We had a chance to travel to this vaunted estate and it was well worth the time. It is located in Asheville, N.C. and is the largest privately owned house in the U.S at north of 178,000 square feet!
It is called a Gilded Age mansion and is still owned by George Vanderbilt’s descendants. It is a remarkable spectacle and worth a visit.
George Washington Vanderbilt began making regular trips to the Asheville area in the 1880’s, where he is said to have loved the scenery and climate. He built himself a summer house there which he called his little mountain escape. Over time he would up buying hundreds of surrounding parcels of land, including about 50 farms and a half dozen cemeteries. I was told by a spokesperson there that the archives show that the area was poor and much of the land was in bad shape, so most landowners were glad to sell at the time.
In order to build the house, rather than try to ship in all the materials, a woodworking factory and a brick kiln were constructed right on the property. Also a railroad access spur was constructed to more easily get materials to the site. There were about 1000 laborers working on the main house and George made many trips overseas to bring back artifacts he wanted placed in the house.
There is a lot of history here that I will skip over to bring us to the current. The estate occupies about 8000 acres which is bisected by the French Broad River. It is overseen by the Biltmore company, a trust set up by the family. There is a winery, a 200+ room luxury hotel, and villages of gift shops and restaurants all on the property.
While the buildings are jaw-dropping, one of the more remarkable aspects of the estate is the grounds. I can’t begin to describe how beautiful they are. The picture above is a case in point. This site has a lot of information about them.
I visited Biltmore with a couple friends, both of whom are in the landscaping or irrigation businesses.
One friend was Rachael, who is a landscape designer by trade and owns a landscape design and planting company. She has been in the business for decades and said she has never seen any landscaping as beautiful as this. Not even close. The variety of shrubs, flowers, and trees all carefully selected to compliment each other is nothing short of miraculous, according to Rachael.
The other friend was Daniel. Daniel is in the irrigation business and partners with Rachael quite often to bid on Richmond area projects. Daniel owns an irrigation company called Old Dominion Irrigation. Daniel, like Rachael, was awestruck by the intricate flora and complex irrigation techniques employed by the Biltmore staff.
If you ever get a chance to see this, you will not be disappointed. Plus Asheville is just a wonderful little town to explore.