May 18, 2008, part 1

Tonight was the first day of class. But before I went there, I got to run around a bit, and the place to go in Asheville is the Biltmore Estate.

The Biltmore estate is one of America’s monuments to wealth and decadence. The house has over 250 rooms and the floor space alone measures in at four acres. The grounds encompass over 125,000 acres. It is the largest privately owned home in the country. George Vanerbilt wanted something ostentatious for a home. He finally came upon an area in North Carolina amid the Blue Ridge mountains. He hired architects and landscapers. He built a railroad to bring materials to the site. And after a six year construction period ending in 1895, the house was complete.

Every room in the house was beautifully done with ornate ceiling work, or stone work around the walls. Just the thought of the cost of one of those carved pieces today is impressive. Yet although things cost less back then, the cost had to be staggering. Back then a millio0n dollars was actually a very impressive amount.

Each room was decorated with beautiful stone work and tapestries. The bathrooms had flush toilets. The house even had a blowing alley (the pins were cleaned away manually) and a 60,000 gallon pool. (Since there were no chemicals like chlorine and pumps to move the water around back then, the pool had to be emptied each week. That would involve a day to empty it, time to scrub the tiles clean, and a day to refill it.)

But as impressive as the house is, the grounds were even more phenomenal. There was the two level garden with pretty flowers and archways. The grounds were covered with unique tress and flowering bushes as well as a huge lake and waterfall. In the lake, one could see large fish swimming around. From the house to the waterfall, it was a good mile walk. The people working there suggested carrying water as it was a mile out, and a mile back (the last part being uphill). Imagine their only daughter, Cornelia, being able to have the entire grounds to play on with her dog.

One thing I did get to do was find a spot to sit and look at the waterfall at the point that it falls down into the stream. After the long seven hour drive up yesterday, it was a nice chance to calm, meditate, and clear my head. Although the entire time there was amazing and informative, this was probably the most necessary thing.

In my wildest imagination, I can’t imagine having the money to have something like that built, and unfortunately, I can only see it as someone flaunting their wealth. But it was interesting. Anyone visiting the area, I highly recommend a visit.