Two Different, Yet Very Much Alike

By Alisa Murray
Nationally recognized
portrait artist and award- winning

I’ve been traveling in my usual haunts, and through the winding roads of the North Carolina mountains, I ran across two houses that once were homes full of warmth and joy to their inhabitants. It’s always weird to me to pass through other people’s spaces since after all, they were not just homes of sticks and mortar, but they represent the private spaces that once held families. One home, the modest Brinegar’s cabin filled with children and only two rooms, is contrasted just a few miles away from the mansion of the Vanderbilt’s. The two homes could not be more vastly different but yet are  also the very same.

The first home we visited was that of the Brinegar Family. “They were not famous or rich, but they were important to the other families around them and their neighbors.” In 1876, Martin Brinegar purchased the 125-acre farm from Henderson Crouse, Caroline Joines’ uncle, for $200. Two years later, Martin and Caroline were married; he was 21 and she was just 16. When they arrived on the property, which is off of the Blue Ridge Parkway, they lived in a one room cabin. Three of their children were born there at that cabin, and the cabin that stands there today Martin built as their family grew. Their baby son William was born in the new cabin and also died there as an infant. They lived their lives simply with no electricity or running water and no heat or air conditioning even after the time came that they could have installed both. They raised crops and animals and prepared firewood to keep themselves warm in the winter mountains.

The Biltmore Estate is America’s largest
home located in Asheville, North Carolina.

“Martin made shoes, was a local Justice of the Peace, a notary and also the clerk for the Pleasant Grove Baptist Church. Caroline made clothing and gathered medicinal herbs to prepare and sell to the local drug merchants, such as bloodroot, snakeroot and black cherry bark. Martin died on his way home from church while caught in a storm. He was 68, and in 1935, the State of North Carolina bought the land to incorporate it into the Blue Ridge Parkway. Caroline stayed there until tourists and traffic became too much for her and she died in her daughter’s home in 1943.”

The second home was the Biltmore Estate. Tucked into the mountains of Asheville, North Carolina, it was completed in 1895 and was the country retreat vacation home of George Vanderbilt. By contrast, the chateau has 250 rooms, which include guest quarters, 25 dressing rooms to change into proper swimming clothing, a bowling alley and indoor swimming pool and expansive gardens and grounds. It is as vast as is it amazing and quite difficult to imagine what it must have been like to actually live there amongst so much wealth. The home is the largest undertaking in residential architecture with four plus acres of floor space, 35 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms and 65 fireplaces.

Brian and Alisa Murray on the porch of the Brinegar cabin in Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina.

In 1898, George Vanderbilt married Edith Dresser, and in 1900, Cornelia Vanderbilt was born in the Louis XV Room; she was their only child. George passed away in 1914 at the age of 51 and left behind a philanthropic dynasty. During the war, special artwork was secretly stored in the home free of charge, and Edith sold around 87,000 acres of the estate to dedicate to the United States Forestry Service for less than $5 per acre. Today, their beautiful home is preserved to show what their lives were like living leisurely in the beautiful mountains with vista views and entertaining all sorts of guests.

Each of the homes held families together and built communities. Both were filled with family, and these families gave to their neighbors and friends. While one was incomprehensibly wealthy and the other incomprehensibly poor, both were indeed rich in generosity and grace. Both Martin Brinegar and George Vanderbilt gave to their community, both were talented men and both enriched the communities that they served. Each were fathers and husbands and men of their word. It goes to show that what you have is not always as important as who you are. We all need to remember that. Most importantly for us today, each of their homes have stood the test of time and offer us an opportunity to peek into each of their sweet lives.

Take Care of YOU!


Source: State of North Carolina.