Did you know: Credit (at least in part) for some of our most famous landmarks, including Biltmore Village and All Souls Cathedral, the YMI Cultural Center downtown, the Basilica St. Lawrence, and even Pisgah National Forest, deserves to be paid to the Vanderbilts?
Asheville looked very different before 1888, when George Vanderbilt moved to the Blue Ridge Mountains (he was born in 1862 in Staten Island), and started building his 250-room home on 125,000 acres (86,000 was later sold to the Forest Service). Here’s the rundown of how the family changed the local landscape (+ who they were).
We know that there’s a whole lot more to this story. Think of this as the “CliffsNotes” version, and look for future newsletters from us that will take a deeper dive into the topic.
The Key Players
- George W. Vanderbilt III (1862 - 1914), an inheritor of the Vanderbilt family fortune, which was made by his grandfather Cornelius through railroads + shipping, and initial owner of the Biltmore House. Cornelius, and his son William (George’s dad), were the richest men in America during their lifetimes.
- Edith Stuyvesant Gerry (1873 - 1958), George’s wife who later married US Senator Peter Goelet Gerry after George’s death
- Cornelia Vanderbilt (1900 - 1976), their daughter; born in 1900. She had two sons, George + William.
- John Cecil (1890 - 1954), Cornelia’s husband + British diplomat. Cornelia + John separated after 10 years of marriage, John stayed on the property as a manager of the house.
The Supporting Actors
- Responsible for the Estate’s landscaping, including the gardens + approach road. His vision inspired the North Carolina Arboretum.
- Head architect for the house and estate + also designed Biltmore Village and All Souls Cathedral.
- Raphael Guastavino
- Created the tile vaulting, ceilings, + swimming pool. Also designed St. Lawrence Basilica, the largest unsupported dome in North America.
- Carl Schenck
- Managed the surrounding forests after Gifford Pinchot, the Estate’s first forester, left Asheville to head the Vision of Forestry. Also founded Biltmore Forest School, the first school of forestry in the United States, in 1898.
- 1888: George Vanderbilt first visits Asheville
- 1889: Construction begins on the Biltmore House (the largest privately-owned home in the country, btw).
- 1895: The house opens to friends + family. Those dinner parties must have been swanky.
- 1898: George marries Edith in France.
- 1901: George and Edith begin Biltmore Industries, which trains Ashevillians in handcrafting, weaving, + more
- 1914: After George dies from complications from an appendectomy, Edith completes a sale of land to the federal government that forms the beginnings of Pisgah National Forest
- 1930: The House + Estate open to the public
- 1963: The Estate is formally nominated to be a National Historic Landmark
- 1983: The Biltmore Wine Company is founded
- 2012: Asheville GreenWorks awards Biltmore the Hall of Fame Award for its environmentally-sustainable initiatives, including a tree protection project and a solar array
- 125,000 acres: the size of the estate at its height, which included much of present-day Pisgah National Forest
- 87,000 acres: the land sold to the federal government after George’s death, which became national forest
- 8,000 acres: the size of the current estate
- 178, 926 sq. ft.: the size of the house
- 32,000: number of bricks produced each day for the house’s construction at the onsite brick kiln
- $2: the entry fee for the Estate when it first opened to the public
Impress Your Friends Some More
...with these fun facts
- The name “Biltmore” came from “Bildt,” a Dutch town where the Vanderbilt family traced its ancestry, and “more,” an Anglo-Saxon term for rolling countryside.
- Part of the Estate is now the historically African-American neighborhood of Shiloh in South Asheville.
- Edith was very altruistic. She set up schools for women and children on the Estate and in Biltmore Village, including a sewing school and a “Moonlight School” at the Biltmore Dairies.
- Biltmore Industries, which created woodworking products and fine cloth + wool, was sold in 1917 to Fred Seely, architect of the Grove Park Inn (opened by E.W. Grove, who made his fortune in Grove’s Chill Tonic, a quinine solution).
- Super popular middle grade novel Serafina and the Black Cloak, the first in a series, follows a young supernatural girl who lives secretly on the Estate and features notable family members and events in Biltmore’s history.
- George collaborated with Edward Stephens, a leader in Asheville’s black public school system, to build + opening of the YMI Cultural Institute. He loaned black leaders in Asheville $13,000 for various projects in total.
- George and Edith had booked tickets on the Titanic, but decided to change their plans, narrowly missing going down with the ship.