The incredible mansion was commissioned by New York native George Washington Vanderbilt II, after he visited North Carolina with his mother at age 26. The Vanderbilt family had amassed great wealth in steamship, railroad and other various business ventures. So he easily acquired land when he decided to build a country home, and eventually the estate encompassed 125,000 acres.
Built between 1889-1895, the 250-room mansion is the largest privately owned home in the United States. The nearly 180,000 square feet are furnished with oriental rugs, tapestries and antiques dating from 1400 to 1800. Ever the collector, Vanderbilt invested in a number of paintings, including works from Renoir, and a chess set that belonged to Napolean Bonaparte.
The mansion sits on the remaining 8,000 acres of the estate, and has been open to the public for self-guided tours since 1956. Especially of interest are the indoor swimming pool, bowling alley and two-story library.