Heidi says, this is turning into an architectural roadtrip. Next stop, the Biltmore Estate: the largest private residence in America, and an inspiration to hedge fund managers everywhere.
Being noobs, we had no idea what to expect. We plotted the route on the iPad and set out from the Black Walnut for the 10 km drive. But just as we left town, a little more than half way there, a sign said to make a hard right to enter the estate. iPad’s new map app was wrong?
Well, no. Turns out that the entrance is still several km from the house itself. This is bigger than we thought.
Built at the end of the 19th Century, with a budget thought to be in the $5MM range (but nobody really knows), this is a country home on Lance Armstrong-strength steroids.
It reminds me of the line from Downton Abbey, where Earl Whatsit tells the lad who will inherit the property that he knows the youngster looks at the building and sees the crumbling bricks and inevitable repair bills. But the Earl sees “his life’s work”.
Biltmore was George Washington Vanderbilt’s life. He inherited ~$10MM, and never worked. Instead he orchestrated the Biltmore Estate.
The building, and the 85,000 acre property (originally 125,000) survived as a home for several decades, but was opened to the public as a tourist attraction for the Asheville area in the 1930’s. It is, today, owned by one of GW Vanderbilt’s grandkids. It is also the region’s largest employer thanks to the onsite luxe hotel, restaurants, non-luxe winery, Land Rover off-road driving school, clay shooting and fly-fishing classes etc. The staff also offers some very good tours of the house (see our guide Garret below).
A day at the Biltmore isn’t cheap (we paid ~$180 for two day passes, two audio guides (very good) and the architectural tour with Garrett. So I’d guess that the Vanderbilts aren’t hurting.
More fun facts: the building looks like a French château, but is actually constructed with a steel frame and limestone cladding. Important because Asheville sits on a pretty active fault line, and earthquakes are frequent. The grounds were designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, who is also famous for a little project called Central Park (you know, in NYC).
Next stop, the Great Smoky Mtns.