|Location||Asheville, North Carolina, United States|
|Architect||Richard Morris Hunt; Frederick Law Olmsted|
|NRHP Reference #||66000586|
|Added to NRHP||October 15, 1966|
Biltmore Estate is a large private estate and tourist attraction in Asheville, North Carolina. Biltmore House, the main house on the estate, is a Châteauesque-styled mansion built by George Washington Vanderbilt II between 1889 and 1895 and is the largest privately owned house in the United States, at 178,926 square feet (16,622.8 m2) and featuring 250 rooms. Still owned by one of Vanderbilt's descendants, it stands today as one of the most prominent remaining examples of the Gilded Age, and of significant gardens in the jardin à la française and English Landscape garden styles in the United States. In 2007, it was ranked eighth in America's Favorite Architecture by the American Institute of Architects.
In the 1880s, at the height of the Gilded Age, George Washington Vanderbilt, youngest son of William Henry Vanderbilt, began to make regular visits with his mother, Maria Louisa Kissam Vanderbilt (1821–1896), to the Asheville, North Carolina, area. He loved the scenery and climate so much that he decided to create his own summer estate in the area, which he called his "little mountain escape," just as his older brothers and sisters had built opulent summer houses in places such as Newport, Rhode Island, and Hyde Park, New York.
Vanderbilt's idea was to replicate the working estates of Europe. He commissioned prominent New York architect Richard Morris Hunt, who had previously designed houses for various Vanderbilt family members, to design the house in the Châteauesque style, using several Loire Valley French Renaissance architecture chateaux, including the Chateau de Blois, as models. The estate included its own village, today named Biltmore Village, and a church, today known as the Cathedral of All Souls.
Vanderbilt went on extensive buying-trips overseas as construction on the house was in progress. He returned to North Carolina with thousands of furnishings for his newly built home. These included furniture, tapestries, hundreds of carpets, prints, linens, and decorative objects, all dating between the 1400s and the late 1800s, and all coming from various eastern and western countries and continents around the world. Among the few American-made items were the more practical oak drop-front desk, rocking chairs, a walnut grand piano, bronze candlesticks and a wicker wastebasket.
Wanting the best, Vanderbilt also employed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted to design the grounds, with the immediate gardens in the Garden à la française style, beyond those in the English Landscape garden style. Beyond these were the natural woodlands and agricultural lands with the intentionally rustic three-mile (5 km) approach road passing through. Gifford Pinchot and later Carl A. Schenck were hired to manage the forests, with Schenck establishing the first forestry education program in the U.S., the Biltmore Forest School, on the estate grounds in 1898. Intending that the estate could be self-supporting, Vanderbilt set up scientific forestry programs, poultry farms, cattle farms, hog farms and a dairy. His wife, Edith Stuyvesant Vanderbilt, also enthusiastically supported agricultural reform and promoted the establishment of a state agricultural fair. In 1901, to help provide local employment, the Vanderbilts started Biltmore Industries, which made furniture modeled after the furnishings of the estate.
The Vanderbilts invited family and friends from across the country to the opulent estate. Notable guests to the estate over the years have included author Edith Wharton, novelist Henry James, H.R.H. The Prince of Wales, and Presidents McKinley, T. Roosevelt, and Wilson.
Vanderbilt paid little attention to the family business or his own investments, and it is believed that the construction and upkeep of Biltmore depleted much of his inheritance. After Vanderbilt died in 1914 of complications from an emergency appendectomy, his widow, Edith Vanderbilt, completed the sale of 85,000 of the original 125,000 acres (507 km²) to the federal government. This was to carry out her husband's wish that the land remain unaltered, and that property became the nucleus of the Pisgah National Forest.
Hiding place for art
During World War II, 62 paintings and 17 sculptures were moved by train from the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. to protect them in the event of an attack on the United States. Among these were the Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington and works by Rembrandt, Raphael, and Anthony van Dyck. David Finley, the gallery director, was a friend of Edith Vanderbilt who had stayed at the estate. The music room was not ready, so it was used for storage from January 1942 until 1944, when the possibility of an attack became more remote.
In an attempt to bolster the estate's financial situation during the Depression, Vanderbilt's only child, Cornelia Stuyvesant Vanderbilt, and her husband, John Amherst Cecil, opened Biltmore House to the public in March 1930. Family members continued to live there until 1956, when it was permanently opened to the public as a house museum. Visitors can view the 70,000-gallon (265,000-litre and 265-cubic meter) indoor swimming pool, bowling alley, early 20th century exercise equipment, two-story library, and other rooms filled with artworks, furniture and 19th-century novelties such as elevators, forced-air heating, centrally controlled clocks, fire alarms and an intercom system. The estate remains a major tourist attraction in Western North Carolina and has almost 1 million visitors each year.
The "If These Walls Could Talk" exhibit continues to be on display in the Second Floor Living Hall, and highlights Biltmore as a private family home, as well as spotlighting the restoration of the Louis XV Suite, which opened to the public in 2009. In 2010, they debuted Antler Hill Village, as well as a remodeled winery, and connected farmyard. The Village includes the Outdoor Adventure Center, Creamery, Cedric's Tavern, and the Biltmore Legacy, which is another museum highlighting the time of the Vanderbilts. For 2011, the Biltmore Company introduced a new stop on the Butler's tour, Mrs. Emily King's bedroom, part of the unrestored Housekeepers Suite. Mrs. King was the head housekeeper at Biltmore House from 1897 to 1914, and led the house even when the Vanderbilts were out of the country. On display with her room is a turn of the 20th century vacuum cleaner, foxtail duster, and toilet bowl cleaner. Also from July–October 2011, the Tiffany collection was on display in Biltmore's Antler Hill Village in the Legacy Museum. Forty-five of Louis Tiffany's renowned stained glass lamps and three windows from other Vanderbilt properties were brought in for the summer. There is a small walking or biking trail, which leads from the lagoon to the horse barn, the farm, Antler Hill Village, and the winery. There is also a trail which leads from the lagoon to the Biltmore House.
Automotive enthusiasts can view George Vanderbilt's preserved 1913 Stevens-Duryea C-Six, which is currently on display at the Winery. Contrary to previous estate publications, Vanderbilt was an early and ardent driver; documents show he upgraded to the '13 Duryea (from the previous year's model) because the newer car featured electric lamps (as opposed to oils). Originally delivered in a dark gray or black, rumor holds that Edith Stuyvesant Vanderbilt found the color depressing, and ordered a repaint. Hence the car is dressed in white with black pinstripes (and features her monogram on the rear doors). It is the only vehicle belonging to the Vanderbilts that remains on the estate.
The estate today covers over 8,000 acres (3,200 ha) and is split in half by the French Broad River. It is owned by the Biltmore Company, which is controlled by Vanderbilt's grandson, William A.V. Cecil, Sr., who inherited the estate upon the death of his mother Cornelia. William, Sr.'s son, Bill, Jr., serves as company president. In 1964, it was designated a National Historic Landmark. The dairy farm was split off into Biltmore Farms, run by William Cecil's brother, George Henry Vanderbilt Cecil. William Cecil converted the former dairy barn into the Biltmore Winery.
The grounds and buildings of Biltmore Estate have appeared in a number of major motion pictures:
- "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2006-03-15.
- Buncombe County Tax Records, http://www.buncombetax.org/, Parcel ID 9637-94-4030-00000, Residential Building 22 (mansion) and Commercial Building 9 (attached stable); see also http://www.biltmore.com/visit/house_gardens/house/faq.asp
- http://www.allsoulscathedral.org/history Cathedral of All Souls: History
- Chase, Nan K. Asheville: A History, (2007): 69-70.
- Aslet, Clive (2005). The American Country House, p. 14. Yale University Press.
- Kiss, Tony (February 16, 2014). "Biltmore Estate hid precious art during World War II". Asheville Citizen-Times.
- Hansley, Richard (2011). Asheville's Historic Architecture, pp. 151-52. The History Press.
- Biltmore news release, February 2005. Retrieved 2012-10-30
- Hewitt, Mark Alan: The Architect & the American Country House. Yale University Press: New Haven & London 1990, p. 1-10
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