Biltmore Dairy in Asheville, NC: An Udderly Fascinating History

George Vanderbilt established Biltmore Dairy operations for three main reasons: to supply dairy products to Biltmore House, to provide an example to others on how to run a successful farm, and to generate income through commercial product sales.

Imagine having a Vanderbilt for your milkman—flavoring your coffee with cream from the dairy of a multi-millionaire. It is enough to make one smack his lips and imagine the product is richer than that of ordinary dairymen.
– “A Millionaire Farmer,” St. Louis Globe Democrat, 1894

Biltmore Dairy delivery wagon, ca. 1900

Biltmore Dairy delivery wagon, ca. 1900, Asheville, NC

Beyond the dairy, original agricultural operations included sheep, hog, and poultry farms, and a substantial market garden for produce. All of these endeavors, collectively named Biltmore Farms, contributed to George Vanderbilt’s ability to fulfill the estate’s mission of self-sufficiency.

However, Biltmore Dairy was the most successful of all of Biltmore’s enterprises, providing the estate with a financial cushion that would see it through George Vanderbilt’s death, two world wars, the Great Depression, and beyond.

Calves in the Calf Barn, ca. 1940

Calves in the Calf Barn, ca. 1940, Asheville, NC

The Legacy of Biltmore Dairy

Much of this success was thanks to the Vanderbilts’ prized herd of Jersey cows. Of all major dairy breeds, Jerseys produce the richest milk—high in butterfat, protein, and calcium. They also produce a higher volume of milk per each pound of body weight than other type of cattle.

The Biltmore Dairy Farms herd, believed to be the largest herd of registered Jerseys in the world, is unquestionably one of the finest and best known.
– “Souvenir Edition Annual Meeting of the American Jersey Cattle Club,” June 3, 1942

Biltmore Dairy workers, ca. 1910

Biltmore Dairy workers, ca. 1910, Asheville, NC

To ensure that the herd maintained excellent health, staff included a full-time veterinarian and a dairy bacteriologist. Dairy workers kept detailed records on the herd and conducted regular inspections to ensure their living conditions were of the highest quality.

The herd was primarily housed in the estate’s Main Dairy Barn—what is now Biltmore’s Winery. Just down the road was the Creamery, where cream was separated from the milk. Milk was then bottled and sold, while the cream was made into butter, buttermilk, cottage cheese, and, of course, ice cream.

The Dairy Barn, May 30, 1913 (Courtesy of Alice Marie Lewis)

The Dairy Barn in Asheville, NC, May 30, 1913 (Courtesy of Alice Marie Lewis)

The Tasty History of Biltmore Ice Cream

Biltmore’s ice cream played a leading role at estate gatherings, including Cornelia Vanderbilt’s birthday parties, Christmas celebrations, and May Day festivities. Almost every oral history interview in our archives that mentions a childhood memory on the estate also includes a reference to ice cream.

After Biltmore House opened to the public in 1930, guests could view the milking rooms and processing areas in the Dairy Barn, sample the milk, and buy ice cream. Biltmore Dairy was so successful, and its products were so well-known that it became an attraction in its own right for estate visitors.

Biltmore Dairy milkmen and delivery trucks, ca. 1935-1940

Biltmore Dairy milkmen and delivery trucks, ca. 1935-1940, Asheville, NC

It was around this time that the dairy’s delivery wagons were replaced with trucks and the fleet grew from 30 vehicles to over 400 in just 15 years. Salesmen were now able to market the products as far away as Charlotte, which at the time was a windy, wooded five-hour drive.

Unfortunately, the market shifted. With the advent of chain grocery stores came a cheaper, more efficient way to purchase milk, eventually making door-to-door dairy delivery obsolete. Biltmore Dairy and other smaller, family-run businesses were unable to compete with expansive commercial operations. In April of 1985, Biltmore Dairy was sold to Pet, Inc.

A family enjoying ice cream in the Stable Courtyard

A family enjoying ice cream in the Stable Courtyard at Biltmore in Asheville, NC

Enjoy Biltmore Ice Cream Today

Today, Biltmore continues to draw inspiration from Biltmore Dairy. The Biltmore Dairy Bar™ in the Stable Courtyard was named in honor of our agricultural heritage. Additionally, vanilla ice cream based on a delicious original Biltmore Dairy recipe is offered at both Biltmore Dairy Bar™ and at the Creamery in Antler Hill Village.

*Feature image: Cows in the Main Dairy Barn, ca. 1935.

Too Pretty To Eat: Creating Faux Food For Our New Exhibition

With all the glamorous details for A Vanderbilt House Party – The Gilded Age, including clothing reproduced from the Vanderbilt family’s photos and portraits, the stunning array of crystal and china place settings on the Banquet Hall table, and the new custom Audio Guided Tour, you may have overlooked one of the most fascinating aspects of the exhibition: the food!

Banquet Hall table set for A Vanderbilt House Party

Biltmore House Party

“In keeping with the house party theme, we wanted the foods we featured to be visually interesting and representative of a “typical” dinner at Biltmore. We also wanted to showcase some of the Vanderbilts’ favorite foods, and some that are unfamiliar to most of our palates today,” said Lauren Henry, Associate Curator.

“We chose the dinner menu from November 12, 1904, because we have a detailed record of what was served on that date from the archival 1904 Menu Book, kept by Biltmore cook Esther Anderson.”

Biltmore House 1904 Menu Book

1904 Biltmore House Menu Book open to November 12 date

Too pretty to eat

Lauren discovered New Jersey artist Sandy Levins who researches, designs, and creates historic faux foods and room settings for museums and exhibitions. She crafts beautiful reproductions of everything edible from spices to smoked sausages using materials such as Crayola Model Magic, papier maché, plaster, antique molds, and non-toxic acrylic paints.

“Sandy’s work is not only unbelievably realistic,” noted Lauren, “but it’s also designed to be museum-safe so that it doesn’t release any harsh chemicals that might damage our collection. Each piece is a true work of art on many levels.”

To create the replica of a roast turkey—one of George Vanderbilt’s favorite dishes—Sandy Levins applied a silicone mold over a real turkey, then filled the mold with plaster. The beautifully detailed faux turkey was then painted to complete its appetizing appearance.

Latex mold opened to reveal a plaster turkey

Unpainted plaster turkey from silicone mold of a real turkey; photo by Hoag Levins

Among the dishes Sandy created for A Vanderbilt House Party is a white fish mousse that she cast in a fish-shaped copper mold, very similar to the way the real item would have been prepared during the Vanderbilt era. The mousse is displayed with star-shaped crackers and very realistic lobster claw garnishes

White fish mousse reproduction for A Vanderbilt House Party

White fish mousse with lobster claw garnish

“We’ve staged it in the dumbwaiter,” said Lauren, “as if it’s ready to go upstairs to the Banquet Hall table.”

Full-course menu

Because Lauren wanted to show some of the dinner courses in different stages of completion, the Main Kitchen features a raw beef tongue on a butcher’s block.

“While the beef tongue would have been cooked before it was served, Sandy did a spectacular job on the raw version and that helps us show how much work went into a grand dinner party,” said Lauren. “Everything had to be made from scratch, and much of the food served at Biltmore during the Vanderbilt era came from farms on the estate—a tradition we continue today in our restaurants.”

Another delicacy of that day and time was braised calves’ brains served on toast rounds; you’ll also find that dish in the Main Kitchen.

Charlotte Rousse dessert in Pastry Kitchen at Biltmore

Charlotte Russe embellished with a ribbon

According to Lauren, other faux food highlights include a stunning Bavarian cream Charlotte Russe dessert in the Pastry Kitchen and two 20-pound roast turkeys.

“The turkey in the Rotisserie Kitchen is missing a leg,” notes Lauren. “You’ll find out who the culprit is by listening to our new audio tour!”

Mannequins of chef and assistant in Main Kitchen of Biltmore House

Main Kitchen scene featuring a variety of foods, including roast turkey

Plan your visit today

Experience A Vanderbilt House Party – The Gilded Age, now through May 27, 2019. Receive the custom Exhibition Audio Guided Tour FREE with your valid Biltmore Annual Pass or when you purchase estate admission tickets online.

Featured blog image: Recreations of Biltmore House staff clothing and food in the Main Kitchen

Top 5 Most Romantic Estate Activities

With two distinctive hotels and a variety of offerings perfect for couples, romantic getaways at Biltmore are certainly not limited to February. But in honor of “the month of love,” let’s take a look at our top five most romantic estate activities.

Biltmore Conservatory
Stroll through the Conservatory

Located at the end of the Walled Garden, Biltmore’s Conservatory is a grand glass-roofed building that nurtures exotic orchids, ferns, palms, and more. When you enter this historic structure, you step into a world of indoor enchantment. Take your time strolling through its 7,000 square feet and get lost in the splendor of your own private tropical oasis.

Biltmore Red Wine & Chocolate Tasting
Savor a Red Wine & Chocolate Tasting

Share sweets with your sweetheart during this specialty wine experience and discover why these two aphrodisiacs are a match made in heaven. Our Red Wine & Chocolate Tasting is offered daily and features locally produced artisan chocolates—plus information about wine production at Biltmore, the process of farming origin-specific cacao, and its effects upon the finished product.

The Dining Room at The Inn on Biltmore Estate
Dine in The Dining Room

Recently recognized as Western North Carolina’s only restaurant awarded Four Stars by Forbes Travel Guide, The Dining Room at The Inn on Biltmore Estate™ has also been named One of the 100 Most Romantic Restaurants in America. Treat your loved one to expertly prepared cuisine that emphasizes estate-raised and local ingredients with world-class service inspired by the Vanderbilts.

Biltmore Carriage Ride
Enjoy a Cozy Carriage Ride

Relax aboard a charming carriage drawn by our Belgian draft horses as you take in picturesque views of Biltmore. We have a variety of Carriage Ride options. Choose a 30-minute or 60-minute ride aboard one of our multi-passenger carriages to experience the estate’s beauty in good company, or opt for a private 90-minute ride in an elegant vis-á-vis carriage—just for you and your valentine.

Treatment Room at The Spa Biltmore at The Inn on Biltmore Estate
Indulge in a Couples Massage

The Spa Biltmore* at The Inn on Biltmore Estate™ is a petite facility offering luxurious treatments that incorporate the estate’s natural offerings into a soothing, restorative, and uniquely Biltmore experience. We invite you and your better half to indulge in seasonally inspired massages in our intimate Couples Retreat.

No matter the time of year, Biltmore is the perfect place to show your significant other just how much they mean to you. And if you’re looking for a more outdoorsy approach to a romantic getaway, take a look at our top 5 most naturally romantic spots on the estate.

*Access to The Spa Biltmore is reserved exclusively for guests of The Inn on Biltmore Estate™, guests of Village Hotel on Biltmore Estate®, and Biltmore Annual Passholders.

5 Fast Facts about Dinner with the Vanderbilts

Our upcoming exhibition A Vanderbilt House Party – The Gilded Age, shares stories drawn from letters and archival information about behind-the-scenes preparations for a grand dinner celebration in Biltmore House.

As we prepare for that experience, let’s take a look at a few things to note as a guest at the Vanderbilts’ Banquet Hall table around the turn of the century*.

White napkins in the Biltmore House collection featuring George Vanderbilt’s monogram

5. Linens

Every detail of the Vanderbilt dining experience was of the highest quality—even down to the linens. An early inventory in Biltmore’s archives notes 1,139 linen napkins and 111 linen tablecloths in the collection. All of the linens were handmade and most were monogrammed by the famous needleworker Madame Dufoir in Paris, France.

Archival seating chart from a 1898 dinner in the Banquet Hall of Biltmore House

4. Seating

Dining customs of the era required seating assignments for formal meals. These assignments were often identified using name cards at each place setting and it was not uncommon for seating records to be kept. Edith Vanderbilt kept such records. Above is a seating diagram she created for one of the large house parties hosted at Biltmore just before the turn of the century.

The fully set Banquet Hall table in Biltmore House

3. Place Settings

Whether for grand banquets or intimate family meals, the Vanderbilts’ head butler and his staff spared no finery in setting the Banquet Hall table. Spread with more than 40 pieces of delicate porcelain, exquisite silver, and sparkling crystal per guest, the table attested to the grandeur of America’s Gilded Age.

Dinner attire recreated for our A Vanderbilt House Party exhibition

2. Attire

Dinner at Biltmore was an elaborate and ceremonious affair—and as such, the event required some of the most extravagant attire of the era. Women’s dresses were made of luxurious silks and satins, adorned with their finest jewels. Men wore white tie, which is more formal than a modern tuxedo, and of course, everything had to be spotless.

Archival menu book featuring the dinner menu served December 12, 1904

1. The Meal Itself

Often the highlight of a stay at Biltmore, dinner featured between six and ten courses, including soup, fish, entrée, roast or relevé, game and salad, dessert, and coffee to aid digestion. Meals included a combination of store-bought delicacies and the home-grown bounty of estate farms. Dinner also featured as many as five different wine pairings—illustrating George Vanderbilt’s interest in fine wines.

Join us for A Vanderbilt House Party – The Gilded Age from February 8 through May 27 to experience the preparations of grand dinner celebration in Biltmore House brought to life.

*Biltmore House as it appeared during the turn of the century, ca. 1900.

Behind the Scenes of A Vanderbilt House Party

In anticipation of A Vanderbilt House Party – The Gilded Age exhibition, we met up with Leslie Klingner, Biltmore’s Curator of Interpretation, to chat about what it took to recreate clothing from the Vanderbilts’ original wardrobes.

1. Why recreate these pieces of clothing? Are the original pieces not in the Biltmore collection?
While we are lucky to have some of the Vanderbilts’ original clothing in the collection, textiles are, by their very nature, fragile and not easily retained. Recreating these pieces that were captured in archival photography allows us to show what the family and their friends wore at the turn of the century.

Fashion also conveys so many details—about personal style and social mores. We are excited about the opportunity to show recreations of clothing from this era against the colors, textures, and impressive scale of Biltmore’s original historic interiors.

Our curators consulted more than 100 photographs drawn from our archives to accurately recreate the clothing, accessories, and hairstyles worn by the Vanderbilt family.

2. How did you decide what colors to use from black and white photos?
This was one of the more complex and more fun parts of the process. We looked closely at archival imagery and did quite a bit of research into what the Vanderbilts were wearing, paying particular attention to colors and fabrics that were mentioned in newspaper articles or journals.

We also looked at receipts and any information we had in the archives. We know that Edith favored certain colors like greens and metallics and we even have some samples of suiting fabrics for George Vanderbilt that helped guide our decisions.

Celebrated costume designer John Bright drew from his own collection of antique lace and trimming in order to recreate Edith Vanderbilt’s gowns with the utmost authenticity.

3. In addition to the archival photos, what else helped to inform these recreations? 
We also looked at historic examples of work by the same fashion designers that the Vanderbilts favored—like Jeanne Paquin and Jacques Doucet as well as the House of Worth. There are many related pieces in museum collections like the Metropolitan Museum in New York and the V&A in London.

Ultimately, we conferred with the designer John Bright of Cosprop, London, and his team, who are all very knowledgeable about clothing in this period. They’ve created costumes for Downton Abbey, Gosford Park, and other productions focused on this era.

This velvet and ostrich feather headpiece is a recreation of that which Edith Stuyvesant Dresser wore in the 1898 photographs marking her engagement to George Vanderbilt.

4. From start to finish, what was involved in this process?
After researching color and tonal range, we worked with the Cosprop team to select fabrics. Then, John walked us through his recommendations on constructing the garments. We were able to determine sizing based on additional archival documents—like the Vanderbilts’ passports, for instance.

Throughout the process, samples and correspondence were sent back and forth between Biltmore and Cosprop’s team in London. Eventually, the completed garments were shipped to us. Each item was then photographed, documented, and numbered before being put on the mannequins.

We have sourced authentic shoes, jewelry, and accessories to make sure every detail is just right. We even worked with a local jeweler to make exact reproductions of the buttons on the footmen’s jackets and vests!

 One of the most complicated projects of the exhibition was the recreation of a House of Worth gown worn by George Vanderbilt’s sister, Florence Vanderbilt Twombly.

5. What do you hope guests take away from this exhibition?
I’m not sure there has ever been another exhibition created anywhere that is quite like this one. It is bringing to life what it was like to be a guest at Biltmore.

I think it’s a special opportunity to get an insider’s view on entertaining at the turn of the century—and to learn not only more about the Vanderbilt family and the fashion of the time period, but also the stories and the people behind Biltmore.

To me, the lives of the staff and guests who visited are equally fascinating. This is the first opportunity to see this very special side of Biltmore’s history and we can’t wait to share it.

A Vanderbilt House Party – The Gilded Age premiered February 8 and ran through May 27, 2019.

Exploring the Butler’s Pantry

Welcome to the central nervous system of Biltmore House: The Butler’s Pantry. As its name suggests, the Butler’s Pantry was the main work area for the head butler and his staff of footmen and it played a critical role in each and every meal enjoyed by the Vanderbilts and their guests.

As part of the upcoming exhibition A Vanderbilt House Party – The Gilded Age, guests can enjoy the Butler’s Pantry as part of their self-guided tour of Biltmore House for the very first time.

Click play and drag your mouse for a 360-degree view of the Butler’s Pantry. (360-degree video format is not currently supported by Internet Explorer or Safari. For best results, please view in Google Chrome or on your mobile device. We apologize for any inconvenience.)

Strategically located on the first floor between the Kitchen and the Breakfast Room and directly above the basement kitchen, the Butler’s Pantry is a room that was constantly abuzz with staff activity. Meals prepared in the kitchen and would arrive in the Butler’s Pantry via dumbwaiters and floor maids, ready to be plated and delivered to the family and guests. It was the primary responsibility of the butler to ensure that all meals, including afternoon tea, were served smoothly and effortlessly, as the performance of the head butler and his staff were a direct reflection on the Vanderbilts.

Not only was the Butler’s Pantry the central hub for meal preparations, it was also the primary point of contact between the butler and guests. A visit to Biltmore offered guests anything their hearts desired, all at the push of a button. When a guest had a request, they simply pressed a button in their room, and a bell would ring on the state-of-the-art annunciator outside the Butler’s Pantry. The butler or a servant on duty in the Butler’s Pantry would attend to the guest themselves, send a nearby servant, or call a servant on the appropriate floor to see what is needed, then call down to the Butler’s Pantry so that the task could be delegated to the appropriate person. Like a well-oiled machine, the request would be fulfilled and the butler would be on to the next. 

Technology in the Butler’s Pantry

Managing a Gilded Age mansion the size of Biltmore was no easy task, and the house featured the most cutting-edge technology of the time to assist the domestic staff in their daily duties. In many ways, Biltmore functioned like a luxury hotel, and these technological features helped ensure that all operations ran smoothly and quickly. Below are some of the Biltmore House’s most notable technologies:

  • Annunciator System: The Annunciator System (also known as the servant call bell system) allowed staff to respond to guest calls from virtually any room in Biltmore House. Service was literally available at the push of a button.
  • Dumbwaiters: The Butler’s Pantry features two dumbwaiters used to deliver food from the basement kitchen and pantry: one electric and one manual. (The electric dumbwaiter had a lifting capacity of 250 pounds and an operating speed of 100 feet per minute.)
  • Refrigerators: In addition to the walk-in refrigerators in the basement, the Butler’s Pantry housed small refrigerators to keep milk, butter, and other dairy products cool until served.
  • Warming oven: Conversely, an electric warming oven was used to heat plates and serving dishes, as well as keep small portions of food warm prior to serving.
  • Telephone: The telephone was part of Biltmore’s in-house communication system manufactured by Stromberg-Carlson Telephone Manufacturing Company in Chicago.

The Vanderbilt legacy of hospitality and entertaining comes to life for guests during A Vanderbilt House Party – The Gilded Age, where guests of Biltmore will feel as if they are a houseguest of George and Edith Vanderbilt.

Join us February 8 through May 27 for this one-of-a-kind exhibition featuring immersive audio storytelling and displays of elegant clothing recreated from archival Vanderbilt photos and portraits.

A House Full of Guests

George Vanderbilt created Biltmore as a private retreat, and often invited family and friends to stay and enjoy all the estate offered. The Vanderbilts were noted for their gracious hospitality and attention to detail that made a visit to Biltmore such a welcome experience.

George Vanderbilt with guests arriving to visit during construction of Biltmore House, 1891

From entries in the Biltmore House guest book, we have a wonderful record of those who visited the Vanderbilts, including political figures, authors, and industrialists—many of whom were close friends of George and Edith Vanderbilt.

Because travel was still a lengthy and unpredictable process at the turn of the last century, guests often planned to stay at Biltmore for several weeks at a time. If their maid or valet came with them, the visiting staff would also be graciously accommodated.

Edith Wharton at her home in Massachusetts, 1905

A Biltmore house party or special occasion might include any number of visitors who had arrived at different times. As author Edith Wharton noted in a letter written just after a 1905 Christmas celebration:

“Yesterday we had a big Xmas fete for the 350 people on the estate – a tree 30 ft. high, Punch & Judy, conjuror, presents & ‘refreshments.’ It would have interested you, it was done so well & sympathetically, each person’s wants being thought of, from mother to last baby.”

Biltmore employee Christmas party held at Antler Hall, 1916

The party of which she speaks included not only house guests, but also the families who lived and worked on the estate—an annual Vanderbilt Christmas tradition that continues today.

We invite you to join us as we continue welcoming guests to Biltmore House and all the estate has to offer. From Christmas at Biltmore Daytime Celebration and Candlelight Christmas Evenings to our exciting upcoming exhibition A Vanderbilt House Party – The Gilded Age, discover the splendor of being greeted and accommodated as a guest of the Vanderbilts in America’s Largest Home.

Feature image: George Vanderbilt with his niece Adele and her new husband Jay Burden—some of the first guests of Biltmore; June 1896

Christmas at Biltmore 2018: By the Numbers

Every year, our talented Floral team creates holiday magic, transforming Biltmore House into a Christmas wonderland filled with decorated trees, ornaments, wreaths, and ribbons.  For 2018, they’ve interpreted a theme based on “The Art of Christmas” featuring inspiration from the Vanderbilt family as patrons of the arts, with details drawn from the treasures they collected around the world to fill America’s Largest Home®.

Family enters Biltmore house for Christmas at Biltmore
A family enters Biltmore House ready to enjoy Christmas at Biltmore
Gilded cherub ornament on a Christmas tree in Biltmore House
Gilded cherub ornament in Biltmore House

Let’s take a closer look at the spectacular seasonal décor the Floral team has created to delight us in 2018—by the numbers: 

Biltmore House's Banquet Hall 35-foot-tall Christmas tree
The magnificent Banquet Hall Christmas tree

Christmas trees

Biltmore House: you’ll find 55 decorated Christmas trees in the house for our 2018 celebration.

Largest: the traditional fresh 35-foot-tall fresh Fraser fir in the Banquet Hall takes about 50 Biltmore staff members to carry in, raise, and secure it in place.

Smallest: a tiny tabletop treasure in the Rafael Room.

Outside: a lit 55-foot-tall Norway spruce encircled by 35 more illuminated evergreens decorates the front lawn of Biltmore House for Candlelight Christmas Evenings. 

Conservatory: decorated for the season with “trees” made of potted plants and other natural materials.

Total: Look for 58 additional decorated Christmas trees are at other estate locations, including Antler Hill Village & Winery, The Inn on Biltmore Estate™, Village Hotel on Biltmore Estate®, and our shops and restaurants—plus 30 live trees and shrubs in and around other estate buildings.

Biltmore Floral team member lighting Candle in Winter Garden in Biltmore House
Biltmore Floral team member Mary Quirk lighting candles in the Winter Garden

Lights & Illumination

Biltmore House: there are approximately 45,000 lights and 150 candles inside Biltmore House and 135,000 LED and mini-lights around the estate.

Front Lawn: our towering outdoor tree is illuminated by 46,000 lights, with another 35,450 on the surrounding trees and shrubs, plus uplighting for the poplar trees on each side.

Luminaries: as dusk falls each evening, we light 250 luminaries along the driveway and Esplanade in front of Biltmore House.

Christmas at Biltmore Ornament preparation
Members of Engineering Services bring ornaments from storage into the Banquet Hall

Decorative Ornaments

Banquet Hall Tree: trimmed with 500 gift boxes, 500 ornaments, and 500 LED Edison bulb electric style electric lights.

Estate: there are 13,000 ornaments placed on other trees inside Biltmore House and another 13,000 used in other areas of the estate.

Storage: between seasons, the ornaments are returned to our large off-site warehouse, where they are sorted, labeled, and packed away in approximately 1,000 Banker style boxes.

Biltmore's Conservatory at Christmas at Biltmore
Festive poinsettias and other live plants decorate the Conservatory

Live Plants

There are more than 1,000 traditional poinsettias on display throughout the estate—with about 300 inside Biltmore House. An additional 1,000 live plants including amaryllis, Christmas cactus, orchids, peace lilies, cyclamen, begonias, kalanchoe, and potted greenery decorate the estate.

Wreath on one of Biltmore's marble lions at Biltmore House.
By the numbers: One of Biltmore’s marble lions wreathed in seasonal décor—and a rare dusting of Christmas snow!

Wreaths & Sprays

Our wreaths are made of fresh white pine and Fraser fir, ornamented with golden arborvitae, holly, and other natural materials such as twigs and cones. Artificial bases are decorated with ornaments, berries, faux flowers, and ribbon. We place 360 fresh wreaths and sprays along with 130 faux pieces around the estate during the season.

Biltmore's floral team decorates Biltmore House for Christmas at Biltmore
Floral team members hang traditional kissing balls and garland

Kissing Balls

Made of fresh white pine and Fraser fir or dried and faux materials, there are 100 of these traditional romantic orbs decorating the estate.

Christmas by the numbers for garland
Swagged garlands above the massive Banquet Hall fireplace

Glorious Garlands

Love fresh evergreen garlands? Made of mixed white pine and Fraser fir, ours would stretch more than 7,500 feet if placed end-to-end! Fresh garlands are replaced weekly to maintain the proper seasonal ambience for our guests. Faux garlands add another 1,200 feet in Biltmore House and around 1,500 feet in other areas.

Christmas Tree with bows at the entrance to Antler Hill Village
By the numbers: 2,000 bows across Biltmore estate, including Antler Hill Village

Ribbon Round-Up

There are about 1,000 handmade bows inside Biltmore House with an additional 2,000 across the estate. The amount of ribbon required for each one ranges from five yards for a simple bow on the fresh garland on the Grand Staircase to 15 yards for a grand tree-topping bow in the Tapestry Gallery. 

Children admiring a Christmas Tree in Biltmore House
By the numbers: Children admiring the greenery and lights of Christmas at Biltmore

Make Biltmore a holiday tradition

Visit during Christmas at Biltmore (November 3, 2018–January 6, 2019) and Candlelight Christmas Evenings (November 3, 2018–January 5, 2019) and discover one of the Southeast’s most beloved holiday destinations.


10 Fast Facts About Biltmore

Nestled in the picturesque Blue Ridge Mountains of Asheville, North Carolina, Biltmore is the largest privately owned home in the United States, and was the vision of George Washington Vanderbilt. Learn more about this National Historic Landmark with our list of 10 fast facts about Biltmore.

10 Fast Facts About Biltmore

  1. George Vanderbilt was born in 1862 in Staten Island, the grandson of famed industrialist and philanthropist, Cornelius Vanderbilt.
  1. George Vanderbilt was born in 1862 in Staten Island, the grandson of famed industrialist and philanthropist, Cornelius Vanderbilt.
  2. After visiting Asheville in 1888, George Vanderbilt began the process of building his country home. Construction began in 1889 and Biltmore House was opened to friends and family on Christmas Eve, 1895.
  3. Biltmore House was designed by Richard Morris Hunt and is America’s Largest Home® spanning 175,000 square feet, more than four acres of floor space. The 250-room French Renaissance chateau includes 35 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms, and 65 fireplaces.
  4. Adjacent to Biltmore House are 8,000 acres of formal and informal gardens designed by renowned American landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted.
  5. George Vanderbilt married Edith Stuyvesant Dresser in Paris in 1898 and their only child, Cornelia Vanderbilt, was born in the Louis XV Room at Biltmore in 1900.
  6. Biltmore was a pioneer in sustainable-land-use practices in 1895 and has long operated its farm and field-to-table program.
  7. The original acreage of Biltmore Estate was approximately 125,000 acres and included property later sold to the federal government to create Pisgah National Forest, one of the first national forests east of the Mississippi.
  8. Currently the estate covers approximately 8,000 acres. Guests are invited to enjoy Biltmore’s scenic backyard with outdoor activities like biking, carriage rides, hiking, horseback riding, and more.
  9. George Vanderbilt’s grandson, William A.V. Cecil, began planting grape vines in the early 1970s, paving the way for the establishment of Biltmore Estate Wine Company in 1983. Today, Biltmore’s Winery is the most-visited winery in the United States.
  10. On exhibit inside Biltmore House is the Vanderbilt family’s original collection, art, furniture, and more.

Over the years, Biltmore has grown to include Antler Hill Village & Winery, which features the award-winning Winery and Antler Hill Farm; the four-star Inn on Biltmore Estate; Village Hotel on Biltmore Estate; Equestrian Center; numerous restaurants; event and meeting venues; and Biltmore® For Your Home, the company’s licensed products division.

Biltmore is still family owned and operated under George Vanderbilt’s mission of preservation through self-sufficiency – a philosophy embraced before the first stone was ever placed.

Since 1895, Biltmore has welcomed guests from all over to experience the splendor of George Vanderbilt’s visionary estate. Learn more about planning your visit to Biltmore at:

George Washington Vanderbilt
Portrait of George W. Vanderbilt, who designed and built Biltmore along with Richard Morris Hunt and Frederick Law Olmsted.

Biltmore’s Sunflowers: More Than Just Pretty Faces

Summer visitors are always in awe of the acres of sunflowers by the road to Antler Hill Village—these beauties bloom throughout late summer.  Besides serving as a visual treat, the flowers provide gourmet meals for the diverse wildlife that lives on the estate.

“These flowers are great summer forage for deer and also an important source of food for mourning doves, song birds, and migrating birds,” said Curt Horn, Director of Grounds Operations at Biltmore.

Curt and his crew are responsible for our Wildlife Management Program. They make sure that the wildlife has food and places to nest. In fact, out of 500 acres of crop fields, some 50 acres are designated for wildlife feeding.

Sunflowers are a great source of food for wildlife on the estate

Each year, Curt’s team develops a planting schedule, rotating crops to keep the soil from being depleted. This year they will plant 10 acres of sunflowers—staggered in May, June, and July for extended blooms from late August into mid-September; 15 acres of corn; 10 acres of soybeans; 10 acres of wheat; and 10 acres of legumes.

Some of the wildlife plantings are easy to see, such as the planting on Amblers Trail that starts at the Lagoon and meanders up the hill toward Biltmore House. Corn and soybeans make excellent meals for the deer, rabbit, and turkeys commonly seen in these areas.

Plantings of native warm season grasses and wild flowers provide both nesting and protective cover for a wide variety of wildlife. One great place to see this is along Pony Road from the service road brick bridge towards the river.

Along River Road by the Equestrian Center, five large fields feed wildlife such as deer, turkeys, squirrels, beavers, other small mammals, and dozens of bird species. Crops include millet, cow peas, sunflowers, soybeans, and corn.

Sunflowers on the estate with a bee

And next year, Curt’s team will plant a strip of wildflowers along the road to Antler Hill Village—just south of where the sunflower plot ends. Both annual and perennial varieties will provide blooms for the enjoyment of guests as well as habitat for pollinators.

George Vanderbilt treasured Biltmore’s wildlife and worked hard to protect it. We are continuing that legacy by providing food and habitat as an integral part of keeping Biltmore’s 8,000 acres healthy,” said Curt.