Centennial Celebrations: A Landmark, A Legacy

Written By Amy Dangelico

Posted 08/15/16

Updated 03/01/24

Estate History

This year, we join the National Park Service in celebrating its centennial anniversary.Sustainable Logging on Biltmore Estate

With an emphasis on strict preservation, the National Park Service focuses on protecting natural and cultural resources “unimpaired for future generations,” including many historic properties that illustrate the nation’s heritage. Biltmore has been recognized as a designated National Historic Landmark by the National Park Service since 1963.

The Birthplace of Forestry

While Biltmore House as a structure was certainly ahead of its time and holds within its walls a vast collection of art and antiques, the landmark designation is not actually for the house, but for the estate itself as the birthplace of forestry

The original description of the estate’s National Historic Landmark designation recognizes Biltmore forest manager Gifford Pinchot, who later served as the first chief of the U.S. Forest Service, for his management plan that improved the forest and returned a profit to the Vanderbilts. The plan was the first of its kind and served as a national model.

The description also recognizes Dr. Carl A. Schenck, Pinchot’s successor, for establishing the Biltmore Forest School, also the first of its kind. In its 15 years of existence, the school graduated more than 300 of the nation’s first professionally-trained foresters.

Dr. Carl Schenck with Biltmore Forest School students, 1900

A National Forest is Born

The nearly 87,000 acres of the estate that became Pisgah National Forest are also mentioned in the designation description. After George Vanderbilt’s death in 1914, his widow, Edith Vanderbilt, sold the land to the federal government for just under $5 per acre. However, Pisgah Forest wasn’t established as a National Forest until 1916—making this year its centennial anniversary as well.

Within Pisgah National Forest is the Cradle of Forestry, a National Historic Site located on the grounds of Biltmore Forest School’s Pink Beds campus, where classes were held during the summer. The site, set aside to commemorate the beginning of forestry conservation and the lasting contributions of George Vanderbilt and his forest managers, spans about 6,500 acres of former estate property.

In a public ceremony in 1920, Pisgah National Forest was dedicated to the memory of George Vanderbilt, noting the land as “the earliest example of forestry on a large scale on private lands in America.” The ceremony was attended by Edith and daughter Cornelia Vanderbilt as well as N.C. Governor Locke Craig and George S. Powell, secretary of the Appalachian Park Association. 

Pisgah National Forest Dedication Ceremony, 1920

The Legacy Continues

From the very beginning, Pinchot as well as landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstedwho convinced George Vanderbilt to adopt forestry as his primary business, were determined to make Biltmore a model of forestry for the country.

Reflecting back on the beginning of his employment, Pinchot later wrote: “Biltmore could be made to prove what America did not yet understand, that trees could be cut and the forest preserved at one and the same. I was eager, confident, and happy as a clam at high tide.”*

Pinchot’s prediction was correct and his hope for Biltmore’s significant role was fulfilled.

In 2005, Biltmore successfully expanded its National Historic Landmark designation to include themes of architecture, landscape architecture, and social history, now encompassing the contributions of architect Richard Morris Hunt, Olmsted, estate superintendent Chauncey Beadle, and the significance of Biltmore Dairy.

Today, Biltmore continues to be managed by its original guiding principles. With the centennials of the National Park Service and Pisgah National Forest upon us, there has never been a better time to enjoy the estate’s 8,000 acres of Blue Ridge Mountain beauty. Join us for some of the great outdoor activities Biltmore has to offer. We have much to celebrate.

Feature: Biltmore Forest School students in the woods, 1900**
Top Right: Logging on the estate, late 1800s-early 1900s
Left: Carl A. Schenck with Biltmore Forest School students, 1900**
Right: Pisgah National Forest dedication ceremony, 1920

*Source: Pinchot, Gifford. Breaking New Ground. New York: Harcourt, Brace, and Co., 1947.

**Image courtesy of National Forests of North Carolina Historic Photographs, D.H. Ramsey Library Special Collections, University of North Carolina Asheville, Asheville, NC. 

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