Thursday, December 1, 2011

Biltmore Estate's Farm at Antler Hill Village

One attraction of the Biltmore’s 8,000 acre estate is the Farm at Antler Hill Village.  The farm successfully preserves life circa 1900 to demonstrate the estate’s original agricultural purpose.  Kids and parents explore all aspects of farm life from tending the barnyard animals and playing turn-of-the-century games to demonstrations in blacksmithing and woodworking.  

An excellent (and affordable!) lunch at Biltmore
The Barn, once the social and work center for the families who lived on the estate, is alive again with blacksmiths, woodworkers and other craft demonstrations.  Old storage sheds have been converted to house an old-fashioned Mercantile shop offering local Appalachian crafts, dry goods and heirloom candy, and a Smokehouse counter selling Carolina barbecue and hot dog meals complete with good old-fashioned Southern sweet tea.
The woodworker shop is equipped for all late nineteenth century needs.  The farm woodworker must be a “jack of all trades” in repair and simple construction work to sustain a successful farm.  He would be responsible for all wagon and plow repairs, as well as, constructing all feed boxes, storage crates, ladders, tables, chairs, stools, and racks used around the farm and workers’ homes. During our visit, the woodworker demonstrated creating a lid for a box on a lathe proving that farm woodwork could be decorative in addition to utilitarian.  Historically, a farm carpenter must be accomplished with these tool operations: sawing, leveling, plumbing, erecting, sharpening, measuring, squaring, boring, planing doweling, mitering, chiseling, nailing, screwing, tapering, scraping, sanding, filing.. well, you get the picture.  With that much responsibility, the farm woodworker seriously had job security!
Another essential worker on a nineteenth century farm was the blacksmith.  
As the famous author and poet, Rudyard Kipling, wrote:

Gold is for the mistress- silver for the maid-
Copper for the craftsman cunning at his trade.
“Good!” said the Baron, sitting in his hall, 
“But Iron -- Cold Iron-- is master of them all.”
And the master of iron is the blacksmith.  A blacksmith is a person who creates objects from wrought iron or steel by forging the metal.  Forging metal is the process of heating metal until it becomes soft and then using tools to hammer, shape, bend and cut the metal into the desired shape.  Blacksmiths work by sight and feel heating the black iron until it turns a glowing yellow-orange color which indicates the ideal temperature for hammering the iron into the needed shape.  Since first discovered or developed by the Hittites of Asia Minor (now the Middle East) around 1500 b.c., the smelting of iron ores and the art of blacksmithing has been essential to human development and production. The Biltmore Farm blacksmith would have been responsible for shoeing horses, creating farm and household tools, fences, hinges, and decorative ware, as well as,  repairing equipment on wagons, horse tack, and farm equipment.  Again, great job security!

The current blacksmith at the Farm at Antler Hill comes from a long line of blacksmiths with his family working the art for over 400 years.  He is extremely passionate about his art!  His enthusiasm and attention to detail in his demonstration made the kids and parents alike interested in his work.  Instead of creating a run of the mill nail for his demonstration, he fashioned a delicate ornate leaf out of a block of black cast iron.  His leaves are so beautiful that Southern Living magazine commissioned him to create a entire chandelier with over 100 leaves.

Bee keeping and Honey harvesting Demo
In addition to these wonderful demonstrations, the Farm offers hands-on experiences for children with many 19th century games laid out around the barn for the kids to pick up and play.  Wyatt was quite good at the hoop and stick and Emma enjoyed playing graces.  Anabel headed into the center horse stable where the Farm has many toys and dolls from the turn of the century.  Here, a movie about the Vanderbilt family plays on the hour for an additional educational experience if the kids will put the games and toys down to watch.

Attached to the living history farm is the functioning horse stables where visitors may book trail rides by the hour.  For those looking for a more modern way of touring the estate, there are heavy duty traction Segway tours available.  Whatever your speed, don't miss the Antler Hill Farm for a bit of relaxation and education about turn-of-the-century life in North Carolina.

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