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Vanderbilt Travels Railway: A One-of-a-Kind Train Display

Posted on 05/18/2017 by Amy Dangelico

From May 26 through September 4, Antler Hill Village is hosting Vanderbilt Travels Railway, a model train display highlighting George Vanderbilt’s travels with handcrafted architectural elements made from leaves, twigs, and other natural materials.

The display was created by Applied Imagination, a nationally-recognized, award-winning crew of artists, botanical architects, and landscape designers. They have produced countless public garden exhibits, seasonal displays, and garden railways—and we are thrilled to have their special talents help us share these stories in such a unique way.

Biltmore Passenger Station, 1899

Biltmore Passenger Station

Biltmore Village, North Carolina

Designed by Biltmore architect Richard Morris Hunt, the Passenger Station in Biltmore Village replaced the original train depot, which was the first in the Asheville area. It handled the shipment of countless loads of construction materials and priceless antiques during the creation of Biltmore House.

The station was also the first stop for many of the Vanderbilts’ guests when they arrived in Western North Carolina on their way to the estate. Family and friends were met there by the Vanderbilts’ carriage or car and brought up the breathtaking three-mile Approach Road to Biltmore House.

Pisgah National Forest Entry Arch

Pisgah National Forest Entry Gate

Transylvania County, North Carolina

At the time of George Vanderbilt’s death in 1914, he was involved in negotiations to sell a large portion of his estate to the federal government in hopes that it would become a forest preserve.

His wife Edith worked to complete this undertaking after his death. She lowered the asking price of nearly 87,000 acres of land to ensure its preservation, establishing the core of what later became Pisgah National Forest.

In 1923, this gate was constructed as the entry to the national forest and as a memorial honoring local service members killed in World War I.

Vanderbilt Mansion, Hyde Park

Vanderbilt Mansion

Hyde Park, New York

George Vanderbilt’s brother, Frederick Vanderbilt and his wife Louise, created a seasonal home in Hyde Park, NY with the help of the renowned architectural firm McKim, Mead, and White.

A stunning example of Beaux-Arts architecture, the house was inspired by a classical Palladian villa and was surrounded by formal and informal gardens designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, who later served as the landscape architect for Biltmore.

The estate is one of the oldest sites developed on the Hudson River and is available for public tours through the National Park Service.

Windmill in Amersterdam

Windmill & Three Classic Canal House Façades

Amsterdam, The Netherlands

The Vanderbilt family line originated in Holland in the village of De Bilt, not far from Amsterdam.

The Vanderbilts’ ancestors immigrated to the Dutch colony of New Netherland around 1650, eventually settling near present-day Staten Island, New York.

By the time of the American Revolution, the small family of farmers had grown significantly and established themselves as landholders. 

George Vanderbilt’s grandfather, Cornelius “The Commodore” Vanderbilt, departed from the family tradition of farming. His successes in the shipping and railway industries established the Vanderbilts as a significant and influential family in America for generations.

George visited his family’s homeland in 1897.

Eiffel Tower, 1890

Eiffel Tower

Paris, France

Originally intended as a temporary feature of the 1889 World’s Fair, the Eiffel Tower has become an enduring and romantic symbol of France.

By the early 1890s, the iconic structure had already become a cherished landmark of Paris, the adopted city of Edith Stuyvesant Dresser who would later become Mrs. George Vanderbilt.

After a whirlwind courtship abroad, the pair were married in Paris in a civil ceremony on June 1, 1898.

Arc de Triompheca, 1885

An understated religious ceremony was held the following day at the American Church of the Holy Trinity, attended only by family and close friends.

Arc de Triomphe

Paris, France

After George and Edith Vanderbilt’s Parisian marriage ceremony, the wedding party attended a breakfast at the apartment Edith shared with her sisters on Rue Vernet, just an avenue away from the iconic Arc de Triomphe.

Edith’s sister Natalie provided two bottles of champagne that their maternal grandfather had set aside at Edith’s birth to be served on her wedding day.

Thereafter, the newlyweds left Paris by train to embark on a four-month European honeymoon before arriving at Biltmore in October 1898.

Later in life, the Vanderbilts kept a second home in their beloved Paris on the Rue de Varenne.

Tower Bridge

Tower Bridge

London, England

London was a frequent and favorite destination for the avid traveler George Vanderbilt, who loved to lose himself among the antique bookshops and outstanding architecture of the British capital.

In June 1897, he rented an apartment on London’s Pall Mall for the celebration surrounding Queen Victoria’s 60-year reign. London marked the occasion with a royal procession that wound its way around both sides of the River Thames. George and his guests viewed the event from their balcony above the splendid parade.

Among the group was George’s future bride, Edith Stuyvesant Dresser, likely marking the beginning of their romance.

USS Vanderbilt

USS Vanderbilt

Transatlantic Service

Cornelius “The Commodore” Vanderbilt, George Vanderbilt’s grandfather and founder of the family fortune, commissioned a steamship in 1856 dubbed the Vanderbilt, once hailed as “the largest vessel that has ever floated on the Atlantic Ocean.”

First used to transport mail and passengers for transatlantic service, the USS Vanderbilt was donated to the Union after the start of the Civil War. It was outfitted with a battery of 15 guns and deployed successfully for search and capture operations against enemy blockade runners. The USS Vanderbilt survived the war and was used to haul coal for several decades before being sold for scrap in 1929.

660 Fifth Avenue, Petit Chateau

In addition to the Antler Hill Village display, two other landmarks have been recreated by Applied Imagination Ltd. and are showcased at the Reception & Ticketing Sales Center and A Gardener’s Place shop. These pieces have been generously loaned to Biltmore from New York Botanical Garden’s Holiday Train Show®.

660 Fifth Avenue

New York, New York

Members of the Vanderbilt family were among the first to build residences along New York’s famed Fifth Avenue. Arguably the most interesting house, inspired by French baroque classical architecture, belonged to George Vanderbilt’s brother, William Kissam Vanderbilt and his wife Alva.

Their enormous mansion, known as Petit Chateau, was designed by Richard Morris Hunt, who later designed Biltmore. The house officially opened in March 1883 with a costume ball for 1,200 guests. Petit Chateau was sold and demolished in 1926.

Grand Central Terminal

Grand Central Terminal

New York, New York

During the 1860s, George Vanderbilt’s grandfather, Cornelius “The Commodore” Vanderbilt, forged a railroad empire that revolutionized travel on America’s east coast, securing the Vanderbilts as one of the most influential families in the nation.

As rail travel increased, New York City’s outdated depot was replaced in 1913 by an elegant state-of-the-art train station, a magnificent monument to transportation. A colossal bronze statue of The Commodore greets more than 82 million rushing commuters in the terminal each year.

Join us this summer to discover these one-of-a-kind works of art and learn more about the Vanderbilt family's travels and their influence across the globe.

Feature image: Applied Imagination's recreation of Grand Central Terminal
Image 1: Photograph of the Biltmore Passenger Station from George Vanderbilt's collection, ca. 1899
Image 2: Pisgah National Forest Entry Gate, ca. 1916-1936
Image 3: Vanderbilt Mansion in Hyde Park, ca. 2009
Image 4: Photograph of a Dutch windmill taken by George Vanderbilt's grandson, William A. V. Cecil, ca. 1950
Image 5: Photograph of the Eiffel Tower from George Vanderbilt's collection, ca. 1890 
Image 6: Photograph of the Arc de Triomphe from George Vanderbilt's collection, ca. 1885
Image 7: Tower Bridge, ca. 1900 
Image 8: Engraving of the USS Vanderbilt, ca. 1862
Image 9: Photograph of 660 Fifth Avenue in New York, NY, from George Vanderbilt's collection, ca. 1890
Image 10: Grand Central Terminal, ca. 1913 

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