Friday, August 26, 2011

A Visit to the Biltmore Estate, Gardens, & Kitchens in Asheville, NC


Biltmore Estate is a French Renaissance style chateau in Asheville, North Carolina and is referred to as “America’s largest home.” The estate sits on 8,000 acres and was built by George Vanderbilt at the height of the Gilded Age in the late 1800’s. Biltmore House is the largest privately-owned home in the United States and presents a detailed portrait of what life was like on a great 19th century grand country estate.
 
At the end of the 19th century, Asheville was a popular health resort where tourists arrived by train to enjoy the mineral springs and fresh air of the southern Appalachian mountains. One of those people was George Washington Vanderbilt, III, a member of one of the oldest, wealthiest, and best known families in America. He visited Asheville in 1888 as a bachelor with his mother and fell in love with the rugged beauty of the rural mountain setting. George traveled to Europe at age ten and visited Europe, Asia, and Africa numerous times during his adult life. But it was the mountains of western North Carolina that captured his heart.


Since no photos are allowed inside of the mansion, I hope you will enjoy our photos of the Biltmore’s grand Conservatory and the Walled Flower Gardens. Plants and flowers from the garden were important as decorations for the mansion and a special room was set aside in the basement for a floral design staff.

I’ll give you a little history of the building of the Biltmore and then, because this is a food site, some insight about how the Vanderbilt’s and their guest dined and what the kitchens were like.

Conservatory

In the late 1800’s, land in Asheville was inexpensive and George Vanderbilt began purchasing large parcels, eventually owning 125,000 acres. Here he planned to build his estate, one where he would entertain his friends, but also be a showcase for his priceless collections of artwork and furnishing from around the world. He used the large baronies in Europe as an inspiration to build a profitable, self-sustaining estate to rival those of Europe.

To accomplish this monumental task, George hired two prominent Americans. One was architect Richard Morris Hunt, who was responsible for the main façade of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the pedestal for the Statue of Liberty. The other was Frederick Olmstead, known as the founding father of American landscape architecture. Olmstead designed New York’s Central Park and the grounds of the US Capitol. Together with George Vanderbilt, they designed the Biltmore Estate, a marvel of modern technology that rivaled the greatest manor homes in Europe with the finest architecture, landscaping, and interior design American had to offer.


The Biltmore House consists of 4 acres of floor space, 250 rooms, 33 family and guest rooms, 43 bathrooms, 65 fireplaces, 3 kitchens, a gymnasium, and an indoor swimming pool. It also had central heat, electricity, indoor plumbing, and fire alarms – and this was in 1895. The 125,000 acre grounds contained vast wooded forests, farms, a dairy, and horse stables for the estate, a 250 acre wooded park, 5 pleasure gardens, and 30 miles of rambling roadways.

The Vanderbilt’s entertained lavishly and guests would say for weeks at a time. It was the job of Edith, George’s wife, whom he met and married in Paris after he built Biltmore, to plan the activities of the day for their guests and work with the domestic staff for meal planning. Quite a job for a new bride wouldn’t you say.

George & Edith met and married in Paris

Dinner was formal attire, served in Banquet Hall, the largest room in the mansion. Banquet Hall is 72’ x 42’ with a 70’ barrel-vaulted ceiling and has a long oak table that seats 32 with 2 gilt throne chairs for the hosts in front of a huge triple fireplace. Although massive, the room had perfect acoustics.  Two people sitting at opposite ends of the dining table can converse without having to raise their voices. A small, more intimate table is also available in front of the fireplace in case the Vanderbilt’s happened to be dining alone. A smaller dining room off of Banquet Hall serves as a breakfast and luncheon room, where a 6-course lunch was served at one o’clock. The Vanderbilt’s dined on gold-rimmed Minton china, and drank from monogrammed French Baccarat crystal glasses.


As was the custom in country estates, the downstairs level, or basement, served three purposes. It contained the recreation areas, such a gymnasium and indoor swimming pool, that were used for the family and their guests. It also housed bedrooms and common rooms for the domestic staff. But it was also where the real work of the house took place and was designed to keep domestic chores out of sight and sound of the Vanderbilts and their guests.

You could compare the Biltmore’s kitchen complex to that of a large hotel and it was designed for maximum efficiency. There are numerous rooms devoted to pantries, including the housekeeper’s pantry, which doubled as storage and an office for the head housekeeper. As extraordinary as it sounds, there were walk-in food coolers at the end of the 19th century. A separate room was provided for a pastry kitchen to keep it away from the heat. A rotisserie kitchen where pheasant, duck, venison, and other animals brought back from shoot parties, were smoked in an iron rotisserie oven, fueled by wood or coal.


Most of the cooking took place in the spacious main kitchen, which was stocked with the latest culinary equipment available. Large numbers of chefs, cooks, and maids turned out everything from the Vanderbilt’s lavish dinners to a cup of tea for a thirsty guest. Meals prepared in the basement kitchens were transported to the first floor Banquet Hall’s butler’s pantry, where they were transferred onto serving dishes. The servants responsible for this chore were called “tweenies” because they brought food between the kitchen and the dining room. Warming carts were sent upstairs from the downstairs butler’s pantry, which had two dumb waiters, one manual and one electric. The butler’s pantry was also used to store and wash china.

I’ll share an interesting little story about the head chef with you. As I mentioned earlier, the basement also housed recreation areas for guests, including a two lane bowling alley, one of the first in a private home. The rear wall of the bowling alley backed up to the head chef’s quarters. If guests bowled late into the evening, the noise from the pins hitting wall of the chef’s room would keep him awake. During the tour we were told that if that happened, guests could expect a cranky chef the next morning at breakfast.


The basement also contained a servants’ dining room, two laundries, a drying and ironing room, and kitchen staff bedrooms. Other female maid’s rooms were on the fourth floor in the main house and the male domestic staff lived on the second floor of the stable and carriage house. Servants received breakfast, dinner, supper, mid-morning and mid-afternoon snacks daily, with dinner served at 12 noon. The head chef’s assistant prepared food for the servants and a dining-hall maid served their meals. The dining-hall maid was also responsible for keeping the room clean and maintaining all of the servant’s dishes and cutlery. Their meal typically consisted of a soup course, a meat course with vegetables, and dessert. The staff’s supper was around 5 or 5:30 pm, so they were available to prepare and serve the Vanderbilt’s meals later in the evening.


The Vanderbilt’s were gracious hosts and welcomed family and friends to the Biltmore where great attention was paid to each and every detail. We decided to experience what it was like to be a guest of George and Edith Vanderbilt and actually stay on the Estate. We celebrated my birthday by spending the night at the Inn on Biltmore Estate where we dined in luxury. In my next post I’ll have more about the Inn on Biltmore Estate and our dining experience.


I am linking this to Garden Tuesday at Sidewalk Shoes and Oh the Places I've Been at the Tablescaper. Be sure to drop by and see what's growing in gardens this time of the year.

54 comments:

  1. What a dreamlike and peaceful place! Thanks for sharing those pictures with us.

    Cheers,

    Rosa

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  2. Isn't it a fabulous place? We've been "guests" of the Vanderbilts a number of times in the past. The house is amazing and the gardens are breathtaking. Our first trip was in the spring. Later we visited in fall and early winter. We haven't been since the new inn was built on the grounds. Our last visit we stayed at the Grove Park Inn which was a lovely and delicious experience. Can't wait to hear more.

    Best,
    Bonnie

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  3. When we first moved to Tennessee, we made several trips to Biltmore and I think it cost $5 a car to get in - before they decided they could make money rather than spend money on it. There wasn't as much of the mansion open as now and I really should make another trip. We considered buying the place at one point but decided the grounds were just too much for the two of us to keep up.

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  4. I loved visiting Builtmore. We took the kids a few years ago for their candlelight tour at Christmas time and it was lovely. I would love to go back with just my husband sometime this Fall so that we could do some wine tasting while we are there.

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  5. Great post Sam, and it brought back many memories of my trips to the mansion. I hear it is stunning at Christmas!

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  6. Once upon a time I worked near Asheville, NC and this was one of the visiting highlights. You captured it in all it's amazement and glory.

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  7. You captured it perfectly. I am lucky that I live 15 minutes away. We have annual passes and go quite often, In fact on Sept 17
    we are going to a very special event called The Moveable Feast. We will be dining outdoors on a hill top at the back of the estate. It is a seven course meal with wine pairings. I can't wait!

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  8. I'm sure it's gorgeous. I've been near it many times but never stopped and will have to change that. Thanks for the great "tour!"

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  9. I love Biltmore! We have been lucky enough to be able to ride our horses there a couple of times. Such a nice place to visit. That conservatory is out of this world! Especially when the tulips are in bloom.

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  10. I love the Biltmore! I've only been at Christmas, though.

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  11. What a dreamy estate and lifestyle of that era. I have been many times over the years when my parents lived nearby. It is gorgeous year-round but Christmas is almost magical.

    Bises,
    Genie

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  12. Lovely post Sam, I would love to see this place, but your photos and dialogue let me see it through your eyes. Diane

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  13. What a glorious place! You have captured wonderful photos.

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  14. Oh, I absolutely LOVE Biltmore. The house, the grounds, the gardens, the winery - just absolutely love it. Every time I visit I see something new or different. I stayed at the Inn for a couple days one time and it was heaven. Beautiful rooms, the food was delicious, and we enjoyed afternoon tea while we were there. The service was amazing, too. Your post makes me long to go back.

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  15. What a place:) Cute pied-à -terre:)

    I love the Conservatory..it is exceptionally beautiful..the little half hidden Paris signage..the clay pots..bicycle..

    Must be nice to ride horses there~

    Florida friends of ours built a home with a bowling alley in the basement..just recently..wonder if hey knew about the Biltmore..

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  16. Beautiful photos! I would love to see this in person one day;-)

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  17. Oh, how lovely! I have got to get there one day! Your photos are awesome. I especially like the conservatory. Nice building.

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  18. Thanks for sharing your visit to this elegant home - it's beautiful and I can imagine ladies in all their finery taking high tea in one of the high ceiling rooms - the conservatory is a delight.
    Have a safe and enjoyable week-end Sam. xx

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  19. What a beautiful well-kept place! What a wonderful birthday to stay at the Biltmore. Happy Belated Birthday to you, Sam!

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  20. The gardens are one of my favorite parts of the Biltmore estate, and your photos are fabulous. Thanks for reminding me of my visits, and can't wait for your next post! A smashing place to celebrate your birthday.

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  21. Thanks for the tour. Gorgeous photos.

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  22. The conservatory truly has the WOW factor. I should take a drive down that way from Roanoke and see it since it's only a couple hours from here!

    Thanks for the photos today!!

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  23. Goodness, quite the place! Thanks for taking the time to write that all up Sam.

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  24. What an interesting post; would love to visit this place; great photos.
    Rita

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  25. The Biltmore House is such a splendid place to visit -- I'm always enthralled by the below stairs part -- all that it took to keep things running smoothly.

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  26. It's a gorgeous mansion with fascinating history! We need to visit there soon! I can't wait to read about your dining experience!

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  27. I visited Biltmore when I was very young. I don't remember much, but I do remember that amazing facade and the impossibly long banquet table. Loved seeing your photos, and it makes me think I should visit again.

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  28. Wow, great post, Sam. I would love to visit this magnificent estate someday. I can't even imagine a home that large. What a lovely place to spend your birthday. I'm looking forward to reading about your dinner.

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  29. Blown away. Alexis and I just HAVE to get over there to see that tiny house.

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  30. Fabulous photos! Another spot to add to my bucket list :)

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  31. That's on my list of places to visit -- sigh -- we toured many English homes this spring and found those kitchens interesting. Alas, like you, we were sorry that no photos could be taken inside!

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  32. Great pictures. I have always wanted to visit there and now you have made me felt like I was there with you. Amazing- hope you had a great weekend

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  33. These photos are so beautiful and interesting! I visited some mansions in Rhode Island years ago (or was it nearby?) In any case, I enjoy this virtual tour and all the info, thanks!

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  34. What a nice place to visit. I really like the gardens.

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  35. love the biltmore estate great post Sam will share pictures on facebook as soon as he arrives :-) my mum comes tomorrow

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  36. Wow Sam, that a nice place...I love the pictures of the garden...so soothing. Thank you for the nice virtual tour.
    Hope you have a fantastic week :-)

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  37. Lovely! It's absolutely beautiful there, can't wait to hear was your luxurious dinner was like :)

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  38. Wow - gorgeous! I'd love to see inside :)

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  39. Wow that is some estate. You must have really enjoyed it. Thanks for stopping by, loved the visit.
    Cher Sunray Gardens

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  40. Stunning! The Biltmore is unique in American architecture. I have had good intentions over the years to visit. Your post is a reminder.

    Velva

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  41. Loved the post! I haven't been in years-but you made me want to go again! Great photos.

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  42. Gorgeous! I've always wanted to visit there.

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  43. What incredible gardens. I must put that on my list of destinations to see!

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  44. You have really captured the breathtaking beauty of the Biltmore. I also love Ashville! The gardens are magnificent! When we were there we did not spend as much time as I would have liked in the gardens! Thanks for taking us on a visual field trip!
    Yvonne

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  45. Thanks you for such an excellent write up and taking us along on your trip! How beautiful! I felt like I was in Europe!

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  46. Biltmore is so beautiful; yet we've never visited outside of the Christmas season. Your photos help me feel as if I am right there, Sam! I'm behind in my blog visiting due to work, so insane this year for some reason. So I'm off to read more of your posts about Biltmore and your latest recipes! Have a safe and restful Labor Day weekend Sam!

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  47. Biltmore is so beautiful; yet we've never visited outside of the Christmas season. Your photos help me feel as if I am right there, Sam! I'm behind in my blog visiting due to work, so insane this year for some reason. So I'm off to read more of your posts about Biltmore and your latest recipes! Have a safe and restful Labor Day weekend Sam!

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  48. I am even more enthralled with visiting the Biltmore someday after reading this post, Sam! I enjoyed learning more of it's history from you.

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  49. While living in Asheville, lived very near the Estate and one of my neighbors had been body guard to the two boys. (Can't rmember thier last name. Too many years ago) Heard wonderful stories of their lives. Lasting memories. Thank you for renewing them.

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  50. My visit to Biltmore Estate was many years ago, so it's fun to see this updated visit. Thanks for taking us along.

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  51. I've always wanted to visit. Thanks for sharing.

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  52. Wow, amazing photos. Biltmore Estate os much more magnificent and immense than I thought. Thanks for the sharing the photos and details, I felt I went on a tour myself.

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Sam