Considered to be the largest private residence in America, the immense mansion occupies a spectacular spot in the Blue Ridge mountains of Tennessee. Completed in 1895 at the height of the Gilded Age, it became an outpost for New York's Vanderbilt family, and still remains in the ownership of their descendants.
Cornelius "Commodore" Vanderbilt founded the family fortune. It was his grandson, George, who commissioned Hunt, one of the most prominent architects of the day, to design the mansion. Hunt trained in France and George traveled there often, and both admired the architecture of the Renaissance which is depicted in the design of Biltmore.
A massive entrance tower looms over the front door, which opens to a series of large rooms. The Tapestry Gallery displays three tapestries that were made around 1530 as part of an allegorical series "The Triumph of the Seven Virtues". The gallery also displays three Vanderbilt portraits, one of George Vanderbilt, his mother, and George's wife, Edith. The gallery serves as the passageway to the library. George could read in 8 languages and collected 23,000 books, the oldest dating from 1561. The room features a massive black marble fireplace with a walnut mantel. Above it hangs a 17^th century French tapestry. Vanderbilt purchased an enormous painted ceiling on 13 canvasses which once hung in the Pisani Palace in Venice. The ceiling depicts a mythological scene "The Chariot Aurora" in which the goddess Aurora and her cherubic attendants usher in the dawn.
The Banquet Hall is the mansion's largest room, with a barrel-vaulted ceiling rising 70 ft. from the floor. A 25 foot long carved limestone frieze entitled "The Return From the Chase" decorates the triple fireplace at one end of the room. The organ loft at the other end is decorated with a five-panel tableau of oak depicting a scene from Wagner's opera "Tannhauser". In addition, five Flemish tapestries of the 16^th century decorate the walls, portraying scenes from Roman mythology.
When Biltmore entertained he offered his guests such activities as a billiard room, bowling alley, an indoor swimming pool, and gymnasium. He also maintained a game preserve on the estate, as well as a stable for 25 horses. Biltmore was designed to be a self-sustaining estate supported by careful timber harvesting, farming, dairying and other enterprises. To house the workers for this operation Vanderbilt purchased a nearby town, named Biltmore Village, and provided it with a church, school, hospital, houses and shops.
Vanderbilt hired a landscape architect to plan the vast 125,000 acre estate, where he designed a 250 acre pleasure park and set aside land for farms. However, most of the land was devoted to a commercial timber forest. On his estate, George experimented with scientific farming, stock breeding and forestry. The operations George founded still help to support Biltmore which has been open to the public since the 1930s.