Cornelia Vanderbilt

Learn More About Cornelia

Nothing is as exciting as the birth of a baby girl—unless the baby girl is the only daughter of George and Edith Vanderbilt. When Cornelia Stuyvesant Vanderbilt was born on Wednesday evening, August 22, 1900, mother and father were ecstatic, and the newspapers—from the local Asheville paper to the national press—sent the news across the world. It was a celebrity birth, even by modern standards.

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

George’s eldest brother, as well as his grandfather, had been named Cornelius, and Stuyvesant was Edith Vanderbilt’s middle name, given to her in honor of her relative Peter Stuyvesant, the first governor of the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam, better known today as New York. Her arrival at Biltmore was the occasion of the century, not only for the family, but also for the extended Biltmore community of families on the estate.

Newspaper accounts excitedly reported one celebratory event, in particular—the planting of “the baby tree,” a cucumber magnolia still gracing Biltmore’s gardens. The articles also noted the family was about to leave for the World’s Fair in Paris, the first of many times Cornelia would accompany her parents to Europe.

Edith Vanderbilt had endeared herself to estate workers from the moment she stepped onto the estate as Mrs. George Vanderbilt in 1898. She was a regular visitor to estate family homes when someone was ill or when a new addition had arrived. When Cornelia was old enough to accompany her mother, they would often visit with other families living on Biltmore and Cornelia had a number of favorite playmates as a result.

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

Perhaps one of them had this remembrance of a special birthday party at Biltmore, as captured in Biltmore’s oral history archives:

“When I was a little girl, I was invited to a birthday party given at Biltmore House for Cornelia Vanderbilt. It was held in the Banquet Hall, where many flags were displayed. Games were played and the prizes were unbelievable, things like a bird cage with a live bird inside… At that time, birthday cakes often had metal charms, wrapped in wax paper, baked inside of them. If you got a little sewing machine it meant you were going to be a seamstress and things like that. There was always a dime baked into the cake and the person getting the dime was supposed to be rich when they grew up.”

The oral history continues with a sweet account of how, when the dime wasn’t found, Edith Vanderbilt began cutting through the remainder of the cake, afraid that someone may have swallowed it.

“She, of course, was afraid that someone had swallowed it, but when I reached home I asked my mother if Mrs. Vanderbilt was rich. I told her how Mrs. Vanderbilt had worried about the dime and, it seemed funny to me, if she was so rich, why she worried so much about not finding the dime.”

Biltmore House was first and foremost a family home—and Cornelia’s grandson and great-grandchildren care for it today. The people of Biltmore have always made it a place of wonderful stories—children, families, laughter, and tears, even dogs! Our stories continue each day, with each person who experiences Biltmore. We hope you’ll come be a part of our ongoing heritage.

Visit Cornelia’s fairytale home and discover the wonder of Biltmore.

Edith Vanderbilt

Edith Vanderbilt’s personal grace, fashionable presence, and delightful demeanor were hallmarks of the mistress of Biltmore. But her strength and determination were rooted in a life filled with both good fortune as well as fierce challenges.

After being orphaned as a young girl, Edith Stuyvesant Dresser and her four siblings went to live with their maternal grandparents in Newport, Rhode Island. There they received a solid education and the benefits of a loving home, but found themselves, after losing their grandparents, alone again—young women moving to Paris in 1893, where the cost of living was less expensive.

Edith Dresser's formal engagement photo, 1898
Edith Dresser’s formal engagement photo, 1898

Four years later, Edith met George Vanderbilt, arguably America’s most eligible bachelor, and, after a relatively short engagement, they were married in Paris in 1898. Together she and George had a loving partnership and spent many years of happiness at Biltmore and at their other residences in Paris and Washington, DC.

At Biltmore, the young couple uniquely complemented one another: Edith, with her independent, compassionate, and industrious talents, and George, with his thoughtful, visionary, and intelligent worldview. Both Edith and George were socially progressive individuals who believed firmly in their ability to be catalysts for a better quality of life for Western North Carolina residents. Together, they created initiatives, programs, industries, and schools that forever changed the face of this part of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

George and Edith Vanderbilt at buckspring Lodge
George and Edith Vanderbilt sitting on the front steps of Buckspring Lodge, their rustic retreat on Mt. Pisgah

They were also loving parents to their only daughter, Cornelia, and benefactors to both the greater community as well as to the more intimate community of Biltmore families working on the estate. When news came, in 1914, of George Vanderbilt’s sudden death from complications following an appendectomy, Biltmore, and indeed the much larger circle of family and friends of Vanderbilt’s, grieved profoundly. Cornelia was only 13 years old. Edith was devastated.

Thrust in the role of widowed mother and sole head of the estate, Edith did not abandon her duties as many would have done, but dedicated herself to her daughter, the many families who depended on Biltmore for their livelihood, and the daily operations of the estate. It was also during this period that Edith orchestrated the sale of a significant amount of the estate, upwards of 80,000 acres. This difficult decision to sell Pisgah Forest not only honored her husband’s wishes and enabled the estate to remain financially viable, but it also ensured the preservation of what would become America’s first national forest.

Over the ensuing years, it was Edith Vanderbilt’s inner strength, her growing business acumen, her legacy of helping others help themselves, and her steadfast devotion to Biltmore that guided the estate into the first third of the 20th century. Her spirit is very much alive today at Biltmore, where her grandson and great-grandchildren continue to operate the estate with an eye towards self-sufficiency, hospitality, and a commitment to the 1700 employees who work each day to preserve it.

Visit soon—Edith Vanderbilt’s Biltmore is more beautiful than ever.