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Southern architecture and sweet potato pie

By Staff | Jul 24, 2009

As our photography class wandered about the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina, I knew that George Washington Vanderbilt II was a magnet for the best that life had to offer. He certainly didn’t downsize his dream when he committed to building this beautiful, massive estate in the Blue Ridge Mountains. From the very start he was a tiger about style and therefore engaged two very distinguished designers of the 19th century, architect Richard Morris Hunt and landscape designer Fredrick Law Olmsted.

Hunt has to his credit the faade and the Great Hall of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty, and many Fifth Avenue mansions in New York City. Olmsted is considered the father of American landscape architecture. Listed in his credits would be the eye-catching beauty of Central Park in New York City and the landscape surrounding the United States Capitol Building.

Both gentlemen have many astonishing designs to their credit, but the ones I shared with you are my favorites. Yes, I have visited them – many times – on Wolford High School class trips, family outings and photography conferences.

The centerpiece of this estate, which was constructed from 1888-1895, is the four-story stone house with a 780-foot faade. It is America’s largest privately owned home with 175,000 square feet. The home has more than 11 million bricks and 250 rooms. It is seated upon 8,000 acres. Built during the gilded age, it was financed by George and Edith Vanderbilt with the idea that it would be a self-sustaining estate and a haven of hospitality.

The estate was extremely beneficial to the people of the area, providing many work opportunities. Vanderbilt established scientific forestry programs, hog farms, poultry farms, cattle, dairy, and gardening. At the estate they also operated a school which trained folks in the fine art of furniture making and basket weaving, just to name two.

In recent years the Biltmore has been featured in many commercials which I know are familiar to you. You will often see it in Murphy’s Oil Soap and Lowe’s Garden Center commercials. Murphy’s Oil Soap is being used to clean the fantastic woodwork in the banquet hall which features a table which can extend to 40 feet (think of the pies that could be displayed there!). With Lowe’s, you have a grand view of the faade displaying huge planters with breathtaking plants while the chateau style architecture of the Biltmore is proudly displayed.

It has been several years since I visited this delightful castle in western North Carolina. I recall entering the home, and the first thing my eyes observed was the “Winter Garden,” a room domed with windows and thriving plants. The massive kitchens were also of interest to me, as well as the indoor swimming pool in the basement! At that time, a winery had recently been established, and it continues to produce pinnacle wines. It is controlled today by Vanderbilt’s grandson, William A. V. Cecil II. Much continues to be added to the estate, and families are finding this to be a delightful vacation setting. Is it any wonder this is ranked as a favorite structure in America and marveled at by folks from all over the world?

As I traveled through western North Carolina, I stopped often for pie. This is a great recipe for Sweet Potato Pie!

Repnow is a Rugby resident.

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