Our trip to the Biltmore in Asheville, North Carolina, was inspiring for various reasons. Of course the structure itself is awesome! I cannot fathom the vision that George Vanderbilt had in the 19th century even to conceive of such a place and the surroundings. He bought up 125,000 acres of worn-out farmland and planted trees to form the park-like surroundings. He inherited money from his grandfather and father and used it wisely. His memorial is the Biltmore Estate and Pisgah National Forest.
Various setbacks in fortune required selling some of the acreage. In 1930, his daughter and her husband, the Cecils, opened it to the public to be able to maintain it during the Depression.
I loved the stories of Vanderbilt philanthropy. When George discovered that one of the African-American boys who worked on the estate wanted to be a doctor, he supplied the finances for the young man to go to college and to medical school. When George died at age 51, his widow chose to keep the house running out of concern for the workers if the house were closed up suddenly and they all lost their jobs.
Yet on our tour of the Biltmore, nothing was said of George W. Vanderbilt II’s spiritual life. When Steve asked, he was told that Mr. Vanderbilt had the lovely Episcopal church built in the village. Of course this doesn’t mean he had no spiritual life, but that it’s not mentioned.
His present claim to fame is that he built what is presently the largest privately owned home in the United States. The descendants of his only child, Cornelia Vanderbilt Cecil, are in charge of the property and are justly proud of the Biltmore.
My grandfather inherited from his father, too, but it was land, not money. The Vanderbilts arrived in this country a few years before the Bradleys, and commerce helped to build their fortune. Our family farm is designated a “Century Farm,” indicating 200 years of continuous agricultural production.
Then my father bought the adjacent 50 acres and inherited a third of his father’s 100 acres. Not much land and very poor soil. They loved the land, and we remember the obvious joy as our father and grandfather, and later my brothers, farmed together.
But more than that, we remember our father’s strong spiritual life. We remember family prayers every night, singing hymns together at home or in the car, constantly picking up people to go to church with us, giving to the church far beyond his means, Bible studies with friends and neighbors, going to gospel meetings in the summer, starting that “new” thing called Vacation Bible School.
We have a physical inheritance, for sure. But our spiritual inheritance means much more as we try to follow our father’s example. He has been dead for 28 years, and yet random people still approach my brothers and me, telling us their memories of our father and the kind of person he was.
Thank you, Heavenly Father, for blessing me with my earthly father. Lawrence Bradley left for us a spiritual memorial that will endure far longer than even the beautiful Biltmore.