Mr. and Mrs. George Vanderbilt were big spenders. At least that’s the conclusion I draw when I look at their houses, the furnishings in the houses, even the portraits of them that hang on the walls in the house. They look like regal, rich, high-class people. Which is exactly what they were. How did they get the money? Georgie inherited it all from his super-rich grandfather, Cornelius Vanderbilt. He was the richest American until his death in 1877. All his money was made on the railroads. He split the money between his children. That generation pretty much doubled the money their father had made, especially Cornelius’s oldest son William Henry Vanderbilt. William’s son, Cornelius Vanderbilt II was the next “Head of House”. Now the grandkids spent it. Cornelius II’s younger brother was the owner of Biltmore. Most all of the extremely large mansions in America were built by the Vanderbilt family. Biltmore is just one example. We’ve seen others like The Breakers, in Newport, RI (see our experience here), and the Vanderbilt Mansion in New York state (and this one here).
Enough about the family. If you want to know more, Google it. So lets talk about the house.
The project started in 1889, and 6 years later was completed and opened on Christmas day of 1895. Can you imagine being a guest at the grand opening? Nothing like this house had been seen before. Edith, George’s wife, loved to entertain, and this house was built just for that. To wow people.
In 1899, their only child, Cornelia, was born. I imagine her name was a tribute to her Great-Grandfather. Her mother and father took her all over the world as a child. When they left her home, she had plenty of people to look after her. Sadly, in 1914, George died in surgery. Edith was left with a teenage daughter and a huge estate to manage. She did it though. When Cornelia married John Frances Amhearst Cicel, a British diplomat, Edith walked her down the isle in place of her father. The guest list contained some pretty influential names, such as Astor, Pulitzer, Rockefeller, Churchill, Warton, Roosevelt, Taft, and Coolidge. Cornelia wore a veil worn by her mother, and her mother’s three sisters. The veil was originally worn by the Grandmother. All the females in the family wear the veil when they marry, even the most recent this last spring/summer. It is currently 114 years old, and 7 or 8 generations in the female line has worn it at her wedding. Cornelia and her husband moved into Biltmore, where they had their two sons. After Cornelia and John divorced in 1934, John stayed in the Bachelor’s wing of Biltmore until his death in 1954. Cornelia never returned to the estate. When she died, her sons, George Henry Vanderbilt Cecil and William A. V. Cecil Sr., continued to keep the house open to tourists, as it had been since the 1930’s, when there mother had lived there. When both brothers had died, William A. V. Cecil Jr. took over and turned it into a major tourist destination. He ran it up until his recent death.
The house is designed by Richard Morris Hunt, one of the leading architects of his time. He had worked with the Vanderbilt family before, on other mansions. The gardens and grounds were done by Frederick Law Olmstead, who also did Central Park, in New York City. Biltmore, he considered his last great project before his death. These two, plus Vanderbilt were a good team, and each had respect for the others. Together, they created one of the most notable houses in history.
Most of Biltmore was based off foreign architecture, from France, Italy and Greece. The mansion is full of famous artwork. Many of the uncompleted rooms were used to store incredibly popular paintings. I’ll let Marc tell a bit of what he liked.
“My favorite room is the library, ’cause it’s full of books and had very interesting architecture. It had a humgo black marble fireplace on one side of the room. I would describe the outside Gothic Chateau, which I a style I find interesting, one of my favorite styles. I like Gothic in general, because of all the spires and attention to detail, with all the small but very ornate statues perched around the outside. I find the style mysterious and dark. The one word I’d use to describe Biltmore is immense.”
Large, is one word I would use. At 178,92 square feet, it is one of the biggest privately owned properties in the world.
Now, on to our experience at Biltmore. We purchased season tickets, because that was the cheaper way for us to go. We went on Saturday, and it was incredibly busy. It took us 2 hours to make our way through the house, and we skipped the first floor, all except the Tapestry Hall and the Library. We didn’t go to the Great Hall, Music Room or any of that, knowing that we’d be back. The spiral staircase going up stairs was wonderfully big. I don’t even know how many Christmas trees there were. Wow. I just looked it up. In 2013 they put up 56 Christmas trees around the house, including a 35-foot tree in the Great Hall. On the property, at Antler Hill Village, the hotel, restaurants, and everything, there are 58 additional trees. In the house, 30,000 lights light up the trees and house, mixed with 150 candles. I know that there was a least one tree in every room we saw, and most of them had two to four.
Because its fall, the gardens weren’t all that impressive, but the conservatory was pretty amazing, and I’m pretty sure I went over board with photos of the flowers. Mostly just poinsettia and orchids, but still, it smelled like summer.
After completing our inspection of the mansion, we headed to Antler Hill Village, to learn more about the Vanderbilt family. They had a display on the weddings in the Vanderbilt family. William A. V. Cecil Sr., George’s Grandson, married Mary Lee Ryan, cousin to Jacqueline Lee Bouvier, who married J. F. Kennedy. The cousins were both married in their Grandmother’s wedding dress.
We ended our trip after peaking in some of the village shops.
In all, I think we enjoyed the trip a lot. Of course we are planning to go back at least once, maybe more. Next time we are paying the extra 11 dollars each for the audio tour.
Thanks for sticking with me through the long post!