Vintage Vanderbilt Automobile On Display For The First Time
On May 21, 1913, Chauncey Beadle provided George Vanderbilt, who was vacationing in Paris, with the following information:
“Your new Stevens-Duryea car has arrived and Mr. T. Lamar Jackson of Washington came here to demonstrate the car and explain its features to Raymond. It is a beauty and I am sure that you will not only like it, but that it embodies practically the last word in motor-car construction. Raymond is anxious to practice with the car on a few occasions before your home-coming in order to familiarize himself with the changed conditions of mechanism, otherwise your car will not be used.”
Mr. Vanderbilt had arranged with T. Lamar Jackson of Washington, D.C. (a dealer in Stevens-Duryea automobiles) to trade-in his 1912 Stevens-Duryea Model “Y” for a 1913 Stevens-Duryea Model “C-Six” seven-passenger touring car. The company’s slogan was “There Is No Better Motor Car.”
This 1913 Stevens-Duryea is the only vehicle purchased by George Vanderbilt that remains in the Biltmore collection. For many years, it was stored in the Sale Barn near Deerpark until that structure was renovated in 2004 to become Lioncrest. The car was then moved to the upper floor of River Bend Barn.
During the planning process for Antler Hill Village, the idea developed to display the Stevens-Duryea for our guests to see for the first time. The car’s age and significance to the Vanderbilts made it a natural fit with the storytelling and family history focus that characterizes the “feel” of the village and our guests’ experience there.
While the Stevens-Duryea is in a remarkably well-preserved state, in order to exhibit the car, it must first be conserved to prevent its condition from deteriorating further. Our own Biltmore conservators have begun the painstaking process of conserving the vehicle’s interior and exterior. The undercarriage and mechanical components are being conserved by experts from B.R. Howard & Associates. Their conservators are highly-respected for their work with historic transportation objects. Several members of their staff will be working on the Stevens-Duryea here at Biltmore, rather than transporting it to their workshop in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.
According to Chief Conservator Nancy Rosebrock, “The bulk of Biltmore’s work will take place during the spring before the car is installed at the winery.”
The approach to preserving the Stevens-Duryea will be guided by the same ethics and standards of practice that our conservators adhere to when working on any object in our collection, which is respect for the integrity of the object in its current state. Stabilization of damaged areas and deteriorated materials will be the first priority. That will be followed by the cleaning of every surface, repair of damaged areas, and protection of the components from further deterioration. The intention is not to make the car look as it did when it was new to George Vanderbilt, but to present it as an artifact of family history that has survived, albeit with some modifications that are now part of its story.
Once completed, the car will be on
exhibit in a closed, climate-controlled space in Antler Hill Village, just
outside the Winery’s newly expanded retail space. Like many objects in our
collection, guests will not be able to touch the vehicle, but they will be able
to see it close-up and get a sense of the Vanderbilts as a family who enjoyed
one of the most exciting new inventions of the 20th century—the
Did You Know:
Landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted designed the network of roads on Biltmore—miles of them—and they were nationally recognized by the mid-1890’s as being of the quality needed throughout the country. They were also held up as an example to others, especially locally, and George Vanderbilt was given much of the credit for the accomplishment of road improvements in Buncombe County. It is not surprising, therefore, that in 1906 he was elected third vice-president of the Southern Motor Federation, a regional organization affiliated with the American Automobile Federation, a major proponent of good roads.