Biltmore’s Bass Pond: Re-Creating the Missing Island

Did you know Biltmore’s Bass Pond originally had two islands within it? One of the islands (or “islets,” as landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted referred to them) mysteriously disappeared over the years. However, our horticulture team recently worked to re-create this feature as part of our mission to preserve the estate in Asheville, North Carolina.

About the Bass Pond’s Design

Biltmore’s Bass Pond—referred to as “the lake” in some archival documents—was part of Frederick Law Olmsted’s landscape plan for the estate, created more than 125 years ago. Designed to provide still water for the Vanderbilts and their family and friends to go boating, the six-acre body of water was created by damming a nearby creek and enlarging its millpond.

Archival bass pond image
Archival image of the Bass Pond with both original islands visible, ca. 1895.

Olmsted wrote about the Bass Pond islands in a January 29, 1891 letter to George Vanderbilt:

“There were four reasons for designing the islets near the north margin of the lake: first, the effect of them would be to enlarge the apparent extent of the water… and there would at least be more effect of intricacy and mystery; second, [because of] the steepness of the ground almost everywhere at our proposed water-line on the main shore… the islands, being low and flat, are intended to serve was a disguise and relief to this circumstance; third, the islands will save cost of construction; fourth, they are needed as breeding places for shy waterside birds, many of which will only make their nests in the seclusion of thickets apparently inaccessible.”

Team re-creating the new island
Our team sourced the clay-based soil for the new island from another estate location.

Re-Creating the Missing Island

During the early months of 2022, our horticulture team began the preliminary work to install the missing island. First, they drained the Bass Pond so that the water level was below the height of the new island. Then, the pond was dredged and our crew disposed of the old sediment and material. Finally, our team brought in clay-based soil from another location on the estate to re-create the island.

Transporting plants in the bass pond
Transporting the selection of plants to the newly established island was a project in and of itself.

Landscaping of the island took place in May 2022. Six members of our horticulture team transported iris, Cliftonia, and Juncus to the island via several rowboat trips. The selection of plant material was in line with Olmsted’s original intention for the islands’ purpose. Juncus, for example, is a water-loving grass that offers habitat for wildlife, in particular the shy waterside birds referenced by Olmsted in his letter to George Vanderbilt.

New Bass Pond island almost complete
Our team intentionally selected plants that would remain true to Olmsted’s original vision.

On your next trip to the estate, we invite you to linger along the shores of the Bass Pond. Consider strolling there via the Azalea Garden Path after your Biltmore House visit. Marvel at its historic boat house and waterfall. And of course, watch the newly re-created island for those shy waterside birds—just as Olmsted intended.

Cedric the St. Bernard: Biltmore’s Very Good Boy

Cedric, a smooth coat St. Bernard, was a loyal companion to George Vanderbilt. Though we aren’t sure exactly how George came to own Cedric, we do know he was brought to the estate from Point d’Acadie, George’s summer home in Bar Harbor, sometime around the opening of Biltmore House in 1895. Cedric was likely 1-3 years old at this time.

Cedric, George Vanderbilt, and honeymooners Jay Burden and Adele Sloan, George’s niece, June 1895. This is one of the earliest photos of Cedric in the Biltmore House collection.
Cedric, George Vanderbilt, and honeymooners Jay Burden and Adele Sloan, George’s niece, June 1895. This is one of the earliest photos of Cedric in the Biltmore House collection.

Archival records reveal that Cedric received a lot of leeway around the estate. Correspondence from Biltmore House guests indicates that he had free reign on the first floor. He could often be found sunning on the Loggia or laying in the Library. He’s also seen in a number of pictures taken outdoors during Biltmore’s early days.

Cedric sunbathing on the Loggia, ca. 1900. The massive St. Bernard was known lounge and sometimes snooze in various locations through the first floor of Biltmore House.
Cedric sunbathing on the Loggia, ca. 1900. The massive St. Bernard was known to lounge and sometimes snooze in various locations through the first floor of Biltmore House.

Cedric was a true member of the Vanderbilt family and was treated as such. In addition to a couple of close friends and employees, Cedric was one of the few attendees at a private ceremony during which George and Edith Vanderbilt oversaw the planting of a commemorative tree to honor the birth of their daughter Cornelia in 1900.

George Vanderbilt, Cedric, and Cornelia Vanderbilt being held by her nanny at the planting of Cornelia's “Baby Tree
George Vanderbilt, Cedric, and Cornelia Vanderbilt being held by her nanny at the planting of Cornelia’s “Baby Tree”, October 1900. The photograph was likely taken by Edith Vanderbilt.

By 1901, there was a whole family of St. Bernards living at Biltmore, all adored by the Vanderbilts and their guests alike. In a letter to his wife, Joseph Hodges Choate, the American Ambassador to Great Britain and Biltmore House guest, wrote:

“I shall not attempt to describe the house, which is obviously the finest in America, but the dogs are truly magnificent … I wish you could see these great St. Bernards—five of them, father, mother and three children, all big and splendid.  They seem to fill the billiard-room and are most affectionate.”

Cedric dozing in the Library of Biltmore House, ca. 1896. The beloved St. Bernard was known to sprawl out and relax where ever George Vanderbilt was.
Cedric dozing in the Library of Biltmore House, ca. 1896. The beloved St. Bernard was known to sprawl out and relax where ever George Vanderbilt was.

George Vanderbilt gifted St. Bernards (believed to have been sired by Cedric) to friends and family.  In 1902, George’s friend the Right Rev. William Croswell Doane lost his faithful St. Bernard named Cluny, so George gave him a puppy named Balder. A few years later, George and Edith also gave a St. Bernard puppy to their nephew John Nicholas Brown, who named the dog Cedric.

Cornelia with one of her St. Bernards on the Esplanade of Biltmore House, ca. 1903. Cedric was the first of at least four generations born on the estate. The St. Bernard pictured is likely one of his grown pups.
Cornelia with one of her St. Bernards on the Esplanade of Biltmore House, ca. 1903. Cedric was the first of at least four generations born on the estate. The St. Bernard pictured is likely one of his grown pups.

Sadly, Cedric died in 1902 at Buckspring Lodge, where he was buried. To commemorate the occasion, Biltmore House guest Charlotte Pendleton wrote a poem in his honor, entitled Cedric: A Sonetto in Rondo, in the Nonsense Book.

Cedric on the Rampe Douce of the Esplanade in front of Biltmore House. This photograph accompanied a poem in the Biltmore House Nonsense Book honoring Cedric when he passed away in 1902.
Cedric on the Rampe Douce of the Esplanade in front of Biltmore House. This photograph accompanied a poem in the Biltmore House Nonsense Book honoring Cedric when he passed away in 1902.

Cedric Sonetto in Rondo

The Moses of your canine race

On Pisgah’s sapphire heights you strayed

Among her pink beds low you laid

Upon the high and lovely place;

You down to die where there is space,

Amid cathedral pine arrayed

With plumed crest and views that braid

Their columned stems with waving grace.

For your great body to lie down

Most fully housed, walk spreading skies

On beds of spicy needles, brown,

Fragrant; couched in majesty,

Rapt in deep solitude, a woven gown

Of shrouded mystery.

Measuring more than 33 inches around, Cedric’s original leather collar attests to the impressive size and heft of the Vanderbilts’ favorite breed.
Measuring more than 33 inches around, Cedric’s original leather collar attests to the impressive size and heft of the Vanderbilts’ favorite breed.

Today, we honor the legacy of Cedric the St. Bernard, Biltmore’s very good boy, with his eponymous restaurant: Cedric’s Tavern in Antler Hill Village. On your next estate visit, be sure to check out the many photographs of Cedric on the tavern’s walls as well the display of his impressive leather collar.

Biltmore’s Blacksmith: Striking While the Iron is Hot

Did you know America’s Largest Home® has a resident blacksmith?

A typical day for Biltmore blacksmith Steve Schroeder is spent demonstrating traditional techniques, telling stories to our guests, and answering their questions in the estate’s original smithy shop at Antler Hill Barn.

Biltmore blacksmith Steve Schroder learned the trade by apprenticing under our previous blacksmith Doc Cudd.

Blacksmith to Blacksmith

During one of his demonstrations, Steve met a guest who was a fellow blacksmith from New Jersey. The guest showed Steve a piece of his own: a metal key ring featuring a golf ball-sized rose with about 40 tiny petals.

Blacksmithing is the art of forging metal to create hardware, ornamental objects, and more.
Blacksmithing is the art of forging metal to create hardware, ornamental objects, and more.

Steve was impressed by the rose design and asked the guest about his process. To his surprise, the guest offered to stay at the smithy shop for what ended up being more than an hour to explain the method to Steve as he tried it out.

“That’s one of the great things about blacksmiths,” Steve explains. “We’re very open about sharing projects and we’re happy to teach each other different techniques. There are no secrets in blacksmithing.”

Blacksmiths use a variety of tools such as a hammer, an anvil, and a hot cut, which helps create indentations in the metal.
Blacksmiths use a variety of tools such as a hammer, an anvil, and a hot cut, which helps create indentations in the metal.

The Rose Hook Process

  1. The upper portion of the rod is heated—as it is throughout the process—and then hammered (above) until it is incredibly thin.
  2. The rod is twisted in the middle to define the stem.
  3. The flat, upper portion of the rod is placed over a hot cut and struck with a hammer to create indentions along one side, defining the individual petals.
  4. The upper portion is bent into a P-shape.
  5. The P-shape is tightly coiled, revealing the rose design.
  6. The lower portion of the rod bent to create the hook element.
Our blacksmith’s early rose hooks are on display near the second floor fireplace in Village Hotel.
Our blacksmith’s early rose hooks are on display near the second floor fireplace in Village Hotel.

Perfecting the Petals

Steve worked diligently to improve his rose hook technique over the next few months. During that time, news of the fascinating project caught wind around the estate. As result, eight rose hooks were soon installed in the comfortable seating area next to Village Social, located within Village Hotel.

Steve peels back the petals of the roses using pliers while the metal is still red-hot to create the blooming effect.
Steve peels back the petals of the roses using pliers while the metal is still red-hot to create the blooming effect.

However, Steve is quick to point out that the hooks installed in Village Hotel don’t reflect one of his biggest revelations in perfecting his technique, one that actually came from his wife Kylie.

“I explained to her that I was having a hard time keeping the petals open in the coiling process,” he says. “She suggested I use pliers to pull the petals back for that nice blooming effect.”

The design of the rose hook has slightly evolved over the years. Loving care and attention to detail goes into each iteration.

Striking While the Iron is Hot

Steve knew early on there was potential for his products to be sold on the estate—and Village Hotel guests were asking if the rose hooks were available for purchase on a daily basis.

While Steve didn’t want to sell the product until he thought it was in its best possible form, he knew that he had to “strike while the iron is hot.” (Yes, that is a blacksmith pun, and yes, Steve is full of them.)

We invite you to watch our blacksmith work and learn more about the craft in Antler Hill Barn. Hours vary seasonally.
We invite you to watch our blacksmith work and learn more about the craft in Antler Hill Barn. Hours vary seasonally.

Finally, after a few months and a few hundred roses, Steve felt confident enough in the design—more specifically, in his ability to replicate the design over and over—and the product hit the shelves of The Barn Door.

And the rose hooks are selling just as fast as Steve can make them. He brings a handful of rose hooks to The Barn Door every morning and they’re gone by the afternoon. In the first two weeks, the shop sold more than 50 hooks, making it their best-selling item.

Our blacksmith’s rose hooks sell out incredibly quickly and because of the nature of the craft, they’re only available on the estate.
Our blacksmith’s rose hooks sell out incredibly quickly and because of the nature of the craft, they’re only available on the estate.

As a result of this estate collaboration, the product’s footprint is almost non-existent. When a batch of rose hooks is ready, Steve simply walks them next door to be sold—no additional carbon emissions, packaging, or waste involved. The rose hooks don’t even have price tags.

On your next visit to the estate, be sure to make time to visit our blacksmith Steve Schroeder at Antler Hill Barn, then pop in The Barn Door to take home a truly unique piece of Biltmore.

Date Activities for Summer at Biltmore

There’s no better place to enjoy a summertime date with your sweetheart than Biltmore. Our 8,000-acre estate has a variety of activities for couples—whether you’re looking for a romantic offering or just a unique way to spend quality time with your special someone.

Couple hiking in Biltmore's 8,000-acre backyard
Plan your Blue Ridge Mountain escape at Biltmore today!

4. Reconnect amid Mother Nature

One great Biltmore date option is to explore our Blue Ridge Mountain backyard. Located in Antler Hill Village, our Outdoor Adventure Center offers a wide range of activities for reconnecting amid Mother Nature. Choose from a Private Carriage or Horseback Trail Ride, Sensory Journey Hike, River Float Trip, and more.

Take your date to the Winery
Whether you’re in the Tasting Room or at the Wine Bar, our knowledgeable wine experts are on hand to guide your selections.

3. Savor Handcrafted Vintages at Our Winery

What could be more romantic that sipping award-winning wines? Another fantastic date option, a visit to our Winery is perfect for the novice and connoisseur alike. Explore our vast portfolio of reds, whites, and roses in our Tasting Room or unwind at the Wine Bar where you can savor finest reserve and sparkling wines.

Legends of Art & Innovation is on display in Amherst at Deerpark®, Biltmore’s event space located in the heart of the estate.
Legends of Art & Innovation is on display in Amherst at Deerpark®, Biltmore’s event space located in the heart of the estate.

2. Discover Legends of Art & Innovation

A date option that’s also a fully immerse experience, our newest exhibition is a multi-sensory event that illuminates the remarkable lives of renowned artists and their timeless masterpieces. Legends of Art & Innovation features Monet & Friends – Life, Light & Color now through July 10 and Leonardo da Vinci – 500 Years of Genius beginning July 14.

A rejuvenating couples treatment at our petite spa facility is the perfect way to end a day of estate exploration with your sweetheart.
A rejuvenating couples treatment at our petite spa facility is the perfect way to end a day of estate exploration with your sweetheart.

1. Stay Overnight for a True Getaway

We invite you to stay overnight at one of our distinctive lodging options to transform your Biltmore date into a true getaway. Choose from the four-star luxury of The Inn, the casual comfort of Village Hotel, or the premium privacy of one of our Cottages. An added perk? Overnight stays include access to pampering treatments of The Spa Biltmore.

The Line House Cottages: A Brief History

Like all of the Cottages on Biltmore Estate™, our new Line House Cottages offer guests a step back in time to the Vanderbilts’ era—but unlike our other cottages, these cozy historic homes also provide a special glimpse into the estate’s agricultural heritage.

Archival image of the estate, c. 1906. The Line is in the foreground with the Barn to the left and the Main Dairy (what is now the Winery) in the center. Biltmore House is visible in the distance.
Archival image of the estate, c. 1906. The Line is in the foreground with the Barn to the left and the Main Dairy (what is now the Winery) in the center. Biltmore House is visible in the distance.

Located just steps away from the Barn and Farmyard in Antler Hill Village, the Line House Cottages are original estate structures, part of what was once referred to as The Line.

George Vanderbilt, his friend Stephen H. Olin, and two dogs walking towards the Farm Village (what is now Antler Hill Village), c. 1906. The Line is on the far left and the Barn is center-right. The four larger houses on either side of the Barn were reserved for management.
George Vanderbilt, his friend Stephen H. Olin, and two dogs walking towards the Farm Village (what is now Antler Hill Village), c. 1906. The Line is on the far left and the Barn is center-right. The four larger houses on either side of the Barn were reserved for management.

According to archival records, The Line consisted of eight nearly identical cottages. Dozens of estate employees and their families called these cottages home over the years, many of whom worked as milkers at the Dairy.

The beautifully updated living room in each of the Line House Cottages is the perfect place to unwind after a day spent exploring all the estate has to offer.
The beautifully updated living room in each of the Line House Cottages is the perfect place to unwind after a day spent exploring all the estate has to offer.

Today, these turn-of-the-century farmhouses have been reimagined as exclusive lodging options for our overnight guests, offering premium comfort and convenience along with privacy and four-star amenities.

The upstairs bedroom boasts double-window seating with ample natural light to illuminate the vintage Biltmore photographs displayed above the upholstered headboard.
The upstairs bedroom boasts double-window seating with ample natural light to illuminate the vintage Biltmore photographs displayed above the upholstered headboard.

Each of our 970-square-foot Line House Cottages can comfortably sleep four and offers:

  • Two bedrooms, each with a queen-size bed
  • Two bathrooms, each with a walk-in shower
  • Formal living room
  • Full eat-in kitchen
  • Covered front porch with pastoral views
  • Back patio for outdoor dining and entertaining
Imagine yourself part of this relaxing scene, sipping your morning coffee from your rocking chair on the front porch, having just woken up on George Vanderbilt’s magnificent estate.
Imagine yourself part of this relaxing scene, sipping your morning coffee from your rocking chair on the front porch, having just woken up on George Vanderbilt’s magnificent estate.

With soothing, pastoral views of our working Farmyard, these homes are a short stroll from Antler Hill Village & Winery, estate trails, and the four-star luxuries offered at The Inn on Biltmore Estate. We invited you to discover our newest lodging offering and book your stay at one of our Line House Cottages in gorgeous Asheville, NC today.

Due to the historic architecture of our Vanderbilt-era Cottages, they are not accessible for guests with limited mobility.

The Grandest Guest Rooms: Restoring the Louis XV Suite

Our Museum Services team works year-round to preserve the dream of George Vanderbilt and the visionaries who helped him create Biltmore. Let’s take a closer look at one of their largest projects to date: restoring the Louis XV Suite—the grandest guest rooms in Biltmore House.

About the Louis XV Suite

The Louis XV Suite is a retreat consisting of four guest rooms: the Damask Room, the Claude Room, the Tyrolean Chimney Room, and the Louis XV Room. It is located on the second floor of Biltmore House and is included as part of the Biltmore House tour route during the cooler months of the year.

The beautifully restored Damask Room boasts large windows that display captivating vistas in three directions: east, west, and south.
The beautifully restored Damask Room boasts large windows that display captivating vistas in three directions: east, west, and south.

Damask Room

One of 33 guest bedrooms in Biltmore House, the Damask Room was named for silk damask draperies and distinct damask-style wallpaper. Situated at the southwest corner of the house, this room features commanding views of the South Terrace, Italian Garden, Deer Park, and the splendid mountains beyond.

Biltmore’s Museum Services team, which includes curators, conservators, and collections specialists, spent more than three years on this extensive restoration.
Biltmore’s Museum Services team, which includes curators, conservators, and collections specialists, spent more than three years on this extensive restoration.

On the walls hangs a reproduction of the room’s original wallpaper, a complicated design that replicates on paper the look of a fine damask fabric. Small fragments of the original paper were found underneath door moldings. Our curators were able to match these fragments to full-sized samples of the wallpaper that had been placed in storage more than a century ago, enabling them to have an accurate reproduction made by Charles Rupert Designs, a company in Vancouver that specializes in surface-printed historic wallpapers.

On display in the Damask Room is a breakfast setup including Vanderbilt china, demonstrating that guests could choose to have breakfast in their rooms if preferred.
On display in the Damask Room is a breakfast setup including Vanderbilt china, demonstrating that guests could choose to have breakfast in their rooms if preferred.

Biltmore’s conservators spent many weeks cleaning the antique marble and gilt fireplace and mantel in the Damask Room, in addition to conserving numerous pieces of American and English mahogany furniture for this room.

The striking wallpaper in the Claude Room, reproduced from the original, is the same pattern that is used in the Damask Room, but in a different color palette.
The striking wallpaper in the Claude Room, reproduced from the original, is the same pattern that is used in the Damask Room, but in a different color palette.

Claude Room

Like many rooms in Biltmore House, the Claude Room was named after one of George Vanderbilt’s favorite artists, the French painter Claude Lorrain. Several prints after paintings by Claude Lorrain originally hung in this room and are displayed here again. A master of 17th-century landscape painting, Claude presented nature as harmonious, serene, and often majestic. In 18th-century England, his works inspired new trends in landscape design. He also influenced later generations of landscape painters, including J.M.W. Turner.

As with many of the unrestored rooms in Biltmore House, the Claude Room was used by our teams for supplemental storage prior to restoration.
As with many of the unrestored rooms in Biltmore House, the Claude Room was used by our teams for supplemental storage prior to restoration.

Among the noteworthy pieces of furniture from George Vanderbilt’s collection displayed in this room are an imposing ivory inlaid commode with attached mirror from Northern Italy that dates to the early 18th century, an English chest of drawers with an inlaid sunburst motif and a fall front concealing a writing surface and inner compartments from the same period, and an Italian Baroque-style kneehole desk in ebony and rosewood inlaid with ivory and mother of pearl.

An original drawing in our archives shows how architect Richard Morris Hunt incorporated the tile stove into the Tyrolean Chimney Room’s impressive overmantel.
An original drawing in our archives shows how architect Richard Morris Hunt incorporated the tile stove into the Tyrolean Chimney Room’s impressive overmantel.

Tyrolean Chimney Room

The focal point of the Tyrolean Chimney Room is the overmantel, constructed from an antique tile stove known as a kachelöfen that George Vanderbilt most likely purchased in his travels through Europe. Stoves like this were used in central and northern Europe from the Middle Ages to heat castles, palaces, and ecclesiastical buildings. Eventually, they came to be used in the residences of the wealthy. Created in the 18th century, it is comprised of tin-glazed earthenware tiles hand-painted with exquisite floral designs.

As part of this room’s restoration process, Biltmore’s objects conservator carefully repaired the chimney’s original floral design.
As part of this room’s restoration process, Biltmore’s objects conservator carefully repaired the chimney’s original floral design.

The wallpaper in this room is an exact reproduction of the original, a simple but elegant floral design with delicate gold striping in the background. Our team contracted with Atelier d’Offard, a small company in Tours, France, that specializes in traditional block-printed wallpapers, to create an exact reproduction.

The vibrant fabric in the Tyrolean Chimney Room is one of the most elaborate fabrics found in America’s Largest Home®.
The vibrant fabric in the Tyrolean Chimney Room is one of the most elaborate fabrics found in America’s Largest Home®.

The cut and uncut silk velvet in beautiful shades of ivory, red, and green has been reproduced for use in this room. Prelle, a silk workshop in Lyon, France that has been in the same family for more than 250 years, wove this fabric on century-old Jacquard looms in the exact same manner as the original fabric purchased by George Vanderbilt.

The Louis XV Room features mesmerizing views of the gardens and terraces to the east and south as well as a balcony overlooking the Esplanade.
The Louis XV Room features mesmerizing views of the gardens and terraces to the east and south as well as a balcony overlooking the Esplanade.

Louis XV Room

The suite’s namesake and perhaps the grandest guest room in Biltmore House, the Louis XV Room takes its name from the French king. During most of his reign (1715–1774), French interiors were characterized by rococo design elements, including rounded forms, C-shaped curves, bright clear colors set off by white and gold, and light fanciful carving of foliage, shells, and other naturalistic motifs. Many of these same motifs were incorporated into the architectural scheme and furnishings in this room, as the Louis XV style was still very popular in the late 19th century.

Cornelia Vanderbilt Cecil and her husband John Francis Amherst Cecil with their oldest son George Henry Vanderbilt Cecil as an infant, ca. 1925.
Cornelia Vanderbilt Cecil and her husband John Francis Amherst Cecil with their oldest son George Henry Vanderbilt Cecil as an infant, ca. 1925.

Amid the elegant surroundings of the Louis XV Room is where George and Edith Vanderbilt’s only child, Cornelia Stuyvesant Vanderbilt, was born in 1900. Cornelia then chose this room to give birth to her two sons, George Henry Vanderbilt Cecil and William Amherst Vanderbilt Cecil in 1925 and 1928, respectively.

From large pieces like wall coverings to small accents like furniture trim, our Museum Services team handles every element of restoration projects with loving care.
From large pieces like wall coverings to small accents like furniture trim, our Museum Services team handles every element of restoration projects with loving care.

Restoration of this room included the reproduction of the original gold and red silk cut velvet, which was hand-woven by Tassinari & Chatel in Lyon, France. Like Prelle, Tassinari & Chatel has specialized in the manufacture of fine silk fabrics for more than 200 years and has an international reputation for the quality of its fabrics. This fabric is used for wall covering and drapery. In addition, Biltmore’s conservation staff conserved all of the furnishings in the room, including Louis XV-style seating furniture and a Louis XV-style bed, as well the marble mantel, gilded rococo wall sconces, and an elaborate gilt mirror hanging over the fireplace.

Moving into America’s Largest Home

Moving into America’s Largest Home would be a work in progress for George Vanderbilt as Biltmore House was not quite finished for his October 1895 move-in date.

Have you ever moved into a custom-designed new home? If you have, you know that the punch list never seems quite buttoned-up on moving day. Little details seem to linger even after the last box is unpacked—and it was no different for George Vanderbilt’s magnificent new house in Asheville, North Carolina.

A ground-breaking project

Archival image of America's Largest Home under construction
Archival image of Biltmore House under construction, May 8, 1894

Ground was broken in 1889, and during the course of the six years that followed, George Vanderbilt remained in close touch with Biltmore House lead architect Richard Morris Hunt, supervising architect Richard Sharp Smith, and landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted. Hunt passed away in August 1895, just months before Vanderbilt moved in, but Sharp Smith was able to complete the plan.

Archival image of the Brick Farm House, circa 1889
Archival image of the Brick Farm House, circa 1889

When he came to stay for periods of time at the construction site, George Vanderbilt stayed in what was called the Brick Farm House, a property he purchased from Asheville entrepreneur B. J. Alexander in 1889. Sharp Smith renovated the property, which included a mill and farm buildings, so that it was comfortable enough to accommodate Vanderbilt and his project team when they visited to check on the estate’s progress.

In the months leading up to the official opening, carpentry and cabinetry were among the final touches. With George Vanderbilt’s move-in scheduled for October, archival information shows that Richard Sharp Smith hired 16 additional cabinetmakers to speed up progress.

Archival photo of some of the contractors who built America's Largest Home
Biltmore House contractors, including Richard Sharp Smith (second from right), circa 1892

Finishing the last details of America’s Largest Home

On his first night at Biltmore, George Vanderbilt slept in the Bachelors’ Wing because his bedroom wasn’t finished. There was another issue, too, described in the papers of Frederick Law Olmsted:

When the water was turned on in the stable… to get ready for the servants to occupy, it was found that it would not go up to the second floor where the servants [sic] rooms are.

The problem was soon fixed and water flowed a few days later, but there were still a few outstanding details to hammer out. With family and friends expected for Christmas 1895, Sharp Smith hired an additional 10 cabinetmakers in December. While almost all the carpentry was finally completed in 1896, additional cabinetry projects extended into 1897.

Front façade of America's Largest Home
View of front façade of Biltmore House

Plan your visit today

Today, when you visit Biltmore Estate, you can see first-hand the incredible attention to detail that went into every aspect of America’s Largest Home. But as you might imagine, even this architectural masterpiece was subject to the challenges faced in any home-building project. By seeing the vision of the project through until the end, George Vanderbilt and his design and construction team created a landmark with enduring quality that we still enjoy today, more than 125 years later.

Ask a Biltmore Curator

While our curators work mostly behind the scenes, their efforts are evident throughout every inch of Biltmore House and beyond. A vital part of preserving the estate, this team is responsible for researching, documenting, and interpreting the collections, historic interiors, and history.

Our curators have tons of fascinating information to share, so we’ve put together a round-up of some of our most frequently asked questions for them to answer.

The Biltmore House Guest Book is an invaluable resource for our curators as it tells who visited and when. Shown here is a page from December 22, 1895, which includes signatures from many Vanderbilt family members who visited for the first Christmas at Biltmore.
The Biltmore House Guest Book is an invaluable resource for our curators as it tells who visited and when. Shown here is a page from December 22, 1895, which includes signatures from many Vanderbilt family members who visited for the first Christmas at Biltmore.

Did any royalty ever come to visit Biltmore?

“The Biltmore House Guest Book includes signatures from an assortment of noblemen and women including barons, baronets, an earl, a countess, and a baroness. No true royalty visited Biltmore, however, until His Royal Highness Charles, the Prince of Wales, came here for his architectural school which took place at Biltmore House in July of 1996. If you count American royalty, presidential visits to Biltmore have included William McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, and Barack Obama.” – Lauren Henry, Associate Curator

The recently restored Oak Sitting Room, the living space that connects Mr. and Mrs. Vanderbilt’s Bedrooms, was an extensive project that took our Museum Services team nearly 15 years to complete.
The recently restored Oak Sitting Room, the living space that connects Mr. and Mrs. Vanderbilt’s Bedrooms, was an extensive project that took our Museum Services team nearly 15 years to complete.

How many rooms in Biltmore House have not been restored?

All of the rooms on the main tour and a few rooms on the behind-the-scenes tours have been restored over the last 50 years. I would estimate that there are close to 100 rooms that have never been restored, and there are many rooms that were restored that need revisiting since we continue to make new discoveries in our research. Our most recent restoration project was the Oak Sitting Room.” – Darren Poupore, Chief Curator

Associate curator Lauren Henry inspects books in the Biltmore House Library. Topics in George Vanderbilt’s personal collection range in subject from American and English fiction to world history, religion, philosophy, art, and architecture.
Associate curator Lauren Henry inspects books in the Biltmore House Library. Topics in George Vanderbilt’s personal collection range in subject from American and English fiction to world history, religion, philosophy, art, and architecture.

How many books are in the Library, and how many are first editions?

“Today, there are 10,285 books housed in the Biltmore House Library. Because many first editions are not labeled as such, it is hard to know which are without researching every single one. One of my favorites is a first edition of On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin (1859).” – Lauren Henry, Associate Curator

One of the most eye-catching works in the Biltmore House collection is Ignacio Zuloaga’s Rosita. Displayed in the Louis XV Hallway, this piece represents George Vanderbilt’s interest in Spanish art, which gained popularity at the end of the 19th century.
One of the most eye-catching works in the Biltmore House collection is Ignacio Zuloaga’s Rosita. Displayed in the Louis XV Hallway, this piece represents George Vanderbilt’s interest in Spanish art, which gained popularity at the end of the 19th century.

Is there a list of all the paintings in Biltmore House?

“Yes, the collections managers use a database of every object in Biltmore House and this includes 213 paintings on display and in storage. The paintings on view are primarily located on the first floor and in common rooms on the second and third floors.” – Lori Garst, Associate Curator

If you look closely to the right of the fireplace, you’ll see that Renoir’s painting Child with An Orange does not actually hang on the wall of the Breakfast Room, but rather on a hidden door used by household staff.
If you look closely to the right of the fireplace, you’ll see that Renoir’s painting Child with An Orange does not actually hang on the wall of the Breakfast Room, but rather on a hidden door used by household staff.

Are there any secret rooms, doorways, or passageways in Biltmore House?

“Though none are truly ‘secret,’ there are many hidden passageways and concealed doors in Biltmore House. Some were designed for the convenience of guests, while others gave domestic staff a way to move about without disrupting the household.” – Darren Poupore, Chief Curator & Lauren Henry, Associate Curator

George Vanderbilt’s friend James McHenry gifted him a chess set made of natural and red-stained ivory that once belonged to Napoleon Bonaparte, former emperor of France. Photo credit: @Kristen.Maag
George Vanderbilt’s friend James McHenry gifted him a chess set made of natural and red-stained ivory that once belonged to Napoleon Bonaparte, former emperor of France. Photo credit: @Kristen.Maag

What is the story behind the chess set in the Library?

“The chess set is one of my favorite objects because it reflects George Vanderbilt’s studious personality. Can you imagine receiving Napoleon Bonaparte’s chess set for your 21st birthday? After Napoleon’s death, his heart was sealed in an urn and temporarily placed on this chess table!” – Darren Poupore, Chief Curator

With 102 steps spanning four stories, the Grand Staircase is one of Biltmore House’s most distinguishable architectural features; it is also where one of the its oldest items is on display.
With 102 steps spanning four stories, the Grand Staircase is one of Biltmore House’s most distinguishable architectural features; it is also where one of the its oldest items is on display.

What is the oldest piece in the Biltmore House collection?

“It is impossible to say what the oldest object in Biltmore House is with certainty, as George Vanderbilt collected many antiques, but one of the oldest is the biblical tapestry displayed by the Grand Staircase which dates to the late 15th or early 16th century.” – Lauren Henry, Associate Curator

After remaining a mystery for many years, a curator discovered that most of the brightly colored murals in the Halloween Room were drawn directly from the set designs of an avant-garde Russian cabaret and theatrical troupe called La Chauve-Souris.
After remaining a mystery for many years, our curators discovered that most of the brightly colored murals in the Halloween Room were drawn directly from the set designs of an avant-garde Russian cabaret and theatrical troupe called La Chauve-Souris.

What’s the most rewarding part of being a curator?

“For me, the most rewarding part of being a curator is the never-ending process of discovery. Just when you think you ‘know’ an historical figure, you find something that reveals another layer of significance. My favorite discovery was the unexpected history of the Halloween Room.” – Leslie Klingner, Curator of Interpretation

The Courtship that Crossed the Atlantic

The courtship of George Vanderbilt and Edith Stuyvesant Dresser was a transatlantic romance. The two shared a love of learning and travel. On the decks of ships, in shared opera boxes, in the artist studios and bookshops of the Parisian boulevards, their romance blossomed.

The Tower Bridge in London, c. 1900. Many reporters speculated that the London was where George and Edith Vanderbilt’s courtship first began, though it is likely they met prior.
The Tower Bridge in London, c. 1900. Many reporters speculated that the London was where George and Edith Vanderbilt’s courtship first began, though it is likely they met prior.

A London Introduction

In June 1897, George 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 Edith, his future bride.

While reporters speculated that this was when the couple first became acquainted, it’s more likely the pair met through match-making family members as Edith was friends with some of George’s sisters and several of his nieces.

William B. Osgood Field with one of George Vanderbilt’s Saint Bernards, c. 1900. Willie played a significant role in the courtship of George and Edith Vanderbilt.
William B. Osgood Field with one of George Vanderbilt’s Saint Bernards, c. 1900. Willie played a significant role in the courtship of George and Edith Vanderbilt.

A Transatlantic Romance

In December of 1897, George Vanderbilt boarded the ocean liner SS St. Paul and began the adventure of his lifetime. Bound for England, Egypt, and India, the 35-year-old bachelor set sail with his friend William “Willie” B. Osgood Field. Also on board was Edith Stuyvesant Dresser, accompanied by her chaperone. George, Edith, and Willie spent time together on board, reading books aloud to each other and playing cards.

Willie wrote of the trip: “I soon saw that he [George] was rather smitten.”*

The Eiffel Tower in Paris, c. 1890. George and Edith Vanderbilt’s transatlantic courtship led the pair to wed in a Parisian civil ceremony with a religious ceremony the following day.
The Eiffel Tower in Paris, c. 1890. George and Edith Vanderbilt’s transatlantic courtship led the pair to wed in a Parisian civil ceremony with a religious ceremony the following day.

A Parisian Wedding

Smitten he was, for just six months later, after a whirlwind courtship abroad, George and Edith were married in Paris in a 15-minute civil ceremony on June 1, 1898. The wedding was presided over by the mayor of Paris at the Town Hall of the Eighth District in the Rue Anjou. An understated religious ceremony was held the following day at the American Church of the Holy Trinity, attended only by family and close friends.

Villa Vignolo near Stresa, Italy, c. 1898. George and Edith Vanderbilt spent their four-month honeymoon at Lake Maggiore, and they took short trips to various Italian museums and galleries.
Villa Vignolo near Stresa, Italy, c. 1898. George and Edith Vanderbilt spent their four-month honeymoon at Lake Maggiore, and they took short trips to various Italian museums and galleries.

An Italian Honeymoon

Following their Parisian wedding, the Vanderbilts stayed near Stresa in the Lake District of Italy for the much of the summer. A peaceful villa served as the couple’s home base as they explored the area’s spectacular Alpine scenery and took short trips to visit some of Italy’s finest museums and galleries.

It wasn’t until after their transatlantic courtship, their Parisian wedding, and their Italian honeymoon that Edith first saw Biltmore, her new home.

*William B. Osgood Field Papers, Manuscripts and Archives Division. New York Public Library. Astor, Lenox, and Tilden Foundations.

The 1940 Azalea Garden Ceremony: Revisited

We are excited to share new research that focuses on the contributions that Black individuals made to the creation and operation of Biltmore.

In the past, we’ve shared the story of the 1940 Azalea Garden ceremony honoring Chauncey Beadle, an estate horticulturalist who later became superintendent, for his lifetime of service to the estate. Thanks to this new research from our Museum Services team, we now know that nine other employees were also honored for their many years of service in that ceremony, including four Black men affiliated with the Landscape Department.

There is limited information on each of these men, with some scattered archival references to their work throughout their years of service. By its very nature, our archival collection is fragmented—consisting of various payroll records, correspondences, and other documents that have fortunately been preserved over the estate’s more than 125-year history. Our effort to process these materials and learn more about these individuals is ongoing—yet we are eager to begin shedding light on them as well as many other notable employees.

Photograph of the Azalea Garden ceremony on April 1, 1940. These men are presumed to be the four Black men recognized for their service on this day: Charlie Lytle, James
Photograph of the Azalea Garden ceremony on April 1, 1940. These men are presumed to be the four Black men recognized for their service on this day: Charlie Lytle, Jimmie Rutherford, Benjamin Perry Hemphill, and John Robinson. Donated to Biltmore by Ione Rudolph Shine, Chauncey Beadle’s niece.

Charlie Lytle

Though he was employed by Biltmore the longest of the group, there is the least amount of information about Charlie Lytle in our archives. He is only mentioned in construction-era payroll records, some incident reports, and a few employee Christmas gift lists, but he is generally listed as a laborer for planted areas in these documents. Lytle was honored for 51 years of service in the Azalea Garden ceremony. According to his death certificate, he was still a laborer for the estate when he died in 1943 at age 72.

James “Jimmie” Rutherford

Like Lytle, most archival mentions of James “Jimmie” Rutherford are incident reports and employee Christmas gift lists, though several letters confirm that he was working as a lineman for waterworks, sewers, and drains from at least 1914 to 1937. In 1931, an incident report reveals that he also laid bricks in a furnace for the estate, which tells us he wore many hats. Per census information, he was a superintendent for a private estate water worker in 1940, indicating a more managerial role later in his career. Rutherford was honored for 49 years of service in the Azalea Garden ceremony. He was 70 years old.

Archival document compiled in preparation for the Azalea Garden ceremony. As the longest-serving employees, Charlie Lytle, James
Archival document compiled in preparation for the Azalea Garden ceremony. As the longest-serving employees, Charlie Lytle, James “Jimmie” Rutherford, Benjamin Perry Hemphill, and John Robinson were listed first of the nine total employees recognized in addition to Beadle.

Benjamin Perry Hemphill

The picture of Benjamin Perry Hemphill’s contributions to Biltmore is a bit more complete. The first mention of him in the archival records is an 1896 letter in which Beadle writes that he hired Hemphill to assist him “in caring for the greenhouses and formal gardens.” By 1903, Hemphill was head gardener in the Walled Garden and Conservatory, reporting to Chauncey Beadle.

It was uncommon for most employees to be in direct communications with the Vanderbilts about estate operations; these conversations were typically relayed through a chain of command. However, a 1906 correspondence shows Edith Vanderbilt conveying directly to Hemphill her wishes for specific varieties of azaleas to be sourced and brought to Biltmore, demonstrating how trusted he was as a Biltmore employee.

Hemphill was honored for 47 years of service in the Azalea Garden ceremony. According to his obituary in January 1948, he retired from working at Biltmore in March 1947, at around the age of 82.

John Robinson

John Robinson began working for the estate in 1893 as a water boy in the brick yard during construction. Correspondence from 1902 indicates that around that time, he was a road sweeper, primarily over the Approach Road and the Service Road. He became an office messenger, similar to a mail carrier, by the 1910s, assisting Chauncey Beadle with a variety of requests from the family.

Like Hemphill, Robinson’s direct communication with the Vanderbilts demonstrates what a trusted and valued employee he was. In 1924, he was one of two people that Edith Vanderbilt personally requested to hand-deliver invitations for her daughter Cornelia’s wedding to John F.A. Cecil.

Robinson was honored for 47 years of service in the Azalea Garden ceremony. According to his 1957 death certificate, he was employed by Biltmore for “some 60 years.”

Workers stand with a locomotive on the Esplanade during the construction of Biltmore House, 1892. The stories of various members of the diverse workforce that created America’s Largest Home are highlighted in our new exhibit: Building Biltmore House.
Workers stand with a locomotive on the Esplanade during the construction of Biltmore House, 1892. The stories of various members of the diverse workforce that created America’s Largest Home are highlighted in our new exhibit: Building Biltmore House.

An Ongoing Effort

Charlie Lytle, James “Jimmie” Rutherford, Benjamin Perry Hemphill, and John Robinson all started their employment with the estate during the construction-era of Biltmore House. Additional employee stories from this research are shared in our new permanent exhibit: Building Biltmore House, on display in the Halloween Room beginning February 4.

We are committed to learning more about the contributions of these and other employees at Biltmore. If you have any family connections to the estate’s history, you can reach us at [email protected].

Feature image: Crowd gathering for the Azalea Garden ceremony. Photograph donated to Biltmore by Ione Rudolph Shine, Chauncey Beadle’s niece.