. Funds for the projects have come from private donations and money raised through tour admissions. The Inn at Biltmore provides lodging and a world-class spa for individuals who want to spend more than a day at the estate.
The original Biltmore estate of 125,000 acres of land, all landscaped by Frederick Law Olmsted, the famous designer of Central Park in New York City. The house alone is enormous, covering more than 4 acres of floor space and including 250 rooms, a swimming pool, multiple kitchens and a bowling alley. The house boasted such novel 1890s amenities as electric lighting, telephones and even an elevator.
During the six years of construction, Vanderbilt faced continuous labor costs. A skilled laborer in the 1890s could earn $12 per week or more, with unskilled laborers earning about half that amount. Considering the hundreds of laborers needed to build the Biltmore Mansion, Vanderbilt must have paid hundreds of thousands and possibly millions of dollars in labor costs alone.
The stone used for the Biltmore Mansion’s construction was not local to North Carolina. Instead, it was mined hundreds of miles away in Indiana. The builders transported the massive quantities of stone, over 11 million bricks in total, by rail. Vanderbilt even had a special, 3-mile railway spur built to transport the stone directly to the construction site.
Vanderbilt built his home using the best of everything. The stone used for the construction of the Biltmore Mansion was in high demand in the 1890s, and its cost reflected its popularity. Even more modest structures commanded high construction prices. A university hall built of Indiana limestone required $160,000 in construction costs in the same period.
George Vanderbilt inherited about $12 million of his family’s fortune, an amount that places an upper limit on the construction costs of the Biltmore Mansion. Vanderbilt himself always refused to say how much the grand house cost him, but modern theories place the final cost as high as $10 million. The high price of building and maintaining the Biltmore Mansion eventually led Vanderbilt’s daughter Cornelia to open the house to the public in 1930.