IN ASHEVILLE there’s a bullseye on the sidewalk in front of the Jackson Building, supposedly marking the spot where several of the city’s richest men hit the pavement following the stock market crash of 1929, which erased their fortunes.
Not all of the area’s wealth was destroyed by the Great Depression, though, as the 6th edition of Moon North Carolina notes: Asheville’s architectural crown jewel, the Biltmore Estate, survived, as it does to this day.
Built in the late 1880s by George Vanderbilt, grandson of Gilded Age robber baron Cornelius Vanderbilt, it’s meant to ressemble a 16th-century Loire Valley château and was once the largest privately owned home in America, with over 250 rooms, 65 fireplaces “and room upon room of masterwork in tiling, woodworking and carving, masonry and stone carving.” Its art collection includes works by Renoir, Whistler and John Singer Sargent, as well as Napoleon’s chess set. At Christmas, an 11-metre tree twinkles in the banquet hall.
Originally it was set in 50,000 hectares, of which 3,000 survive—still enough to support a vineyard, livestock and a farm, and the five-kilometre road through manicured forests to its front door.
“For its time,” says the guidebook, “the Biltmore was a technological marvel, with electricity, elevators, central heat, and hot water.” In the basement are a heated pool, gynasium and bowling alley.
Most of the house is open for self-guided tours; other parts, like the roof and some servants’ areas, can be viewed on behind-the-scenes tours. For more information visit www.biltmore.com.
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