The nation’s first leaders built many of the ten biggest mansions in America. They modeled their homes after grand European manors, borrowing from Greek and Roman architecture.
During the Antebellum and Civil War periods, plantation owners built Neoclassical and Greek Revival mansions. Later, during the Gilded Age, the industrialists borrowed from a variety of styles, like Queen Anne and Renaissance Revival.
The mansions, manors, and estates here reflect the wide range of styles explored by America’s wealthiest citizens. All of them are open to the public for tours and special programs. According to the National Park Service, all but three are protected as National Historic Landmarks.
Here are the ten biggest mansions in America:
- Kykuit (Sleepy Hollow, New York) John D. Rockefeller built one of American’s grandest mansions in 1913, with Standard Oil money. The hilltop manor overlooks the Hudson River Valley. It features a neo-classical façade and romantic interior details. Nelson Rockefeller’s extensive modern art collection is the mansion’s real treasure.
- The Breakers (Newport, Rhode Island) Cornelius Vanderbilt II, grandson of railroad tycoon Commodore Vanderbilt, built this mansion in 1895. Richard Morris Hunt, the family architect, patterned the 70-room palazzo after those in sixteenth century Genoa, Italy. This mansion, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, features a two-story alabaster and bronze dining room and a music room constructed by Paris artisans.
- Shangri La (Honolulu, Hawaii) American tobacco heiress and philanthropist Doris Duke built this Spanish Mediterranean-inspired mansion in 1937. It overlooks the Pacific Ocean and Diamond Head. Once known as "the richest girl in America," Duke acquired America’s premier collection of Islamic art, and her home borrows architectural elements from the Islamic world.
- Fair Lane (Dearborn, Michigan) In 1915, auto baron Henry Ford built his American mansion on 1,300 acres of farmland. The English Gothic structure, designed by architect William Van Tine, reflects Ford’s rustic taste with grand cypress, oak, and walnut accents. The garage houses six of Ford’s historic car models.
- Aiken-Rhett House (Charleston, South Carolina) John Robinson, a shipping merchant, built this mansion in 1817. Ten years later, he sold it to cotton tradesman William Aiken, Sr. The Aiken family kept the estate for 150 years, sealing rooms they no longer needed as the family dwindled in size. Today, much of the house remains an untouched time capsule. The property includes many of the original outbuildings, including slave quarters and stables.
- Winterthur (Wilmington, Delaware) Jacques and Evelina Bidermann built this mansion in 1839. The son of Evelina’s nephew, Henry Francis du Pont, inherited the house when he came into the family’s gunpowder fortune. An avid gardener and antiques collector, Henry du Pont doubled the Greek Revival structure in the 1920s to make room for his collections.
- Biltmore Estate (Asheville, North Carolina) George Washington Vanderbilt II, another grandson of railroad tycoon Commodore Vanderbilt (and brother of Cornelius II) built this French Renaissance-style chateau in 1895. Richard Morris Hunt designed the 250-room mansion of Indiana limestone. The grand estate contains 75 acres of gardens, sculpted by Frederick Law Olmsted.
- Monticello (Charlottesville, Virginia) Thomas Jefferson, a founding father and the third United States president, built this American mansion in 1769. He made a life project of filling Monticello, roughly translated as "little mountain." Construction continued for nearly forty years. Elk antlers, a gift from Lewis and Clark, adorn the home’s entrance hall.
- Hearst Castle (San Simeon, California) Publisher William Randolph Hearst built his castle in 1919. San Francisco architect Julia Morgan designed the 165-room Mediterranean Revival structure. It was a 28-year work in progress, destined to become a great showplace. Hearst filled his palatial home with European treasures before hosting stars like Charlie Chaplin and Joan Crawford.
- Oak Alley Plantation (Vacherie, Louisina) J. T. Roman, a sugarcane planter and French Creole socialite, built this Antebellum home in 1839. The Greek Revival mansion was a wedding gift to his bride, Celina Pilie. Two rows of 300-year-old live oak trees line the quarter-mile drive from the Mississippi River to the mansion’s colonnades.
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