The History of the Biltmore Estate in North Carolina
Standing as a historic house museum in North Carolina, the Biltmore Estate is the biggest privately-owned home in the United States. With 35 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms, and 65 fireplaces, the entire house alone is just over 175,000 square feet. This is about the size of four football fields! Unsurprisingly, the Biltmore Estate is also the most popular tourist attraction in North Carolina.
The property used to be owned by the Vanderbilt family and was one of their properties until 1956. Since then, no one from the Vanderbilt family has lived there and the primary role of the estate has been to operate as a house museum.
The Biltmore Estate got its name by combining the name of the Vanderbilt family birthplace, De Bilt in the Netherlands, with moor, a word that described the landscape of the original property.
Where Is The Biltmore Estate?
Located in Asheville, North Carolina, the Biltmore Estate was originally dedicated as a summer house for George Washington Vanderbilt II. George's mother, Maria Louisa Kissam Vanderbilt, spent a lot of time in Asheville and when he visited her, he fell in love with the scenery, climate, and location. The Biltmore Estate is just a bit over 120 miles, or 193 kilometers, away from Charlotte, North Carolina, and will take about two hours to drive on a day with minimal traffic.
When Was The Biltmore Estate Built?
The Biltmore Estate was built between 1889 and 1895, taking just under six years to build in totality. As this was before the invention of modern-day heavy equipment, it was quite a complicated process, as we will discuss in more detail below.
The Biltmore Estate became open to the public in March of 1930 when Cornelia Stuyvesant Vanderbilt, George's only child, and her husband were requested by the City of Asheville to help promote tourism in the city. This was also to help combat the estate's financial situation during the Great Depression. Finally, in 1963, seven years after anyone had lived there, the Biltmore Estate was certified as a National Historic Landmark.
Who Built The Biltmore Estate?
Born from the idea of George Washington Vanderbilt, he hired Richard Morris Hunt, an American Architect who had worked on many other Vanderbilt properties to design and build the main estate. Hunt was mostly famous for the architectural work he did on personal estates, however, he also had a hand in public work and buildings as well. His most notable public contribution was designing the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty.
Because of his love of the environment, conservation, and nature, Vanderbilt also hired Frederick Law Olmsted, an American landscape architect to design the gardens and landscape of the estate. Olmsted is responsible for the design of many large urban parks and areas including the co-design of Central Park in New York City, Standford University in California, Niagara Reservation in Niagara Falls, and many more.
How Was The Biltmore Estate Built?
When set up for construction of the mansion began in 1889, a lot of work was done to the property to get it set up for such a large-scale project. This included building a woodworking factory as well as a brick oven on-site to help with mass production. The brick kiln produced over 32,000 bricks a day and saved the builders from unnecessary shipping requirements.
Obviously, not all materials and equipment could be built on-site, especially in 1889. As such, in 1890, workers had to construct a temporary, three-mile-railroad to help bring necessary materials to the property. Each morning and evening the train also provided transportation to the nearly 1,000 workers and 60 stonemasons who would be working on constructing the house.
By 1891, rough-hewn limestone was railroaded into the site to lay the foundation for the building. Because this was before heavy equipment, these limestones were hand-cranked and gear hoisted to their desired location on the property. In the same year, work began on building the walls of what was once known as Olmsted's Bowling Green, now known as the South Terrace. This project was important not only because it provided a place to move excavated dirt, but also because it was the first test of crew organization before working on the main house.
In 1893, bad weather was very prevalent and caused several delays to construction. With the ground freezing due to cold weather, masonry work was impossible as the mortar would not set. Meanwhile, the spring was very wet and flooded all of the clay pits in the nearest river halting all of the production of bricks.
Finally, in 1894, after four years of actual construction, the blueprints of the Biltmore Estate come to life. The Porte Cochere's towers were almost complete as well as the interior of the Stable Courtyard. Meanwhile, scaffolding was seen across the entire building as steel trusses to support the roof are being set up. At this time, the South Terrace has been completed. By 1895, the entire property would be finished.
The entire house is designed to be in the Châteauesque style as Hunt used the French Renaissance period as his inspiration. Also, the house is only four stories tall because Hunt wanted it to fit in with the mountains of the background rather than stand out amongst them. Overall, the house was seen as a modern-day threshold of what estate design could look like as it had electricity, central heating, running water, and dozens of fully functional bathrooms.
How Much Is The Biltmore Estate Worth?
The numbers aren't clear as to what the current estate is worth but there are rough estimations. With over 8,000 acres of land under the estate, the Biltmore Estate is believed to have a current-day worth of nearly $350 million dollars, especially when factoring in the restaurants, hotels, and other offerings the visit provides.
The Biltmore Estate cost about $5 million dollars to build in 1889, which would be just over $150 million in today's value. However, much of the Biltmore Estate's entire property was sold in 1914 after George Washington Vanderbilt's death. Because of the expensive maintenance and upkeep of the property, Vanderbilt and his wife sold 87,000 acres of land to the federal government under the condition that it would be maintained well. If they had kept that land, the worth of the property and entire estate would sure be much more than it is today.
How Many Movies Were Filmed At The Biltmore Estate?
Unsurprisingly, a great piece of architecture and design with the magnitude of The Biltmore Estate is not only a popular destination for tourists but for movie sets. According to the Biltmore website, movies like The Swan, Last of the Mohicans, Forrest Gump, Richie Rich, and Hannibal have all been filmed using the Biltmore Estate as a set. Others like Patch Addams, The Private Eyes, and My Fellow Americans have also been filmed at the estate.
The Biltmore Estate Today
As mentioned previously, the estate became a National Historic Landmark back in 1963. Today, it remains one of the most popular tourist attractions in North Carolina and the United States with over 1.4 million visitors every year.
With the memory of George Washington Vanderbilt's love of conservation and sustainability, the estate farms local livestock like sheep, pigs, and chickens. With that, produce and vegetables produced on the estate supply the estate's kitchen and restaurants. They also ensure to purchase locally sourced foods for any extra needs.
If you'd like to visit the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina, you can book your tickets online to make it either an easy day trip or an overnight stay!