There was a time when the robber barons and oil tycoons from the North would own a second home down South to spend half of the year. It was America’s Gilded Age and the homes have the opulence to match the time period.
The land was plenty and the weather was mild for these “snowbirds,” who created lavish summer getaways in the region. Since that time, everyone from presidents to celebrities to rock stars has settled here.
We’re not talking about plantations, but these lavish residences are in a league all their own. Since most of these homes are still privately owned, photos are not allowed inside, unless otherwise specified.
Biltmore Estate, Asheville, North Carolina
Built in 1889 by George Washington Vanderbilt II, the 250-room estate has become one of North Carolina’s most visited tourist attractions, complete with ahead-of-its-time features like an indoor swimming pool and bowling alley. The gardens were designed by Frederick Law Olmsted of Central Park fame.
Biltmore Estate in Asheville holds the title of the largest home in America. It’s also been used as a filming location for movies like Richie Rich and Forrest Gump. The attraction now boasts multiple hotels, restaurants, a winery, and traveling exhibits like the costumes of Downton Abbey. Book your Biltmore Estate and Wine Tasting from Charlotte before you go.
Hay House, Macon, Georgia
Featured on the A&E show “America’s Castles,” Macon‘s Hay House is even more stunning on the inside than on the outside. Built in 1855 in the Italian Renaissance Revival style, the 18,000 square-foot mansion has custom-made sliding doors, glasswork, and a unique cupola. The family lived here until 1962, at which point the Georgia Trust Foundation took over.
The Swan House, Atlanta, Georgia
The Swan House is one of Atlanta‘s most recognizable landmarks, not to mention a popular spot for weddings. The Inman family, heirs to a cotton fortune, called it home in the 1920s and 30s. There’s even a popular book series based around the home. It was also featured in The Hunger Games film series.
As a part of the Atlanta History Center, you can see the many rooms of the home as well as the gardens. A ticket for the Atlanta History Center allows you to tour the museum, the Swan House, the Smith Family Farm, and the Margaret Mitchell House. Visit on the Atlanta Historical Homes Tour.
Villa Vizcaya, Miami, Florida
James Deering, vice president of International Harvester, chose this location outside of Miami for his dream home. Built from 1910 to 1922, the construction of Vizcaya Museum and Gardens employed most of the area’s residents at that time.
It was built and decorated to resemble an old Italian villa. The gardens, which once consisted of 180 acres, are still the highlight of any visit to the mansion. The home also offers views of Biscayne Bay. Book your Transportation to Vizcaya Museum and Gardens before you go.
Ca d’Zan, Sarasota, Florida
Ca d’Zan in Sarasota, Florida was the home of John Ringling of circus fame. The elaborate 56-room Venetian-style mansion was built right on the water and was designed by Dwight James Baum. The five-story, 41 room, 36,000 square foot mansion was filled with luxurious furnishings and art.
Today you can tour the mansion and see for yourself the decor that the family would have picked out when they lived here. Go for a guided tour or a self-guided tour, which run on the hour. It’s included in the Ringling Museums ticket price.