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April 3, 2017

Biltmore Estate and Vanderbilt's Books

by Donna Huber

Last month I visited Biltmore Estates in Ashville, North Carolina for the first time. I had heard of the magnificent gardens and thanks to the mild winter I knew there would be at least a few things in bloom. I knew the house would be great. My friend and I were going because of the fashion exhibit, Designed for Drama: Costumes from the Classics and we were pretty excited to see that since we are both Downton Abbey fans. But what I wasn't prepared for was the library.

Prior to my trip, I did a bit of research on George Vanderbilt and the Biltmore House, which led me to discover Vanderbilt's love of literature. At 12 years of age, he began recording the books he read. He had to keep his reading record in notebooks (there was no Goodreads!). He was an avid reading and I think he read around 80 books a year. There are something like 22,000 books in his library.

But his love of literature wasn't just a private matter. He wanted others to be able to enjoy books too. Remember this was at a time when books were expensive and not everyone had ready access to books. While the estate is in North Carolina, it was George's country estate. Vanderbilts were New York residents and had a house in the city. In 1888, George established the Jackson Square Branch of the New York Free Circulating Library (which is now part of the New York Public Library).

For all the tours the Estate offers, I was disappointed that there wasn't a book tour. Sure we saw the library. But it was only a sliver of a view. I wanted to look up close at the books, to read the titles on the spines. They really should offer something like that.

The did have a number of displays around the house about his collection. I learned that Edith Wharton, author of Ethan Frome and other works, was often a visitor at Biltmore Estate. She evening spent a Christmas with the family. There were other literary greats that were personal friends of George Vanderbilt. You can learn more about the library on the Biltmore blog.

Books to Read

The Designed for Drama display increased my reading list as there were a few I had not yet read. If you are planning a trip to Biltmore this spring or summer here is a reading list you might want to start on. (The Designed for Drama runs through July 4).

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
The Golden Bowl by Henry James
Sleepy Hallow by Washington Irving
The Man Who Was Peter Pan by Allan Knee (the play upon which the movie Finding Neverland is based.)
House of Mirth by Edith Wharton
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

If you aren't able to visit the Biltmore Estate, here are some of my pictures from my trip. It was absolutely beautiful and if I lived in the area I would have a season pass just to visit the park surrounding the house.

Donna Huber is an avid reader and natural encourager. She is the founder of Girl Who Reads and the author of how-to marketing book Secrets to a Successful Blog Tour.

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  1. Thanks for sharing your visit. I would have liked to browse the library books too! The estate does look beautiful!

    1. Spring cleaning was being done the day we visited and they were taking the books down and vacuuming them. It was the perfect day to visit. I want to go back at Christmas time because they decorate 48 trees and I'm sure that's stunning.

  2. Yes, that library looks fascinating. I would love to see it in person and this estate is on my bucket list. Thanks for the lovely pictures . . . Denise

    1. Definitely try to make to the estate. It was beautiful and we had wonderful weather the day we went. Really was a perfect day.

  3. I visited Asheville, NC one year, but only saw the Biltmore from afar. I had no idea of his love of literature. It is a beautiful space, for sure. Thanks for sharing your impressions of the tour, and especially the photos.

    1. I think it was well worth the trip just to see the estate. It is about a 3 hour drive for my friend and I did it as a day trip. Everyone always talks about the garden, so I didn't know about his love for literature either.

  4. The last time I visited the Biltmore, they weren't allowing pictures. :( I'd like to return now that they are. The rooms in the house are so pretty! :)

    You've got a great list of books to go along with the Biltmore Estate tour. A personal favorite of mine is Jane Eyre. :) Of course, Mr. Vanderbilt makes me feel behind in my reading. I'm lucky to get 50 books read a year! That's nowhere near 80!

    With Love,

    1. I think he might have had a bit more time on his hands than most of us. Plus the forms of entertainment at home were a lot less than what we have today.

  5. Hello, fellow A-to-Zer! There is nothing that makes me drool more than the thought of a grand library such as this one. I would want, of course, to own such a library (and the rest of the place, too-- but really the library is the main thing). However, as that notion seems improbable even in my daydreams, I would totally settle for being hired to catalogue such a place. I wouldn't, of course, be at all qualified for the job, and I would get so distracted that no cataloguing would actually be done, but that is hardly the point. The point would be touching all those fancy books.