The Line House Cottages: A Brief History

Like all of the Cottages on Biltmore Estate™, our new Line House Cottages offer guests a step back in time to the Vanderbilts’ era—but unlike our other cottages, these cozy historic homes also provide a special glimpse into the estate’s agricultural heritage.

Archival image of the estate, c. 1906. The Line is in the foreground with the Barn to the left and the Main Dairy (what is now the Winery) in the center. Biltmore House is visible in the distance.
Archival image of the estate, c. 1906. The Line is in the foreground with the Barn to the left and the Main Dairy (what is now the Winery) in the center. Biltmore House is visible in the distance.

Located just steps away from the Barn and Farmyard in Antler Hill Village, the Line House Cottages are original estate structures, part of what was once referred to as The Line.

George Vanderbilt, an unidentified man, and two dogs walking towards the Farm Village (what is now Antler Hill Village), c. 1906. The Line is on the far left and the Barn is center-right. The four larger houses on either side of the Barn were reserved for management.
George Vanderbilt, an unidentified man, and two dogs walking towards the Farm Village (what is now Antler Hill Village), c. 1906. The Line is on the far left and the Barn is center-right. The four larger houses on either side of the Barn were reserved for management.

According to archival records, The Line consisted of eight nearly identical cottages. Dozens of estate employees and their families called these cottages home over the years, many of whom worked as milkers at the Dairy.

The beautifully updated living room in each of the Line House Cottages is the perfect place to unwind after a day spent exploring all the estate has to offer.
The beautifully updated living room in each of the Line House Cottages is the perfect place to unwind after a day spent exploring all the estate has to offer.

Today, these turn-of-the-century farmhouses have been reimagined as exclusive lodging options for our overnight guests, offering premium comfort and convenience along with privacy and four-star amenities.

The upstairs bedroom boasts double-window seating with ample natural light to illuminate the vintage Biltmore photographs displayed above the upholstered headboard.
The upstairs bedroom boasts double-window seating with ample natural light to illuminate the vintage Biltmore photographs displayed above the upholstered headboard.

Each of our 970-square-foot Line House Cottages can comfortably sleep four and offers:

  • Two bedrooms, each with a queen-size bed
  • Two bathrooms, each with a walk-in shower
  • Formal living room
  • Full eat-in kitchen
  • Covered front porch with pastoral views
  • Back patio for outdoor dining and entertaining
Imagine yourself part of this relaxing scene, sipping your morning coffee from your rocking chair on the front porch, having just woken up on George Vanderbilt’s magnificent estate.
Imagine yourself part of this relaxing scene, sipping your morning coffee from your rocking chair on the front porch, having just woken up on George Vanderbilt’s magnificent estate.

With soothing, pastoral views of our working Farmyard, these homes are a short stroll from Antler Hill Village & Winery, estate trails, and the four-star luxuries offered at The Inn on Biltmore Estate. We invited you to discover our newest lodging offering and book your stay at one of our Line House Cottages in gorgeous Asheville, NC today.

Due to the historic architecture of our Vanderbilt-era Cottages, they are not accessible for guests with limited mobility.

The 1940 Azalea Garden Ceremony: Revisited

We are excited to share new research that focuses on the contributions that Black individuals made to the creation and operation of Biltmore.

In the past, we’ve shared the story of the 1940 Azalea Garden ceremony honoring Chauncey Beadle, an estate horticulturalist who later became superintendent, for his lifetime of service to the estate. Thanks to this new research from our Museum Services team, we now know that nine other employees were also honored for their many years of service in that ceremony, including four Black men affiliated with the Landscape Department.

There is limited information on each of these men, with some scattered archival references to their work throughout their years of service. By its very nature, our archival collection is fragmented—consisting of various payroll records, correspondences, and other documents that have fortunately been preserved over the estate’s more than 125-year history. Our effort to process these materials and learn more about these individuals is ongoing—yet we are eager to begin shedding light on them as well as many other notable employees.

Photograph of the Azalea Garden ceremony on April 1, 1940. These men are presumed to be the four Black men recognized for their service on this day: Charlie Lytle, James
Photograph of the Azalea Garden ceremony on April 1, 1940. These men are presumed to be the four Black men recognized for their service on this day: Charlie Lytle, Jimmie Rutherford, Benjamin Perry Hemphill, and John Robinson. Donated to Biltmore by Ione Rudolph Shine, Chauncey Beadle’s niece.

Charlie Lytle

Though he was employed by Biltmore the longest of the group, there is the least amount of information about Charlie Lytle in our archives. He is only mentioned in construction-era payroll records, some incident reports, and a few employee Christmas gift lists, but he is generally listed as a laborer for planted areas in these documents. Lytle was honored for 51 years of service in the Azalea Garden ceremony. According to his death certificate, he was still a laborer for the estate when he died in 1943 at age 72.

James “Jimmie” Rutherford

Like Lytle, most archival mentions of James “Jimmie” Rutherford are incident reports and employee Christmas gift lists, though several letters confirm that he was working as a lineman for waterworks, sewers, and drains from at least 1914 to 1937. In 1931, an incident report reveals that he also laid bricks in a furnace for the estate, which tells us he wore many hats. Per census information, he was a superintendent for a private estate water worker in 1940, indicating a more managerial role later in his career. Rutherford was honored for 49 years of service in the Azalea Garden ceremony. He was 70 years old.

Archival document compiled in preparation for the Azalea Garden ceremony. As the longest-serving employees, Charlie Lytle, James
Archival document compiled in preparation for the Azalea Garden ceremony. As the longest-serving employees, Charlie Lytle, James “Jimmie” Rutherford, Benjamin Perry Hemphill, and John Robinson were listed first of the nine total employees recognized in addition to Beadle.

Benjamin Perry Hemphill

The picture of Benjamin Perry Hemphill’s contributions to Biltmore is a bit more complete. The first mention of him in the archival records is an 1896 letter in which Beadle writes that he hired Hemphill to assist him “in caring for the greenhouses and formal gardens.” By 1903, Hemphill was head gardener in the Walled Garden and Conservatory, reporting to Chauncey Beadle.

It was uncommon for most employees to be in direct communications with the Vanderbilts about estate operations; these conversations were typically relayed through a chain of command. However, a 1906 correspondence shows Edith Vanderbilt conveying directly to Hemphill her wishes for specific varieties of azaleas to be sourced and brought to Biltmore, demonstrating how trusted he was as a Biltmore employee.

Hemphill was honored for 47 years of service in the Azalea Garden ceremony. According to his obituary in January 1948, he retired from working at Biltmore in March 1947, at around the age of 82.

John Robinson

John Robinson began working for the estate in 1893 as a water boy in the brick yard during construction. Correspondence from 1902 indicates that around that time, he was a road sweeper, primarily over the Approach Road and the Service Road. He became an office messenger, similar to a mail carrier, by the 1910s, assisting Chauncey Beadle with a variety of requests from the family.

Like Hemphill, Robinson’s direct communication with the Vanderbilts demonstrates what a trusted and valued employee he was. In 1924, he was one of two people that Edith Vanderbilt personally requested to hand-deliver invitations for her daughter Cornelia’s wedding to John F.A. Cecil.

Robinson was honored for 47 years of service in the Azalea Garden ceremony. According to his 1957 death certificate, he was employed by Biltmore for “some 60 years.”

Workers stand with a locomotive on the Esplanade during the construction of Biltmore House, 1892. The stories of various members of the diverse workforce that created America’s Largest Home are highlighted in our new exhibit: Building Biltmore House.
Workers stand with a locomotive on the Esplanade during the construction of Biltmore House, 1892. The stories of various members of the diverse workforce that created America’s Largest Home are highlighted in our new exhibit: Building Biltmore House.

An Ongoing Effort

Charlie Lytle, James “Jimmie” Rutherford, Benjamin Perry Hemphill, and John Robinson all started their employment with the estate during the construction-era of Biltmore House. Additional employee stories from this research are shared in our new permanent exhibit: Building Biltmore House, on display in the Halloween Room beginning February 4.

We are committed to learning more about the contributions of these and other employees at Biltmore. If you have any family connections to the estate’s history, you can reach us at [email protected].

Feature image: Crowd gathering for the Azalea Garden ceremony. Photograph donated to Biltmore by Ione Rudolph Shine, Chauncey Beadle’s niece.

New Exhibition Explores Construction of Biltmore House

Our new Building Biltmore House exhibition explores the construction of George Vanderbilt’s magnificent home—a massive project that took hundreds of workers seven years to complete.

A new take on our construction story

“For nearly two decades, we displayed photographs and stories about the construction of Biltmore House in the Basement area known as the Halloween Room. It was a favorite of our guests, but we removed the panels in 2019 to make room for components of a different exhibition,” said Meghan Forest, Archives and Curatorial Assistant.

According to Meghan, the new Building Biltmore House exhibition, also located in the Halloween Room, will uncover additional in-depth information about the people, circumstances, and innovations surrounding the building of America’s Largest Home®.

“One important goal of the new exhibition is to focus more on the craftsmanship and labor of the employees who worked on the project rather than just the construction techniques,” noted Meghan. “Through continuing research in our own archives and outreach to descendants of some of the original workers, we’re able to share new stories that add depth and context to Building Biltmore House.”

Discovering personal connections

In the course of the archival research for this exhibition, Biltmore worked closely with Dr. Darin Waters who serves as North Carolina Deputy Secretary for Archives and History in the Office of Archives and History for the NC Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.

His personal connection with Biltmore dates back more than two decades, and his ancestors’ history with the estate dates back more than a century, presenting a thematic through-line for his own life story. Guests will learn more about Dr. Waters’ research and family discoveries as they take in the details of Building Biltmore House.

Design dream team

(L-R) purchasing agent and agricultural consultant Edward Burnett, architect Richard Morris Hunt, landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, George Washington Vanderbilt, and architect Richard Howland Hunt, son of Richard Morris Hunt. 1892

In 1889, 26-year-old George Vanderbilt recruited two of the nation’s most sought-after design professionals, architect Richard Morris Hunt, and landscape designer Frederick Law Olmsted, to assist him in building a grand estate that would serve as a scenic retreat for the young man’s family and friends.

Both Hunt and Olmsted had been instrumental in shaping the look of late-19th-century New York, with Hunt having designed the Statue of Liberty pedestal and the Great Hall of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Olmsted creating the tranquil greenspace of Central Park and advocating for the preservation of Niagara Falls State Park.

Planning and inspiration

Sketch of Biltmore House
Archival sketch of Biltmore House façade, drafted prior to construction, does not include the glass-roofed Winter Garden that was added as plans were finalized

Having purchased a total of 125,000 acres since his first visit to Asheville in 1888, Vanderbilt charged Olmsted with choosing the site of his future country home along with designing the manicured gardens and grounds that would rehabilitate the acreage’s former farms and cutover woodlands.

Vanderbilt, Hunt, and Hunt’s wife Catharine then embarked on a two-month trip across England and France to gather ideas. The journey proved a success, as Hunt eventually designed a 175,000-square-foot French Renaissance Revival-style château influenced by the exteriors of France’s Blois, Chambord, and Chenonceau estates, and the interiors of Knole Palace, Hatfield House, and Haddon Hall in England.

Vanderbilt named his estate “Biltmore” for Bildt, the Dutch town of his ancestry, and the old English word “more” meaning open, rolling land.

Building Biltmore House

Building Biltmore House
George Vanderbilt escorts a group of guests on the South Terrace during contruction. 1893

When construction began hundreds of workers and tradesmen arrived daily to perform general labor as well as blacksmithing, painting, carpentry, and stone carving. While many materials such as bricks and stone were sourced locally, others were imported from across the country and overseas.

Men, materials, and supplies arrived at the construction area on standard gauge rail lines supported by trestles designed by Olmsted to span the mountainous terrain without damaging the forests below. The construction site became a bustling city of its own, with workers occupying temporarily built offices, workshops, and sheds.

Biltmore House comes to life

Watch archival footage of George Vanderbilt’s magnificent estate “rising” from its foundations!

Month by month, George Vanderbilt’s vision took shape as Biltmore House rose from its foundation. The home consisted of 250 rooms, including 101 guest and servant bedrooms, 65 fireplaces, and 43 bathrooms.

Luxurious, state-of-the-art conveniences like indoor plumbing and electricity were included in the house, along with a fire alarm system, two elevators, and a telephone system. A bowling alley, gymnasium, and 70,000-gallon indoor swimming pool were built to provide entertainment and exercise during inclement weather.

The end of a long journey

Archival photo of a marble lion statue at Biltmore
One of two iconic lion sculptures, crafted from Rosso di’Verona marble, await installation at Biltmore House. March 1894

As with any significant undertaking, one must aim for a deadline, and George Vanderbilt declared December 24, 1895, as the date that his labor of love would be unveiled.

Final touches on the landscaping took place, the makeshift workshops on the property were disassembled, and cabinetmakers and carpenters hastened to finish the endless custom details within the home. Although several areas including the Library and his own bedroom were still incomplete, George Vanderbilt welcomed his mother and 26 other relatives to celebrate Christmas Eve in his new home.

Experience Building Biltmore House and more

“Beginning February 4, 2022, we invite all of our guests to visit our new Building Biltmore House exhibition located in the Halloween Room to learn about the inspiring individuals who came together during the construction of Biltmore House and its surrounding gardens and grounds,” said Meghan.

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.

This new exhibition is included with regular estate admission and is part of the normal self-guided visit route.

To experience more fascinating behind-the-scenes stories of this Gilded Age estate, consider reserving a Rooftop Tour or Expert-Guided Small Group Tour.

Featured image: Visible through a third floor window faced with decorative limestone veneer above the Porte Cochere are the brick walls and iron joists that provide structure for Biltmore House, ca. 1893

Reflections of The Gilded Age at Biltmore

Reflections of the Gilded Age at Biltmore takes on new meaning with the recent focus on the era in pop culture with the release of Sir Julian Fellowes’ latest production, The Gilded Age, and the 2022 theme for “fashion’s biggest night out,” the Met Gala.

Best known for Downton Abbey, the lavish PBS Masterpiece series detailing the lives of the fictional Crawley family and their ancestral home that kept viewers spellbound for six seasons and one feature film, Fellowes now turns his focus to the other side of the Atlantic for a look at a similar time in America.

“Gilded Glamour” hits the red carpet at the 2022 Met Gala, where attendees “embody the grandeur—and perhaps the dichotomy—of Gilded Age New York,” according to Vogue.com.

What is the Gilded Age?

“The Gilded Age is an era in American history from the 1870s to the turn of the century. It was marked by rapid economic expansion, particularly in industries such as railroads and manufacturing,” said Leslie Klingner, Biltmore’s Curator of Interpretation.

“Families such as the Vanderbilts rose to new social prominence during this time, marking their ascendance with some of the grandest homes and most glittering parties the country had ever seen,” Leslie said.

Photograph of George Vanderbilt, a scholar, collector, and patron of the arts who came of age during America’s Gilded Age
Envisioned as a private oasis for family and friends, George Vanderbilt’s magnificent Biltmore House would become known as America’s Largest Home. In addition to the house, this circa 1910 photo shows a view (L-R) of the Italian Garden, Esplanade, Front Lawn, and Stable Complex designed and landscaped by Richard Morris Hunt and Frederick Law Olmsted.
George Vanderbilt and Cedric the St. Bernard with newlyweds Adele and Jay Burden at Biltmore. Adele was George’s niece, the daughter of his sister Emily Vanderbilt Sloane. The couple married on June 6, 1895, in what was reported to be one of the costliest American weddings held at the time, and began their honeymoon at a cottage on the estate grounds, several months before Biltmore House was officially ready for guests.

Gilded Age Fashions

Fashionable ladies of the Gilded Age, such as Edith Vanderbilt, followed magazines like Les Modes for the latest stylings from couture design houses in Paris and London. Thanks to our archives at Biltmore, we know that the Vanderbilts favored designers like Jeanne Paquin, Jacques Doucet, and the House of Worth.

From strolling in the gardens at Biltmore to attending “fancy dress” balls, every ensemble worn by the ladies and gentlemen of the era would have been perfectly tailored and adorned with elegant accessories.

Below you’ll find archival photos of the stunning Gilded Age fashions actually worn by the Vanderbilts and their friends which were recreated from archival photos and notes for A Vanderbilt House Party exhibition displayed at Biltmore in 2019.

Gilded Age fashions of Edith Vanderbilt, recreated by CosProp, London, for Biltmore’s 2019 exhibition, A Vanderbilt House Party – The Gilded Age.
Gilded Age fashions of Edith Vanderbilt, recreated by CosProp, London, for Biltmore’s 2019 exhibition, A Vanderbilt House Party – The Gilded Age.
Recreation of a House of Worth gown worn by George Vanderbilt’s sister, Florence Vanderbilt Twombly, for Biltmore’s 2019 exhibition, A Vanderbilt House Party – The Gilded Age.
Gilded Age fashions of Jay and Adele Burden, recreated by CosProp, London, for Biltmore’s 2019 exhibition, A Vanderbilt House Party – The Gilded Age.
Glamorous fashions on the cover of the April 1912 and inside of the February 1913 issue of Les Modes magazines in Biltmore’s collection.
Gilded Age fashions of Edith Vanderbilt, recreated by CosProp, London, for Biltmore’s 2019 exhibition, A Vanderbilt House Party – The Gilded Age.

The Gilded Age series

The Gilded Age showcases the highs and lows of a wide cast of characters ranging from old New York and Newport families to the newly wealthy members of their society–and everyone in between.

“It is interesting to see the differences and the similarities between the British world of Downton Abbey, its American counterpart in The Gilded Age, and our own story here at Biltmore,” said Leslie.

This silver Tiffany & Company tea set was gifted to George Vanderbilt by his mother to serve guests on his private train car.
The grand Banquet Hall table set as ut would have been for a grand Gilded Age gathering at Biltmore House during the Vanderbilt era
The soaring Pellegrini Ceiling in the Library at Biltmore House. Depicted is “The Chariot of Aurora.”

Plan a Visit Biltmore!

Experience George Vanderbilt’s magnificent Gilded Age estate for yourself with a visit to Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina.

Featured image: Cornelia and Edith Vanderbilt in riding clothes, with horses and a St. Bernard, at Biltmore, ca. 1917

The National Gallery of Art calls on Biltmore during World War II

Did you know the Music Room in Biltmore House stored priceless works from the National Gallery of Art during World War II? It was during the winter of 1942 when an unusual array of guests arrived at Biltmore House. Accompanied by guards on their journey from Washington, D.C., 62 paintings and 17 sculptures from the National Gallery of Art were carried into the house and placed in the Music Room.

It was a critical time in the nation’s capitol, and in 1941 during World War II, American leaders based there began to fear the possibility of an attack.  An air raid on a major U.S. city seemed likely. German submarines had been sited along the Atlantic Coast from Maine to North Carolina, bringing the war uncomfortably close to the American shore.

Perhaps one of the best known works that Biltmore House stored for the National Gallery of Art was Sandro Botticelli’s The Adoration of the Magi (c. 1478/1482).
Perhaps one of the best known works that Biltmore House stored for the National Gallery of Art was Sandro Botticelli’s The Adoration of the Magi (c. 1478/1482).

With that thought in mind, and with information from European sources about Hitler’s relentless efforts to seize and stockpile art—much of which was damaged or destroyed in the process—David Finley, the new director of the National Gallery of Art, contacted Biltmore to discuss the possibility of sending some of the nation’s most important art treasures there for safekeeping.

Finley had visited Biltmore previously as a guest, and felt that Biltmore House was the perfect choice with its fireproof features and remote location. Edith Vanderbilt graciously agreed.

Rembrandt van Rijn’s Self-Portrait (1659) was among the works stored at Biltmore House during World War II. Rembrandt was coincidentally one of George Vanderbilt’s favorite artists.
Rembrandt van Rijn’s Self-Portrait (1659) was among the dozens of works stored at Biltmore House during World War II. Rembrandt was coincidentally one of George Vanderbilt’s favorite artists.

The unfinished Music Room on the first floor of Biltmore House was refitted with steel doors and other protective measures were taken, as outlined by the National Gallery of Art. On January 8, 1942, the paintings and sculptures arrived in Asheville.

Biltmore had opened to the public in 1930 as a means of promoting tourism in Asheville. Guests walked by the Music Room, unaware that some of the world’s greatest artwork was secretly hidden on the other side of the wall. The priceless artwork remained under 24-hour armed guard at Biltmore until the fall of 1944, well after the danger of bombings or invasion had ended.

Feature image: Gilbert Stuart’s George Washington (1795)—an iconic portrait of the nation’s first president—was safely stored in America’s Largest Home from 1942 to 1944.

Buckspring Lodge: A Summer Retreat for Sheep

In addition to Biltmore House, George Vanderbilt had another home on the estate’s original 125,000 acres: Buckspring Lodge.

A rustic, Adirondack-style retreat on the slopes of Mt. Pisgah, located about 20 miles from Biltmore House, Buckspring Lodge was a world away from the elegantly landscaped terrain surrounding America’s Largest Home®.

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

An Elevated View

It was fashionable at that time for wealthy families to create summer retreats in the mountains or by the seashore, often spending the entire season away from their main residence.

George Vanderbilt had already acquired a cottage in Bar Harbor, Maine, which he enlarged and renamed Pointe d’Acadie, but he spent less time there after making Biltmore his permanent home, choosing instead to enjoy the cool heights and splendid views of the Blue Ridge Mountains

A flock of sheep being tended near Buckspring Lodge with Mount Pisgah in the background.
A flock of sheep being tended near Buckspring Lodge with Mount Pisgah in the background.

Family, Friends & Biltmore Sheep

In addition to the main Buckspring Lodge building, which was designed by Biltmore architect Richard Morris Hunt and completed under the direction of his son Richard Howland Hunt, there was separate kitchen structure, a smaller guest cottage, and a stable that would eventually become a garage. Edith Vanderbilt added a garden and a tennis court to the site, and guests could hike and hunt to their hearts’ content. 

Family and friends weren’t the only visitors, however—a flock of Biltmore sheep spent time there, as well, providing effective “grounds maintenance” in return for their room and board. The sheep kept the grass short and added a pleasant pastoral note to the ambience of the Vanderbilt’s private mountain retreat. 

Outdoor Adventure Center in Antler Hill Village
Today, our Outdoor Adventure Center in Antler Hill Village is your headquarters for estate exploration.

New Life for an Old Cabin

After George Vanderbilt‘s death in 1914, Edith Vanderbilt sold most of the estate’s Pisgah Forest land to the federal government to become a national forest. Her grandson George Cecil inherited the property, eventually selling it to allow unobstructed construction of the Mount Pisgah section of the Blue Ridge Parkway.

A ranger’s cabin, constructed in 1912 of decades-old logs salvaged from early settler’s cabins on Vanderbilt’s Pisgah Forest tract, was removed from the site at that time and rebuilt in Asheville as a family home.

In 2015, this historic cabin and some of its furnishings were donated to Biltmore. Now restored in Antler Hill Village, the cabin serves as the headquarters for our Outdoor Adventure Center and Land Rover Experience.

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.

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.

“Cupid’s Richest Captive”— George Vanderbilt’s engagement

“Cupid’s Richest Captive” was the headline that accompanied the April 1898 announcement of George Vanderbilt’s engagement to Edith Stuyvesant Dresser.

Cupid’s richest captive: George Vanderbilt

Photographic portrait of George Vanderbilt, labeled
Photographic portrait of George Vanderbilt, ca. 1898

At age 36 and the only unmarried son of William Henry Vanderbilt, George was considered America’s most eligible bachelor. Termed “Cupid’s richest captive” by the popular press, the engagement was a leading topic in newspapers of the era.

Edith Dresser Stuyvesant

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

In comparison, his bride-to-be was a virtual unknown, although her ancestry included Peter Stuyvesant, the first Dutch governor of New York. Edith and her three sisters were popular members of Newport and New York society, and the “Dresser Girls” had lived in Paris after the death of their parents and grandparents. 

Ten years younger than her fiancé, Edith was friends with one of George’s sisters and several of his nieces. While reporters speculated the couple became acquainted when she attended Vanderbilt’s 1897 London party for Queen Victoria’s Jubilee, it’s more likely the pair met through match-making family members.

Congratulatory correspondence for “Cupid’s richest captive” and his fiancée

Cupid's richest captive: newspaper clipping of the wedding service
Newspaper clipping of the 1898 Dresser-Vanderbilt wedding program; illustrations were probably made from photographs of the couple.

News of the springtime engagement brought letters of congratulations from Vanderbilt’s friends, and we are fortunate to have some of the correspondence in our archives.

Author Paul Leicester Ford, who stayed at Biltmore several times and dedicated one of his most popular novels to George Vanderbilt, penned the following:

“My dear George,
I am very glad. Marriage is quite good enough for you, and is one of the few really fine things you haven’t had in your life. I wish I knew Miss Dresser better, but the mere glimpse I had of her was enough to make me like her, and time will perhaps fulfill my wish. That you both have my every felicitation, and hope for your happiness, need not be said…..It is a pleasure to me to think of you as having this great happiness added to your life. But in the big love, save a little if you can, for your affectionate friend
Paul.”


Portrait of George Vanderbilt by John Singer Sargent, ca. 1890
Portrait of George Vanderbilt by John Singer Sargent, ca. 1890; on display above the entrance to the Biltmore House Library.

Artist John Singer Sargent, considered the most successful portrait painter of his era, was one of Vanderbilt’s favorite artists. Six of his works are in Biltmore House, including a portrait of George that hangs above the Library door. On April 28, 1898, he wrote:


“My dear Vanderbilt
Please accept my warmest congratulations and best wishes for your engagement, and offer my hommages to the lady…I hope to see you on my way back from Venice…
Yours sincerely,
John S. Sargent”


Chauncey M. Depew, who served as New York Secretary of State and president of the New York Central Railway, was a family friend who had known George Vanderbilt all his life. On May 13, 1898, he wrote:


“My Dear George,
Accept my cordial congratulations on your engagement. Possessing as you do every thing to make a happy home, and Miss Dresser so charmingly forming the complement. Surely the future is (illegible) secure for married life as the fates have arranged it for you…
Faithfully yours,
Chauncey M. Depew”


On May 19, 1898, David H. Greer sent a letter to George Vanderbilt, who was already in Paris where his June 1 wedding would take place. Greer served as the rector of St. Bartholomew’s Church, New York, from 1888–1904.


“Dear Mr. Vanderbilt —
I am sorry I cannot be present to offer my congratulations in person in connection with the happy event which is about to take place in your life; but the steamer that takes your sisters over will hopefully carry this note and enable you to receive it before the wedding.

I have thought of you so long in a state of “single blessedness” that it is a little difficult to imagine you in the double blessedness of matrimony. But it is double blessedness, as I know from my own experience, and I am sure you will find in yours.

With best wishes of a bright future for both of you, believe me,
Very sincerely yours,
David H. Greer”

Learn more about the Vanderbilts

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

After the wedding and a four-month Italian honeymoon, the newlyweds returned to Biltmore to begin their lives together. Learn more about them by visiting The Vanderbilts at Home and Abroad exhibition at The Biltmore Legacy in Antler Hill Village, included with your estate admission.

Featured photo: Place de Chalelet and Seine River, Paris, circa 1898. George Vanderbilt and Edith Stuyvesant Dresser were engaged in Paris in April 1898.

Shedding New Light on Biltmore’s Halloween Room

Ongoing archival research allows us to shed new light on Biltmore’s Halloween Room, and our Museum Services team has made some interesting discoveries!

The Halloween Room

Witches, bats, and black cats don’t usually come to mind when you think of Biltmore, but deep in the basement of America’s Largest Home®, there’s a cavernous room with brick walls painted in brightly-colored murals depicting an array of such creatures.

The paintings include characters from folklore, a platoon of soldiers, and other imaginative imagery that eventually caused this area to be dubbed the Halloween Room.

Soldiers painted on the walls of Biltmore's Halloween Room
Painted soldiers depicted in Halloween Room mural

For many years, the colorful murals remained a bit of a mystery, with some thought that the room was the scene of a 1920s Halloween weekend house party during which guests of John and Cornelia Cecil were invited make their mark on the walls.

Subsequent research revealed, however, that the paintings were created in December 1925 to prepare the room for a New Year’s Eve celebration–but that still didn’t explain the slightly eerie tone of the murals.

New Discoveries

Theatrical program for La Chauve-Souris
Theatrical program for La Chauve-Souris

Leslie Klingner, Curator of Interpretation, recently discovered an obscure connection between the scenes on the walls and an avant-garde Russian cabaret and theatrical troupe called La Chauve-Souris, which translates to The Bat.

The troupe toured America in the 1920s, performing on Broadway in 1922 and again in 1925. The vaudevillian comedic acts were set off by abstract sets designed by two Russian artists, Sergei Sudeikin and Nicolai Remisoff. The show met with great success, triggering a rage for all things Russian in New York City and beyond.

The Cecils must have been fans of the cabaret as they and their friends created their own version of La Chauve-Souris on the basement walls of Biltmore House. Most of the murals were drawn directly from Remisoff and Sudeikin’s illustrations for the theatrical program. 

Staff looks at an archival copy of La Chauve-Souris theatrical program
Leslie Klingner reviews an archival copy of the La Chauve-Souris program

After three weeks of painting, the Cecils hosted a gypsy-themed ball on December 30, 1925, as part of their New Year’s celebration.

“This connection was really exciting to me because we didn’t expect it at all,” Leslie said. “It wasn’t until I read an autobiography of a local man who went to that party that I put it together.”

“The best party I have ever attended”

Halloween Room mural in Biltmore House
Painted scenes in the Halloween Room

The Charleston Daily Mail reported that 100 guests attended the Cecil’s New Year’s Eve festivities. One costumed attendee, local resident James G.K. McClure, recalled arriving in the basement of Biltmore with his wife Elizabeth, armed with a guitar and an old accordion, to find a room full of “all kinds of gypsy atmosphere such as cauldrons and pots and glowing fire … all around.” 

Enchanted by the unexpected theatrics, he wrote a detailed account of the holiday soiree to a friend, describing “a gypsy dance at Biltmore House which was the best party I have ever attended.”

Building Biltmore House

Originally designed for storage, The Halloween Room currently showcases our Building Biltmore House exhibition that features additional in-depth information about the people, circumstances, and innovations surrounding the building of George Vanderbilt’s magnificent estate.

Building Biltmore House also offers a special focus on the craftsmanship and labor of the employees who worked on the project rather than just the construction techniques.