14 March 2007

The Biltmore Estate

  • Four acres of floor space
  • 250 rooms
  • 34 family and guest rooms
  • 60 servants' rooms
  • 43 bathrooms
  • 65 fireplaces
  • Three kitchens
  • One 100,000-acre forest
  • One 250-acre wooded park
  • Five pleasure gardens
  • 30 miles of macadamized roadways
  • 23,000 books
  • Horse and dairy farms
  • Elevators
  • Refrigerators
  • One 700,000 gallon indoor swimming pool (with underwater lighting)
  • One bowling alley
  • One gymnasium
  • One state-of-the-art laundry complex
  • Three museum's worth of art dating to medieval times
  • And Napoleon Bonaparte's ivory chess set.
Cost upon its opening?

Nobody knows: George Washington Vanderbilt didn't keep any records. The ultra-modern Biltmore Estate opened its doors to guests on Christmas Eve, 1895, after only six years of construction. The youngest member of the railroad magnate family, 33-year-old George had no problem spending the $100 million (nearly two billion dollars at today's rate) of his father's money.

Even though I have no characters with access to that kind of money, I've been able to use bits and pieces from what I've learned about the platinum lifestyles of the Gilded Age. Biltmore's preservation and education programs are some of the best I've encountered, and the self-guided audio tour (each visitor is given a personal MP3 player) is packed with more information than I can retain. I've visited twice. The first time I bought the book, and the second time I took notes. And I'm ready to go again!

I love getting a strong sense of place in books, every bit as much as I love good stories and well-drawn characters. I think it's why I love the gothic novel: I get to explore houses and grounds I could never fully explore otherwise.

What are the most interesting settings in your books? What about books you've read? How do tours and personal visits affect your writing?


Delia DeLeest said...

I absolutely love sending my characters into speakeasies. There are so many things I love about the 1920's, but speakeasies are my favorite. I love all the cloak and dagger that's involved in running hidden, illegal gin joints and the hoops the owners have to jump through to get merchandise to sell.

DeborahBrent said...

Have you taken the behind the scenes tour? You have to sign up early or they fill up. I have an idea for a book set at Biltmore. If you have never visited this grand and privately owned estate put it on your list of places to visit and wear comfortable shoes.

Michelle Styles said...

I do know about Biltmore. It ranks up there with Hearst Castle and I forget the one up in Delaware that belonged to the Duponts.
Okay, maybe I just love visitng old houses. I have been a member of the National Trust and English Heritage over here in the UK for years as well. Old houses are just great.

I find it very useful to visit my settings whereever possible. You can different feel about the place. And I have kept notes from whereever I have travelled as well.

Rome was absolutely asmazing to visit.It is one of my favourite places. When I visited Iceland I gained a whole new appreciation for the Vikings (I had been to Norway several times before) I adored being able to ride a Viking horse.

I also love going to reconstructed sites or re-enactments. There is alot you can learn by actually speaking to people who are engaged in seeing how it was to cope. How heavy were swords for example? How bad would have the smoke been? How dark the lighting? Hands on experiences add.

Tess said...

The streets of Paris - they're so cool. Do you know they had sidewalks and streetlamps in Paris at the end of the 18th century?

Camilla said...

I really want to visit America's castles and plantation houses--in this mad obsession with all things British, we tend to forget about the millionaires and tycoons and wealthy families who lived in America around the same time as England's Upper Ten Thousand.