|George Washington Vanderbilt by|
Not surprisingly, the Estate's art collection caught my attention. The "breakfast room" (which isn't as cozy as the words sound) is home to a couple of Renoirs. Several rooms hold portraits done by John Singer Sargent (including portraits of Richard Morris Hunt and Frederick Law Olmstead, the architect and landscape architect, respectively, of the Estate). And there are more than 190 woodblock engravings by Albrecht Durer that I wished I'd had time to study. I later learned (from the comfort of my couch) that the National Gallery of Art sent 67 paintings and 17 sculptures to the Biltmore Estate for safekeeping during WWII (a la "Monument Men"). (Click here to read more on this topic.)
George's library also grabbed my interest. He owned 23,000 books, and the library proper holds 10,000 of the volumes. (The narrator made a point of noting that George was a voracious reader rather than just a collector of tomes.) Special entrances were built to the library from the guest quarters on the upper floor to facilitate easy access to reading material for Biltmore visitors.
The most unexpected wing of the house was the work-out facility. The home boasts a 70,000 gallon indoor pool, complete with a diving board. The water for the pool came from a mountain reservoir four miles away and was warmed using steam heat. (Apparently, the water was warm by the time the pool was full, which is much more than I can say for my hot tub.) With no chemicals to keep the pool clean, it was filled, heated, used and drained with each use. Before or after their dip in the pool, guests could use the gym, which was decked out with Indian pins, parallel bars, a climbing ladder, a rowing machine and other instruments of torture. The home also offered a bowling alley and a billiards table (housed upstairs in the "bachelor wing"). I'm sure all of these opportunities for physical activity--not to mention outdoor activities such as golf, hiking and fishing--were welcomed by the Vanderbilts' guests since the Estate had its own cows and was known for its delicious ice cream.