Great American Mansions

       America is fairly young in world history, so it does not have many extremely old or historically-rich places, but, because of its incredible wealth, it has many sumptuous estates which may be visited by the tourist. The following is my list of the Top 20.
            1. Biltmore Estate, Asheville, North Carolina
                     Another excursion in the Smoky Mountains area is to the Biltmore Estate, in Asheville, North Carolina. The sumptuous, ornate home was built for the grandson of Cornelius Vanderbilt in the late 1800’s. It is a French-Renaissance style mansion with 250 rooms and is probably the most-visited venue of its type in the United States. The chateau is tastefully furnished with original furniture (note the intricate woodwork) and period pieces. The artwork on display, alone, is impressive.
                     The estate also includes 75 acres of gardens, designed by the architect of Central Park in New York City, Frederick Law Olmsted. There is even a winery on the grounds.
            2. White House, Washington, D.C.
                     The mansion of the President of the United States, was completed in the year 1800 and has been the residence of every Chief Executive since then. The rear of the elegant estate faces the Washington Monument. The famous address is 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.  
            3. Breakers, Newport, Rhode Island
                     The Breakers was the summer residence of Cornelius Vanderbilt and is perhaps the most sumptuous of the numerous estates along Bellevue Avenue in Newport. Exquisite marble and woodwork are found throughout.  The Dining Room is especially opulent.
            4. Hearst Castle, San Simeon, California
                     Hearst Castle, in San Simeon, California, is the mansion of newspaper publisher, William Randolph Hearst. The estate is located at the top of a mountain, known as La Cuesta Incantada (The Enchanted Hill) and overlooks San Simeon and the Pacific coast. Visitors must park near Route 1 and take a shuttle to the castle. There are a variety of tours available, but Tour 1 is recommended for the first time visitor. This tour includes visits to the pools, the gardens and the ground floor of the mansion. Note that there is considerable walking and stair-climbing on all the tours.
                     The castle itself, Casa Grande, has over 100 rooms and is furnished with many of Hearst’s art and antiques. Construction on the house began in 1919 but took many years to complete because Hearst imported materials from all parts of the world.
            5. Mount Vernon, Alexandria, Virginia
                     Mount Vernon, George Washington’s estate on the Potomac, near Washington, D.C., is fine example of wealthy colonial life. Washington considered himself a farmer at heart, and only reluctantly left his plantation to serve his country as its first president. He retreated to Mount Vernon whenever possible and retired from public life there after his second term. The mansion and grounds have been lovingly restored and contain period furnishings, as well as Washingtonian memorabilia. Guided tours of the house and buildings are offered frequently.
            6. Monticello, Charlottesville, Virginia
                    Monticello is Thomas Jefferson’s estate in Charlottesville, Virginia. It was both his ultimate retreat and his passion, since he was intimately involved in its construction and subsequent modifications. The home contains original furnishings and memorabilia from Jefferson’s eclectic life. One comes away from an experience at Monticello with a better appreciation of Jefferson, the man, and a much greater respect for his intellect.
            7. Graceland, Memphis, Tennessee
                     The most important attraction in Memphis is Elvis Presley’s Graceland, his 14-acre estate in town. The complex, which includes the mansion and a number of museums, as well as an entertainment facility, has become a pilgrimage site for Elvis’ many fans, as well as a curiosity for others who visit the Memphis area. Separate admissions to the various venues are available or the Platinum Tour pass can be purchased which includes admission to all areas of the estate.
            8. Iolani Palace, Honolulu, Hawaii
                     Iolani Palace, on the island of Oahu, Hawaii, is the only official royal residence in the United States. From 1882 till the end of the monarchy in 1893, it was the residence of the Hawaiian royal family. Subsequently, it became the capitol building. Now it is open to the public and is preserved as a memorial to the past.
            9. Shangri La, Honolulu, Hawaii
                     Shangri La is the former residence and estate of Doris Duke, a multi-millionaire who built the house after traveling extensively throughout Asia. The home has a large collection of Islamic Art and architecture. Note especially the disappearing wall in the living room, the turkish rooms, and the Mughal Garden. The mansion is open to the public but only by advanced reservation.
           10. Magnolia Plantation, Charleston, South Carolina
                     Magnolia Plantation is located just outside of Charleston. It offers a look at a genuine southern plantation with its glorious mansion and its extensive gardens. The Greek-revival plantation house is set amidst sprawling woods and wetlands. The Spanish Moss-draped trees add a special ambience to the grounds. Walk the garden trail to enjoy the wetlands with their human touches of wooden bridges, painted white, and benches for rest and contemplation.
           11. Scotty’s Castle, Death Valley, California
                     Scotty’s Castle is an interesting ranch house in the middle of nowhere. It was built by a wealthy man from Chicago, but was the residence of "Death Valley Scotty", a colorful and eccentric personality.
           12. Gillette Castle, East Haddam, Connecticut
                     Gillette Castle State Park, in East Haddam Connecticut, showcases the estate of actor, William Gillette, who was famous for his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes. The castle contains interesting furnishings and unusual architecture. The grounds are also worth exploring. It is located northwest of Mystic.
           13. Fallingwater, Ohiopyle, Pennsylvania
                     Fallingwater is one of noted architect, Frank Lloyd Wright’s signature designs. The home is located southeast of Pittsburgh, PA, near the West Virginia line, in the woods of the Alleghany Mountains. The idyllic setting is enhanced by the house, which is cantilevered over a waterfall.
           14. Rosecliff, Newport, Rhode Island
                    Another of the elaborate "summer residences" of Newport, RI, Rosecliff has been featured in the movies, The Great Gatsby and True Lies. The ballroom is huge and the French-style staircase is especially dramatic. The grounds are also beautiful.  
           15. Hermitage, Goodlettsville, Tennessee
                    Hermitage is the former estate of President Andrew Jackson. It is located just outside of Nashville, TN, and contains many original furnishings as well as the former President’s personal effects. The dynamic figure and his wife are buried on the grounds.


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