Friday, January 2, 2009
Our 6 AM departure goal was only missed by an hour and a half on the morning of our exodus. It was 9 degrees and the usual “more than we thought” things to do, but we got it all done and set out about 7:30. Our first stop was at the Baldwin’s in Frederick, Maryland.
About half way there Marlin remembered that we said we were never again going to try to make this trip in one day. Oh Well, old habits are hard to remember to break. We arrived at their house about 8:30 PM and Glen had a wonderful Brisket dinner all ready for us. Over the weekend we played multiple card games of GOLF and Oh Hell, went to a neighborhood party, met many of their friends, and all in all had a great renewal visit. Their son, Ben, was also there that weekend so we got a bonus with our visit.
Glen, Ben, Bob Baldwin
Their town of Frederick , which is an hour west of Washington, was farm country until several years ago when living any closer to DC became impossibly expensive. Today the many new housing developments are still surrounded by small villages with corn fields and cow pastures in between. It is also close to many Civil War battlefields and historic locations such as Harper’s Ferry. Usually Marlin is intent on visiting some of these venues, but I think we have hit most of them in the past, so there are none on the list this trip.
Monday we headed for a couple of visits in North Carolina. Our first stop was with Becky Miles, who recently moved to Chapel Hill with her friend Megan. They share a great apartment in a complex of 7 or 8 three-story buildings surrounding a pool and clubhouse. Becky landed herself a job at the University of North Carolina and Megan is studying at Duke University. Great life for these 20 something girls. Brings back lots of memories. The best part was when we went out to dinner with Bec and had the entire evening to visit with her alone, instead of sharing attention with all the other members of her family.
Tuesday, January 6, 2009
The next morning we stopped to visit Louise Sikes in Snow Camp, which is a small rural town about an hour outside Chapel Hill. Louise, who was named after my mother, is a cousin, and I still have memories of stories told by my mother about her and her brother, who came out from Dorchester to Randolph in the summer for a country vacation. This was long before I was born, but the tales were repeated so often that I feel like I had been a participant somehow. She does’t get many visitors from relatives in the north, so she was excited to see us. We reminisced for a few hours that afternoon then headed further south.
Our destination for the day was Huntsville Alabama, but just before reaching Ashville North Carolina we decided to visit “Biltmore” the estate of George Washington Vanderbilt. This 8,000 acre estate and house was completed in 1895 and is the largest home in America, boasting 250 rooms including 61 bedrooms, 26 servant rooms for single women only, married help had to lodge in town, and 43 bathrooms.
Beginning with the three mile drive through the extensive grounds designed by the famous landscape artist Frederick Law Olmsted, the size and elegance of the estate is almost too big to comprehend. The tour guide said that Vanderbilt purchased 125,000 acres of bare hills after his first visit to North Carolina, constructed the house and grounds while still a bachelor, then three years later brought his new bride there to live in1898. The entire house had electric lights and modern plumbing, with call bells in every room, and a clock system that was synchronized from a main station in the kitchen.
Visitors are allowed in 13 of the Main floor rooms, which include a billiard room, a breakfast room, a salon, a music room, a 90 foot long tapestry gallery, featuring three enormous Flemish tapestries woven in 1535, paintings by John Singer Sargent, and a library with more than
10,000 volumes. Vanderbilt kept a log, beginning at age 12, that documented the 3159 books he had read. We were told that a secret panel door in the billiard room opened into a suite of rooms for bachelors, who, according to etiquette of the day, could not sleep in the same part of the house as unmarried women.
The tour continues up the grand four-story marble staircase, through family and guest bedroom, sitting rooms, servants’ bedrooms, linen closets, an observatory. The rooms are all furnished with original furnishings and priceless artwork by more famous artists such as Renoir.
The basement offered an interesting look into the workings of such an extensive household where all linens were washed and ironed by hand, and all food came from the working farm on the premises. Apparently, the Vanderbilt’s were very good to their hired help. They were provided with private bedrooms, food, uniforms and training necessary to do their jobs well. The staff had their own dining room, where they were served three meals a day.
The basement, in addition to the necessary spaces for cooking, cleaning, preparation, and storage, also included a bowling alley and a 9 foot deep swimming pool with underwater lighting. There is an entire corridor lined with dressing rooms for guests to suit up for bowling and/or swimming. Imagine the servants required to help the ladies into their multiple daily changes of clothing that was necessary for this level of socialization at the turn of the century
We spent four hours following the audio tour guide up, down, around, and through five levels in this amazing house. It is so immense and convoluted that it is hard to imagine how it was ever designed to be as functional as it is portrayed to be. But the house was only part of this extravagant residence.
The exit road lead down past a vast azalea garden into the formal walled garden and conservatory. This time of year the outside sleeping gardens were not much to look at, but inside the multi-wing green house, nature was at her best, showing off every imaginable green and flowering plant.
After the conservatory, the road continued on past the Bass pond, the winery, the barns and the Biltmore Inn where you can stay for $299 to $599 per night, then back out to the real world.
The walled garden with the house in view up on the hill
The conservatory was full of unusual plants. This was my favorite, looks like a lampshade.
There were many quiet seating arrangements in and around the six wings off the main conservatory.
George Vanderbilt died in 1914 when his only daughter Cornelia was 14 years old. His wife Edith, sold 87,000 acres to the State of North Carolina, which became Pisgah National Forest but she continued to call Biltmore her principal home until 1924 when Cornelia married. In 1930 the estate of Biltmore was opened to the public, not only to share this treasure with others, but to provide a source of income to cover the expense of upkeep and preservation
Today the great grandchildren of George Washington Vanderbilt oversee the operation of Biltmore and the current extensive restoration of unseen parts of the house. The tour includes several films about the process of matching fabrics and wall coverings that duplicate original hangings and are being made at the same businesses in France that produced the originals. It is a bit pricey, but I recommend this as a “must see” if ever in Ashville, NC.
One bridge on the road of the estate
Our next three days were spent in Huntsville, Alabama with an old, old, old, friend from my childhood, Kathy Gallagher. I don’t mean she is OLD, but our friendships goes back to our days when we were being pushed in strollers by our big sisters. Our time overlapped with one of her older sisters, Theresa, and her son and grandson, so it was a real family affair.
I am standing under the engine on the above model
Saturn V suspended inside the new building
The tires are metal mesh
A shuttle model, mounted for takeoff