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[photo] Current and historic views of the Biltmore House
Photos courtesy of the Biltmore Company

George W. Vanderbilt, youngest son of William H. Vanderbilt and grandson of "Commodore" Cornelius Vanderbilt, enjoyed visiting western North Carolina for its mild climate and spectacular scenery. During a visit in the mid-1880s, Vanderbilt was inspired by a view from Downtown Asheville so spectacular that he purchased 125,000 acres in the Blue Ridge Mountains for his summer estate. His legacy is the Biltmore Estate, embodying his vision as well as that of architect Richard Morris Hunt, supervising architect Richard Sharp Smith, and landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted.

[photo] Biltmore Banquet Hall
Photo courtesy of the Biltmore Company

The centerpiece is the Biltmore House, a four-story French Renaissance manor designed by Hunt and completed in 1895. Exterior walls are Indiana limestone brought by rail to the site. Its steeply pitched roof has a copper roofline with Vanderbilt's initials repeatedly inscribed along the crest. Said to be the largest private house in the United States, the interior floor area of the 250-room house covers four acres. It was designed as a country retreat for Vanderbilt, his family and friends, and to showcase his vast collection of art and antiques gathered in world travels--a collection that remains intact today. At a time when bathrooms were virtually unheard of, Biltmore House had 43. There are 65 fireplaces and three kitchens, along with 34 bedrooms, a grand Banquet Hall and a Library containing 10,000 volumes. Frederick Law Olmsted designed the three-mile approach road and the estate's gardens including the Walled Garden, an Azalea Garden with one of the country's most complete collections of native and hybrid azaleas, a formal Italian Garden and a glass Conservatory.

[photo] George W Vanderbilt
Photo courtesy of the Biltmore Company
Included on the estate's present 8,000 acres are vineyards that provide more than 250 tons of grapes for the Biltmore Estate Winery, as well as farmland, pastures and forests. In addition to Biltmore House, the estate operates four restaurants, eight shops and its award-winning winery. The 213-room Inn on Biltmore Estate opened in spring 2001. Biltmore Estate is still privately owned and operated by George W. Vanderbilt's descendants.

A National Historic Landmark, the Biltmore Estate entrance is located on U.S. Hwy. 25, at exit 50 off I-40 or four miles north of the Blue Ridge Parkway. The Estate is open to the public every day except Thanksgiving and Christmas, January-March from 9:00am to 4:00pm and April-December from 8:30am to 5:00pm. There is an admission charge to visit the estate. For more information, visit their website or call 800-624-1575.

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