I purposely have not written a lot about the Biltmore Estate because it is perhaps, the most dominant aspect of Asheville, and there is no way that I can compete with the barrage of Biltmore history, facts and publications you will encounter at every turn while in Asheville. It is for many what Asheville is known for, and it is what brings most people to Asheville. It is only after they arrive that they discover all the other riches of the city and its people. As a visitor here, you will probably learn more about the Biltmore than you had ever thought to ask. However, the Biltmore is so much a part of Asheville that I cannot ignore it. So, let me give you a few trivia facts:
- George Vanderbilt visited Asheville in 1888 accompanying his ill mother who was seeking the healing benefits the city had become famous for. The young man of 25 was captivated by the area’s natural beauty. He slowly began purchasing land and ended up with 125,000 acres. The land was largely defoliated, abused farmland, and farmers were apparently happy to take the young Vanderbilt’s money.
- The Biltmore is George Vanderbilt’s vision of a French Renaissance chateau with architectural features of 16th-century castles he had seen in the Loire Valley of France. He was quite a traveler having made the voyage across the Atlantic to Europe 60 times during his life.
- Construction began in 1889. Vanderbilt brought talented craftsmen from Europe for the construction and many stayed as the future builders of Asheville’s commercial and government buildings as well as the residences of its citizens—thus giving the city its distinctive and unique architectural character.
- It took 1000 men six years to complete the Biltmore.
- To expedite the shipments of building materials, a railroad track was built from the main railway to the construction site.
- The architect of the estate’s gardens, Frederick Law Olmsted, also created Central Park in New York City. The restoration of the land using sustaining management techniques brought forth an entirely new era of forest management in the U.S.
- The Biltmore is America’s largest home with 250 rooms, 35 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms and 65 fireplaces. But most visitors never see one room which is not included in the 250 room count. It is a cavernous brick walled area deep inside the basement of Biltmore referred to as “The Halloween Room” because those walls are painted with murals of witches, bats, black cats, wooden soldiers, and other eerie images. However, the history of Halloween Room is another story; one I’ll tell later in a separate article.
- The estate was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1963, and it remains a major tourist attraction in Western North Carolina with 1.4 million visitors each year.
- Biltmore is among the country’s most elaborately decorated homes during the Christmas holidays.
- Over 6,000 weddings occur at the Biltmore Estate each year.
- Biltmore is home to the most-visited U.S. winery. It spans 94 acres, sells 170,000 cases of wine, and sees 650,000 visitors annually.
- The grounds and buildings of Biltmore Estate have appeared in a number of major motion pictures and TV series including: Being There, The Last of the Mohicans, Forrest Gump, Patch Adams, Hannibal, One Tree Hill, The Private Eyes, The Swan, Tap Roots, The Pruitts of Southampton, A Breed Apart, Mr. Destiny, and others.
The history of the Biltmore is told by Howard E. Covington in his book, Lady on the Hill: How Biltmore Estate Became an American Icon, available from Amazon.com and other retail sources.