Before I moved south, I had a friend who, when she found out where I was moving, got all excited and told me I had to visit the Biltmore Estate. Well, I’ve always liked history and loved old things, but I had no idea why I was told that I “had” to visit the Biltmore Estate. What was so special about a large old castle-like house? Yes, it was supposed to be surrounded by extremely beautiful mountains, but was it really a must see?
The History of the Biltmore Estate
Anyone who has the mistaken idea, as I did, that the Biltmore Estate is nothing more than a castle-like old mansion of the Vanderbilt family, has never visited the place and knows nothing about the purpose of its founding.
In the 1800s, George Washington Vanderbilt II decided to have a Châteauesque-styled mansion built in the beautiful North Carolina Mountains surrounding Asheville. His idea was that it would be his “little mountain escape.” He wanted it to be a “working estate,” like those in Europe. However, his “little” estate became the largest privately owned house in the United States with 178,926 square feet of floor space and 250 rooms. In other words, it takes more than just a few hours to explore just the house itself.
Biltmore House Is Only a Small Part of Biltmore Estate
Today, Biltmore Estate is referred to as the “legacy of the land.” There is good reason for that. As stated in North Carolina History:
“Vanderbilt’s project to build his house helped to boost the small economy of Asheville. He needed ‘hundreds of laborers and craftsmen in stone and wood’ to build such a magnificent house so he was able to supply people with steady jobs and wages. Also, a three-mile railroad track was specifically built to connect the main line to the location of the house in order to ship in needed materials, such as limestone. The construction of this track cost about $80,000 by itself (Covington 21). Vanderbilt did not only supply jobs in the construction of his house but in the construction of the track as well. This project also helped pour money into the local economy. After the building process was completed, the people of Asheville still used the track to import goods into the town.”
Once the house was completed in 1895, Vanderbilt continued to develop the land around the house with tenant farms, a small town, a church, and a school. He wanted the estate to be self-sustaining and to produce its own income. It had its own personal dairy farm with 200 cows, its own herds of sheep, swine and poultry, as well as gardens and nurseries. It even had its own beehives for honey. Some of that exists to this day; you can explore the ground by foot, bicycle, horse-drawn wagon, or horseback. There’s no end to the fun of exploration at Biltmore Estate.
November and December at the Biltmore Estate
Although the Biltmore Estate is open year round and always has special events scheduled, it was right after Thanksgiving, before the 1st of December, when I visited the Biltmore Estate for the first time.
It was the very end of August when I had made my move from New Jersey to the upstate of South Carolina. As Thanksgiving approached, a new friend started to talk about how special November and December were at the Biltmore Estate. She told me that we must take a day and go up the mountain so I could see the place all decorated for Christmas. According to her it was the best time to view the estate for the first time.
Every year the Christmas season is heralded in with a tree-raising ceremony with this year’s taking place on November 5th. And each year, the tallest tree to be decorated comes up Approach Road to the Biltmore House. It travels by horse-drawn carriage and is accompanied by Mr. and Mrs. Claus. The tree is then taken into the Banquet Hall where it is raised to position to be decorated.
The Biltmore House was first opened to the friends and family of George Vanderbilt on Christmas Eve, 1895. Anyone visiting the house today can still enjoy a house decorated with dozens of trees, thousands of ornaments and miles of brightly lit evergreen garlands. The decorations are up from November 7th to January 11th.
Candlelight Christmas Evening at the Biltmore Estate is an event that has attracted thousands over the years. Candles and fireplaces glow throughout the house from November 7th to January 3rd.
Fun for the Whole Family at Biltmore Estate
If you have young children, be sure to visit Antler Hill Barn on a Saturday or Sunday from November 8th through December 21st Santa is there each weekend from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. He will also be there the Friday after Thanksgiving.
And how about having a Biltmore Estate Pastry Chef help you build your gingerbread house this year? For three days, from December 18th to December 20th, you cannot only build your gingerbread house, but you can also enjoy afternoon tea with assorted tea sandwiches.
The Biltmore Estate is not just an old, big mansion from days gone by. Visit the Biltmore Estate website and plan a trip that is truly a wonderful, unforgettable experience.