Have you ever visited Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina? Construction for the mansion with 255 rooms began in 1889. Biltmore remains the largest privately owned home in the United States. Today, visitors can tour the mansion to glimpse life during the Gilded Age.
In the 1800s, the Vanderbilt family amassed a vast fortune through various business enterprises, including railroads and steamboats. In 1888, 26-year-old George Washington Vanderbilt, a quiet and studious young man, traveled to Asheville with his mother to spend the summer. He was captivated by the landscape and quietly used a proxy agent to purchase tracts of land.
As word got out that Vanderbilt had purchased property, intense curiosity arose as people speculated about possible plans for the land. Some rumored theories included an industrial and agricultural school for poor children, a massive private park dotted with villas, a game preserve, or a stock farm.
In October 1889, speculation ended when a wagon bearing a five-foot model of Biltmore moved through the streets of New York on its way to the office of prominent architect Richard M. Hunt. Hundreds viewed the towers and turrets of the imposing building. It was soon confirmed that the model was a castle that would be built on land in North Carolina purchased by Vanderbilt. The estate was purportedly named Bilton House but soon became known as Biltmore.
Construction of the castle began and took six years to complete. During this time, Vanderbilt continued to expand his land acquisitions around the estate. One holdout was Joshua Moore, who lived in a small cabin just a few miles from Biltmore House. Vanderbilt repeatedly offered to buy Moore’s property, but he refused. It took nearly 20 years, and in 1903, Moore finally sold his land to Vanderbilt for $2,250 – significantly higher than Its estimated value of $75.
Biltmore House was constructed of hand-tooled Indiana limestone at a cost of $6 million (more than $200 million today). It contains nearly four acres of floor space, 178,000 square feet, 35 bedrooms, and 43 bathrooms. The Banquet Hall features a 75-foot ceiling and a massive triple fireplace. Curious people seeking a glimpse of the imposing castle would travel to Biltmore during construction. They roamed the construction site, gazed at the view from the dining room, and even chiseled pieces of stone from an archway as souvenirs. Souvenir seekers weakened one granite arch so much that it had to be torn down and built again. From that point on, admission to the site was restricted.
On Christmas Eve in 1895, Biltmore was completed and officially opened. Several hundred employees and their families were treated to a holiday banquet with Christmas gifts. The servants at the mansion received a $10 Christmas bonus. Later that day, Vanderbilt’s family and friends gathered for the first time at the mansion. The 33-year-old host was still single, and newspapers dubbed him the greatest catch in the country.
Vanderbilt loved Biltmore, but his life was cut short in 1914 when, at age 51, he died from complications due to an appendectomy. He left his beloved Biltmore to his daughter, 12-year-old Cornelia. In 1930, Cornelia and her husband, John Cecil, opened Biltmore House to the public.
Visitors can still tour Biltmore Estate, which contains its original furnishings and art collection. The house has been designated as a National Historic Landmark, and descendants of Vanderbilt still run the family business. To learn more about Biltmore, search Newspapers.com™ today.