Building Bridges at Biltmore
Written By Jean Sexton
Bridges are a functional and necessary part of getting around Biltmore, and most of us simply drive or walk right over them without really noticing many details. But enormous thought and care went into the planning and construction of these bridges, which are more than a century old.
The bridges were designed as a collaborative effort between Biltmore’s architect Richard Morris Hunt and landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted. Brick bridges were typically constructed by the Hunt firm, while the stone bridges were created under Olmsted’s direction.
The first bridges were wooden structures built in the early 1890s prior to the completion of Biltmore House. Although many of the bridges are in areas not now open to guests, there are several that are used and admired every day.
Standing the test of time
You’ll see an enduring example of Olmsted’s stone bridge design about halfway up the Approach Road to Biltmore House. It was created as a horse-ford bridge with a pull-off so that carriages could stop and allow the horses to drink without blocking the road. This bridge once had a semi-circular balcony with a stone bench built into it so that guests could enjoy the scenery and the pond while waiting for the ride to resume.
The iconic brick bridge over the Bass Pond is one of the most beautiful spots on the estate. Its sweeping curve and high archway reflected in the water below made a stunning backdrop a scene in the film Last of the Mohicans—one of many feature films shot at Biltmore–as two central characters rode across it in a horse-drawn carriage.
“We know that the Hunt firm designed the Bass Pond bridge, and that it includes brick made at Biltmore Brick and Tileworks,” said Bill Alexander, Landscape and Forest Historian. “Archival records show that it cost $9,570 to complete.”
Another lovely bridge that is often overlooked includes a tunnel allowing pedestrians to cross from the Shrub Garden to the Spring Garden. As you walk or drive between the iron gates in front of Biltmore House, follow the road to the right toward the Conservatory. You’ll cross this bridge just before entering the Walled Garden.
“Olmsted used the same technique in Central Park so that people walking didn’t have to worry about vehicles,” said Bill. “Although it was Olmsted’s idea and plan, Hunt designed and built it. Reading between the lines, we think that Hunt, Olmsted, and Vanderbilt probably planned those important details together.”
Featured photo: Bass Pond Bridge
Righ photo: (L-R, standing) Edward Burnett, Richard Morris Hunt, George Vanderbilt; (L-R, seated) Frederick Law Olmsted, Richard Howland Hunt
Left photo: brick details of Bass Pond Bridge