The Vanderbilts’ 1901 New Year’s Celebration

At each year’s end, we reflect on the events of the past year before looking forward to the promises of a New Year. If we were to look further back, into the last century, we would discover that the Vanderbilts and their friends celebrated the holiday in many of the same ways as we do today.

The only photo in the Biltmore collection from the Vanderbilts’ 1901 celebration. The woman is believed to be Elizabeth “Bessie” Beers-Curtis de Talleyrand-Périgord, Marquise de Talleyrand, who was an American heiress that married into the French aristocracy. The man is unidentified.

In 1901, George and Edith Vanderbilt invited a large party of friends and acquaintances to Biltmore to ring in the New Year. The house party—twenty guests in all—included diplomats, lawyers, authors, and military officers. The guest list included:

  • George B. Dorr, a conservationist known as the “father of Acadia National Park”
  • Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., son of Biltmore’s landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted
  • Elizabeth “Bessie” Beers-Curtis de Talleyrand-Périgord, Marquise de Talleyrand, an American heiress who married into the French aristocracy
  • Anna Roosevelt Cowles, the older sister of Theodore Roosevelt
  • Joseph Howland Hunt, one of the sons of Biltmore House architect Richard Morris Hunt
  • Giovanni del Drago, a socialite from an old Roman family (often mistakenly identified as a prince)
  • Eliot Gregory, a painter and essayist
  • Frederick Jesup Simson, a lawyer, author, and later the Ambassador to Argentina
  • Larz Anderson, an American diplomat who served at the London and Rome Embassies

One of the most notable guests was Joseph Hodges Choate, a prominent New York lawyer and the U.S. Ambassador to Great Britain.

Ambassador Joseph H. Choate as depicted in an Asheville Citizen-Times article on the New Year's event from December 30, 1901.
Ambassador Joseph H. Choate as depicted in an Asheville Citizen-Times article from December 30, 1901.

The house party stayed at Biltmore for about a week. Due to bad weather, the guests stayed inside for the first couple of days. Ambassador Choate made use of the Library, which appealed to him as “the most charming part of the house.” Others exercised in the Gymnasium and swam in the “vast swimming tank.” When the weather improved, they went hiking, hunting and horseback riding. They also took garden strolls and went on carriage drives to see “the farms and the wonderful stock.”

The New Year's event was highlighted in an article from The Philadelphia Inquirer published December 31, 1901.
The event was highlighted in an article from The Philadelphia Inquirer published December 31, 1901.

On New Year’s Eve, the party “sat up to greet the New Year and were very merry indeed,” Choate remarked in a letter to his wife. “There were games and dancing, hot punch served at the stroke of 12 and quite a revel even after that. Mrs. Vanderbilt fills her great place with the utmost fitness.”

Just as the Vanderbilts celebrated with friends and family, we hope you and yours enjoy the holiday just the same. Happiest of New Years from your friends at Biltmore!

Top 5 Winter Activities for Overnight Guests

While winter is Biltmore’s most peaceful season, it still offers plenty to do for overnight guests! Whether you’re interested in escaping the cold or exploring the estate, here are our top 5 winter activities:

Biltmore Red Wine & Chocolate tasting setup
Enjoy a specialty experiences like our Red Wine & Chocolate Tasting offered daily at the Winery

5. Red Wine & Chocolate Tasting

One of Biltmore’s most popular Specialty Wine Experiences, our Red Wine & Chocolate Tasting is a lovely opportunity to stay warm. Sip your way through a number of our red varietals paired with locally produced artisan chocolates from French Broad Chocolate and discover why each is a heavenly match.

Falconry is a Top 5 Winter activity at Biltmore
Explore the thrilling art of falconry at Biltmore

4. Falconry

Discover the ancient art of falconry on Biltmore’s historic grounds. Learn how to handle a trained hawk or falcon, then experience the inimitable thrill of a raptor flying to and landing upon your gloved hand. Don’t miss this one-of-a-kind opportunity to interact with one of these majestic birds of prey–it’s sure to become one of your favorite winter activities.

West facade of Biltmore House in snow
Guided Hikes take place Thursday–Sunday from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m.

3. Guided Hikes

If you’re feeling adventurous despite the lower temperatures, bundle up for one of our Guided Hikes—offered exclusively to overnight guests. Choose from the moderate to fast-paced Trail Blazers or the more relaxed River Stroll and spend time enjoying the long-range views that winter brings to Biltmore.

Biltmore Blacksmith at work
Blacksmith Demonstrations are offered Thursday–Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

2. Blacksmith Demonstrations

While strolling through Antler Hill Village, be sure to make your way to the Barn to see our incredible Blacksmith Demonstrations. Not only is it fascinating to watch our blacksmith work—it’s also quite cozy in the Smithy Shop. For a memento of your visit, check for hand-forged items at The Barn Door shop located next door.

Van Gogh Alive multi-sensory experience
A guest explores Van Gogh Alive, created and produced by Grande Experiences

1. Van Gogh Alive

And finally, the must-see event at Biltmore this winter is Van Gogh Alive, created by Grande Experiences and hosted at our event center on the grounds of the estate.

Described as “an unforgettable multi-sensory experience,” Van Gogh Alive is a powerful and vibrant symphony of light, color, sound, and scent that compels you to leave the world behind and immerse yourself in Van Gogh’s paintings. Simultaneously enchanting, entertaining, and educational, Van Gogh Alive stimulates all the senses and opens the mind.

Explore Biltmore this winter!

Stay overnight at one of our distinctive properties to ensure you have enough time to experience all of the top winter activities the estate has to offer. For the ultimate escape, consider one of our special overnight packages.

Christmas at Biltmore 2021: By the Numbers

For America’s Largest Home®, Christmas decorations must be scaled to the maximum to transform a home of this magnitude into the magical, sparkling experience that awaits guests year after year. Here are facts about the décor that is on display for this year’s Christmas at Biltmore celebration.

There are a handful of trees just in the Tapestry Gallery alone—the longest room in Biltmore House.
There are a handful of trees just in the Tapestry Gallery alone—the longest room in Biltmore House.

Christmas Trees

  • Biltmore’s Floral team will design and hand-decorate 62 Christmas trees for Biltmore House.
  • The largest tree inside Biltmore House is a fresh, 35-foot-tall Fraser fir in the Banquet Hall. It takes around 50 Biltmore staff members to carry in, raise, and secure the tree into place.
  • The smallest is a tabletop tree in the Moreland bedroom.
  • A lit 55-foot-tall Norway spruce encircled by 36 other illuminated evergreens decorates the front lawn of Biltmore House for Candlelight Christmas Evenings.
  • A total of 45 additional decorated Christmas trees are located at other estate venues, including the Winery, The Inn on Biltmore Estate, Antler Hill Village, and our restaurants.
Biltmore staff members carefully string lights on the Banquet Hall’s 35-foot-tall Fraser fir.
Biltmore staff members carefully string lights on the Banquet Hall’s 35-foot-tall Fraser fir.

Lights & Candles

  • There are around 45,000 lights and 250 candles inside Biltmore House. 135,000 LED and mini lights are found around the estate.
  • There are 55,296 lights illuminating the Front Lawn tree, with 33,280 more on the surrounding trees and shrubs.
  • About 250 luminaries line the driveway and Esplanade in front of Biltmore House. Biltmore staff members place and light the luminaries each day at dusk to prepare for guests arriving for Candlelight Christmas Evenings. They come back to extinguish them at the end of the night.
The Christmas tree in the Salon boasts beautiful rose gold and slate blue ornaments.
The Christmas tree in the Salon boasts beautiful rose gold and slate blue ornaments.

Ornaments

  • The Banquet Hall Tree boasts 500 ornaments and 500 LED Edison bulb-style electric lights along with an abundance of gift boxes.
  • There are 13,870 ornaments used on the other trees inside Biltmore House, and that many again around the estate to add sparkle and seasonal interest.
  • Between seasons, the ornaments are housed in a large warehouse, where they are sorted, labeled, and stored in hundreds of boxes.
Blooming poinsettias surround Karl Bitter’s Boy Stealing Geese in the Winter Garden.
Blooming poinsettias surround Karl Bitter’s “Boy Stealing Geese” in the Winter Garden.

Poinsettias & Other Holiday Blooms

  • More than 1,200 traditional poinsettias are found in the Christmas displays around the estate.
  • There are 175 poinsettias in Biltmore House which are refreshed and replaced mid-season.
  • Seasonal plants include around 963 amaryllises, Christmas cacti, bromeliads, orchids, peace lilies, cyclamen, begonias, and kalanchoes.
The five golden wreaths in the Banquet Hall represent five golden rings from The 12 Days of Christmas.
The five golden wreaths in the Banquet Hall represent five golden rings from “The 12 Days of Christmas.”

Wreaths

  • We place 200 fresh wreaths and sprays along with 90 faux pieces around the estate during the season.
  • Wreaths are made of fresh white pine and Fraser fir, ornamented with golden arborvitae, holly, or other natural materials such as twigs and cones. Artificial bases are decorated with ornaments, berries, faux flowers, and ribbon.
Festive garland and stockings line the fireplace mantel in George Vanderbilt’s Library.
Festive garland and stockings line the fireplace mantel in George Vanderbilt’s Library.

Garlands & Swags

  • We cut fresh evergreens on the property every week and create handmade swags to decorate the Grand Staircase in Biltmore House. The swags are replaced weekly to maintain a fresh look and fragrance for our guests.
  • Around 1,000 feet of fresh and faux garlands decorate Biltmore House, and around 1,200 feet are used in other areas.
Even some ornaments get their own bows, like this oversized bauble for the Banquet Hall tree.
Even some ornaments get their own bows, like this oversized bauble for the Banquet Hall tree.

Ribbons & Bows

  • We use 9,130 yards of ribbon to create hand-tied bows for Biltmore House and the estate.
  • We use everything from narrow cording to 8-inch-wide ribbon. We decorate with velvets, metallics, satins, burlap, and printed cottons.
  • It takes 10 yards of ribbon to create the festive red bows worn each year by the marble lions at the front door of Biltmore House.
  • The amount of ribbon required to make a tree-topper bow for the 16-foot-tall Christmas trees in the Library is 15 yards.
  • Any ribbon that is used year to year is starched and ironed so that it is wrinkle-free and perfect!
A few of Biltmore’s Floral Designers: Marie Arnold, Kyla Dana, Lucinda Ledford, Joslyn Kelly, and Callan Charron.
A few of Biltmore’s Floral Designers: Marie Arnold, Kyla Dana, Lucinda Ledford, Joslyn Kelly, and Callan Charron.

Staff

  • We have 10 full-time Floral Designers and 5 part-time Floral staff members.
  • Multiple departments across the estate help also help decorate Biltmore each year, including our Engineering, Housekeeping, Museum Services, Horticulture, Guest Services, Security, and Events teams.

Plan your visit today and discover the estate at its most enchanting: Christmas at Biltmore.

The Emperor’s Chess Set: A Perfect Birthday Gift

On his 21st birthday, George Vanderbilt’s friend James McHenry gifted him a chess set and gaming table that once belonged to Napoleon Bonaparte, former emperor of France.

The story begins a few years earlier when George travelled to England with his parents and sister, Lila. There they visited the famous Holland House in Kensington at the invitation of McHenry, who was also a friend of Lady Holland.

The invitation must have thrilled George, who had just finished reading History of Holland House, a popular title in th United States at the time.

Holland House, circa 1878
Holland House, circa 1878

He wrote in his travel journal:

“Yesterday I visited Holland House and passed one of the pleasantest afternoons of my life… I could never describe all the things we saw unless I wrote them down on the spot. I saw all the things described in our book of Holland House. The library is on the second floor and like all the other rooms is very interesting… Mr. McHenry has a magnificent set of Holland House all illustrated in twenty-five volumes… besides many other valuable books.”

Indeed, young George and McHenry seemed to have made quite an impression on each other. They remained friends for many years and in 1883, McHenry marked George’s birthday with Napoleon’s chess set and gaming table.

The original chess set is made of natural and red-stained ivory. The gaming table, a beautiful combination of walnut, ebony, acacia, ivory, and brass, features an inlaid chess board on one side with a backgammon board on the reverse.

Chess piece details
Ivory figures from Napoleon’s chess set

Following his 1815 defeat at Waterloo, Napoleon was exiled to the incredibly remote island of St. Helena, where he lived the last years of his life reading books, dictating his memoirs, and playing chess on that very table.

When Napoleon was dying of stomach cancer, he ordered his body to be autopsied to potentially save his son from the same disease. After his death in 1821, Napoleon’s heart was removed during this process, sealed in an alcohol-filled silver urn, and placed on the nearby gaming table. (His heart was later interred with his body at Les Invalides in Paris.)

Andrew Darling, an upholsterer on St. Helena who happened to be present during the autopsy, purchased the chess set and gaming table at auction soon after. Historians are unsure how the items then made their way to Holland House.

Napoleon's chess set on display in the Library (Image by @Kristen.Maag)
Napoleon’s chess set on display in the Library (Image by @Kristen.Maag)

George’s fascination with Napoleon persisted thereafter. He collected more than 162 volumes about the former emperor and acquired his snuffbox and breloche, though the latter items are no longer in the Biltmore collection.

Napoleon’s chess set, however, is on display in the Library of Biltmore House.

Preserving the Legacy of Cornelia Vanderbilt’s “Baby Tree”

In honor of the arrival of George and Edith Vanderbilt’s first and only child, a “baby tree” was planted just after her christening.

The Baby Tree: A Cucumbertree Magnolia

The Vanderbilts welcomed Cornelia Stuyvesant Vanderbilt in the late summer of 1900. In October of that year, a cucumbertree magnolia, known to botanists as Magnolia acuminata, was planted in Cornelia’s honor.

George Vanderbilt with newborn daughter Cornelia on the Loggia of Biltmore House, September 30, 1900
George Vanderbilt with newborn daughter Cornelia on the Loggia of Biltmore House, September 30, 1900

The cucumbertree is a deciduous magnolia with large oblong leaves. Unlike most other magnolias, its flowers are yellowish green and not very showy, causing them to often go unnoticed when they bloom in late May or early June. In its early stages, the green, fleshy fruit roughly resembles a small cucumber, hence the tree’s name.

Biltmore’s botanist, Chauncey Beadle, had collected the scarlet seeds of this indigenous tree found growing along the banks of the French Broad River near the estate. Beadle propagated the seeds in the Biltmore Nursery

In a letter within Biltmore’s archives, Beadle wrote:

“The seedlings resulting from this sowing were planted out in nursery rows, cultivated and pruned and eventually, placed along the roads and paths of the Estate with the exception of one tree, a particularly beautiful and thrifty individual, which remained on [sic] the nursery until chosen for the noteworthy occasion of which this writing bears record.”

The planting ceremony for Cornelia's Baby Tree, October 1900
The planting ceremony for Cornelia’s Baby Tree, October 1900

The Planting Ceremony

The planting of the cucumbertree magnolia, known fondly as the “baby tree” or “Cornelia’s tree,” was a small and intimate event. The Vanderbilt family, Beadle, Dr. Samuel Westray Battle, and a few estate workers were the only attendants.

A 1900 Asheville Daily Citizen article states:

“The spot selected is in a beautiful grassy dell near Biltmore House. The tree itself, now but a sapling of twelve feet in height, is expected to be 60 feet above the ground when little Cornelia reaches the age of 20 years. A few years after that event, it is expected that it will reach a height of 100 feet. It lives centuries, and is one of the prides of our beautiful southern forests.”

The baby tree grew to be massive, standing proudly in the Azalea Garden, just below the junction of the two main paths leading into the garden below the Conservatory and greenhouses.

The second generation cucumbertree magnolia, located in Biltmore's Azalea Garden
The second generation cucumbertree magnolia (center), located in Biltmore’s Azalea Garden

The Baby Tree’s Second Generation

After surviving more than a century, the cucumbertree succumbed to decay. Though a difficult decision, it was removed in September 2008. By that time, the baby tree had lost most of its bark and had just a few remaining branches.

Fortunately, the historical significance of the tree along with the gorgeous color and diversity of its wood grain made its timber ideal for repurposing. The usable wood was custom-sawn into thick slabs and dried to create “high boy” cocktail tables at Cedric’s® Tavern in Antler Hill Village.

Today, the second generation cucumbertree magnolia, which seeded naturally when the original baby tree was still living, can be found thriving in the same exact location in the Azalea Garden, preserving the legacy of this historic tree

Cornelia Vanderbilt’s Birthday Parties: The Grandest Affairs

From the day she was born, Cornelia Vanderbilt’s birthday was recognized and celebrated on extraordinary scale, one befitting of royalty.

Birth Announcements

Named in honor of prominent members of both her mother and father’s family, Cornelia Stuyvesant Vanderbilt was born on August 22, 1900 in the grand Louis XV Bedroom in Biltmore House.

George Vanderbilt with newborn daughter Cornelia on the Loggia of Biltmore House, September 30, 1900
George Vanderbilt with newborn daughter Cornelia on the Loggia of Biltmore House, September 30, 1900

Cornelia’s birth was mentioned in the society pages of newspapers across the country, including the Asheville Citizen, which reported:

Stork comes to Biltmore

To Mr. and Mrs. Vanderbilt a Child is Born

“The advent of a daughter to Mr. and Mrs. George W. Vanderbilt was announced last evening from Biltmore House. The little stranger is a Buncombe baby—pretty as babies go—but with the Buncombe birthright of the mountain health its days of babyhood will dot in dimpled sweetness and the fairy lines of beauty blend in a vision fitting to its home on the grand estate.

Edith Vanderbilt with young daughter Cornelia around the time of her christening, October 1900
Edith Vanderbilt with young daughter Cornelia around the time of her christening, October 1900

And from the Spartanburg Journal of upstate South Carolina:

Biltmore’s New Star

“A new star has appeared at famous Biltmore, and the charming mistress of this most gorgeous home is smiling upon her first born, a tiny girl called Cornelia Stuyvesant Vanderbilt…”

Early Birthday Celebrations

Although we have no specific descriptions of birthday parties during Cornelia’s childhood, we do know that she had many playmates among her cousins and the children of families who lived on the estate.

Cornelia Vanderbilt with one of her family's Saint Bernards on the Front Lawn of Biltmore House, 1905
Cornelia Vanderbilt with one of her family’s Saint Bernards on the Front Lawn of Biltmore House, 1905

Cornelia Vanderbilt’s 21st Birthday Party: An Elegant Masquerade

As Cornelia Vanderbilt grew older, her birthday parties became grand events. Her twenty-first birthday on August 22, 1921 began with a surprise gathering of 250 estate workers and tenants at 7 a.m. at Biltmore House. The staff clearly had a deep affection for Cornelia, and many of their children had been her playmates since her birth.  

As part of their surprise for Cornelia, whom they had watched mature into a sophisticated young woman, the employees improvised a band that played old-time dance tunes. The group then presented Cornelia with a game-bag as a gift. Later that same evening, more than 200 guests attended a masquerade party at Biltmore House in Cornelia’s honor. 

Employees gathered to celebrate Cornelia Vanderbilt’s 21st birthday, August 1921
Employees gathered to celebrate Cornelia Vanderbilt’s 21st birthday, August 1921

The Asheville Citizen-Times published the following account of the occasion:

“Miss Vanderbilt is accorded honors on reaching majority; masquerade party given on Monday at mansion.

Miss Cornelia Stuyvesant Vanderbilt reached her 21st birthday Monday and was accorded honors becoming the lady of Biltmore mansion. Monday night a large masquerade was given and guests were present in large numbers.  

The social calendar for the week started with one of the most brilliant of the season’s entertainments, the fancy dress ball, given the Monday evening at Biltmore House by Mrs. George Vanderbilt in honor of the birthday of her daughter, Miss Cornelia Vanderbilt. Dancing was enjoyed in the sunken garden where masses of ferns and palms made a pleasing and charming background for the two hundred or more fascinating and gorgeous costumes of the guests. The Garber-Davis orchestra from Atlanta provided the dance music. Late in the evening supper was served in the banquet hall. A special feature of the entertainment was that the assemblage of the guests, at the commencement of the evening, a closed sedan chair was brought in by four attendants, and as the curtains were drawn, Miss Vanderbilt stepped forward in a most attractive costume of a page of the period of the French Renaissance.

Cornelia Vanderbilt’s 25th Birthday Party: An Open-Air Ball

Cornelia’s birthdays continued to be stunning occasions, even after she married the Honorable John Francis Amherst Cecil in 1924. 

Cornelia Vanderbilt’s wedding portrait upon her marriage to John Francis Amherst Cecil, April 1924
Cornelia Vanderbilt’s wedding portrait upon her marriage to John Francis Amherst Cecil, April 1924

The Asheville Gazette reported on celebrations for Cornelia’s 25th birthday:

“On Friday, August 22, 300 employees attended a garden party and tea at 4 pm with dancing to Guthrie’s Orchestra.  Biltmore Dairy employees gave Cornelia a surprise birthday gift of a giant ice cream cake—4’ high and 2’ square at the base—made of 26 gallons of Biltmore Dairy ice cream.  It “consisted of alternate layers of chocolate parfait, Lady Ashe ice cream, and a covering of vanilla mousse.  The cake was studded with roses and lilies and also bore the inscription ‘May your joys be as many as the sands of the sea.’”

Cornelia celebrated the following evening with an open-air ball for 300 people at 9:30 p.m. Guests danced in a pavilion to the Charles Freicher Orchestra. The lawn was lit with Japanese lanterns placed in trees and shrubbery. 

Cornelia Vanderbilt Cecil around age 25, 1925
Cornelia Vanderbilt Cecil around age 25, 1925

The Gazette further noted that, “the beautiful array of summer gowns of the many dancers made a scene as beautiful as that of gay moths and fireflies in a fairy garden,” and a buffet supper was served at midnight.

Although we have no further descriptions of Cornelia’s birthday parties, we are sure they were often celebrated in style. From her earliest days as the “Biltmore Baby” to her life as a celebrated socialite of wealth and style, Cornelia Vanderbilt Cecil exemplified the Roaring 20s and the Jazz Age that still fascinate us today.

Champion Trees: The Estate’s Finest Fall Foliage

Today, Biltmore is home to a variety of Champion Trees—but when George Vanderbilt purchased the acreage that would become his estate, much of the land was overworked and actually vacant of trees due to activity from the previous settlers. Landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted made the following recommendation:

“Make a small park into which to look from your house; make a small pleasure ground and garden, farm your river bottom chiefly to keep and fatten live stock with a view to manure; and make the rest a forest, improving the existing woods and planting the old fields.”  

Landscape architect Fredrick Law Olmsted, George Vanderbilt, and other key Biltmore figures, 1892
Landscape architect Fredrick Law Olmsted (seated, center) and George Vanderbilt (standing, center-right) with other key Biltmore figures, 1892.

NC Champion Tree Program

Several of the trees handpicked by Olmsted are now recognized as North Carolina State Champion Trees. According to the NC Forest Service, the Champion Tree Program highlights native or naturalized species that have garnered attention because of their size, age, or historical significance. 

Naturally, these trees are some of the superstars of our historic gardens. Let’s take a look at a few and discover why there is no better time to seek out these estate beauties than leaf season.

The golden-rain tree (right) can be found in Biltmore’s Shrub Garden.
The golden-rain tree (right) can be found in Biltmore’s Shrub Garden.

Golden-Rain Tree

Perhaps one of the more unusual Champion Trees, the golden-rain tree in the Shrub Garden lends grace and charm to the landscape. Its showy fall color generally includes various shades of yellow and chartreuse. If you look closely, amid the autumn foliage you’ll find inflated seed pods, reminiscent of Chinese lanterns, hanging elegantly.

The katsura tree lives in the heart of Biltmore’s Azalea Garden.
The Katsura tree – which has a scent like cotton candy – lives in the heart of Biltmore’s Azalea Garden. The Katsura was one of the trees hand-picked by Biltmore landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted. This Katsura is on the NC Forest Service Registry of Champion Trees. Photo credit The Biltmore Company.

Katsura Tree

Among the larger Champion Trees is the Katsura tree, found in the Azalea Garden. This tree has magnificent fall color with hues ranging from gold to apricot, accompanied by an unusual, sweet fragrance that permeates the area around the tree. Some describe the smell as cinnamon-like, while others think it is more similar to cotton candy—either way, it’s sure to satisfy the senses!

The dawn redwood is located in Biltmore’s Azalea Garden.
The dawn redwood is located in Biltmore’s Azalea Garden.

Additional Champion Trees

Other Champion Trees of note on the estate are the dawn redwood in the Azalea Garden with its lush bronze fall color and the Persian ironwood boasting brilliant warm autumnal hues between the Conservatory and the Gardener’s Cottage.

The Persian ironwood can be found next to Biltmore’s Conservatory.
The Persian ironwood has a showy fall leaf color, and can be found next to Biltmore’s Conservatory. Landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted hand-picked tree species including the Persian ironwood as part of a plan to reforest overworked farmland purchased by George Vanderbilt for the construction of Biltmore House. Photo credit The Biltmore Company.

Fall is a favorite season for strolling the gardens and grounds of the estate. During your next visit, we invite you to explore our Shrub Garden, Azalea Garden, and beyond to catch a glimpse of these Champion Trees at their finest: bursting with rich fall color.

Feature image: Persian ironwood with peak fall color

Books by the Thousands: A Bibliophile’s Collection

At the age of 12, George Vanderbilt began keeping meticulous records in a series of journals called “Books I Have Read,” a habit he continued throughout his life. By his death in 1914, he had logged 3,159 books, which means that between 1875 and 1914, he read an average of 81 books a year.

Three volumes of George Vanderbilt’s “Books I Have Read” journal series
Three volumes of George Vanderbilt’s “Books I Have Read” journal series

It was well known that George was a bibliophile. A turn-of-the-century New York journalist wrote of him:

He was a bookworm, a student… And his love of books came all from his own inner consciousness, for he was not graduated from any college, and his education, while not neglected, had not been carried beyond the ordinary limits of high schools, though now, I doubt not, he is one of the best read men in the country.”

A testament to his passions for books and collecting, the walls of the Library in Biltmore House are lined with walnut shelves housing about half of George’s personal collection of 20,000 volumes.

The collection ranges in subject from American and English fiction to world history, religion, philosophy, art, and architecture. About one-third of the volumes were antiquarian purchases, the oldest of which is an Italian work published in 1561.

Cedric, George Vanderbilt’s beloved Saint Bernard, lounging in the Library, 1898
Cedric, George Vanderbilt’s beloved Saint Bernard, lounging in the Library, 1898

The collection also includes many French titles—4,326 to be exact—and George’s “Books I Have Read” journals show that he read many of them. Both fiction and non-fiction, the volumes speak to George’s interest in France and its culture as well as his fluency in the French language.

Just as the journals help us to understand how well-read he was, they give us insight into which authors George favored, though it’s difficult to say who his favorite actually was.

An excerpt from one of the “Books I Have Read” journals with a note on the birth of George Vanderbilt’s daughter
An excerpt from one of the “Books I Have Read” journals with a note on the birth of George Vanderbilt’s daughter

We know he was fond of French author Honoré de Balzac’s work. George noted having read more than 80 Balzac titles and there are a total of 218 books by the author in his collection.

We also know that of the 30 works by Charles Dickens listed in his journals, George read many of them more than once. For instance, there are two mentions of The Pickwick Papers, which George read at age 13 and again when he was 25.

The elegant binding on the books in George Vanderbilt’s collection are each a work of art
The elegant binding on the books in George Vanderbilt’s collection are each a work of art

George also favored Sir Walter Scott. He read many of his 273 books by Scott two or three times. He read Waverly, a groundbreaking historical novel, in 1875, 1897, and again in 1910.

Most of the books George collected were sent to one of the great bookbinders of the period, such as Riviere, Stikeman, Lortic, or David. A few months later, they would return, beautifully bound in Moroccan leather with gilt lettering and decoration, to be placed on the shelves of the Library in Biltmore House.

July Travels of George Vanderbilt

The travels of George Vanderbilt were extensive, to say the least. He visited more than 25 countries, crossing the Atlantic Ocean a total of 60 times by the end of his life. But more specifically, he was a champion of the July getaway, often spending the entire month abroad.

Portrait of young George Vanderbilt, 1878
Portrait of young George Vanderbilt, 1878

Childhood Travels

George’s love of travel can be traced back to his youth. He spent much of his childhood visiting museums, libraries, and historic sites throughout Europe with his family. In 1879, at the age of 16, George accompanied his father on a three-month-long summer tour of England and France. Their travels took them to Versailles, the Louvre, Napoleon’s tomb, the National Gallery in London, Windsor Castle, and the graves of philosophers Voltaire and Rousseau.

He wrote in his July 1879 travel journal (feature image):

“July 4th 1879 Friday. Went out to Rouen [France]… It is said to be one of the quaintest towns in the world and is renowned for its medieval architecture. The cathedral is beautiful as also St. Maclou, we also went to the Museum of Antiquities and went to a little restaurant to get a little breakfast. But by far the finest sight is St. Ouen a magnificent cathedral of perfect medieval architecture.”

George Vanderbilt during Spanish travels with cousins, 1891
George Vanderbilt during Spanish travels with cousins, 1891

Abroad with Cousins

Years later, in 1891, George spent two months—including much of July—exploring Spain with three of his cousins. They first arrived in Gibraltar and then travelled to the capital city of Madrid; Seville, a town known for its enormous cathedral which houses the tomb of Christopher Columbus; and Ronda, an old Moorish hilltop town. When the trip came to its end, instead of returning home, George stayed at the Grand Hotel in London until August.

George and Edith Vanderbilt’s honeymooon villa, 1898
George and Edith Vanderbilt’s honeymooon villa, 1898

An Italian Honeymoon

July was also the first full month of George and Edith Vanderbilt’s four-month-long honeymoon. Following their Parisian wedding in June 1898, the Vanderbilts stayed near Stresa in the Lake District of Italy. A peaceful Italian 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 Europe’s finest museums and galleries.

George Vanderbilt wrote to artist James McNeill Whistler, July 10, 1898: 

“[We] have spent a delightful fortnight in the villa on Lake Maggiore and return there from here via the beautiful Stelvio pass, so that nature fills out & continues the interest of this little tour. It was Mrs Vanderbilts first visit to both Venice & Vienna & it has been an added pleasure of course to see her delight and interest and the way the pictures really took possession of her…”*

Summertime blooms in Biltmore's Italian Garden
Summertime blooms in Biltmore’s Italian Garden

Legacy of Travel

While extensive travel like this was rare 120 years ago—especially before the advent of the airplane—it is still unusual today. July may inspire a longing to escape from the everyday, but for many of us, travels of that nature are simply not feasible. With our fast-paced lifestyles, it can be difficult to find the time.

Luckily, you can experience the legacy of George Vanderbilt and his lifelong love of travel with an overnight stay at Biltmore. From the iconic French château to the Italian Garden, George’s time spent abroad influenced many elements of the estate. Satisfy your longing to travel this summer with a Biltmore getaway, the perfect European-inspired escape. We invite you to plan your escape today.

*Source: Letters of J. McN. Whistler 1855-1903; A.M. Whistler, 1829-1881.

Top 5 Biltmore Family Favorites for Summer 2021

Our top 5 Biltmore family favorite activities for summer are sure to please the entire clan, from grandparents to grandchildren!

Winkie Bar Sundae in a waffle bowl
Try all the ice cream treats, including this delicious Winkie Bar Sundae served in a waffle bowl

5. Favorite Flavors: Ice Cream for Everyone

Did you know that the vanilla ice cream served on the estate is based on a delicious original Biltmore Dairy recipe? Now at Biltmore Dairy Bar® near Biltmore House and the Creamery in Antler Hill Village, you and your family can enjoy the same rich flavor enjoy by estate guests more than a century ago.

Tip: Get sandwiches and ice cream to go from the Creamery and have a picnic on the nearby Village Green. Celebrate summer with Biltmore wine for the grownups and Biltmore sparkling grape juice for the younger set.

Family biking at Biltmore
Bring the whole family along on your next biking adventure at Biltmore

4. Favorite Activity: Biking for All Ages

Ready to explore our wide-open spaces? Visit the Outdoor Adventure Center or Bike Barn in Antler Hill Village and rent mountain bikes for rugged trails or comfort cruisers for paved paths. Tandem rentals also available so the younger members of the family can join the fun.

Tip: Consider our Farm Trail Guided Bike Ride and other new outdoor activities for more exciting ways to explore the estate.

Biltmore Gardens Railway in Antler Hill Village at Biltmore
Marvel at the wonders of miniature trains during Biltmore Gardens Railway!

3. Rediscover a Family Favorite: Biltmore Gardens Railway

One of the absolute must-see elements of the estate this summer is Biltmore Gardens Railway, featuring beautiful garden-scale botanical model train displays. This charming exhibition featuring estate-related landmarks—each handcrafted in meticulous detail from all-natural materials—returns to the Conservatory.

Tip: Experience Biltmore Gardens Railway now through September 26, 2021.

Child explores Stickwork sculpture in Antler Hill Village
The new Stickwork sculpture in Antler Hill Village is fun for all ages!

2. New Family Favorite: Stickwork by Patrick Dougherty

Crafted and installed in Antler Hill Village, this unique-to-Biltmore, large-scale outdoor sculpture entitled Free as a Bird is a wondrous combination of Patrick Dougherty’s carpentry skills and love of nature.

Over the last three decades, this internationally-acclaimed artist has built over 300 of these works, which have captivated the hearts and imaginations of viewers worldwide. Enjoy Stickwork by Patrick Dougherty now through September 30, 2021.

Tip: Explore Stickwork by Patrick Dougherty during the day or at night, when the sculpture is lit to enhance your experience.

Family activities for spring at Biltmore
Explore our glorious gardens and grounds during Biltmore Blooms this spring

1. All-Time Family Favorite: Our 8,000-Acre Backyard!

With 8,000 acres of Blue Ridge Mountain backyard, you’ll never run out of places to explore at Biltmore! Enjoy more than 20 miles of hiking trails along the French Broad River, through lush green forests, or in the open meadows of the estate.

Tip: Visit the Bike Barn or Outdoor Adventure Center for a detailed trail map and orientation to the trails.

Enhance your Biltmore visit with an overnight stay

In addition to our top 5 family-favorite activities, make the most of summer vacations and long holiday weekends at Biltmore by adding overnight accommodations at The Inn on Biltmore Estate, Village Hotel on Biltmore Estate, or our two private historic Cottages on Biltmore Estate.