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Can You Take It with You?

picture of us at Biltmore

This past weekend I was reminded strongly of the folly of living for stuff. A few weeks ago a friend gave us tickets to visit the Biltmore Estate in Asheville NC. We had not been there since the day we got engaged, almost 33 years ago. We thoroughly enjoyed our visit, even though it was cold and rainy. We could not believe how many visitors there were! It was a packed out house (or as I love to say, a packed outhouse)!

As we toured the house many thoughts went through my mind. Some of the rooms were literally so large that our entire little house would fit inside them. The 175,000 square-foot (16 300 m2) house with its 255 rooms and beautiful gardens reminded me of the chΓ’teaux we have visited in Europe. Although today's liberal politicians would try their best (or worst) to incite us to class envy by criticizing George Vanderbilt for using his own money to build the house he wanted and could afford, the building project and maintenance afterwards provided jobs for many people. I said to my wife that since Obama wants to create jobs, he ought to build a house like this. One difference would be that he would not be doing it with his own money.

As I viewed some of the amenities in Biltmore, my mind went to a post I did called Changing Times about what life was like in the US in the year 1900, which is right at the time Vanderbilt had just moved into his new estate. There was quite a contrast between what we saw in Biltmore and what most Americans considered the norm in 1900.

We were not allowed to take pictures inside the house, but I was able to find some online to show some of the amazing features.

The first thing you see upon entering is the "Winter Garden." There were many plants and flowers throughout the house, and as far as we could tell by what we touched, they were all real.

picture of winter garden

Here's a view of just part of the banquet hall. The table can be extended to a length of 40 feet. Notice the triple fireplace at the far end.

picture of banquet hall

In the basement of the house we saw the Vanderbilts' two-lane bowling alley.

picture of bowling alley

Although there was no water in it, we were able to see the world's first indoor swimming pool in the basement.

picture of swimming pool

After visiting the house we stopped at the River Bend Farm on the Biltmore Estate. Even though it was winter and rainy, we were glad we visited it. As we watched a film inside the barn we learned much of the good that had come to the people living in that area as a result of George Vanderbilt's having built his mansion there. His interest in horticulture and his goal of running Biltmore as a self-sustaining estate was extremely beneficial to people in the area and added to advances in farming techniques in the United States.

Near the barn we visited the woodworker's shop, the blacksmith's shop, and the mercantile. The blacksmith was particularly entertaining and informative.

picture of blacksmith

There was a barnyard with animals to pet, including two huge horses. Here's one of them.

picture of horse

We enjoyed petting the adorable baby pygmy goats that were the size of our cats.

picture of baby goats

I don't know how much George Vanderbilt obsessed about his mansion, but I do know that he was able to live there for only a short time 1898-1914, dying at the age of 52 of complications from an appendectomy. And his magnificent house is still here – he couldn't take it with him. It made me think of a story to share.

There once was a believing rich man who was dying. While on his death bed, he tried to get the Lord to let him bring his earthly treasures with him to heaven. "Lord, please, I have worked so hard to accumulate all these riches. Can't I bring them along?"

The Lord spoke to his heart, telling him, "I never grant this request. Go ahead and plan what you would bring if I permitted you to bring just one suitcase, and we'll talk about it once you're in heaven."

The man immediately began to think about what he could take in just one suitcase. Finally he had a servant fill a large suitcase with gold bricks. Shortly thereafter, he died.

When the man got to heaven, he was amazed at the beauty surrounding him, and to say he was overwhelmed when he saw the Lord for the first time would be a huge understatement.

Enjoying the splendors of his new home, the man completely forgot about the suitcase he had wanted to bring along, until the Lord asked him about it. "My child, tell me what you planned to put into that suitcase you wanted to bring."

"Oh yes, Lord. I forgot all about that! I had my servant pack a large suitcase with bricks of gold."

The Lord said, "I know you haven't been able to see everything up here yet." He continued by asking him kindly, "But what in the world were you thinking when you decided to bring pavement?"


Have you ever visited the Biltmore or other mansions of the world? What were your impressions? Becka reminded me Saturday of a quotation from Joan, a friend of my mom, "Europe is a nice place to visit, but I sure wouldn't want to have to dust it!"


"Possessions have a way of possessing us as they take the place of God in our hearts." - Dr. Drew Conley

=^..^= =^..^=

I have enough money to last me the rest of my life, unless I buy something.

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19 Comments on “Can You Take It with You?”

  1. #1 Janet
    on Mar 16th, 2009 at 2:03 pm

    When I have gone through any large home, I always think, “How do they keep it clean?”

    Then during one of my many trips through Biltmore, I saw a worker cleaning the cabinet just outside the indoor pool. She had a bottle of Murphy’s oil soap, a rag, and a tooth brush! I asked her how often she did that particular cabinet in that manner. She answered, “Once a week!” She basically goes through a small area in Biltmore cleaning a small number of cabinets weekly! She also said there were a host of others doing the same thing all around the mansion.

    I think at that rate, I would need about 3 full time people to scrub my house with a toothbrush weekly!

  2. #2 Megan
    on Mar 16th, 2009 at 3:18 pm

    Those goats are really cute. I can see why Mom wants one!

  3. #3 Sherry
    on Mar 16th, 2009 at 3:29 pm

    I’ve been to Biltmore once, and I came away thinking the same thing: what a beautiful home that he couldn’t take with him! πŸ™‚ It made me thankful for all I have and even more thankful for parents who taught me to invest my time and money in people and not things. Thanks for sharing! Glad you enjoyed your trip. πŸ™‚

  4. #4 Rob
    on Mar 16th, 2009 at 4:42 pm

    @Janet – That’s amazing about how minutely and frequently they clean the Biltmore. No wonder it still looks so great!

    @Megan – They were awfully cute. I think they’d play havoc with my garden, though.

    @Sherry – It was beautiful to see, but I can’t wait to see the eternal dwelling being prepared for us. It’s looking better and better all the time! πŸ™‚

  5. #5 Carrie
    on Mar 16th, 2009 at 6:20 pm

    Steven and I were engaged there too -nine years ago! It is very beautiful, but I also would not want to clean it! I guess Mrs. V didn’t have to either, though.

    I’ll tell on myself here: when we were waiting to get in I made some comment about Mr. Biltmore. Steven graciously corrected me that it was Mr. Vanderbilt. He didn’t even laugh! Of course, that was partly because he was so nervous, knowing he was planning to propose that day!

  6. #6 David McGuire
    on Mar 16th, 2009 at 6:21 pm

    Your story about Biltmore House reminded me of when our young family visited the Cradle of Forestry south of Asheville some years ago. Vanderbilt had hired Gifford Pinchot to manage the many acres of forested land on the estate, and this later became the basis of establishing national parks and forests in other parts of the country. Further information on the Cradle of Forestry can be found on their website at: http://www.cradleofforestry.com

  7. #7 Ray
    on Mar 16th, 2009 at 8:27 pm

    Here in New England, there are the Newport Mansions (RI). They were actually the “summer cottages” of the very wealthy during the era of no income taxes. My wife and I have visited a few of them. Some are open during the tourist season, and some are only dressed up for Christmas. Anyhow, when touring the Breakers – another Vanderbilt house, she mentioned that you could easily lose the kids in there. The dining room in the Breakers is very much like the one at Biltmore from the picture.

    My thought was they were rich, and now they are dead, and a regular guy like me can walk through their house….

  8. #8 Carol Giddings
    on Mar 16th, 2009 at 8:59 pm

    I especially loved your blog post this time. Biltmore is one of my favourite palces to visit. I went for the first time to sing with our choir from BJU just before Christmas – beautiful!! It’s funny I was just telling my daughter last week about the bowling alley in the basement. I had forgotten about the swimming pool though!

  9. #9 Rob
    on Mar 16th, 2009 at 9:12 pm

    @Carrie – That’s neat that you got engage there. We actually got engaged after we got back to Greenville. Your secret about Mr. Biltmore is safe with me and whoever stumbles across these comments. πŸ˜€

    @David – Thanks for the comment about the Cradle of Forestry. Becka and I talked about that on Saturday since we enjoyed taking our kids there when they were little. We had learned about Pinchot back then, and he came to mind when the video at the barn talked about all the other experts Vanderbilt had brought in regarding some of his other interests and pursuits.

    @Ray – That’s neat to hear about the places up there in New England. The Vanderbilts certainly “stimulated the economy” with their spending back then, didn’t they? πŸ™‚ And I had the same thought about being able to walk through the house of a dead man who probably would never have invited me there during his life.

    @Carol – Don’t the various choirs sing in the Winter Garden? What a beautiful setting for it! I’ll bet the accoustics are great in there! Glad to take you on a little trip down nostagia lane.

  10. #10 Heather
    on Mar 16th, 2009 at 9:31 pm

    Janet: I know what you mean about the toothbrushes. When I worked in the Dining Common, we scrubbed various things with toothbrushes; that style of cleaning indeed takes forever! I was glad when we switched to hand brushes. πŸ™‚

  11. #11 Tammy
    on Mar 17th, 2009 at 8:38 am

    Somebody already beat me about the Newport Mansions so here is another one that I have visited. Flager Museum. Fifty-five room Beaux Arts estate known as Whitehall, the home was Florida’s first museum and a wedding present for his wife, Mary Lily Kenan.


  12. #12 Rob
    on Mar 17th, 2009 at 9:01 am

    @Tammy – Wow! What a place! Thanks for sharing the link.

  13. #13 Michael
    on Mar 17th, 2009 at 2:17 pm

    After being a lifelong Greenville, SC resident for more than 32 years, last month was the first time that I ever visited the Biltmore House. Friends of ours from church invited us to go since they have a yearly pass. My wife and I had a great time. The day we went was sunny and warm as opposed to rainy and cold. The house is an amazing sight. I enjoyed the basement and the first floor the most.

    Tying in with your idea of earthly possessions, one thing that hit me about the Biltmore House was that after seeing bedroom after bedroom they all started looking the same. They started losing their luster and I was kind of wanting to see something different. I felt that way on a tour of Europe I took a few years ago. After seeing several gorgeous cathedrals, they all started looking the same. Earthly things just do not satisfy the longing of an eternal soul.

    Did you guys stop at Sonic on the way home?

  14. #14 Dave
    on Mar 17th, 2009 at 7:38 pm

    Please ask permission before posting pictures of my house online. πŸ˜€

    For good measure, here’s a story about the Biltmore: http://www.thehistorybluff.com/?p=345

  15. #15 Rob
    on Mar 18th, 2009 at 5:54 am

    @Michael – Thanks for your observations, Michael. I also enjoyed the basement and first floor the most. The bedrooms were interesting in their contrast – the opulence of the bedrooms of the Vanderbilts and their guests versus the plainness of those of the staff.

    Rather than stopping at Sonic on the way home, we went to the Pisgah Fish Camp in Brevard for flounder. No tots, just hush puppies. πŸ™‚

  16. #16 Brian
    on Mar 23rd, 2009 at 12:33 pm

    I’ve been to Boldt Castle in the beautiful Thousand Islands region of New York State. It sits on Heart Island and was intended to be a show of his (Mr. Boldt’s) love for his wife. She died before it was completed and he stopped all construction. The Thousand Islands Bridge Authority is currently finishing it. http://www.boldtcastle.com

  17. #17 Rob
    on May 16th, 2009 at 8:09 am

    @Brian – Sorry it took me so long to reply to your comment. I missed the opportunity at the time you posted your comment, and I just now noticed it. Thanks for the info about Boldt Castle and the link to the site. It looks like a great place to visit if you’re in the area.

  18. #18 shonie
    on Nov 6th, 2009 at 12:44 pm

    i would luv to join those people one day when i get the money. i luv the pygmy goats. they’re so adorable..

  19. #19 Dental Fort Lauderdale
    on Dec 9th, 2009 at 3:21 am

    The pygmy goat looks very cute and yes, it is just the same height as our cat.