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Between the years 1889 and 1895, George Washington Vanderbilt II had the Biltmore House constructed in Asheville, North Carolina after he frequently visited the area to see his sick mother. Vanderbilt fell in love with the area and construction began on the estate, which today covers approximately 8000 acres (32 km²).The Biltmore House is modeled after 16th century European chateaus and contains 250 rooms, including 34 bedrooms and 43 bathrooms. In true Vanderbilt fashion, the Biltmore House was a decadent example of Gilded Age opulence, and it is still the largest privately owned estate in the country.
Vanderbilt's Biltmore House, which he affectionately called his "little mountain escape," was designed by New York architect Richard Morris Hunt, who had worked on other Vanderbilt mansions. Because Vanderbilt was enthralled with travel, he wanted his home to be built based on European chateaus with lush landscape surrounding it. The grounds were designed by Frederick Law Olmsted — designer of Central Park in New York City — who, in the process of designing the grounds, established the first managed forest in the United States. He changed the land that had been damaged from over-farming and timber clearing and managed a team of foresters to restore the beauty and usefulness of the area.
In order to accommodate the massive construction effort, a three-mile (4.82 km) section of railroad was constructed so materials could be transported easily to the site. A brick factory and woodworking shop were also built on site to make construction more manageable. The 175,000 square foot (16,300 square meter) home sits in the heart of what would later become Pisgah National Forest; originally, the estate took up 125,000 acres (506 square kilometers), but after Vanderbilt's death in 1914, his widow sold much of the land to the federal government so that it might be preserved.
Today, the Biltmore House is a National Historic Landmark and is a major tourist draw in the Asheville area. It is owned by the Biltmore Company, which is managed by Vanderbilt's grandson. Tourists can visit the grounds and get a peek at the massive swimming pool, bowling alley, and acres of pristine wilderness. The Biltmore House has since been designated as a museum, and over a million visitors a year come to see the restored bedrooms, kitchens, two-story library, and other measures of the home's opulence. Visitors can also visit the 213-room hotel and the fully functioning winery located on the grounds.
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