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Camping in Pisgah Forest, circa 1901

Written By Karina Hux

Posted 07/18/14

Updated 04/10/24

Estate History

Summertime in the mountains brings to mind thoughts of hiking trails, camping along clear creeks, and marveling at a cascading waterfall—sometimes all on the same excursion.

The call of the wild

Pink Beds Vanderbilt Campsite, July 1901
Excursions were multi-day affairs, with campsites like this one being moved to new locations every few days.

Just as many of us do today, George Vanderbilt and his friends often found the lush forests of Western North Carolina calling their names. They frequently headed out for multi-day trips to explore the beauty of Pisgah Forest, according to information gathered by Lori Garst, Curatorial Assistant in Museum Services.

Several years before George Vanderbilt’s Biltmore House was completed, the call of the mountains led Vanderbilt and his friends into the forest to camp, fish, shoot, and enjoy the beauty of Western North Carolina.

Gearing up for success

1901 Camping Excursion Pack Mules
Mules could carry up to 20% of their bodyweight for 20 miles a day, during excursions.

In June 1893, Estate manager Charles McNamee wrote to Dr. Westray Battle that he was so glad that Dr. Battle would be joining Mr. Vanderbilt’s camping excursion. McNamee prepared Battle by telling him that the group was headed to a place near Brevard where they would be met by Mr. Vanderbilt’s mules and then would proceed on towards the camp. McNamee outfitted the party for fly fishing and recommended that Battle take a firearm “for service or sport.”

Calming any hesitation about roughing it in the backwoods, the Estate manager assured Dr. Battle that there would be tents, a cot for each man, and even a cook. McNamee writes, “I thought it better to be semi-respectable in our camp rather than to be absolutely savage…”

The great excursion of 1901

George Vanderbilt at
Schenck’s workers built George’s second lodge in three days, earning it the nickname “Three-Day Camp.” The cabin had six rooms, a porch, and a dining room.

Years later, a series of photographs taken by Dr. Carl Schenck, Estate Forester, document a lively 1901 trip into Pisgah by Mr. and Mrs. Vanderbilt. Included in the large party were Dr. Battle, Marion Olmsted (F.L. Olmsted’s daughter), and Dr. Schenk. The Vanderbilts returned from an extended stay in Europe on June 6 and, without wasting any time, Charles McNamee began arranging for the outing within a few days.

McNamee ordered two tents on June 8, 1901; however, he received no reply. Requests for the tents continued until June 26. All other provisions for the excursion were in order. Perhaps in response to the lack of tents, a plea came from Vanderbilt to Schenck to build a place where the group could stay near Looking Glass Rock.

Revisiting lost memories

Edith Vanderbilt at Looking Glass Falls
Edith Vanderbilt favored the beauty of Looking Glass Falls.

We are fortunate to have 22 photographs documenting the Vanderbilts’ excursion in 1901, beginning on June 30 with a photo of the group of men with mules.  The remaining images show the trip to Looking Glass Rock with stops along the way at Looking Glass Falls, an unnamed waterfall which we now recognize as Sliding Rock, Looking Glass Creek, and “Three-Day” Camp. The final image is of Carl Schenck’s house in Pisgah with the men and mules. The back reads, “Making ready to leave for Buck Spring Lodge July 1, 1901.”

Plan your mountain escape!

Today, you can still visit the many sites the Vanderbilts’ went to in 1901 including Looking Glass Rock, Sliding Rock, and Looking Glass Falls. There are several camping spots in the area perfect for your summer getaway, too!

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