Biltmore Estate is the largest home and one of the most popular tourist attractions in the United States. It is located near Ashville, North Carolina, and is also known by the name “America’s Castle.”
The mansion was built by millionaire George Washington Vanderbilt II between 1889 and 1895 as a place where he could relax and entertain his friends and family.
For this purpose, Vanderbilt hired architect Richard Morris Hunt, who modeled the house after French Renaissance chateaus.
From the famous 16th-century chateaus in the Loire Valley: Blois, Chenonceau, and Chambord, he adopted French Renaissance architectural elements like stair towers and steeply pitched roofs.
Vanderbilt’s name for the estate Biltmore is a derivation of the words “bilt,” the region in Holland that was the ancestral home of the Vanderbilts, and “more,” an old English expression for the countryside.
For the official opening of the house, George Vanderbilt held a housewarming party for friends and family on Christmas Eve in 1895.
The house is an amazing 175,000 square feet with 250 rooms, of which 33 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms, 65 fireplaces, a basement with a pool, gym, kitchens, and servants’ quarters.
For its construction, nearly 10 million pounds of limestone and more than 11 million bricks were used.
The mansion has three floors and a basement. The largest room in the house is the Banquet Hall, which contains a triple fireplace.
Most of the priceless items in the house are from George and his wife Edith Vanderbilt’s original collection.
The music room displays a large engraving ordered by Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I called the Triumphal Arch.
The art collection also contains original works by Pierre-Auguste Renoir and John Singer Sargent. Each room was decorated by the Vanderbilts with antiques and artwork from Europe and the Orient.
The enormous stone spiral staircase has 102 steps and rises four floors. An iron chandelier with 72 electric light bulbs hangs at its center. Magnificent 16th-century tapestries lead to the library, which was probably Vanderbilt’s favorite place to be.
He had a true passion for books and his collection numbers more than 10,000 volumes written in eight different languages.
Also, in the library, Chinese goldfish bowls from the Ming Dynasty are displayed. The oak and marble floors are covered with fifty Persian and Oriental carpets. The salon showcases a chess set that belonged to Napoleon.
At the time of its completion, Biltmore House was centrally heated and fully electric. It had two elevators, a fire alarm system, an electrical call box system for servants, and a telephone.
The house was considered one of the most technologically advanced structures ever built.
For the gardens and the parklands, Vanderbilt commissioned landscape designer Frederick Law Olmsted, who designed Central Park in New York.
His plan was to make a park around the house, set farms along the river, and plant a forest, which today is regarded as the first managed forest in the United States.
The gardeners cultivate more than 200 types of rose, native azaleas, white pines, and other hybrid varieties.
Vanderbilt’s ambition to recreate a European working estate resulted in Biltmore Village. Hunt and Olmsted designed the village that included cottages, shops, a post office, hospital, the Biltmore Office Building and a church, today known as Cathedral of All Souls.
The estate originally covered 125,000 acres, but today is approximately 8,000 acres. Vanderbilt’s grandson runs The Biltmore Company, which currently manages the estate.
During World War II, paintings and sculptures from the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. were moved to the Biltmore House to protect the priceless art. Amongst them were works by Rembrandt, Anthony van Dyck, Raphael, and Gilbert Stuart’s portrait of George Washington.
Biltmore House is often connected with paranormal activities. Guests have reported seeing the ghost of George Vanderbilt sitting in the library.
Also, the ghost of George Vanderbilt’s widow Edith has been reported wandering the halls whispering to George. The Biltmore Estate is still owned and occupied by Vanderbilt descendants. It is open to the public and draws more than one million visitors annually.