Monday, June 28, 2010
Maybe it's the combination of unbelievable excess -- the ceiling murals sold to noveau riche Americans by impoverished European nobility, the incredibly ugly ornate furniture that combines exquisite craftsmanship with truly hideous details, the libraries with what seem like miles of shelves of books that were obviously purchased as books-by-the-yard . . .
The Younger Daughter and I spent a couple days doing mother-daughter bonding in Asheville last week, kind of rewarding ourselves in advance helping her cousins salvage what they could in Macon, and of course we went to Biltmore. We're both total suckers for historic structures and landscapes, and Biltmore has both. The estate was Frederick Law Olmsted's last big project -- and it was more than big when the work began, it was ginormous, over 200 square miles (8000 acres remain today) -- and the house was designed by Richard Morris Hunt. We've been talking about a Biltmore expedition for several years now, and the timing was right this month.
I think one of the things I like about Biltmore is that it does include the farm exhibits and the winery. It's not just a celebration of conspicuous consumption like so many other historic houses from the Gilded Age tend to be. George Vanderbilt intended the estate to be self-sustaining, with poultry farms, hog farms, and dairy cattle. Unfortunately, he wasn't especially successful at making money, and after his death in 1914 his widow sold most of the land to the federal government -- it's now the Pisgah National Forest. His daughter, Cornelia Vanderbilt Cecil, opened the house to paid visitors in 1930.