Thursday, July 30, 2015

HIS 113 American Experience: Wealth and American Culture. Biltmore Estate and Merchant's House

How visiting Biltmore Estate and Merchant’s House enhanced the awareness of the course’s subject matter
            The course the American Experience: Wealth and American Culture provided a very deep and detailed insight into the lives of some of the wealthiest Americans of the 19th and 20th century, especially during the Gilded Age and era. In order to have a better understanding of some of the events, it is very effective to visit some of the historic sites, which belonged to those important periods of the US history. I personally visited two sites Biltmore Estate and Merchant’s House, which correspond to the Gilded Age period. The two houses exhibit different levels of wealth owned by their owners because of the class difference. Most importantly visiting these places helped me enhance my awareness of the course’s subject matter and appreciate American culture more through seeing with my own eyes what each family was capable of accumulating and how they utilized their wealth during important times of the US history.
            One of the historic sites, which helped me shape my opinion about how rich people lived in the 19th century, was Biltmore Estate.  The house was built as a vacation home for George Vanderbilt’s prominent family with 175,000 square feet of space. Judging by the outside view that opens up when you approach the property, one can be sure this family amassed large amounts of wealth and was not afraid to utilize it in the most exquisite ways. The House is incredibly beautiful on the inside and outside. The best architects for the house, landscaping and materials were used to build it. This house is a true example of the lavish lifestyles the wealthy people led during the Gilded Age. They purchased only the best for their home and had the latest gadgets for the time, which helped ease the life back then and were considered high-tech. For example, there is an electric elevator that still operates, refrigerator, fire alarms, indoor pool with heated water, washing machine, and other devices. The fast accumulation of wealth during this period let Vanderbilt spend it in elaborate ways. For example, stunning chandelier with 72 light bulbs, triple fireplace, enormous library with 16th century tapestries, famous paintings, and many other unbelievably beautiful things around the house. He would bring something interesting like art or a piece of furniture every time he came home from abroad. The estate is very important historically not only because of the wealthy owner but because it helped raise the level of life and changed Ashville forever. Vanderbilt wanted the mansion to be self-sustaining and for this reason the village was built around it and railroad tracks, which helped bring materials directly.
            Visiting Biltmore helped me personally visualize and experience bygone lifestyle of almost indescribable prosperity. Even though this house is definitely an example of excessive lifestyle, George Vanderbilt actually helped the region during tough economic times by providing jobs. I definitely recommend this historic site for a visit because it also is a great museum for the enormous amounts of things gathered in one place from the 19th century.
The second historic site belonged to the wealthy merchant class family of Tredwell. It is the New York's only 19th century home located in the NoHo neighborhood, which has the original decorations, furniture items from the best New York cabinetmakers and personal things left by the Tredwells. This house helped me understand and experience the domestic life of a wealthy merchant, who made his fortune through selling hardware, and his family. It also shows how the Irish servants lived and worked during those times. According to the known facts, despite the fact the last owner had financial hardship and the area was changing to more commercial one, she managed to save it in its original form, which helped later on for it to become a museum. It is restored to its 1850 s condition and there is still some work being done. Just because this house belonged to a totally different class, it still has some of the beautiful works of art, furniture items, and personal belongings. The house provides an insight into the lives of the merchant’s family and their staff. Each room served its purpose relevant for the time. For example, Eliza's bedroom was not only used for sleeping but it had multiple purposes. When the guests arrived, ladies would come up and undress their coats and got ready to come down. Then the bedroom was used to care for the sick children, giving birth, it was also a bathroom and her office. As for the Seabury's bedroom it was also used as death chambers. The room also had an access to a smaller room used as an office or a smaller guest bedroom. It is really amazing how this 19th century home is still standing among other buildings. This is a great historic site to experience the lives of the wealthy. It is also very educational on how New York evolved from a colonial seaport and became one of the utmost business emporiums of America. 

To sum it up, the two houses provide us with enough information on how wealthy people lived during the 19th century. It also helped me better understand the concept of wealth because various groups view it differently. The amount of wealth one possesses plays a crucial role in what this person surrounds himself with, be it things or people. Vanderbilt and Treadwell, coming from different class, accumulated wealth on a different scale but wanted to have the best things they could afford for the time. It has not changed as people who make enough today also tend to surround themselves with better quality and generally more things. Consumerism on different levels at different times.

Please Note! All of the work posted in my blog is my personal insight into problem solving and answering questions. It is subjective opinions based on scholarly readings. The information may have some errors. I am not a professor.
If you see something you would like to contribute to or correct, you are more than welcome to comment below. I would appreciate it!

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