Sunday, October 4, 2015

Asheville, North Carolina 9/30/2015 - 10/5/2015

We went to Asheville, North Carolina to become familiar with the town in terms of it being a possible landing spot for us in the future.  While we were here for 5 days, unfortunately three of those days were while hurricane Joaquin was raging along the Eastern United States and Ashevile felt her pain.  Our first day here the weather held fairly well and we took the opportunity to visit the Biltmore House.  The remaining 4 days it rained 3 of those days with some areas experiencing flood warnings.  In the rain we visited the various neighborhoods.  There are some really beautiful houses in this area.  Our investigation, however, found that many of the really special properties we saw on the internet are a bit remote and are reached by traveling up unpaved narrow roads that the two of us agreed we would not want to deal with on a daily basis. On our last day we saw mostly clear skies and we finally got to see the downtown area that has many cool artistic shops and restaurants.

We were glad that we took our first day out to visit the Biltmore House, with 'house' being a huge understatement.   The scale, scenery and lifestyle is difficult to get ones arms around.  They do not allow any interior pictures.  We highly recommend that you take a moment to tour the few pictures that they post on their website. Much of the narrative posted below is written, following the order of the posted pictures from their website, posted at this link.  Photo Tour

The Biltmore House was built by George Vaderbilt between 1889 and 1895.  With its 4 acres of floor space and 252 rooms it is said to be the largest house in the United States.  The house includes 33 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms, 65 fireplaces, 3 kitchens, a 70,000 gallon indoor pool, a billiard room, gymnasium with equipment, an indoor bowling alley, and 19th Century marvels such as elevators, fire alarms, forced air heating, intercoms and a central running clock system.

The building of the house is an interesting study in itself.  During the six year construction the front of the home had its own mini town with various factories producing materials needed in construction.  The on site kiln produced up to 32,000 brick per day.  There was even a private railroad built to bring materials from the village depot 3 miles away.  This railroad was later used to transport the bags of their guests, assuring that guest bags were in the guest rooms when they arrived.

Our partial tour of the house took about three hours to complete. 
There are additional house areas that we did not tour but there is just so much to take in and 3 hours with the rest of the day was good for us.  We choose to purchase the audio tour and we were glad that we did. There is so much we would have missed had we not made this choice.  This discussion of our audio tour will follow in the order of the linked pictures link above.  Note, we visited so many more rooms than in this photo link, but hopefully this will give you a taste of the wonderful day we had.  Our tour had us begin in the marbled entrance hall.  As we walked through this entrance we were marveled by the large octagonal sunken interior winter garden. In the center of the Garden is the large bronze sculpture 'Boy Steeling Geese' by Karl Bitter. 

The Banquet Hall is the largest room in the house.  It measures 42' X 72' and has an impressive 70' high vaulted barrel ceiling.  The banquet table could serve 62 guests.  At one end of the hall is a 1916 Skinner pipe organ.  Organ  Our audio tour told us about how one of the servants dropped a tray of plates once and was expecting the worst.  George Vanderbilt is said to have kindly walked over and helped the servant with the plates and was kind and compassionate.

The breakfast room was used for more intimate family meals.  The breakfast room with its hand-tooled Spanish leather covered walls is also colored with a couple of original Renoir paintings.

The loggia is located just outside of the tapestry gallery.  Standing on the loggia, we could see how its placement was designed for both the enjoyment of the wonderful view and also for the cool breeze that occurs there.  The second picture we took below in this blog is taken standing on the loggia.....  aka pictures were allowed outside but not inside.  We had to agree the view was great.

George loved books and he had a collection of  23,000.  Approximately half of this collection he kept in the library. The 18th century ceiling painting in the library, 'Chariot of Aurora' by Pellegrini was obtained from a Venetian Palace.  Like so many treasures throughout the house it was acquired by George on one of his many international travels. Many rooms in the house had hidden doors and the library did as well.  The hidden door in the library went to various guest rooms to enable some of his guests to get to the library directly.  The library is filled with many notable rare books, and many of these are first editions.

The 90 foot long tapestry room was often used for afternoon tea.  The room displays 3 tapestries from a set of 7 depicting the seven human virtues.  The tapestries were woven in Brussels in approximately 1530.  Each of these tapestries, woven with wool, silk and gold, would take five years to plan and another five years to weave.

The Grand Staircase with its 102 steps is a cantilevered marvel with each of its solid limestone steps being counter balanced by the weight of the wall bearing down.  The staircase is said to have been inspired by the staircase at the Chateau de Blois in Lorene Valley.  Besides the picture in the photo tour link, the exterior of that same staircase can be seen in the first picture of the house exterior below.  The massive chandelier that hangs in the center of this staircase is 1700 lbs and is supported by a single bolt that runs through the steel girders under the dome roof.  It is said that bolt has been replaced just once.

George's bedroom, located on the second floor, is filled with heavily carved and turned walnut furniture pieces designed with a Baroque inspiration by his architect William Morris Hunt.  This room was decorated with 22K gold leaf wall coverings.  His private connected bathroom has a tub carved from a single piece of marble.   George's bedroom was connected to his Wife's bedroom via the very private  Oak sitting room.  Our audio tour explained that during this time, while wealthy couples might have separate bedrooms to facilitate their servants helping them change into their various daily required outfits for the day, these couples still tended to sleep together.  

Mrs. Vanderbilt's bedroom is oval in shape and decorated in Louis XV style.  George had it designed and decorated prior to his wife's arrival after their honeymoon.  The room has silk covered walls, Savonnerie carpets, cut velvet drapes and bedspread.  The clock on the mantel is thought to be a Phillip Barat's masterpiece that won him entry into the French Clock-maker's Guild in 1764.

The Oak Sitting room was used exclusively by George and his wife Edith and was their perfect hideaway.  It is said that they often would take their morning breakfast in this room.  Twin fireplaces mark each end of the room, the walls are warm wood caved and the ceiling is an ornate plaster.

The third floor has many guest rooms, all with a name that normally described the room's furnishings.  The Earlom room is one of these guest rooms.

The third floor living hall was dedicated to the Vanderbilt's guests and was more casual than similar areas on the second floor.  Guests would read, visit and play games in this room.

The more lavish guest rooms were located on the second floor.  The Claude room is one of these as was named after one of George's favorite artists, Claude Lorraine.

The Damask room is so named for the damask silk curtains that surround its windows.  It too is located on the second floor.

The Louis XV room was a special room.  It was a birthing room of sorts.  Edith bore her only child Cornelia in this room.  The room's liberal doses of gold and silk make this room literally shine on a sunny morning.  Later Cornelia (George and Edith's daughter) would birth her two sons in this room as well.

The story behind the Halloween room was not known for years.  Finally it was discovered that in 1925 a New Year's party was held by John and Cornelia Cecil (married name).  At the party the guests were all invited to paint the walls.  Just recently it was discovered that the scene is not a Halloween scene with bats and black cats, but rather scenes from Russian tale La Chauve-Souris, meaning the bat.

The 70,000 gallon indoor pool had no filtration system.  The pool would be filled for a swim,   steamed water would be added for temperature control, there were resting ropes hung throughout the pool for swimmers and underwater lights when few home had electricity.  There were numerous changing rooms off of the pool area as well, of course separated for men and women and a shower areas too. After a swim, due to no filtration, the pool would be drained.  There are numerous accounts of the room being haunted, but for us, all seemed normal.

The gymnasium was impressive for the time.  There were climbing ropes, bar bells, rowing machines and showers.

The kitchen was impressive as so were the meals prepared there.  They had walk in refrigerators (unheard of for the day) and huge storage rooms for meal provisions.   Serving a special meal to guests was so very important especially since much would be written up about this meal in society articles later. 

 The servants throughout the estate ran off of a central clock.  One clock, controlled the changing of numerous clocks throughout the property. 

The servants quarters picture shows that the servants, mainly of British decent, were treated well concerning both their living quarters and their meals too.  As one might expect, however, they worked many hours and had little sleep or rest time.

Leaving the house, we had a great lunch on the property and then headed off to other areas on this large estate.  We toured the gardens, Bass Lake and the winery where we participated in their wine tasting.  The winery has been operating for over 30 years and replaced the dairy farm that originally was part of the property.  We learned a lot about how they filter out the residue in wine and also how they create champagne and bottle that champagne.    

The garden areas we toured were impressive, Bass Pond and a small waterfall were delightful as well.  The day was so much more full than we expected when we started out.

As mentioned earlier, we spent the next 3 days in the pouring rain visiting the various surrounding areas.  While it was raining, we could still see the beautiful fall colors and we learned a lot concerning the various cute towns that surround Asheville, NC and also enjoyed some of their great food.

Our last day, totally unexpected, we were treated with good weather.  We explored the downtown area where there are numerous great restaurants and artistic shops to explore.  Oh and we failed to  mention... we had.great neighbors here near our campsite that we exchange advice and stories with which is always a lot of fun.

We head off in the morning towards Stone Mountain, GA.

Biltmore House
View from Loggia
Biltmore House
Bass Lake
Biltmore House
Biltmore House
Biltmore House
Biltmore House
Biltmore House
Biltmore House
Biltmore House

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