Saturday, November 2, 2013

Spending Time at the Biltmore Estate

Rob described the Biltmore Estate as ostentatious. To me, the word ostentatious implies a vulgar display, something pretentious or gaudy. I found the entire Biltmore Estate to be so tastefully done that the word ostentatious did not come to mind. It was like a grand hotel. I would use the word opulent. One could almost compare it to the huge home Bill Gates and his wife built; however, the difference being that Bill Gates earned his money and George Washington Vanderbilt inherited his. Both men, though, made a difference to their communities and country. Vanderbilt's greatest contribution, to my way of thinking, was his interest in forestry and the scientific discovery and growth in agriculture. Carl A. Schenck was hired to manage and grow the estate's vast forest land and Vanderbilt encouraged him to start the first forestry education program in the U.S. He also wanted his estate to be self-supporting. By doing this he created employment for a multitude of local residents in his dairy, and poultry, cattle and hog farms as well as employment within the home and gardens. He even started Biltmore Industries, which made furniture of styles similar to those found in the grand home. Although the dairy is no longer in existence on the property, Vanderbilt's great-grandson, William Cecil Jr., began the Biltmore Winery in the old milking barn. The Biltmore Estate, to this day, continues to employ 1,900 people, and it is still family owned and operated.

When Rob and I entered the house for the tour, we encountered a sign that said any and all photography was prohibited. My fingers itched incessantly to get my camera up to my eye because there was so much to see. As is my wont, I wanted to take close-up photos of wood moulding and columns and furniture and railings. If you want to see good photos of the rooms themselves, you need only go to There is no way I could have taken good photos of the rooms. To do so requires time and proper lighting.

We only got to see a portion of the home. The upper levels were roped off, but I imagine those areas were more bedrooms. The house contains 42 bathrooms (or was is 47?), which was nearly unheard of in the days of it's construction. In a few of the bedrooms were dress forms displaying period clothing for both men and women and, in the servants quarters, uniforms. Once you were on the second level, there were so many different stairways and passageways that one could get lost in the place for weeks at a time.

Down in the basement, I especially enjoyed the kitchens. Yes, I said kitchens as in plural. There were two refrigerated rooms for fruit, vegetables and dairy items, an entire room just for canned goods, a butler's pantry where most of the cutlery and crockery were stored, two dumbwaiters; and, a room just for baking pastries, one for roasting meats and one for stovetop cooking, general food prep and washing up. Just close your eyes and you could imagine the bustle of cooks, maids and footmen preparing meals for the family and guests. What I can't imagine is how hot those rooms must have gotten in the height of summer! Also in the basement was a swimming pool, exercise room and small, private rooms, one after the other, meant for guests to change into swimwear and back again. I didn't count the rooms, but it must've been 6 or 8 at least—maybe more!

When it came to photography, I had to satisfy myself with the exterior attractions. While Rob rested on a bench, I walked down to the conservatory, which was beautiful with an abundance of plants, a few of which I'd never seen. The orchid room was nothing but a plethora of blooms. The walled garden just off the conservatory was in transition from summer's to winter's display. I would love to see the garden in late spring. I wish I could have seen what they had in mind for winter, but the majority of the beds were freshly tilled soil, so I didn't aim my camera toward them.

We were fortunate to buy our Biltmore tickets through Mama Gertie's as we got a perk that isn't part of the normal entry ticket. We paid two dollars less per person and received tickets good for two consecutive days. Tickets are usually for one day only. We saw the house and gardens nearby on the first day, and visited 'Antler Village' on the second. Antler Village is where the dairy barn is located, now a winery. We took the winery tour, did some wine tasting, wandered the gift shop, ate ice cream at the creamery and toured an exhibit of items and photographs of the Vanderbilt family. In that exhibit, I took photographs until I was noticed and asked not to photograph anything. Oops. Oh, well. I'm not deleting them! Smirk.

After our first day at the Biltmore, we came home to a lovely evening. Rob poured himself his vodka rocks and took himself outside for a cigar. Next, I heard him call to me to come out and see this cat that wandered into our camp. I came out to find a beautiful, black cat, so friendly and purring, but as soon as I stroked him I could tell he was nothing but skin and bones. I hightailed it inside to get some kitty treats but when he scarfed that down like he was starving, I went back to fill a bowl with kibble. I filled the bowl a second time before he was satisfied and his belly was big and round. I could actually feel some of the hastily devoured, round nubs of kibble through the skin on his belly. We talked with Tom, the owner of Mama Gertie's, and he said that three dogs and two cats, one of which was this cat, were left behind by campers just this year. He said the dogs were easy to corral and get to shelters, but the cats prove more elusive, naturally. This kitty would have never made it through the winter and it was obvious that he has no real hunting skills, let alone instincts, as evidenced by his emaciated state. It took only a month for him to get to this point, as apparently that's how long ago his previous owners abandoned him.

When this cat came back to us in the morning, we fed him breakfast. Then I started looking into no-kill shelters in the area. I called and left a message at one and emailed the other. I still haven't heard back from them. But, nonetheless, we decided to keep the cat and named him Spooky in honor of his coming to us to stay on Halloween. I set up a vet visit and found that Spooky is negative for kitty leukemia and aids, is basically healthy and is anywhere from one to two years in age—give or take.

The first night Spooky was with us, high winds were expected so Rob and I headed outside to stow our chairs, tables and the awning. Spooky bolted outside as soon as we opened the door and disappeared into the dark. I wondered how long he'd be gone. No sooner had he bolted, he wandered right back into camp. I scooped him up and put him back inside and he hasn't tried to bolt since. Louis, and especially Brandy, have been challenged to tolerate, let alone accept, Spooky's presence in their space, but on Saturday morning was a small breakthrough for Louis, as Louis actually let Spooky share his wet food, eating from the same bowl. Brandy just hisses—at Louis, too. Its going to take her awhile. Thanks goodness Spooky is laid-back guy with no apparent aggressiveness and is a purring machine the second you stroke his head. As long as no impossible and unforgivable bad habits arise, then I consider not only Spooky but us as lucky, indeed. We leave here Monday morning where we'll see how well Spooky travels. He was great in the car going to the vet, but we'll see.

No photos of Spooky yet, but enjoy what I have.

This awesome spider was found outside Mama Gertie's office.

Catch them bad bugs!!

The Biltmore Estate.

There was a photograph of George Vanderbilt sitting atop the shoulders of this same lion. 

What a handsome fellow for being so old.

The view from a balcony on the rear side of the house.

It was a beautiful day.

I love the design of the dormer windows.

Behind those windows is the grand staircase.

An architectural detail I was happy to capture. I love dragons.

Just a little closer so you can see the detail.

You know how I am with bugs and we had swarms of ladybugs on this day.

The mythical Pan.

This is just one side of the house.

One of the ponds in the Italian Garden.

The only two water lily blossoms.

You'll see the full statue in a moment, but can you see the ladybugs?

Another ladybug on ancient wisteria wood.

Wisteria wood.

One of the pathways to the conservatory.

Not sure what kind of plant this is, but all the seed pods look like cotton.

Beautiful palm frond with filtered sunlight giving it definition.

In the conservatory.

A lovely Bird of Paradise bloom.

Yes, this flower really was this blue.

The orchids were marvelous.

I especially loved this orchid.

Part of the exterior of the conservatory.

Potted plants in the Walled Garden.

Love the purple berries.

A very old Japanese Maple.

The fermentation vats at the winery.

Obviously, wine barrels.

Never saw this bug before. Its an assassin bug.

Mantises are cool.

This is Lollipop. She loved getting her forehead and neck scratched.

An unauthorized photo of hand painted dishes. Wish you could see the detail.

Another hand painted piece. This is a dessert plate. Beautiful.

George Vanderbilt's Harley Davidson.

This was Napoleon's chess set… and the last photo I got before I was asked, very nicely, to stop.


  1. Beautiful photos LInda. Sounds like your having a great time. Thanks for sharing. Will send you a note when I get a few more photos up. Big news with us to announce on next blog.