The Beautiful French Biltmore Chateau displays the relaxed elegance of George and Edith Vanderbilt's 250-room family home and country retreat in Asheville, NC. It contains original art from masters such as Renoir, magnificent 16th-century tapestries, Napoleon's chess set, a library with 10,000 volumes, a Banquet Hall with a 70-foot ceiling, 65 fireplaces, an indoor pool, bowling alley, and priceless antiques. It contains approximately four acres of floor space or roughly 174,240 square feet. Opened to friends on Christmas Eve 1895, this French Renaissance chateáu remains America's largest privately owned home.
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, NC area. He loved the scenery and climate so much that he decided to create his own summer estate in the area, 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 Richard Morris Hunt, who had previously designed houses for various Vanderbilt family members, to design the house in imitation of several Loire Valley chateaux, including the Chateau de Blois. Wanting the best, Vanderbilt also employed Frederick Law Olmsted to design the grounds, including the deliberately rustic three-mile (5 km) approach road, and Gifford Pinchot to manage the forests. Intending that the estate could be self-supporting, Vanderbilt set up scientific forestry programs, poultry farms, cattle farms, hog farms and a dairy. The estate included its own village (today Biltmore Village) and a church. The Vanderbilts invited family and friends from across the country to experience the opulent estate. Famous guests to the estate have included author Edith Wharton, novelist Henry James, presidents McKinley, Wilson and Nixon, and Charles, Prince of Wales.
Unfortunately 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 of complications from an emergency appendectomy in 1914, his widow, Edith Stuyvesant Vanderbilt, finalized the sale of 85,000 of the original 125,000 acres to the federal government (in respect to her husband's wish that the land remain unaltered), which became the nucleus of Pisgah National Forest.
The estate today covers approximately 8,000 acres 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, II. In 1964, it was designated a National Historic Landmark.
In an attempt to bolster the economy during the Depression, Vanderbilt's only child, Cornelia Vanderbilt Cecil, and husband John Amherst Cecil opened Biltmore House to the public on March 15, 1930.
The house was occupied less and less permanently until 1956, when it was permanently opened to the public as a house museum. Visitors from all over the world continue to marvel at the 70,000 gallon indoor swimming pool, bowling alley, turn-of-the-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. It remains a major tourist attraction in western North Carolina, with more than 1 million visitors each year.
In 2005 the fourth floor of the house was restored and opened to visitors. Fourth Floor reveals the life of a Biltmore House maid, displaying a servants’ hall, bedrooms, bathrooms, and three house closets. The Architectural Model Room showcases Hunt’s 1889 model of Biltmore House, while the Observatory offers views of the estate from a central vantage point at the top of the main tower.
Besides the house, the grounds also feature approximately 75 acres of more formal gardens, a winery and the Inn on Biltmore Estate, a Mobil Travel Guide four-star and AAA four-diamond 213-room hotel.
Future plans include the restoration of the Louis XV Suite in 2009 and the Oak Sitting Room and Second Floor Living Hall in 2012.
•The grounds and buildings of Biltmore Estate have appeared in a number of major motion pictures, like:
• The Clearing (2002)
• Hannibal (2001)
• Patch Adams (1998)
• My Fellow Americans (1996)
• Richie Rich (1994)
• Forrest Gump (1994)
•Last of the Mohicans (1992)
• Mr. Destiny (1990)
• A Breed Apart (1984)
• The Private Eyes (1981)
• Being There (1979)
• The Swan (1956)
• Tap Roots (1948)
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