If Walls Could Talk
by Donna Malloy
Childrens’ Dining Room at the Belleview. Dressed in evening attire, the parents would first deposit their children in this cozy dining room on their way to a peaceful dinner in the adjacent Starlight Room.
The now historic Belleview Biltmore opened its doors to the public the morning of January 15, 1897. That same year, Brooklyn merged with New York to form present day New York City, Amelia Earhart was born in Kansas and Journalist Charles Henry Dow, founder of the Wall Street Journal, began charting trends.
Other firsts in 1897 include Ransom E. Olds starting the Olds Motor Vehicle Company, West Point Military Academy adopting the motto: "Duty, Honor, Country," the Sears Roebuck Catalog offering a gun for sale for .68 cents and the American Federation of Labor backing literacy requirements for immigrants.
Construction of the hotel began two years prior in the summer of 1895. Wood harvested from the "Great Woods" along the Georgia-Florida border was used to frame the massive wooden structure. Called "Heart of Pine," the wood is known to be impervious to termites as well as a challenge to carpenters. Aged for over 100 years, the pine has petrified and is virtually inflammable.
Over time, the Biltmore has experienced numerous facelifts and renovations. During one such renovation, a four foot long piece of pine was found behind a wall that was being torn down. In pencil, a construction worker printed this information:
"1896- W.H. AllanSilently resting all those years in darkness, the hammered piece of pine told the story of a carpenter who was proud to be associated with a first-class project such as the Belleview Biltmore. And today, 113 years later, W.H. Allan's voice continues to speak to us from the shadows.
The red brick for the grand hotel's foundation was from Birmingham, Alabama; each one stamped: "Copel and Inglis."
Guests such as industrial barons, tycoons, presidents and steel magnates could rest assured that their dining experience at the posh hotel would be a pleasant one. A typical lunch menu commenced with cold selections of beef tongue, pickled lamb's tongue or French sardines. Hot selections included a cup of celery broth, broiled Clearwater trout, fried Philadelphia chicken, calf's head in vinaigrette, stewed celery in cream or corn meal mush.
Hot sugar buns, cold cornstarch pudding, ginger cookies (good for motion sickness), kumquats, oranges and tangerines rounded out the lunch menu. Beverages included coffee, tea, cocoa or buttermilk. By today's standards, the meal selection is humble. Biltmore's wealthy winter guests would have drooled at what we today take for granted; fresh and exotic produce such as Thai pineapples and kiwifruits from New Zealand, fish and meat, available in every season.
Next: The Ghost of Lady Victoria
The Last Mirror. This ceiling height mirror is the only original mirror at the Belleview Biltmore today. It is located in the vestibule of the Starlight Room.
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