The castles listed on A&E’s “America’s Castles” belonged to the rich and famous. By looking at the history of some of the families that owned these castles, it is easy to see why people say that America is the land of opportunity.
Cornelius Vanderbilt was a man who took advantage of the opportunities America had to offer. He was born on May 27, 1794, to a family of modest means. Cornelius ended his formal schooling by the age of 11 (Encyclopedia Americana, 2001, Vol. 27, 891).
He achieved success because he was industrious. He knew how to work, and he knew the value of the money that came from hard work. Other qualities that made him successful were perseverance, enterprise, courage, and trustworthiness. Being trustworthy meant he could command better prices than others doing the same job (Smith, 528, 1886).
Because of these qualities, Cornelius Vanderbilt was able to amass one of the largest fortunes ever made in America from his shipping and railroad enterprises.
Three of America’s Castles were built by descendants of the man who came out of humble beginnings to amass such a large fortune. The Biltmore House, The Breakers, and Marble House were all built by Cornelius Vanderbilt’s descendants.
The Biltmore House (also known as America’s largest home) is located on 8,000 acres near Asheville, North Carolina. It was built for George W. Vanderbilt. The 250-room French Renaissance chateau, started in 1889, took hundreds of workers and five years to build (A&E, Breakers, 2000).
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The Breakers is located in Newport, Rhode Island. It was built for Cornelius Vanderbilt II. The 70-room castle (Italian Renaissance) was started in 1895. Upon its completion, the castle was filled with antiques from France and Italy (A&E, Breakers, 2000).
Marble House is also located in Newport, Rhode Island. During the 1890s, Newport became the summer colony of New England’s wealthiest families. Marble House was built by William K. Vanderbilt, a grandson of Cornelius Vanderbilt, for his wife’s birthday. The castle cost $11 million; the 500,000 cubic feet of white marble that it took to build it cost $7 million alone (Architecture, Marble House, 2003).