Elizabeth, as they drove along, watched for the first appearance of Pemberley Woods with some perturbation; and when at length they turned in at the lodge, her spirits were in a high flutter.
The park was very large, and continued great variety of ground. They entered it in one of its lowest points, and drove for some time through a beautiful wood stretching over a wide extent.
Elizabeth’s mind was too full for conversation, but she saw and admired every remarkable spot and point of view. They gradually ascended for a half a mile, and then found themselves at the top of a considerable eminence, where the wood ceased, and the eye was instantly caught by the Pemberley House[.]
It was a large, handsome stone building, standing well on rising ground, and backed by a ridge of high woody hills[.] Elizabeth was delighted. She had never seen a place for which nature had done more, or where natural beauty had been so little counteracted by an awkward taste. They were all of them warm in their admiration; and at the moment she felt that to be mistress of Pemberley might be something! (1)
Although I wish we were visiting England…Asheville, NC is second best choice for this quote. The scene from the novel Pride and Prejudice came alive in my mind as we drove into the Biltmore Village and into the Estate entrance. Having just read this chapter the night before, I could not help but mention something aloud to everyone in the car. The drive through the wooden area to the house…though still winter brush (and occasional bamboo trees) was still beautiful. You could also picture Disney’s Beauty and the Beast as the opening scene where the Beast is still a prince–the wooded area with the castle in the background. It was something like that. 🙂
We parked and rode the shuttle the rest of the way into the estate. (Side note–it represents excellent tourism when you are the last car to leave the parking lot, LOL.) As you entered through the gate, you see the house and being the first time for all of us, I was just amazed! I literally felt like I was in a different country (France was what I felt.) Now, I am a big fan of architecture, so the first thing I start looking at is the details of the walls of the house and the structure. We have visited the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. and there were a few similarities of style that I noticed.
We could not take long at first to soak it all in, because I had to go in and meet my interpreter. I was fortunate that she had already been to the house before and was excited to sign for the tours again (no matter how long!) We were set to go on the Butler’s Tour first, before the regular “walk through on your own” house tour that had a tape you listened to and a map with some extra details. We had a few minutes to spare, so we saw the rooms where they showed the process of how the house has and is being restored to maintain the history there. It was pretty fascinating, because they showed these pieces of rare artwork and how specialists use different cleaning processes and glues to put back together broken artifacts. You could never tell that anything was wrong with it at first glance! Also, they talked about the draperies and silk chairs/wallpaper. That style of rug weaving with silk is almost outdated! They talked about how they are having a shop in France–that specializes in this technique–help them in this area of preservation. Because George Vanderbilt loved to travel and loved the arts,
much of his collections are from overseas countries which makes the process a “world event”–or so I say. 🙂
The Butler’s Tour was a “behind the scenes” of how the servants of the house did their duties. I found this so fascinating! I know the BBC show, Downton Abbey, is a view much from the servants point so I had a little glimpse already of how the process goes, but was still blown away at what details and professionalism that had to take place! The house is about 4 acres itself with another 8,000 acres of land otherwise. The Vanderbilt’s had more, but after George’s death, his wife–Edith–sold part of the land to the U.S. Government for a national forestry. Anyway, the house has 250 rooms and I believe 43 bathrooms. Considering the house was built in 1895-1898…43 bathrooms for that time period was A LOT!!! They had their own electricity. We saw where the coal was dumped from the main outdoors to the lower level…then saw the big furnaces. They had their own water–which they could fill up a 70,000 gallon swimming pool that was in the basement! There was a gym (the gym had a shower no less!) that had a hallway attached with private dressing rooms so the servants could bring down the guests clothes so they could change there. I read on a sign that Mr. Vanderbilt could change his outfit as many as eight times a day for the different occasions! Best part of the basement was the bowling alley. 😀 The servants would have to run and replace the pins after the ball strikes, LOL. Classic.
There was so much detail already in the house, but the Butler’s Tour was really extrodinary to get even more behind the scenes! The house even had different colored walls for different meanings. The brown hall was the servant’s hall. Then as you went around closer to the bedroom entrances from the back…Mrs. Vanderbilt’s hall was a rose color. The bigger picture of the house made better sense when we did the regular tour…because then we knew that the doors in the bedrooms went out in the servants halls. There was also another room where the china for dinner was kept. The meals would come up from the kitchen (which was on the basement level of the house) through a dumb waiter to the room. The meals were then placed on the china that had been picked by the Vanderbilt’s for the evening or event happening and made presentable. Then they were taken into the dining hall. The room had china up to the ceiling in cupboards! They had ladders even! Can you imagine?? That would not be a job for me. 😀 I thought the kitchen set ups were genius. There were three parts in separate rooms: regular food, meat, and pastry. They had a freezer and storage for their milks and cheeses. They have a dairy farm there on the property so they got their milk from their own cows. Also, much of their fresh produce was from their own land/gardens.
On the house tour, there was so much to see. It was like a huge museum! 😀 My favorite rooms were the banquet hall, the library, Mrs. Vanderbilt’s bedroom, and the Louis XV room. The banquet hall was designed to look like a throne room from the 1500’s. It had tapestries, a massive pipe organ in the loft, a triple fireplace at the other end of the room, swords hanging for display and flags, and a huge oak table. The library was AMAZING! Mr. Vanderbilt loved reading, traveling, the arts. He owned 23,000 books. It literally goes to the ceiling of books! Another Beauty and the Beast moment here! Funny part is that after the books were used, they had to be compressed to fit back on the shelves. On the ceiling of the library is the painting, The Chariot of Aurora, which they took down by segments from the ceiling of the Pisani Palace in Venice. You can only tell in a few spots where the segments were cut and put back together. It was astounding. I don’t know with all George’s traveling, generous hosting and charitable events, recreational activities and family when he had time to get in that much reading but I applaud his endeavours and library! 😀
Mrs. Vanderbilt’s bedroom was one of my favorites due to the colors. It had gold walls and mostly gold everywhere–the ceiling had painted textures if pale purple and a minty green color. There were the silk pattern of the chairs and bed–these were part of the fabrics that France helped restore. If I were running a home magazine, I would look at this room for simplicity (even though it was super elegant designs obviously)..but the colors and the oval shape of the room…the windows. I think it would give good inspiration for ideas anyway. 🙂 And lastly, the Louis XV bedroom. It is where Mr. and Mrs. Vanderbilt’s daughter, Cornelia, was born. Cornelia also gave birth to her two sons there! For a baby’s room, it had quite the furnishings. My favorite part were these stairs that go down to the window…like a little “sunroom” where one could sit with the baby and look out the window.
I will close with the Vanderbilt’s love of travel. We discussed it at dinner tonight, but I mentioned that I found it amazing that George and Edith made relations with people as they traveled. They just did not have a love for all this historical artwork without also getting to know people of importance. For example, I do not remember who, but someone who George knew personally (and knew his love for art, etc) helped him get Napoleon’s chess set. Yes! Isn’t that great! 🙂 We got to see it too! Also, George was very fascinated with Japan. I read there that he and his cousin spent a while over in Japan touring and getting art work. He had an ancient samurai warrior armor and swords. I also saw the invitation where the Emperor of Japan invited Mr. Vanderbilt personally to his birthday celebration while he was still in Japan. What an honor. The Vanderbilt’s were also very charitable people. They helped fund a school library, a church, and other needs for education. They shared their love for learning and the arts.
This history just fascinated me. We spent 10 hours at the Biltmore Estate. Let’s say the next day, my left ankle was swollen and I was incredibly sore from all the stairs, but it was worth it!!! 😀 I decided I would like to visit in every season: we got “winter”…but I have heard Christmas is spectacular!! The tree is in the banquet hall–that ceiling is 70 feet tall!!! It would be so beautiful to see the gardens and do the outdoor activities in the spring/summer and then the tree colors and harvest in the fall. Whenever I get back, I am sure I will always see something new and exciting! I recommend a trip to Asheville, NC if you are ever at loss for a vacation idea. I can think of nothing better than ending spring break in this way. 😀
Pictures in the next post…
(1) Austen, Jane. Illustrated by Hugh Thomson. Pride and Prejudice. Mineola, New York: Dover Publications, Inc. 2005. Pages 301-302. (Have you ever noticed on classic novels that after the recent publication date, it says something to this extent: “This Dover edition [is] an unabridged republication of the work origionally published in 1894 by George Allen, Ruskin House, 156 Caring Cross Road, London.” Brilliant!)