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An Inn with Quite a View

Posted on 03/13/2013 by Bill Alexander

GWV, S. Westray Battle, ESV, Marion Olmsted on Looking Glass Rock_401193r


The Inn’s Rocking Chair Porch is one of the most popular spots for our guests, offering a place to sit back and take in the views of the Blue Ridge and Great Smoky Mountains, the same range of mountains that captured the imagination of George Vanderbilt when he first visited Asheville in 1888.  

Vanderbilt’s curiosity and interest in the Pisgah Forest region began soon after he started making his first purchases of land along the French Broad River to create Biltmore Estate. One of the primary reasons Vanderbilt selected this site for Biltmore House was that same panoramic view, dominated by Pisgah’s prominent, cone-shaped peak at 5,721 feet in elevation, situated some 14 miles to the west. The mountain, believed to have been named in 1776 after the Biblical Mount Pisgah, was well-known long before Vanderbilt created Biltmore Estate. Margaret W. Morley summed up the mountain’s popularity in her 1913 romanticized account, “The Carolina Mountains”: “Pisgah … is the most noticeable and the favorite mountain seen from Asheville. Everybody knows it. Rising, as it does, above the other heights, its beautiful form outlined against the sky, it inspires a feeling of affection in those who see it day after day.”

While Biltmore House and the main estate were under construction, Vanderbilt was exploring and purchasing several large tracts of land stretching from Mount Pisgah, on the Buncombe and Haywood County lines through the headwaters of the French Broad in Henderson and Transylvania Counties to Devil’s Courthouse and beyond. At the peak of his land purchases, Vanderbilt owned 125,000 acres or about 195 square miles! His holdings included the famous monolith, Looking Glass Rock, surrounded by the Pink Beds, a large mountain basin believed to be named for the thickets of Mountain Laurel and Rhododendron with white and rosy pink blossoms. Primeval forests covering the mountain slopes and several hundred miles of pristine trout streams with numerous waterfalls added to the wild and alluring charm of Pisgah Forest, as named by Vanderbilt.

Vanderbilt planned to use the Pisgah tract for a variety of purposes – recreation, as a game preserve and forestry – first under forester Gifford Pinchot’s direction and then German forester Dr. Carl A. Schenck, who established the Biltmore Forest School, the nation’s first school to train professional foresters. Some of the earliest recreational activities on the estate included camping, riding and fishing expeditions into the mountains.

Ulysses Grant Williams Reeves was hired in 1891 to build estate trails and roads. In an article published in 1958 in the Asheville Times, “From His Country Boys, Vanderbilt Got a Lot of Conservation Ideas,” writer J. Hart Snyder said Reeves often accompanied Vanderbilt on expeditions into the woods and remarked that Vanderbilt “loved his woods and was a happy, carefree camper, a good sport, always willing to do his share around camp. Although he was a rich man and later built a series of lodges, he was completely at ease in a primitive camp.”

George Vanderbilt soon decided he wanted several, more permanent camps or lodges throughout Pisgah Forest with names such as Three-Day Camp, Looking Glass Lodge, and the grandest retreat of all, Buckspring Lodge near Mt. Pisgah. The Vanderbilts and their descendants spent many summers at Buckspring relaxing and entertaining friends.

After Vanderbilt’s untimely death in 1914, his widow Edith Vanderbilt sold around 87,000 acres of Pisgah Forest to the federal government to establish Pisgah National Forest, the first national forest east of the Mississippi. She retained Buckspring Lodge and 471 acres surrounding it until her death in 1958. Her heirs sold the property, and the National Park Service razed the buildings in 1961 to make way for routing the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Today, guests at the Inn can choose to extend their stay to enjoy excursions to Mt. Pisgah and Looking Glass Rock, visit the former Biltmore Forest School campus at the Cradle of Forestry National Historic Site in the Pink Beds, or simply relax in one of those inviting rocking chairs on the porch while sipping a glass of Biltmore wine and soaking up the view.

About the Photos

Top photo: Inn guests who snag a seat on the Rocking Chair Porch gaze upon these same Blue Ridge Mountains that inspired George Vanderbilt to create Biltmore. 

Inset photo: George Vanderbilt (top of steps) leads Dr. S. Westray Battle, wife Edith Vanderbilt and Marion Olmsted on an outing at Looking Glass Rock.

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