Biking in Biltmore’s 8,000-Acre Backyard

When it comes to exploring the grounds of George Vanderbilt’s magnificent 8,000-acre estate, there are plenty of options: hiking, carriage rides, and of course, biking.

“The estate has both a variety of trails and gorgeous scenery, which makes it an ideal place for biking,” says Outdoor Adventure Center guide Roy Vandervoort.

Guest biking near sunflowers
The Lagoon Trail is a paved 6-mile path stretching from Antler Hill Village to the Lagoon.

“Of all the wonderful 22 miles of trails here on the estate, I’d have to say the Westover Trails are my personal favorite,” says Roy.

And we are now offering exciting new experiences led by our expert guides so you can explore the estate grounds like never before!

Historic Market Gardener's Cottage
Our Farm Trail Guided Bike Ride will take you to the Market Gardener’s Cottage, an historic estate home.

Our Farm Trail Guided Bike Ride takes you on a 4.5-mile journey along flat paths as you tour the Biltmore’s historic farms and learn about the families who ran them.

Our Intro to Mountain Biking covers all the essentials of the sport, including understanding of bike parts and basic handling techniques, before taking you out on the trails to test your new skills.

Mountain Bikes in Bike Barn
Bring your own mountain bike to our Intro to Mountain Biking or, for an additional fee, use one of ours.

If you prefer to explore the estate at your own pace, just head over to the Bike Barn in Antler Hill Village to rent a bike. Choose from tandems and tagalongs, single-speeds for the paved Lagoon trail or all-terrain geared bikes for woodland trails.

Couple biking near Bike Barn
An extension of our Outdoor Adventure Center, the Bike Barn is located in lively Antler Hill Village.

You’re invited to discover all of the estate trails this season at Biltmore. Take a look at our trail map to plan your adventure. We kindly ask that you adhere to the Biltmore Bike Policy* at all times. See you on the trails!

*Only Biltmore Annual Passholders, lodging guests, and ticketed guests may ride bicycles on estate roads and designated bike trails. Bicycles are considered vehicles in North Carolina and must be operated in full compliance with state vehicle laws and all traffic and directional signage on estate property. Bicycles are prohibited in all non-guest areas and in the shuttle zone in front of Biltmore House. Riders must disembark and “walk” bicycles on garden paths.

The Dairy Foreman’s Cottage: A Brief History

There’s a new overnight offering at Biltmore—a cozy, casual home in a peaceful woodland setting. Introducing the freshly renovated Dairy Foreman’s Cottage on Biltmore Estate™, an historic structure, reimagined to offer today’s guests an oasis of service, style, and charm. 

In honor of this exclusive new lodging option, let’s take a step back in time for a closer look at the history of this unique Biltmore residence. 

A Family Home for Estate Workers

Originally labeled a “Dairy Worker’s Cottage,” this welcoming home was one of five identical houses designed by Asheville architect Anthony Lord in 1935 for Biltmore Dairy employees and their families. According to archival correspondence from the time, the cottage was built for $535 with materials provided by the estate.

Archival photo of cows with Dairy Foreman's Cottage in the distance
The earliest archival photo of the Dairy Foreman’s Cottage (center of image, top of hill), ca. 1940

One of the first families to live in this house was likely the Allen family in the late 1930s or early 1940s. Ernest Allen brought his family to the estate in 1927, and over his 38 years of employment at Biltmore, primarily as a Farm Foreman, they lived in seven different estate residences. 

Ernest’s daughter Martha Allen Wolfe recalled in a 2016 interview with our Oral History Program that they had indoor plumbing and electricity while growing up in the Dairy Foreman’s Cottage. 

Archival image of Dairy Foreman's Cottage
Archival photo believed to be the Dairy Foreman’s Cottage, ca. 1950

Even with seven brothers and sisters, she remembered the home as being very comfortable. Her brothers slept upstairs, and apparently, they would secretly climb out of the windows at night, engage in some youthful mischief, and then sneak back in the same way.

One of her brothers was Bill Allen, who would eventually follow his father’s footsteps and have a 45-year career at Biltmore—first as Farm Manager and later Vineyard Manager. 

Martha said of the Dairy Foreman’s Cottage, “We loved it, and it was home.”

Gorgeous gourmet kitchen in Dairy Foreman's Cottage
The cottage’s gorgeous gourmet kitchen features stainless steel appliances.

New Life for an Old Cottage

Today, this 1,778-square-foot home has been beautifully updated with modern touches. Accommodating up to five guests, the cottage offers two bedrooms with a king-sized bed in each as well as a pullout sofa in the reading room. 

And there’s plenty of room for entertaining: an open kitchen that extends to dining and living areas, a formal sitting room, a screened-in back porch, and an outdoor dining patio.

Charming front porch with swing and rocking chairs
The charming front porch offers a secluded oasis of rest and relaxation.

The Dairy Foreman’s Cottage puts you just steps away from quiet nature trails, made lush by original forest plantings that contributed to the estate’s National Historic Landmark designation as the birthplace of American Forestry.

This welcoming abode is also located within walking distance of lively activity in Antler Hill Village, tastings of award-winning wines at our Winery, and the luxurious amenities offered at our four-star Inn.

For your next getaway, we invite you to make the Dairy Foreman’s Cottage your home away from home. Delight in the privacy of one of the most exclusive and customized lodging experiences the estate has to offer. Book your stay today.

Biltmore Trails: 22 Miles to Explore

Whether you’re at Biltmore for the day or you’re a Biltmore Annual Passholder, exploring Biltmore’s 22 miles of trails is an excellent way to get some outdoor exercise. From leisurely strolls to intense workouts, our trails offer a variety of routes that can be tailored to your skill level with spectacular views in every season.

Walk in our manicured gardens on paved paths in Biltmore's Italian and Shrub Gardens
Enjoy the manicured landscape along paved paths in our historic gardens.

Easy Biltmore Trails

Historic Gardens (walking)

Our historic gardens paths incorporate the Italian Garden (gravel), Shrub Garden (paved), Walled Garden (paved), and Spring Garden (mulch). Routes stretch approximately 1-2 miles depending on which paths you choose. Enjoy seasonal blooms with benches nearby to take a break and soak it all in.

Azalea Garden (walking)

This mostly paved walking path can be accessed from either the Spring Garden or Walled Garden. It is a great opportunity to go even deeper into Biltmore’s historic gardens, offering benches along the way, and leads to Bass Pond Waterfall and Boat House. Take in spectacular views across the Bass Pond at approximately 1 mile.

View of the west side of Biltmore House from the Lagoon
The Lagoon Trail offers a striking view of the west side of Biltmore House.

Moderate Biltmore Trails

Lagoon Trail (walking, running, biking)

This mostly flat, paved trail leads to the Lagoon, which offers a striking view of the west side of Biltmore House (a popular picnic spot). Start and end at Antler Hill Village for a pleasant 3-mile trip. The French Broad River and estate farmland provide pleasant scenery as you explore the path. 

Farm Trail (walking, running, biking)

This flat gravel and dirt road runs along the perimeter of Biltmore’s grounds and the French Broad River. Totaling 6 miles, this trail leads to the Arbor Trace Trail at one end and the Lagoon Trail at the other.

Westover Trails (hiking, trail running, biking)

Access this set of Biltmore trails from the Bike Barn or The Inn on Biltmore Estate® to see Biltmore’s beautiful woodlands. The green (1.7 miles) and blue routes (2.8 miles) immerse you in nature while offering wide trails for a comfortable experience with a few challenging hills.

On Biltmore's Westover trails, a bridge in the woods
The Westover Trails provide access to some of the estate’s more secluded woodlands.

Challenging Biltmore Trails

Westover Trails (hiking, trail running, biking)

The black route totals 3.5 miles round-trip inside Biltmore’s beautiful woodland. The narrow trail offers steep hills and is great for a technical single-track bike ride or an authentic hiking experience.

Arbor Trace Trail (hiking, trail running, biking)

This trail can only be accessed by first following the Farm Trail. The 3.5 mile round-trip route travels in and out of the woods providing scenic views of the estate’s agriculture and the historic Market Gardener’s Cottage on Biltmore Estate™. The last stretch of the trail (black) is quite narrow and an optional loop.

Deer Park Trail (walking, running, biking)

This challenging uphill trek is quite popular due to the stunning view of Biltmore House it offers. To extend the challenge, start at Antler Hill Village and take the Farm Trail to the Lagoon Trail which leads to the Deer Park Trail. 

Be sure to check out our trail map before you embark. All Biltmore trails are pet-friendly, well-maintained, and accessible only to Passholders, lodging guests, and ticketed guests. If you’re looking for a more curated experience, consider one of our guided hiking or biking offerings. See you on the trails!

Decorations in Biltmore House: Christmas 2020 by the Numbers

Join us for a very special Christmas at Biltmore this year as we mark the 125th anniversary of George Vanderbilt first opening the estate to his friends and family on Christmas Eve 1895. In honor of this milestone in our history, this year’s theme for decorations in Biltmore House will be “An 1895 Christmas,” with a focus on Vanderbilt holiday traditions—especially those that provide a sense of calm and comfort. 

Estate archives offered insight to the theme, including George Vanderbilt’s request for “barrels of mistletoe and wagonloads of holly” to adorn his new home. Look for holly garlands throughout, plus plenty of classic Christmas reds popping up in the decorations in Biltmore House this year, like bright berry trees in the Vestibule and Entry Hall and deeper claret and burgundy tones in the Tapestry Gallery.

Let’s take a closer look at the sheer amount of décor displayed at Biltmore this Christmas season.

Crane assists with giant tree installation
Installation of the 55-foot-tall Christmas tree on the Biltmore House Front Lawn is always a sight to behold.

Christmas Trees

  • There are 55 hand-decorated Christmas trees in Biltmore House for the 2020 celebration.
  • The smallest tree in America’s Largest Home® is a tabletop tree in the Morland Room.
  • The largest tree is, of course, the Vanderbilt traditional fresh 35-foot-tall Fraser fir in the Banquet Hall
  • A lit 55-foot-tall Norway spruce encircled by 36 illuminated evergreens and shrubs decorates the Front Lawn of Biltmore House for Candlelight Christmas Evenings
  • A total of 52 additional decorated Christmas trees are at other estate locations, including Antler Hill Village, our Winery, The Inn on Biltmore Estate®, and estate restaurants. The Conservatory will feature Christmas tree-shaped planters with potted plants and other natural materials.  
Christmas lights lay across the floor
Strands upon strands upon strands of lights come together to create the illuminated magic of the season.

Lights & Candles

  • There are around 45,000 lights and 150 candles inside Biltmore House. Approximately 135,000 LED and mini lights twinkle around the estate.
  • More than 55,300 lights illuminate the Front Lawn tree. An additional 33,280 are used on the surrounding trees and shrubs.  
  • Hand-lit at dusk, 250 luminaires line the driveway and Esplanade in front of Biltmore House, welcoming guests for Candlelight Christmas Evenings. 
Various ornaments for Biltmore House Christmas trees
Ornaments used throughout the estate vary by size and style, with some paying homage to the Vanderbilts’ era.

Ornaments

  • The Banquet Hall tree is trimmed with 500 ornaments and 500 LED Edison-style electric lights, along with an abundance of gift boxes.
  • Around 13,870 ornaments are hung on the other trees in Biltmore House, and another 13,000 are used to add holiday cheer around the estate. 
Vibrant poinsettia blooms
Vibrant poinsettias and other blooming plants are on display in Biltmore House and across the estate.

Poinsettias & Other Blooms

There are more than 1,200 traditional poinsettias on display throughout the estate—about 150 of which are part of decorations in Biltmore House. Other familiar holiday plants and flowers include amaryllis, Christmas cactus, bromeliads, orchids, peace lilies, cyclamen, begonias, and kalanchoe.  

Detail shot of unique Christmas wreath
All of our Christmas wreaths are handmade and some feature unique natural materials.

Wreaths

About 225 fresh wreaths and sprays, along with 90 faux pieces, used as decorations in Biltmore House and around the estate for the season. Our wreaths are made of fresh white pine and Fraser fir and they are 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.  

Floral team members install garland
Garlands and greenery are still used to decorate Biltmore House

Garlands

  • About 3,120 feet of fresh evergreen garlands, made of mixed white pine and Fraser fir, are used during the season. The garlands are replaced weekly to maintain a fresh look and fragrance for our guests.  
  • Faux garlands add another 1,000 feet in Biltmore House and around 1,800 feet in other estate areas.
Outdoor Christmas decorations
Once you start looking for bows throughout the estate, we have a feeling you’ll spot them everywhere!

Ribbons & Bows

  • There are about 600 handmade bows used in decorations in Biltmore House with an additional 1,200 across the estate. Everything from narrow cording to 8-inch-wide ribbons is used to make the bows, which are decorated with velvets, metallics, satins, burlap, and printed cottons.
  • The amount of ribbon needed to make a bow ranges from 5 yards for a bow used on the fresh garland on the Grand Staircase, to 15 yards to make a tree-topper bow for a 16-foot tree you might see in the Tapestry Gallery or Banquet Hall.  
Enchanted view of evening Biltmore House illumination
Candlelight Christmas Evenings offers the opportunity to experience Biltmore House aglow with holiday spirit.

We invite you to join us in marveling at the festive decorations in Biltmore House and across the estate as we honor the anniversary of this beloved celebration. Christmas at Biltmore Daytime Celebration and Candlelight Christmas Evenings each offer comfort, joy, and peace of mind in the traditions that have enchanted Biltmore’s guests for 125 years. Availability is limited; reserve your visit today to secure your preferred dates!

Please note all images used in this blog post are from Christmases past.

Top Five Christmas Activities for Overnight Guests

From the decked halls of America’s Largest Home® to all that our lively Antler Hill Village has to offer, there’s so much to see and do during the holiday season at Biltmore. That’s why we’ve narrowed it down to some of our favorites to help you plan your visit. Take a look at our top five Christmas activities for overnight guests.

Horse Carriage at Barn
Bundle up and embrace the crisp air as you take in the gorgeous long-range views.

5. Relax with a Horse-Drawn Carriage Ride

Keep cozy with a horse-drawn carriage ride across the estate. Select either a private or group experience, and escape the season’s hustle and bustle to enjoy our 8,000 acres of Blue Ridge Mountain wintertime beauty.

Three women shopping
We have a variety of shops by Biltmore House and in Antler Hill Village to meet all of your holiday shopping needs.

4. Shop for Everyone on Your List

From Christmas decorations to toys for the kids, our various estate shops truly offer something for everyone. Don’t miss our newest retail location: a holiday pop-up shop at The Biltmore Legacy in Antler Hill Village!

Couple dining by fireplace
Treat yourself to an elegant meal of expertly prepared cuisine with world-class service.

3. Dine in our Four-Star Dining Room

Nothing says “special occasion” quite like an evening meal in The Dining Room. Be sure to make reservations early so you can savor this award-winning culinary experience at the most exclusive restaurant on the estate.

Unwind in Antler Hill Village, a more casual Biltmore experience. (Photo credit: @travelforwildlife)

2. Stroll through our Illuminated Village 

As the sun begins to set, we invite you to discover our glittering holiday light display, including “waterfall” lights and oversized ornaments, in Antler Hill Village each evening throughout the holiday season. 

Decorated Library in Biltmore House
More than 45,000 twinkling Christmas lights are illuminated throughout Biltmore House.

1. Discover Biltmore at its Most Enchanting

Our annual Candlelight Christmas Evenings visits offer a rare glimpse into a more intimate side of America’s Largest Home® with soft candlelight, crackling fireplaces, and live music. Reserve your evening visit today!

Luggage and christmas gift on bed
Be sure to take a look at our holiday lodging packages, available at The Inn and Village Hotel.

Stay overnight at one of our two distinctive properties—The Inn on Biltmore Estate® and Village Hotel on Biltmore Estate®—so you’ll have plenty of time to experience our top five Christmas activities and so much more!

The Banquet Hall Tree: A Christmas at Biltmore Tradition

The Banquet Hall tree has been a Biltmore Christmas tradition for 125 years.

The 35-foot-tall Fraser fir selected for the Banquet Hall each year is always the tallest tree inside Biltmore House. Adorned with hundreds of lights and ornaments, the towering tree is a beloved Yuletide symbol that was introduced during the first Christmas at Biltmore.

Preparing for the first Christmas at Biltmore

While George Vanderbilt moved into Biltmore House in October 1895, he didn’t formally open the house until Christmas Eve of that year. He invited his extended family from the north to a grand holiday housewarming party.

Mr. Vanderbilt is to entertain in his chateau 300 guests from New York, who will arrive by special train. The scene of mirth and happiness which the yule-tide season will witness in this modern Aladdin’s palace will be the realization of even that lucky man’s wildest dreams…”
Galveston Tribune as quoted by The Asheville Citizen Times*

Thanks to news articles and correspondence between George and his staff, we know that preparations for the big event were extensive and no detail was left unattended.

Managers debated which nearby county had the best holly and the most desirable mistletoe, while staff scouted the perfect candidate for what would become one of Biltmore’s most prominent holiday elements: the Banquet Hall Christmas tree.

Chauncey Beadle wrote estate manager Charles McNamee:
“I quite agree with you that we should have a very large tree for this occasion; in fact, I think a twenty foot tree in that large Banquet Hall would be rather dwarfed.”

Celebrate Biltmore's tree-raising tradition virtually
Raising the Banquet Hall tree is a Christmas tradition at Biltmore

Christmas Eve 1895

On the evening of December 24, guests gathered in the Banquet Hall, which showcased the splendidly tall and beautifully decorated tree laden with gifts for estate workers. At the foot of the tree was a table piled high with family gifts.

“The Imperial Trio furnished music for the occasion, and the rich costumes of the ladies, the soft lights and the tastefully draped garlands of evergreen and mistletoe, interspersed with the shining leaves and red berries of the holly, created a beautiful scene to look upon.” 

The Asheville News and Hotel Reporter, December 28, 1895

George’s mother, Maria Louisa Vanderbilt, attended as well as several of his brothers and sisters with their spouses and children.

One of George’s nieces, Gertrude, daughter of Cornelius and Alice Claypoole Vanderbilt, kept a series of Dinner Books recording of all the parties and formal dinners she attended. The first Christmas dinner at Biltmore was Gertrude’s 193rd event that year, listed in the second volume of her 1895 Dinner Book.

In her seating diagram for the occasion, she listed 27 Vanderbilt family members, including “Uncle George,” “Grandma,” and numerous aunts, uncles, and cousins.

Seating chart drawn by Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney in 1895
A detailed seating chart of the first Christmas dinner at Biltmore House from the 1895 Dinner Book kept by Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney**

The lofty holiday event was a Vanderbilt family reunion of sorts. It was said to have been the largest gathering of the family since the death of George’s father, William Henry Vanderbilt, almost ten years earlier.

Ultimately, 40 family members and close friends signed the Biltmore House Guest Book throughout the holiday season.

Christmas Day 1895

At the time, Biltmore’s full domestic staff had yet to be hired, though George had temporarily employed local men and women for service during the holidays. On Christmas Day, George invited the estate’s many temporary and permanent employees and their children to the first Biltmore employee Christmas Party.

Still a bachelor at the time, he enlisted the help of Mrs. Charles McNamee to purchase gifts for the guests. (Edith Vanderbilt enthusiastically assumed this role after she and George married in 1898.)

George greeted everyone in the Banquet Hall mid-afternoon, where family members helped distribute gifts.

We imagine that most of the employees and their children had never seen anything like the Banquet Hall tree. At the time, less than 20% of US families brought Christmas trees into their homes, much less such an oversized tree with electric lights and hundreds of presents wrapped beneath it.

The Banquet Hall Tree: A Christmas at Biltmore Tradition
A beribboned velvet ornament featuring the elegant Vanderbilt monogram

The tradition continues

George Vanderbilt’s hosting of family and employees at Christmas is a tradition that continued long after 1895. Local and national newspapers published accounts of seasonal celebrations at Biltmore almost every year. And every year, those celebrations took place in the Banquet Hall, next to the tallest Christmas tree in Biltmore House.

Make reservations now to visit during Christmas at Biltmore or Candlelight Christmas Evenings and experience the enchantment of this beloved Yuletide symbol.

*Sourced by an uncited newspaper from our Museum Services history files.

**Photo courtesy of Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. Whitney Museum of American Art, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney papers. Gift of Flora Miller Irving.

8 Great Reasons to Visit Biltmore This Fall

There are more than 8 great reasons to visit Biltmore this fall, like the fact that the season is prime vacation time for those who love “leaf-peeping,” and Biltmore offers the best Blue Ridge Mountains views around.

The estate’s ever-changing autumnal color, plus its many seasonal activities and offerings, make it the perfect home base for your fall trip.

Here are 8 of our favorite reasons to make Biltmore the center of your getaway this fall:

8 great reasons to visit Biltmore this fall
Biltmore House surrounded by gorgeous fall color

1. Prime location in Asheville, NC

Nestled in the mountains of Western North Carolina, Biltmore is located minutes from downtown Asheville—a vibrant city known for great dining, quaint shops, and its strong arts community—and just a few miles from the Blue Ridge Parkway. In addition to your visit to Biltmore House & Gardens, you could easily spend several days enjoying the surrounding area.

2. Rooftop Tour of America’s Largest Home®

8 great reasons to visit Biltmore this fall
In addition to enjoying our Building Biltmore House exhibition, enhance your visit with a Rooftop Tour that includes spectacular views and stories.

Discover spectacular views boasting every shade of fall color as far as the eye can see. This 60-minute guided tour offers wildly impressive photo ops—during autumn, especially—and provides a closer look at the design and construction of Biltmore House in areas that many guests never visit.

3. Outdoor adventures

8 great reasons to visit Bltmore this fall
Enjoy beautiful fall color along our trails

Enjoy the crisp air and glorious fall colors while hiking or biking along our nearly 22 miles of paved and unpaved trails. Admire the scenery along the French Broad River, through lush green forests, or in the open meadows of the estate. Stop by the Bike Barn or Outdoor Adventure Center in Antler Hill Village for a detailed trail map and orientation.

4. Deerpark Carriage & Trail Ride Barn

Deerpark Carriage & Trail Ride Barn
Deerpark Carriage & Trail Ride Barn

Located in the heart of the estate, this historic structure is the headquarters for Biltmore’s Carriage Rides and Horseback Trail Rides. Whether you prefer a relaxing journey in an elegant carriage or a western-style adventure on a horse that suits your riding style, few things are as majestic as traveling our woodland trails enveloped in fall color.

5. Biltmore Gardens Railway

Biltmore Gardens Railway in Antler Hill Village at Biltmore
Marvel at Biltmore Gardens Railway–a botanical model train display in Antler Hill Village

All aboard for family fun with Biltmore Gardens Railway! Experience our grounds in an engaging new way with a botanical model train display that is sure to delight all ages. Located in Antler Hill Village, the displays feature replicas of iconic train depots from around the country. Each beautifully executed piece was handcrafted from such natural elements as leaves, bark, and twigs.

6. Get ready for the holidays!

Golden cherub ornament on a Biltmore Christmas tree
Christmas decor in Biltmore House

After strolling through a kaleidoscope of fall colors in the Walled Garden and enjoying the beautiful hues of the surrounding Blue Ridge Mountains, reserve at time to visit Biltmore House and get a sneak peek at what the Floral Displays team is planning for the holidays. Even though we don’t officially kick off the season until early November, you may catch glimpses of their hard work in the weeks leading up to Christmas at Biltmore!

7. Vineyard harvest season

Harvesting grapes in Biltmore's vineyard on the west side of the estate
Grapes are picked by hand in Biltmore’s vineyard on the west side of the estate

Biltmore’s bounty takes center stage at the Winery in Antler Hill Village as we celebrate the harvest season. Make reservations to savor complimentary tastings of handcrafted wines and learn how science and nature intersect as you learn about the estate’s vineyards, discover the unique factors that affect grapes grown in North Carolina, and take an in-depth look at our winemaking process.

8. The ultimate fall getaway

Guests entering The Inn on Biltmore Estate
Enjoy a grand fall getaway at The Inn on Biltmore Estate

An overnight stay at Biltmore offers the unique experience of waking up on George Vanderbilt’s estate with autumn beauty just outside your door. Enjoy warm hospitality in a relaxed and welcoming atmosphere at the charming Village Hotel on Biltmore Estate®, or experience world-class service with a luxurious four-star stay at The Inn on Biltmore Estate®.  

Plan your visit today and discover for yourself why Biltmore is the perfect home base for your fall getaway.

Biltmore’s Azalea Garden: A Tribute to Chauncey Beadle

A favorite pastime of Biltmore Blooms is visiting the Azalea Garden—one of the largest selections of native azaleas in the country. The 15-acre garden is home to more than 20,000 plants, offering thousands upon thousands of vivid blooms of white, yellow, orange, and every shade of pink imaginable.

Azalea Garden in bloom
Biltmore’s Azalea Garden in peak bloom

But did you know the Azalea Garden was not actually part of the original plan for the estate?

This parade of color is a culmination of the passion of Chauncey Beadle, an avid azalea collector and horticulturist hired at Biltmore in 1890 who later became the estate superintendent.

Chauncey Beadle, ca. 1906
Chauncey Beadle, ca. 1906

Beadle and “The Azalea Hunters”

Beginning in 1930, Beadle, along with fellow botanists and friends Frank Crayton and William Knight—aptly called “The Azalea Hunters”—spent countless hours over long weekends and holidays driving through each southeastern state searching for every species, natural hybrid, form, and color of azalea.

Chauncey Beadle in the Azalea Garden, 1948
Chauncey Beadle in the Azalea Garden, ca. 1948

Beadle maintained his massive personal collection at his farm on the east side of Asheville until 1940, but he knew that he needed to find a home for his azaleas, fondly referred to as his “children,” before he became too old to care for them.

He could think of no better home than the Glen in the valley below Biltmore’s Conservatory and gardens. Edith Vanderbilt Gerry and Judge Junius G. Adams, Biltmore Company president at the time, agreed.

Azalea Garden Ceremony, 1940
Azalea Garden ceremony, ca. 1940

Establishing the Azalea Garden

In honor of his then fifty years of service to Biltmore, the estate held a celebration for Beadle* on April 1, 1940, in the Glen, which from that day forward would be named the Azalea Garden. All estate employees and their spouses were invited to the event.

Edith Gerry and Chauncey Beadle, 1940
Edith Vanderbilt Gerry and Chauncey Beadle, ca. 1940

During the ceremony, Edith unveiled a marker that memorializes Beadle’s lifetime of faithful service and gift of his azaleas to Biltmore.

Join us in celebrating the generosity and genius of Chauncey Beadle with a springtime stroll through the Azalea Garden. Plan your visit today!

*Thanks to new research from our Museum Services team, we now know that nine other employees were also honored for their many years of service in the 1940 Azalea Garden ceremony, including four Black men affiliated with the Landscape Department.

More than a Hostess: Honoring Edith Vanderbilt

At the age of 25, Edith Vanderbilt married the nation’s most eligible bachelor and assumed her role as lady of America’s Largest Home®, responsible for ensuring the comfort and entertainment of Biltmore’s many guests. And yet, she was so much more than a hostess.

Let’s take a look at some of Edith Vanderbilt’s most incredible efforts and achievements.

School of Domestic Science students
Students of the Biltmore School of Domestic Science, ca. 1901

Biltmore School of Domestic Science

In 1901, Edith Vanderbilt established the Biltmore School of Domestic Science, which trained young Black women in professional housekeeping. The intention behind this initiative was two-fold: to help satisfy the increasing demand for efficient domestic service in the area at the time, and—more importantly to Edith—to help women with socio-economic challenges to become gainfully employed.

Coursework covered the duties of a maid, waitress, laundress, cook, and housekeeper; if a student showed a preference for a special line of work, she was given the necessary training to develop that skillset. Additionally, the school created a network to increase its graduates’ prospects of finding work:

“The graduating classes form a society for houseworkers. The purpose of this society is mutual help, by raising the respect of the general public for such work and workers…Any positions that are vacant if in good families will be reported, and an effort be made to fill them from among the members of the society.” 

The Home Science Magazine, Volume XX, October 1903March 1904

Archival documents of Biltmore Estate Exhibition
Archival list of 1906 Biltmore Estate Exhibition prize winners and first and second prize ribbons

Biltmore Estate Exhibition

In order to nurture a sense of community among estate employees and their families, Edith organized the Biltmore Estate Exhibition, also referred to as the annual fair, in 1905. She distributed seeds as needed to all of the employees to ensure everyone could participate in the competitions.

Some of the initial categories included vegetables and herbs, field crops, domestic products such as breads and preserves, needlework, and baskets. Categories later expanded to include flowers, hogs, and poultry as well as a miscellaneous category to include eggs, honey, and various other items. Prizes included ribbons and a variety of garden books.

Though Edith was in London during the 1907 event, estate superintendent Chauncey Beadle wrote to her: 

“Not another day shall pass without a full report to you of the Exhibition, which was celebrated in the grove above the Farm Cottages yesterday afternoon with the most auspicious weather that it was possible to have. The attendance and exhibits were very satisfactory, and, I believe all who participated enjoyed the day, the social intercourse and objects which were displayed.”

Thanks to oral histories, we know that the fairs continued into the 1940s.

Biltmore Dairy Moonlight School students
Students of the Biltmore Dairy Moonlight School, ca. 1920s (Photo courtesy of the McCarson Family)

Biltmore Dairy Moonlight School

In 1914, Edith founded the Biltmore Dairy Moonlight School to teach illiterate estate workers how to read and write. Her larger intention was to attack the underlying causes of economic inequality and disenfranchisement. Classes were taught by Columbia University interns and graduates, who were receiving arguably the best teacher training in the nation at the time.

Edith Vanderbilt personally selected the textbook used at the school and even taught a class from time to time:  

“It is an interesting picture: one of the world’s richest women… teaching dairy workers how to read and write in a horse barn in the mountains of North Carolina.”

– “Aristocracy and Appalachia: Edith Vanderbilt and Her Moonlight School” (2011) by Wilkie L. Whitney

While Biltmore’s was certainly not the first moonlight school, the model Edith pioneered was so effective, it inspired the foundation of many similar programs across North Carolina—all with the support of Edith as their most vocal advocate.

Edith Vanderbilt and Red Cross
Edith Vanderbilt (second from right) and her fellow Red Cross volunteers, ca. 1917–1919 (Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress: American National Red Cross Collection)

Red Cross Efforts during the Great War

When the United States became involved in the first World War, Edith Vanderbilt was splitting her time between Biltmore and Washington, DC—but no matter where she was, she always found ways to support the Red Cross during this turbulent time.

While in Asheville, she sponsored a golf tournament to raise funds for the Red Cross.

The trophy was the gift of Mrs. Edith Vanderbilt, the rules providing that all entrance fees went to the Red Cross, and that no trophies should be given unless donated.

– “Carolina Mountains Having Great Season,” The Times Dispatch, 19 August 1917

While in Washington, DC, she volunteered with the Red Cross as part of a Canteen Unit, which provided hot coffee, light refreshments, and mail services to troops at railroad junctions. True to form, Edith was recognized for going above and beyond at her Canteen’s encampment:

“Mrs. George Vanderbilt is quite wonderful, so cool and collected and executive. She took her motor and went off shopping, bought some extra equipment, a table for the tent to hold the telephone, some camp chairs, a rake to rake up the trash, a pump to pump the water into the cauldron, a mail bag, stamps, wire baskets; besides, she organized the post-office.”  

Presidents and Pies: Life in Washington 1897–1919 (1920) by Isabel Anderson

Edith Vnaderbilt State Fair
Edith Vanderbilt arriving at the first State Fair during her tenure as president, ca. 1921

First Female President of the North Carolina Agricultural Society

In 1920, Edith Vanderbilt was elected the first female president of the North Carolina Agricultural Society as well as the 60th State Fair. Her first address in the role was one for the books.

“Anti-suffragists who have feared woman’s entrance into politics found themselves happy today when Mrs. Edith Vanderbilt made about the smartest 15-minute speech to a joint session of the general assembly heard within the historic walls of the state house in a long time…explaining in the outset that it would be like the modern skirt, to the extent that its length would cover the subject and its brevity attract attention. She was right.”

– “Woman Makes First Address to Legislature,” The Charlotte Observer, 3 February 1921

Under her leadership, the State Fair focused more on agriculture as opposed to sideshows. Edith traveled and wrote widely to promote the event and help attract exhibitors. She also led initiatives to improve the fairgrounds.

She would ultimately be re-elected to lead the 1922, 1923, and 1924 fairs, and then continued to serve on the executive committee following her tenure as president.

Edith and Cornelia Vanderbilt
Edith Vanderbilt (center) and her daughter Cornelia (left of center) greet guests arriving in Biltmore Village, ca. 1924

More than a Hostess

Beyond her duties as wife, mother, and lady of the house, Edith Vanderbilt felt a great responsibility towards her community. She was passionate about education, agriculture, and literacy. She was active in civic affairs at the local, state, and national level. Perhaps most impressive, she used her privilege to support those in need and the causes in which she so strongly believed.

Cheers to this extraordinary woman!

Feature image: Edith Vanderbilt gathering letters from soldiers while volunteering for the Red Cross, ca. 1918 (Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress: American National Red Cross Collection)

Tulips in Biltmore’s Walled Garden: A Brief History

Each spring, thousands upon thousands of beautiful and brightly colored tulips fill the formal flowerbeds of Biltmore’s Walled Garden. Their vivid hues are a favorite part of the season for many guests.

But preparation for the show actually begins long before warmer weather arrives. According to Parker Andes, director of Horticulture:

Planting for spring in the Walled Garden begins months before you see the results. One reason we get continuous color is because we plant several varieties of up to six bulbs per hole!

In honor of this seasonal celebration, let’s take a look at the history of tulips in Biltmore’s Walled Garden.

Archival image of Biltmore Walled Garden
The Vegetable and Flower Garden (now the Walled Garden), cica 1895

The Vegetable and Flower Garden

Landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted originally envisioned the Walled Garden as a multipurpose space, providing fine fruits and vegetables as well as fresh flowers for Biltmore House. The design was inspired by English kitchen gardens, which were often walled to protect them from wind and wild animals.

George Vanderbilt, however, did not share this vision. Instead, he thought the Walled Garden should be one of “ornament, not utility.” While fruits and vegetables were grown there intermittently, most of them were gradually phased out over time.

Archival image of Tulips in the Walled Garden
Tulips in the Walled Garden, circa 1930

The Earliest Hint of Tulips

It is difficult to say exactly when tulips made their debut in the Walled Garden. However, one letter in our archives tells us the blooming bulbs have been planted there for almost a century.

On April 14, 1922, Estate Superintendent Chauncey Beadle wrote to Cornelia Vanderbilt:

The tulips in the walled garden are so glorious that we are trying out an experiment of sending you a box today by express for Easter. We shall hope they will bring you something of their original beauty and charm to make Easter even more wonderful. Spring is very much advanced here, even the yellow rambler roses are opening. 

The showy flower was perhaps chosen for the dramatic beds of the Walled Garden as an homage to the Dutch heritage of the Vanderbilts—and the term “Biltmore.” The name selected for the family’s country retreat derives from “Bildt,” the town in Holland where George Vanderbilt’s ancestors originated, and “more,” an Old English word for open, rolling land.

Tulips have served as a status symbol for the Dutch since the height of “Tulipmania” in the mid-1600s when speculation on rare bulbs created an investment bubble and the price of one bulb was equal to ten years of income.

Tulips in the Walled Garden
Tulips in the Walled Garden delight guests year after year

The Tradition Continues

Tulips in Biltmore’s Walled Garden have long been a favorite element of the season. Even before Biltmore House opened to the public in 1930, the Vanderbilts allowed some public access to the area a few days a week during spring so that locals and out-of-state visitors alike could enjoy estate gardens in bloom.

This tradition continues today with Biltmore Blooms, our seasonal celebration of the estate’s ever-changing progression of springtime color.

Plan your visit today and join us as we delight in the more than 80,000 tulip bulbs that lend their dramatic color to the Walled Garden.