Building Bridges at Biltmore

Bridges are a functional and necessary part of getting around Biltmore, and most of us simply drive or walk right over them without really noticing many details. But enormous thought and care went into the planning and construction of these bridges, which are more than a century old.

Hunt, Olmsted, Vanderbilt, and others in the woods

The bridges were designed as a collaborative effort between Biltmore’s architect Richard Morris Hunt and landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted. Brick bridges were typically constructed by the Hunt firm, while the stone bridges were created under Olmsted’s direction.

The first bridges were wooden structures built in the early 1890s prior to the completion of Biltmore House. Although many of the bridges are in areas not now open to guests, there are several that are used and admired every day.

Standing the test of time

You’ll see an enduring example of Olmsted’s stone bridge design about halfway up the Approach Road to Biltmore House. It was created as a horse-ford bridge with a pull-off so that carriages could stop and allow the horses to drink without blocking the road. This bridge once had a semi-circular balcony with a stone bench built into it so that guests could enjoy the scenery and the pond while waiting for the ride to resume.

The iconic brick bridge over the Bass Pond is one of the most beautiful spots on the estate. Its sweeping curve and high archway reflected in the water below made a stunning backdrop a scene in the film Last of the Mohicansone of many feature films shot at Biltmore–as two central characters rode across it in a horse-drawn carriage.

Details of Bass Pond Bridge

“We know that the Hunt firm designed the Bass Pond bridge, and that it includes brick made at Biltmore Brick and Tileworks,” said Bill Alexander, Landscape and Forest Historian. “Archival records show that it cost $9,570 to complete.”

Another lovely bridge that is often overlooked includes a tunnel allowing pedestrians to cross from the Shrub Garden to the Spring Garden. As you walk or drive between the iron gates in front of Biltmore House, follow the road to the right toward the Conservatory. You’ll cross this bridge just before entering the Walled Garden.

“Olmsted used the same technique in Central Park so that people walking didn’t have to worry about vehicles,” said Bill. “Although it was Olmsted’s idea and plan, Hunt designed and built it. Reading between the lines, we think that Hunt, Olmsted, and Vanderbilt probably planned those important details together.”

Featured photo: Bass Pond Bridge

Righ photo: (L-R, standing) Edward Burnett, Richard Morris Hunt, George Vanderbilt; (L-R, seated) Frederick Law Olmsted, Richard Howland Hunt

Left photo: brick details of Bass Pond Bridge

An outdoor sculpture comes clean

An outdoor sculpture comes clean, with help from the expert conservators at Biltmore.

“From the iconic marble lions in front of Biltmore House to terra cotta figures, bronzes, and more, the estate features 37 pieces of outdoor sculpture and historic plaques,” said Kara Warren, Preventive Conservation Specialist.

Lion sculpture in front of Biltmore House
One of the two grand marble lion sculptures that guard the Front Door of Biltmore House

According to Kara, each piece of outdoor sculpture is carefully examined and photographed every six months to determine its “health” and what type of cleaning, stabilization, or repairs might be needed.

There are four sphinx sculptures atop stone pillars guarding the massive iron entry and exit gates through which guests pass to get their first glimpse of Biltmore House.

The sphinx appears in Egyptian and Greek mythology as a creature with a human head and torso–usually female–and the hindquarters of a lion. Egypt’s massive Great Sphinx of Giza sculpture is probably the best-known example in the world.

The following photos illustrate how important Biltmore’s process is and what a difference cleaning and preservation make:

An outdoor statue comes clean
This elegant sphinx guards the right side of the iron gates adjacent to Biltmore House

This sphinx is turned as if to watch the Approach Road while the sphinx on the opposite side of the gates looks toward Biltmore House. The sculpture was in need of a thorough cleansing to rid it of biological growth. Scaffolding was built around the sphinx so our conservators could clean it in place.

An outdoor sculpture comes clean
Conservators carefully cleaned half of the sphinx to show a remarkable difference

Biltmore’s preservation experts worked on half of the sculpture at a time to illustrate different stages of the cleaning process. Note how much detail is revealed when the dark biological growth was removed from the hindquarters of this sphinx.

One of four outdoor sphinx statues at Biltmore
The sphinx sculpture cleaned and restored to her full glory

After a thorough cleaning, the classic sphinx sculpture once again welcomes guests to Biltmore House in regal style. 

Learn more about our extensive process to document, clean, and preserve our outdoor sculpture collection.

A Spring Dream Wedding at Biltmore

Heather Haukaas and Roman Harper
April 18, 2015
Photography by Parker J. Pfister (Above: South Terrace of Biltmore House)

The Couple

Rother: Heather Haukaas and Roman Harper are so close that their friends refer to them in a single name that combines both of their first names. The couple met in high school when Heather caused a splash as the new girl in town in Prattville, Alabama. Their love story spans 16 years as they went together to the University of Alabama, spent time apart, and reunited in New Orleans where Roman was a safety for the New Orleans Saints, and finally to Charlotte, where he now plays for the Carolina Panthers.

The couple knew they wanted a destination wedding and they wanted it to be fun for their guests with a touch of glamour. While at a bridal expo, Heather discovered Biltmore, visited, and fell in love with the beauty of the surroundings. With so many friends and family coming in for the wedding (especially from the East Coast), it was the ideal location, Heather says.

The Big Day 

Getting ready at the Cottage on Biltmore Estate

Heather and her bridesmaids stayed in The Cottage on Biltmore Estate, where they spent quality time together preparing for the big day. The private two-bedroom cottage offers a cozy sitting room, full kitchen, and beautiful views of the estate’s farmland. The bride wore Shin Bu of Los Angeles and the groom wore a suit by Fellow suits.

In the courtyard at Deerpark

Rain on your wedding day? It’s good luck! “We had every kind of weather,” says Heather, but the down pours held off during the touching ceremony, performed in front of 200 guests in the courtyard at Deerpark by “Pastor Rob” (Rob Wilton), the chaplain for the New Orleans Saints, a long-time friend of the couple. When it came time for the vows, Heather led the guests in a chant. “When I say I, you say do, I do, I do!”

The happy couple; a pose with their daughters Londyn and Sydney at Biltmore House

Party Time

The reception was held at Deerpark, with pink accents in the flowers and on the tables, each of which had a place marker in honor of special places in the couple’s life, such as the street where they now live and the street on which they got engaged.

Members of the bridal party did a football-style run out to the reception, with each member imitating the style of their favorite players (the bridesmaids were the clear run-out winners, Heather says). The couple followed them, with football jerseys over their formal wear. An evening of dancing and many tearful toasts followed.

We’re thrilled that Heather and Roman chose to start the next chapter of their life together at Biltmore and wish this beautiful couple the best of everything!

Contact us about having your own dream wedding at Biltmore. 

More than a housekeeper—a central figure in Biltmore House

You may not realize it from her position, but one of the significant figures in Biltmore’s past is Emily Rand King, who served as housekeeper and head of staff for the Vanderbilts from 1897–1914.

Three things to know:

  • Although we don’t have photographs of her, there is a great deal of correspondence in the Biltmore archives concerning Mrs. King.
  • She was always referred to as “Mrs.” King, although we believe she was unmarried while working at Biltmore. The title was likely a courtesy used to reflect a level of authority, age, and respect—similar to “Mrs. Hughes,” the head housekeeper in Downton Abbey.
  • Housekeepers of the time were responsible for managing a large staff and keeping track of household expenses in addition to maintaining most aspects of daily life in the home.

Emily King was born December 7, 1853 in the village of Horndon on the Hill, Essex County, England. By her early 20s, she worked as a domestic servant for a London physician.

Sometime prior to August 1897, she traveled to New York on her way to Biltmore, where she joined several English servants on the estate, including the valet, four butlers, a cook, a housemaid, and a coachman. Adding further international flair to the household was an Irish butler, French chef, Swedish laundress, and Italian stable boss.

Biltmore’s archives make it clear Mrs. King was responsible for cleaning the house, caring for the staff, hiring and firing staff members, and also coordinating many aspects of the family’s lives such as meeting with the Vanderbilts each morning to review the chef’s suggested menus and plan for guest activities, then meeting with the Chef and Head Butler to review the plans. She and the Head Butler supervised all staff except for kitchen staff who worked for the Chef.

During the family’s frequent travels, Mrs. King stayed behind with the Head Butler to ensure the smooth operation of the house, including making arrangements for special guests staying at Biltmore in the family’s absence and preparing the house for their return. She also extended social invitations for Mrs. Vanderbilt, serving as a personal secretary of sorts.

As a high ranking member of Biltmore’s staff, Mrs. King was provided with horses for her use and was allowed to keep her own dogs in Biltmore House—the dog gate still exists in the Kitchen Hallway that Mrs. Vanderbilt installed to keep the housekeeper’s dogs out.

Soon after George Vanderbilt’s death in 1914, Emily King resigned and embarked upon a new life. She met and married W.C. Jones, a widowed farmer from near Raleigh, NC, and moved to Pennsylvania to be near family. Sometime later that year, the couple purchased an orange grove near Apopka, FL. In December 1914, estate superintendent Chauncey Beadle wrote a note of thanks for the box of oranges Mrs. Jones sent to Biltmore for the holidays.

Biltmore curators learned that Emily King Jones purchased and managed a boarding house in Apopka, which she named the Biltmore Inn, and operated it until the early 1920s. After retiring from a lifetime of serving others, Mrs. Jones returned to Pennsylvania, where she resided until her death in 1926.

A typical dress for a Biltmore housekeeper
The Behind-the-Scenes Upstairs – Downstairs Tour goes into servants’ areas where Biltmore’s housekeeper resided; in this photo, a typical housekeeper’s dress and cleaning implements are displayed

Cornelia Vanderbilt’s wedding – A sweet discovery

Monday’s post covered a multitude of details surrounding the wedding of Cornelia Vanderbilt and John Cecil on April 29, 1924. Today we dig even deeper into one particular detail that our museum services team just recently discovered. It is a first for Biltmore. And it’s definitely the only.

Biltmore recently acquired a piece of cake for the Biltmore collection, which our curators confirm is the only edible artifact now housed in the archives. Cake? For the archives? Indeed. And even more of an enticing tidbit: we believe that today it turns 90 years old!

The discovery started with a phone call.

Candler resident Frederick Cothran, 96, found the cake in a trunk he inherited from his aunt, Bonnie Revis. Miss Revis was a cook at Biltmore House between 1924 and 1935. He contacted Biltmore’s museum services department to report that he had what he thought was a piece of cheese from Biltmore House. Not wasting any time, Laura Overbey paid a visit to Cothran. Overbey is the Collections Manager in Biltmore’s Museum Services department.

“Food is personal. People bond over it, and it’s easy to relate to it on several levels,” she says, and that’s why she had to see the cheese for herself.

When she met Cothran he presented her with a neat and tiny box engraved “Biltmore House” on the top. Two sets of monograms are engraved on either side: “CSV” for Cornelia Stuyvesant Vanderbilt; and “JFAC” for John Francis Amherst Cecil.

After getting back to Biltmore House, she researched the customs of the day and realized that this was more than likely cake and not cheese. Then, upon hearing a recording of Paul Towe from Biltmore’s Oral History collection,  she and her colleagues confirmed that this was indeed cake – fruit cake – that the Cecils gave out as favors on their special day. Mr. Towe recalled attending the wedding as a small boy. Towe’s father was employed at Biltmore in the 1920s and 1930s, and his sister, Sarah, was a flower girl in the wedding. Towe said that “everybody got a little white box with their name on it with a piece of fruit cake.”

The box top’s underside has a stamp on it, “Rauscher’s – Washington, D.C.” In her research, Overbey learned that Rauscher’s catered and supplied many fine confectionaries and baked goods to society families in Washington, including the wedding cake for President Wilson in 1915. The tradition of wedding cake keepsakes can be traced back to Victorian times, typically sliced from the groom’s cake, which was often a fruit cake. Slices were wrapped and placed in tiny boxes to take home as a memento of the wedding. The belief was if an unmarried woman slept with a piece of the groom’s cake under her pillow, she would dream of her future husband (Marthastewartweddings.com). Prince William and Katherine Middleton carried out the tradition by sending pieces of boxed cake to commemorate their wedding in 2011.                              

This 90-year-old piece of cake may be considered an odd addition to a collection that contains famous works of art, books, ancient tapestries and antiques. Historically speaking, that’s not the case.

“This is a clear line connection between our day and their day, so it’s worth the effort to have it in our collection,” Overbey says.

Main photo: Guests at the wedding of Cornelia Vanderbilt and John Cecil enjoyed breakfast in the Biltmore House Winter Garden, April 29, 1924.

Middle photo: Fred Cothran holds the keepsake cake from the Vanderbilt-Cecil wedding. It once belonged to his aunt who was a cook at Biltmore House between 1924 and 1935.

Bottom photo: Keepsake cake with monogram details. “CVC” for Cornelia Vanderbilt Cecil and “JFAC” for John Francis Amherst Cecil.

Cornelia Vanderbilt’s Wedding: It’s All in the Details

Many people say that the success of an elaborate event lies in the details. Cornelia Vanderbilt’s wedding to the Hon. John F. A. Cecil on April 29, 1924 was no exception—from photographers to invitations to accommodations, many hands insured that all was perfect for the big day.

According to Lori Garst, Biltmore Curatorial assistant, society columns were aflutter as soon as rumors began about the engagement of John Cecil to Cornelia. Letters from the Washington Times and other inquirers arrived at Biltmore asking if the engagement rumor was indeed true. No information was officially released by Edith Vanderbilt until the decision was made as to what photographer would capture the moments of the wedding and take the official bridal portrait for the newspapers.

An Official Announcement

A formal announcement was made at a dinner hosted by Mrs. Vanderbilt at Biltmore on March 8, 1924. After much conversation, Mrs. Vanderbilt awarded two professional photographers from Washington, D.C. the job. Underwood and Underwood photographed the actual wedding, while Harris Ewing captured incidental photographs including the social whirl which occurred the week prior to the wedding.

Cornelia Vanerbilt's Wedding Invitations
Invitation to Cornelia Vanderbilt’s wedding (left); invitation to the wedding reception (right)

Wedding invitations were one of the first details to secure. While famous New York jewelers, such as Cartier, wrote offering to print the wedding invitations, Adolph & Dungan engravers of Louisville designed the wedding invitations, and Inland Press of Asheville printed them. There were two separate invitations to the occasion. Five hundred people received an invitation to the ceremony at All Souls Church at 12 noon and the reception immediately following at Biltmore House. Another 2,500 received a separate invitation to attend only the wedding reception at 12:30 p.m.

Arrangements & Accommodations

With guests arriving from across the globe, Mrs. Vanderbilt’s secretary, William Ashby, had the job of making travel arrangements to Biltmore and arranging accommodations for the wedding party, close family, and friends. Most guests stayed at the Grove Park Inn, Biltmore Country Club, and Kenilworth Inn. However, 43 guests including members of the wedding party stayed in Biltmore House. Ashby sent extensive instructions for cleaning and furnishing Biltmore House to Mrs. Donohue, the head housekeeper, as early as March 15.

Rooms were updated with new wallpaper and paint, iron beds and mattresses were ordered for the visiting guests’ staff, and all sheets were washed and ironed. The bride’s wedding party stayed in the Oak Sitting Room and Mr. Vanderbilt’s Room, while the maid of honor, Rachel “Bunchy” Strong, stayed with Cornelia in her room. The groomsmen stayed at the Biltmore Forest Country Club which opened just two years prior.

Edith Vanderbilt escorting her daughter Cornelia Vanderbilt for Cornelia's wedding
Edith Vanderbilt escorting her daughter Cornelia into All Souls’ Church for Cornelia’s wedding

Other house guests included the bride’s cousins Mr. and Mrs. John Nicholas Brown, the groom’s father Lord William Cecil, and several of Mr. Vanderbilt’s sisters. Meticulous notes were kept by Mr. Ashby documenting when guests arrived, departed, and what room they stayed in Biltmore House.

No Detail Overlooked

He also kept lists of last minute specifics to make sure nothing was forgotten. His records included seating charts for the church, train reservations for guests’ departures including their preferred train accommodations, wedding gifts and addresses, and cars to be provided for the guests’ convenience. As a final detail, Mr. Ashby secured the assistance of the Biltmore Fire Department to sprinkle the streets of Biltmore with water to keep the dust down.

The Asheville Citizen published extensive accounts of the wedding for two days. While many of the details of the wedding ceremony are found in these articles, the lists and correspondence found in Biltmore’s archives give us a true understanding of the specific arrangements made to insure that Biltmore’s only bride had a perfect day.

Cornelia Vanderbilt Cecil and the Honorable John F.A. Cecil as they left All Souls Church
The Honorable and Mrs. John F.A. Cecil as they left All Souls Church

The First Bride of Biltmore

A poem titled “The First Bride of Biltmore,” written by Mrs. Vanderbilt’s sister, Pauline Merrill, painted a beautiful picture of April 29, 1924.

The sun rose clear and beautiful from the hills that surrounded Biltmore.
All the world seemed happy on that day.
The daughter of the house was to be married.
The beautiful Cornelia who knew all the mountain people;
The Cornelia who loved the house and grounds;
The Cornelia who was loved by all.
The wedding bells pealed joyfully from the belfry of the little old church.
The tenants were crowding to the gate to behold their beloved mistress.
The guests crowded into the church.
The musicians played his best of the little organ.
Finally the bride entered the church escorted by eight bridesmaids and leaning on the arm of her widowed mother.
She looked more beautiful than ever before.
John Cecil, her bridegroom, had reason to smile proudly on his pretty Cornelia.
The marriage service was gone through with, and when Cornelia walked out, with a radiant smile on her face, the children streamed flowers at her feet.
Then they went back to the house.
The enormous rooms were fuller than ever before as the crowd surged forward to congratulate the first bride of Biltmore House.
Her English husband shook hands with a proud smile.
But, at last, it was over and the setting sun shone rosily over the young couple as they started on their honeymoon.

Orchids Reign at Biltmore

Flower enthusiasts looking for hints of nature’s beauty can find the perfect escape in Biltmore’s Conservatory this winter. Now through March, Biltmore’s orchid collection is in its prime and on display for estate guests. 

Biltmore’s love affair with orchids goes back more than a century, when George Vanderbilt was planning his estate in Asheville, NC. At the end of the 19th century, conservatories and private plant collections were popular among wealthy estate owners in Europe and the U.S. George Vanderbilt followed this trend with the construction of Biltmore’s Conservatory. He then created a wish list of plants to fill the building in 1894. An assortment of 800 orchids were on the list! 

Today, Biltmore’s orchid collection contains approximately 600 plants. The staff has spent time carefully researching and procuring some of the same varieties contained on Vanderbilt’s original list. Marc Burchette, Biltmore’s Orchid Specialist, assisted his co-worker Jim Rogers with tracking down the heritage varieties and worked with a commercial grower to procure more than half of the plants contained on the archival list. 

Because Biltmore has such an expansive collection, guests always see plants in bloom during their visit to the Conservatory. “Biltmore has an eclectic collection, and we have plants coming into flower continually during the year. We put plants in the Conservatory’s display area as they come into flower, and move them out after they’ve passed their prime bloom,” says Marc.

A typical week among the orchids includes a routine of fertilizing and watering the collection and then tending to the display areas in the Conservatory. However, January’s polar vortex caused quite a stir among those managing the plant collection. Devoted staff members worked in shifts overnight to run auxiliary heaters in all of the greenhouses.  Saving the precious blooms was their top priority. Marc had to act quickly to save Biltmore’s priceless collection. “I made the decision to move the plants into an area that would best protect them from the extreme cold. It took several hours to carefully move the plants and then a few hours to put them back on display.”

While much of the work surrounding the orchids happens behind the scenes, the effort is always evident when guests enter the Conservatory. “Guests usually say, ‘Wow, I didn’t know there were so many different varieties,'” said Marc. There is a wide selection of orchids continually on display.  “Guests are very drawn to Phaleonopsis, and I think the main reason is because they are very familiar with it,” says Marc. “Those are the orchids people are used to seeing in a retail shop.”

Guests wanting to know more about the orchid collection can sign up for a 45-minute orchid talk offered in the Conservatory Monday-Friday, now through March 19. Talks are held at 11 a.m. and are complimentary with estate admission. Space is limited and guests can make reservations at any Guest Services location on the morning of their visit.

Partners in Good Taste

George and Edith Vanderbilt served only the finest food to their family and guests. Biltmore continues to honor their heritage today by serving the highest quality foods in estate restaurants and partnering with exceptional vendors to bring those same standards to your table.

That’s why we’ve chosen to partner with Seven Seas International whose mission is to bring the finest fish and seafood products to your table. For more than 130 years, they’ve done just that, building their company on providing sustainable, responsibly-sourced, and delicious seafood.

A Tradition of Culinary Excellence

For more than a century, Biltmore and Seven Seas have shared a tradition of culinary excellence, beginning with George Vanderbilt’s ancestors in the Dutch town of De Bilt,

where the van de Groep family, founders of Seven Seas, were seafood purveyors to the region.

According to Wien van de Groep, managing director of Seven Seas International, his grandmother began selling fresh fish from a pushcart in Spakenburg, which is about 20 miles from De Bilt. “The Vanderbilts in Holland probably consumed our fish products,” van de Groep said, “because De Bilt was definitely in my grandparent’s distribution area.”

Today these family-owned businesses have reconnected to bring you the finest gourmet seafood.

Be sure to try all of our delicious products sold at your local grocery store. Prepared and smoked with 100% all-natural ingredients, cold smoked varieties include Scottish, Norwegian, and Sockeye. Also try the plain, hot smoked salmon. (Hot smoked only available at Earthfare.)

Find Biltmore Gourmet Salmon at a your local Harris Teeter, Publix, Food City, and Earth Fare. If you have trouble finding the product, please email us at fyhinfo@biltmore.com.

Click here to discover more seafood and recipes.

Nurturing Biltmore’s Orchid Collection

On a spring afternoon in Biltmore’s greenhouses, you may come across Jim Rogers tending to our thriving collection of orchids.  Jim’s forthright manner tells you everything that you need to know in a matter of minutes. A retired artist, he created beautiful sculptures and did commissions for the Dalai Lama and a bronze portrait of Senator Sam Nunn. But according to him, orchids have always been his passion.

“When I was in graduate school in Johnson City, TN, I was in the woods and saw a plant that I didn’t recognize,” Jim said. “I brought it home and tried to grow it.”  After some research, he realized that it was a terrestrial orchid. From that moment, he fell in love with orchids and began amassing a personal collection that at one point grew to 200 plants!

After retiring from sculpting in 2006, Jim felt it was time to cultivate another orchid collection. A Biltmore fan since his initial visit in 1970, he called our horticultural department and asked to volunteer. The phone call transformed into a part-time job caring for the orchids.  “I believe that if you follow your bliss, it will lead to bliss,” says Jim. “That’s what I’ve done. I have a wonderful orchid collection—it just belongs to Biltmore!”

Jim cares for 300 orchids in the production house and 100 orchids in the Conservatory. He also rotates the Conservatory’s plants so that guests always see a stunning collection of orchid blooms during their visit.  A typical day includes repotting plants that have outgrown their home. “I spend time with each plant, tending to its needs,” says Jim.

Weekly chores include fertilizing and watering. “The rule of thumb among orchid enthusiasts is to fertilize weekly—weakly. The philosophy is that when orchids are in the wild, they only get a smattering of nutrients from their surroundings,” says Jim. “Then I water once every week until they’re soaked.”

Jim’s main objective is to grow and care for the collection, but he also has future dreams of cultivating a Biltmore orchid fine enough to win an American Orchid Society Award.  “I would love to see a Biltmore orchid win an award,” says Jim. “When an orchid receives an American Orchid Society Award, it retains its genus and species name, but the society adds a clonal name to the plant. The clonal name is given by the grower, so my hope is that one day we have an orchid named by Biltmore.”

Biltmore vs. "Downton Abbey" – Notice any similarities?

We are so excited about this Sunday’s season premier of “Downton Abbey” on PBS. And it’s no wonder!

The fictional drama unfolding between Lord and Lady Grantham, their daughters and their staff overlaps the time when George and Edith Vanderbilt lived in Biltmore House, which bears a striking resemblance to the Crawley’s beloved home. Those similarities are particularly evident during two of our specialty tours: The Biltmore House Butler’s Tour and the Vanderbilt Family & Friends Tour.

These tours allow our guests glimpses into some of the little-seen areas of Biltmore House while guides discuss the people who worked for and visited the Vanderbilts when it was their primary home. Following are some of those the parallels between life depicted on the fictional program, and life in Biltmore House.

On the Biltmore House Butler’s Tour

Housekeeper’s Room:  Biltmore had Mrs. King; for “Downton Abbey,” it’s Mrs. Hughes. While there were differences in the ways American and English households were managed, the housekeeper played a major role. Mrs. Hughes is known for her collection of house keys and her calm demeanor. Mrs. King served as Biltmore House’s housekeeper and was remembered for her own massive ring of keys.

Butler’s Pantry:  Carson, the butler in “Downton Abbey,” was instrumental in managing how meals were served to the Crawley family and their visitors. The Butler’s Pantry shows where the Vanderbilts’ butler would have organized the staff and meal service.

Technology:  Telephones, call boxes, speaking tubes, electric lights, etc., were extremely rare items in the early 1900s. In “Downton Abbey,” there are scenes where the family and staff are uncomfortable around and hesitant to use these new technologies. George Vanderbilt outfitted his home with all of the modern technologies of the day.

On the Vanderbilt Family & Friends Tour

Louis XVI Room:  A writing desk takes up a central area of this bedroom, at a large window overlooking the front lawn of Biltmore House. Letter writing in the era was a crucial means of communicating the news of the day. As such, a writing desk is included in each guest room. On “Downton Abbey,” the characters shared letters filled with news of the day at the breakfast table.

Van Dyck Room:  The story of Edith Wharton, a frequent visitor at Biltmore House, is told in the Van Dyck Room. Wharton chronicled changing times, including the emergence of the women’s rights movement and political issues. In “Downton Abbey,” the youngest sister Sybil is portrayed as getting involved in politics and the changing role of women.

Morland Room: In this room, tour hostsdiscuss George and Edith Vanderbilt’s marriage and honeymoon. It’s touching to note that Edith and her three sisters married for love, and were not expected to marry for money or titles (although they all ended up marrying well). In “Downton Abbey,” the eldest daughter Lady Mary is constantly expected and reminded to marry “successfully” in order to keep the family home afloat.

General Themes

Preserving the home:  One of the primary themes in “Downton Abbey” is the importance Lord Grantham and his family place on preserving and maintaining their home for succeeding generations. This has been a prime concern at Biltmore for George Vanderbilt’s descendants.

American heiresses marrying British nobility:  Another central premise in “Downton Abbey” is based on Cora, an American heiress who married Lord Grantham; he needed her money to keep his ancestral home operating. One of the sources for this storyline is “To Marry An English Lord,” a book detailing how Consuelo Vanderbilt (one of George Vanderbilt’s nieces), was one of the first American heiresses to go to Europe in search of a titled husband. She married the Duke of Marlborough, which started a rush of newly wealthy American girls going overseas in hopes of finding husbands (who needed their money).

About the Photo

This is the Servants’ Dining Hall in Biltmore House. Imagine the conversations that took place around that table when George and Edith Vanderbilt lived in the house!