Engineering Marvels of the Last Century

April 7, 2023
3 min read
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Once one of the most influential and affluent families in America, the Vanderbilt Family was once considered royalty but have since squandered their enormous wealth away. During their golden years, however, they built many impressive structures and estates, which are still considered monuments of Architecture, Art, & Engineering to this day.

Most of the estates they previously owned have been sold off, with only the Biltmore Estate still residing in the family’s hands, now as a museum that anyone can visit. The estate resides on a little over 120,000 acres of land in Asheville, NC. The residence began construction at the behest of George Vanderbilt in 1889 and opened on Christmas Eve of 1895. The size and scale of the home required that a wood working factory, kiln for bricks, as well as accommodations for the works, be built on the site along with a 3-mile-long railroad spur to bring in the remaining materials that could not be made on-site such as slate from Pennsylvania for the roof and limestone for the facade in Indiana.

At the time, the house was constructed with modern amenities that most people wouldn’t have for many years, such as electricity, running water (@90 psi mind you), toilets, an intercom system for the rooms, and even central forced air (heating only). All power at the time was generated on-site, and the house was wired for DC current. The reason for DC and not AC current was that George had the thought that DC was going to be used everywhere due to his family’s dealings with Edison growing up, which heavily influenced his decision to electrify the entire house. The home also included an underground pool and even a bowling alley.

In the 1930s, the house was opened to the public as a museum, with all but one of the family members moving off the property to live elsewhere. During WW2, the home was kept under armed guard as the family volunteered the estate to store rare works of art from being stolen or destroyed. The last member of the family to stay in the home passed away in 1956. Since then, the estate has been operated as a historic house museum with preservation in mind to help show visitors how the family lived during the turn of the last century.

Today, the estate sees over 1.4 million visitors a year who can tour the residence and visit the on-site vineyard. If you are up to it, stay at the Biltmore hotel which is located just a short distance from the residence. The estate is also a popular venue for weddings and other celebrations. I recommend visiting at least once as the art and architecture on display are truly a marvel to see in person, and photos do not do it justice.



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