Friday, April 13, 2012

I called on the Vanderbilts

 I woke up this morning in Ashville, NC and above was the view out of my rear window.  Sigh Me and I both sat and stared out for the longest time--mesmerized by the moving water.  I don't think she had ever actually seen a river up close before.
Then, after breakfast, I decided to call on a nearby neighbor.... 
It's the Vanderbilt estate and the one true castle in this country.  It is not a National park or monument or State park but it is designated a National Historical Landmark and is open to the public as a museum.  It is also the largest privately-owned home in the US.   

In the 1930's the family opened it to the public in an effort to raise enough money to keep it running. And no wonder.  There is a staff of 1800 people!  I've lived in smaller towns than that.  The castle was built by George W. Vanderbilt with his inheritance as the son of William Vanderbilt, and it almost bankrupted him--poor boy. The castle has 250 rooms and is 135,000 to 175,000 square feet.  I don't know why the 50,000 square foot discrepancy--I think they didn't know whether to count the basement with its swimming pool, game room and bowling alley.

The castle is built atop a large mesa surrounded by three ranges of mountains..The Appalachians, Blue Ridge and Smokies.  The Estate is now 8000 acres though it was much larger when George was alive.    A large part of the land was donated to the Park service and is now part of the Pisgah National Park.
There is also a small village and a winery that I missed altogether.

The present owners of the house are William Cecil I and William Cecil II, the grandson and great grandson of George Vanderbilt.  However, I don't think they've slept here since the '50's.  There are 104 bedrooms in the house but strangely enough only 38 people can sit at the dining room table at one time. Either they never filled up all the bedrooms or else everyone ate in shifts.

One rather weird fact--George built the house when he was single and then met his wife a few years later.   I wondered if she knew when she said 'yes' that her life was going to be spent running something akin to a rather large hotel.

"High Five"

Another query--all these marble statues, here and in all the other mansions I've seen--Who carved all of these?  The marble pits of Italy must be nearly exhausted by now.  And  surely they can't be mass produced so how did so many expert carvers come to be?  Just asking.

I am still stunned by wisteria--it is so prolific and the blooms are larger than any I've ever seen.

Consider yourselves lucky--they would not let me photograph anything in the house.  I think I am going to start boycotting the places that won't allow photos-even when there's no flash.
 But the grounds were amazing enough anyway.  My final thoughts--the castle is over and above  conspicuous consumption.  There seemed little point in creating something so lavish and massive.  I am quite sure George never slept in more than his own bedroom or sat in more than a handful of chairs.  But now it draws the tourists--including me--so what is the difference between a castle and Disney World anyway?

And then there are the gardens...

There is simply no way to describe the beauty and color of the gardens.  Azaleas, dogwoods, peach, cherry and wisteria--all in full glorious bloom.

Say, "Ahhhh"
My next posting will feature the conservatory--for my aunts. So stay tuned.

This week was supposed to be their tulip festival--

However the tulips are just about to keel over.  This winter has been so warm that the tulips bloomed three weeks early. There won't be any left by the weekend when the festival takes place.

 The weather was warm and the sky slightly overcast but it is supposed to dip to freezing tonight.  She might get a little chilly.

George built this ramp (it goes up for 3 turns) to get his horses and carriage to the top of the hill. The bricks are spaced perfectly for the horses gait and the sides of the ramp are smooth for the wheels of the carriage.

One of the walking trails came to this bridge and waterfall.  So I parked and walked out on the bridge then looked back...

and there sat Halcyon II, my little castle,  nestled in the trees.  Boy, I feel so lucky today.


  1. Can you imagine having to clean that place every week? Yikes!