In a sense, having grown up and spent most of my life in Houston puts me at a disadvantage. Normally, at sea level, I have a good sense of direction and distance: I can look at a map, get my bearings et voila! Good to go! But plop me down in mountainous terrain and that all goes out the window. Suddenly which way is up becomes a burning question.
Exhibit A of this phenomenon: The Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC. When you enter the gate you’re right in the town of Asheville, but suddenly the terrain is more forest than city. First stop is the visitor center, then take a windy road for a couple of miles (MILES!), park in a heavily wooded area, take a short hike through the forest, turn a corner and BOOM!
Now how did they hide this sucker? From a few hundred yards away in the parking lot there was no visual clue this place exists. In Texas, we build something this big we want it to be seen at least 20 miles away. Them hills can hide some secrets, I reckon.
This place was Vander-built in the 1890s. The estate was originally 125,000 acres (old George Vanderbilt must have been a Texan at heart), now down to 8,000 some odd acres. Even so, the distances between locations on the estate are measured in miles, thanks perhaps to windy roads. The place is basically surrounded by the city but you’d never know it when you are there. The property is still owned by the descendants of the founder.
Old George was actually fairly Young George when he built it, still a bachelor. He married Edith a few years after it was complete. There is a painting of Edith in the Tapestry Gallery that must be 10, maybe 12 feet high, very stylish and dynamic.
The Tapestry Gallery is one of those rooms (of which there are many in this quaint little cottage) that makes you just shake your head. Ninety feet long, I don’t know how high, HUGE Flemish tapestries from the 16th century, portraits of the occupants.
Of course, this was a mah-velous room in which to take one’s afternoon tea.
Me and George would have been buds, no doubt. Gotta love a guy with a 12,000 book library.
The docent told me there are 65 fireplaces in the house. They must have had a lumberjack on staff. And I love the stepstools they have for reaching higher up books (not counting the ones accessed by a circular staircase)
Sturdy enough to hold me. Although nowadays I’m sure OSHA would find some nit to pick. The chess set owned by Naopoleon has always fascinated me, just because.
Master and Madame both had massive bedrooms.
I find it hilarious they both have chaise lounges right in front of the bed. What? In case they get too exhausted on the way to bed and need to rest up on the way?
I asked one of the guides how many portraits/photographs of people there are in the house. She couldn’t say but we agreed there must be 100s, maybe thousands. They are everywhere: family members, some large John Singer Sargent portraits of the architect and the landscape designer and others, to pencil drawings of the most obscure historical figures. One could probably get a PhD just by studying the portraits in this house.
George could never be accused of ignoring the importance of physical activity. In the basement were a bowling alley, gymnasium, swimming pool; upstairs a couple of massive handmade billiard tables. And on the 125,000 acres, no doubt all the hunting and hiking you could handle.
And then there’s the gardens. Even in the dog days of August, quite spectacular.
And the views from the house itself aint too shabby.
One final look at the Biltmore House: one of the most stunning dining rooms you’ll ever see.
Complete with a kiddie table!
In the basement they have an exhibit of photos made during the building of the mansion. Too many to share here, but I totally geek out on that stuff. What a magnificent achievement this place is: the vision and imagination and creativity required, all exquisitely executed. And to do it in a mountain terrain makes it even more mind-boggling for a flatlander like me.