Every Day is Earth Day at Biltmore

The official date to celebrate Earth Day is April 22, but we treat every day as Earth Day at Biltmore.

Vanderbilt’s vision

When George Vanderbilt began planning his grand estate in Asheville, North Carolina, his vision was twofold.

First, he wanted to create a place where he could relax and entertain friends and family. Just as important, however, was his desire to preserve the surrounding beauty.

West view of Biltmore House from Lagoon
The west side of Biltmore House

Second, he envisioned a self-sustaining estate that would nurture the land and its resources for years to come. From this vision came the nation’s first planned forestry program and the beginning of a family focus on the environment.

We continue to honor Vanderbilt’s vision today by acting as good stewards of our land, forest, and livestock resources. Here are some highlights of the best practices we follow at Biltmore:

Helpful hydroponics

Hydroponic lettuces
Hydroponic lettuce in the estate’s greenhouses

To honor our legacy of agricultural excellence, the benefits of hydroponics are undeniable.

In addition to higher and more consistent yields, the system is more efficient in protecting plants from pests and uses less water than standard field irrigation. In addition to leafy greens such as lettuce, spinach, mustard, kale, and collards, herbs and edible flowers are grown in the estate’s hydroponic greenhouses.

Grazing, grass, and goats

Goat for Earth Day at Biltmore
One of our friendly goats that enjoys nibbling invasive plants

Land is one of Biltmore’s most valuable resources, and to help preserve it more sustainably, larger pastures for livestock are divided into smaller paddocks with animals rotated through them every few days.

This practice of rotational grazing allows plants more time to regrow and replenish their root systems, increasing the quality and quantity of on-site foraging, reducing the need for labor-intensive harvesting, and increasing soil health for better agricultural outcomes.

In addition to rotational grazing, we are expanding the number of goats on the estate and putting them to work eating invasive plant species such as autumn olive and porcelain berry.

Goats are especially useful in keeping steep slopes trimmed and tidy, allowing maintenance crews to take on other projects and reducing some diesel fuel usage in equipment.

Protecting our pollinators

Monarch butterfly for Earth Day at Biltmore
Monarch butterflies are welcome guests at Biltmore

Continuing George Vanderbilt’s legacy of environmental stewardship, Biltmore has embarked on an effort to support the monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) by planting native milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) to provide vital habitat for this threatened species.

Milkweed is the only plant on which monarchs lay their eggs—and it is the only plant that their young caterpillars eat before transforming into beautiful orange and black butterflies.

In becoming a certified monarch waystation, our hope is that as the monarchs’ path of migration takes them through the mountains of Western North Carolina on their way to Mexico, we can encourage growth in their waning populations.

Welcoming wildflowers

Wildflowers for Earth Day at Biltmore
Wildflowers are planted to promote beauty and sustainability

By planting pollinator-friendly wildflowers, Biltmore is playing our part in preventing the widespread demise of these important species—including hummingbirds, bees, moths, and more—that is currently happening worldwide.

We have cultivated more than 30 wildflowers varieties across 2.5 acres in order to attract and support these small, but vital native animals. This program encourages a more diverse, and thus resilient, ecosystem both on the estate and in the surrounding region.

It takes a team

Bluebird on its house at Biltmore
A bluebird atop its house in the fields around the estate

In addition to these best practices, Biltmore encourages employees to become members of the Green Team that focuses on reducing, reusing, and recycling for the estate.

Other teams work with the monarch butterfly project, clean and monitor bluebird houses around the property, and a variety of other small-scale projects that make a big difference in our community.

Learn more about sustainability at Biltmore

Solar panels at Biltmore
A section of the 9-acre solar field at Biltmore

Along with the initiatives noted above, Biltmore has implemented a 9-acre, 1.7-megawatt solar system with 7,000 solar panels to offset some of our energy usage, and we promote sustainability in our winemaking practices, as well.

To learn more about how we make every day like Earth Day at Biltmore, visit the Environmental Stewardship section of our website.

Biltmore Virtual Tours of Biltmore House and Gardens

Ready to experience virtual tours of Biltmore House and Gardens?

From the comfort of your own home, discover the timeless architecture of America’s Largest Home, renowned landscape design, breathtaking views, and storied history of this National Historic Landmark in Asheville, North Carolina.

Experience Biltmore virtual tours now

Like a jewel crowning the Blue Ridge Mountains, Biltmore House–an American castle–was completed in 1895. It is still owned and operated by descendants of founder George Vanderbilt.

PLEASE NOTE: While each of our brief Biltmore virtual tours last less than two minutes, a typical self-guided Biltmore House visit takes about two hours, spanning three floors and the basement of George and Edith Vanderbilt’s luxurious family home–and you can spend hours discovering the wonders of Biltmore’s historic gardens and grounds!

We hope you enjoy the following brief glimpse at the marvels of this historic place.


Bonus: 360° Blue Ridge Mountain Views from the Loggia

This is an interactive 360° video. Use your finger or cursor to look around*.


Bonus: 360° View Inside the Butler’s Pantry

This is an interactive 360° video. Use your finger or cursor to look around*.

* Some web browsers do not support 360° video. We recommend Google Chrome or Safari.


Virtual tour: Biltmore’s historic Conservatory

Located in the heart of Biltmore’s Walled Garden, this architectural treasure was designed in collaboration between George Vanderbilt, Biltmore House architect Richard Morris Hunt, and landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted.

Completed along with the house in 1895, Biltmore’s Conservatory is a year-round tropical oasis with more than 2,000 exotic plants beneath its expansive glass roof.

In the summer months, Biltmore’s expert staff of horticulturalists bring the tropics outdoors by filling the alleyways with exotic and fragrant plants for guests to enjoy.

This brief Biltmore virtual tour video gives you an opportunity to see highlights from the Conservatory:


Virtual tour: Biltmore’s gardens and grounds

When George Vanderbilt first began planning his grand country retreat in 1888, he envisioned a self-sustaining estate that would nurture the land and its resources for years to come.

Vanderbilt selected Frederick Law Olmsted, the founding father of American landscape architecture, to design the gardens and grounds of his estate.

Perhaps best known as the designer of Central Park in New York City, Olmsted envisioned Biltmore to include formal gardens and naturalized areas, a major arboretum and nursery, and acres of systematically managed forest land.

This brief Biltmore virtual video offers a quick overview of Olmsted’s masterpiece:

Plan your Biltmore visit soon

Enjoy Biltmore virtual tours that showcase the house, gardens, and grounds
Biltmore House in Asheville, North Carolina

We hope you have enjoyed each of these Biltmore virtual tours, as well as the bonus 360° videos of the Loggia and Butler’s Pantry!

Although Biltmore is temporarily closed due to health and safety mandates resulting from COVID-19, we look forward to welcoming you again soon.

Happy Birthday, Frederick Law Olmsted

Each April, we remember Frederick Law Olmsted, the designer of the artful landscape surrounding Biltmore House.

Born April 26, 1822, Olmsted is often referred to as the “Father of Landscape Architecture in America,” and is best known as the designer of Central Park in New York City.

John Singer Sargent portrait of Frederick Law Olmsted
Framed portrait of Frederick Law Olmsted by John Singer Sargent in the Second Floor Living Hall of Biltmore House

Olmsted’s early life

Prior to becoming a landscape architect, Olmsted was first a seaman, farmer, then a journalist and founder of The Nation magazine, which still exists today.

During the Civil War, he served as Executive Secretary of the U.S. Sanitary Commission (a precursor to the American Red Cross). Central Park, which he co-designed with Calvert Vaux, was his first landscape design although ultimately his firm completed more than 500 projects.

Envisioning Biltmore

Olmsted knew William Henry Vanderbilt, George Vanderbilt’s father, when they both lived on Staten Island, and the designer had already worked on several Vanderbilt family projects when George Vanderbilt approached him in 1888 to advise on 2,000 acres of North Carolina property he’d already purchased.

Mountain views at Biltmore
Mountain views from Biltmore House

“Now I have brought you here to examine it and tell me if I have been doing anything very foolish,” he reportedly told Olmsted.

Olmsted gave a frank assessment. He advised Vanderbilt: “The soil seems to be generally poor. The woods are miserable, all the good trees having again and again been culled out and only the runts left. The topography is most unsuitable for anything that can properly be called park scenery. My advice would be to make a small park in which you look from your house, make a small pleasure ground and gardens; farm your river bottoms chiefly and…keep and fatten livestock with a view to manure and…make the rest a forest.”

Collaboration with Richard Morris Hunt

Plans for both the house and landscape changed in 1889 when Vanderbilt and architect Richard Morris Hunt toured France together and the scale of Biltmore House expanded.

Archival photo of workers on the Approach Road to Biltmore House
The Approach Road, which Olmsted designed to achieve a “sensation passing through the remote depths of a deep forest,” only to have “the view of the Residence, with its orderly dependencies, to break suddenly, fully upon one.”

Olmsted wrote that he was nervous, not sure how to “merge stately architectural work with natural or naturalistic landscape work.” But the architect and landscape designer worked together “without a note of discord,” and Olmsted biographer Witold Rybczynki says that the landscape architect achieved something completely original at Biltmore: the first combination of French and English landscape designs.

Designing a masterpiece

Transitions between formal and natural gardens were important, as was the use of native plants, small trees and large shrubs, and color and texture year-round.

View of the Approach Road in spring
Today’s guests enjoy the beauty of the Approach Road that Olmsted designed

Biltmore would prove to be Olmsted’s last design. As he approached the end of his work on the estate, he said “It is a great work of peace we are engaged in and one of these days we will all be proud of our parts in it.”

He said Biltmore was “the most permanently important public work” of his career. More than 120 years after his work, we continue to benefit from his vision.

Experience Biltmore Blooms

To experience Olmsted’s vision at its most breathtaking, visit the estate during Biltmore Blooms, our annual celebration of spring. In 2020, catch our historic gardens at their most breathtaking from April 1–May 21.


Featured image: Portrait of Frederick Law Olmsted by John Singer Sargent

Who Runs the House: Differences in Domestic Service

In honor of Biltmore playing host to Downton Abbey: The Exhibition, we’ve recognized some of the similarities—and differences—between these two great houses.

Now, let’s take a deeper dive into one of the primary differences in how American and English households of the era were managed. It all boils down to one simple question: Who runs the house?

Sketch of Biltmore House
Archival sketch of Biltmore House Façade, drafted prior to construction

George Vanderbilt’s vision for Biltmore was heavily influenced by the model of similar English estates, much like Downton Abbey; however, the American interpretation of this system had its differences to the British one.

Though they often hired British staff to manage Biltmore House, in the United States it was the standard for the head housekeeper to be in charge over the staff, rather than the butler.

Downton Abbey Bell Board
Bell Board from below stairs in Downton Abbey, as seen in our newest exhibition

At Downton Abbey, it’d be hard to imagine Mr. Carson, the butler, serving beneath Mrs. Hughes, the head housekeeper—though she certainly illustrated that she was more than capable of influencing him.

At Biltmore, head housekeeper Emily Rand King, affectionately known as Mrs. King although she was unmarried, ran almost everything downstairs at Biltmore just as Mr. Carson does at Downton Abbey.

Biltmore House Call Box
Detail of Call Box in the Butler’s Pantry in Biltmore House

“Mrs. King was the boss,” said Winnie Titchener-Coyle, associate archivist. “That’s one of the differences—in the U.S., women could have that high-level managerial role.”

While Mrs. King didn’t oversee the butler’s work per se, she certainly had more responsibilities than that of a head housekeeper in a British household—Downton Abbey’s Mrs. Hughes, for instance.

“Mrs. King administered salaries and had to have her own budget,” Winnie said. “She supervised staff, and she managed household supplies and linens, cleaning supplies and tools.”

Biltmore House Butler's Pantry
The Butler’s Pantry of Biltmore House, as seen on our Through the Servants’ Eyes Tour

Plan your visit for now through April 7 to discover Downton Abbey: The Exhibition—on display at both Amherst at Deerpark and The Biltmore Legacy in Antler Hill Village.

We invite you to learn more about the staff of Biltmore House—as well as the staff of Downton Abbey—with our new Through the Servants’ Eyes Tour during your next visit to Biltmore.

Feature image: Servants’ Hall in Biltmore House, where staff could relax and socialize when not on duty

Top 5 Downton Abbey-Related Activities at Biltmore

From November 8, 2019 through April 7, 2020, Biltmore is hosting Downton Abbey: The Exhibition, an immersive, must-see event that pays homage to the show.

The multimedia display in Amherst at Deerpark includes holograms, video, and life-size imagery—plus some of the series’ most recognizable sets, including Mrs. Patmore’s kitchen and the gossip-fueled servants’ quarters.

The estate has a variety of additional offerings that connect to the exhibition. Here are our top 5 picks:

Costumes from Downton Abbey on display
The limited-time exhibition continues in Antler Hill Village with costumes on display at The Biltmore Legacy.

5. Costumes at The Biltmore Legacy

Downton Abbey: The Exhibition itself extends to The Biltmore Legacy in Antler Hill Village where more than 50 official costumes from the series’ six-season run—worn by actors such as Michelle Dockery, Hugh Bonneville, and Dame Maggie Smith—will be on display.

Afternoon Tea
Served in The Dining Room at The Inn, Afternoon Tea transports you to the Vanderbilts’ and the Crawleys’ era.

4. Afternoon Tea at The Inn

Afternoon Tea is a delightful traditional that was enjoyed by the Vanderbilts and the Crawleys alike. The Dining Room at The Inn on Biltmore Estate® offers a unique take on this service daily. Enjoy fine cheeses, sweet and savory canapés, and a selection of teas from one of the world’s finest purveyors.

Tea sets
Our charming estate shops offer a wide range of Downton Abbey-inspired items, including a variety of lovely tea sets.

3. Downton Abbey-Inspired Products

For a limited-time, shops throughout the estate are offering a variety of Downton-inspired items. Browse fashions such as fascinators, jewelry, scarves, hat pins, and more—inspired by the styles worn by characters in the show. Tea sets, books, and additional accessories relating to the era are also available.

Biltmore Sub-Basement
Our newest tour takes you into rarely seen areas of Biltmore House, such as fascinating parts of the Sub-Basement.

2. Through The Servants’ Eyes Tour

Developed exclusively to coincide with Downton Abbey: The Exhibition, Through the Servants’ Eyes is a brand new behind-the-scenes tour. Hear the fascinating stories of those who worked and lived on the estate while visiting rarely seen servants’ areas including the Boiler Room, Butler’s Pantry, and beyond.

The Inn and Village Hotel on Biltmore Estate
With so much to see and do at Biltmore during this exciting time, stay overnight to ensure you have time to experience it all.

1. Special Overnight Packages

Both The Inn on Biltmore Estate® and Village Hotel on Biltmore Estate® offer exclusive Downton Abbey: The Exhibition overnight packages to ensure you have time to see and do it all. Packaged stays include admission to Downton Abbey: The Exhibition, admission to Biltmore House, Afternoon Tea, and more.

Decking the Halls, Biltmore Style

Each year, our Floral Displays team decks the halls of America’s Largest Home® for Christmas at Biltmore.

For 2019, discover how they draw inspiration from the beautiful details, including the art and furnishings, in Biltmore House.

Winter Garden and Surroundings

Decorating Christmas trees in Biltmore House
Norene Barrett puts finishing touches on a Christmas tree topper

Norene Barrett began working at Biltmore 18 years ago in the mail services department. Though she enjoyed her role, she looked for different ways to express her own creativity.

In 2015, after taking an intensive course in floral design, Norene joined Floral Displays and is now responsible for decorating sections of Biltmore House and the estate.

Decorating Christmas trees in Biltmore House
Floral team members Feny Bryan, Norene Barrett, and Kathy Nameth decorate a trio of trees inspired by the Greek friezes on the wall

“This trio of trees is meant to take guests back in time,” Norene said of her design for the area between the Winter Garden and the Billiard Room. “The trees are cheery and bright, but I used a lot of white elements for continuity with the series of Greek friezes on the walls.”

Norene added snowy branches to her décor along with period ornaments to bring a nostalgic feeling of Christmas past.

Winter Garden in Biltmore House decorated for Christmas at Biltmore
Winter Garden decorated for Christmas at Biltmore

For the Winter Garden, Norene is planning to light the evergreen garlands so that they glow, and instead of traditional kissing balls suspended from the greenery, she has created sparkling swags that catch the light. She’ll also add plenty of poinsettias to emphasize the garden feel of the space.

Breakfast Room

Adding ornaments to a Christmas tree in the Breakfast Room
Joslyn Kelly adds ornaments to the Breakfast Room tree

“This is the room where the family would eat breakfast, so I wanted it to have a warm, homey feeling as if you’re being welcomed to the table,” said Joslyn Kelly, floral designer.

Pink ornaments for the Breakfast Room
A selection of red and pink Christmas ornaments chosen to complement the Breakfast Room decor

Drawing inspiration from the room’s elegant cut velvet draperies and upholstery, Joslyn selected ornaments in a range of pinks and reds to complement the lovely patterns and colors of the fabric.

Floral displays on the Breakfast Room table
Lush floral displays and cranberry topiaries top the Breakfast Room table during Christmas at Biltmore

Look for glorious floral arrangements, towering topiaries of deep burgundy cranberries, and gilded pears among the delicate crystal and china place settings on the table.

Morning Salon

Nativity scene in the Tapestry Gallery
The estate’s Nativity scene, often staged in the Tapestry Gallery in years past

Cristy Leonard has been a member of the floral team for seven years, and the Salon is one of her areas to decorate for our 2019 Christmas at Biltmore celebration.

The estate’s large traditional Nativity will be staged in the Salon this year, and according to Cristy, the set has been a major source of inspiration for her designs.

“I’ve planned special new surroundings that includes twinkling lights to resemble nighttime in Bethlehem,” Cristy said.

Biltmore designer holds ornaments she created
Cristy Leonard displays ornaments she created for the Salon tree

Cristy chose to decorate the Salon’s main tree in brilliant peacock blues and greens with bright touches of gold. She added cherubs, gilded grapes, and grapevines to symbolize the prosperity and blessings of the season.

Christmas tree in Biltmore House Salon
Salon Christmas tree wound with gold fabric

As a finishing touch, Cristy swathed the tree in yards of gauzy golden fabric, echoing the look of the room’s iconic draped and tented ceiling.

Third Floor Living Hall

Harpist in Third Floor Living Hall
Seasonal music in the Third Floor Living Hall

During the Vanderbilt era, Third Floor Living Hall was a place for guests to relax in the evenings, share the events of the day, and perhaps read or catch up with friends.

Michelle Warren of Biltmore’s floral team created a child’s tree for this room, complete with dolls, toys, and wooden soldiers around the base, ready for the younger set to play with them while their parents indulged in a sing-along or a game of cards.

Humpty Dumpty toy under Christmas tree
A whimsical Humpty Dumpty and other toys under the Third Floor Living Hall Christmas tree

As you enter Third Floor Living Hall, look for a charming scene featuring a table set up with paper, ribbon, and tags, just as if Edith Vanderbilt were wrapping her gifts for the Christmas season!

Other 2019 Christmas at Biltmore highlights:

  • Grand Staircase
    • This elegant Christmas tree is centered under the Grand Staircase Chandelier, making it appear as though the four-story light is the tree topper.
  • Banquet Hall
    • From the 35-foot fresh Fraser fir at one end to the triple fireplaces at the other, the Banquet Hall is a traditional guest favorite and one of the most beloved rooms in Biltmore House.
  • Library
    • Themed around the idea of Christmas Traditions, the Library incorporates traditional colors such as gold, red, green, plaids, and a tartan print.
  • Oak Sitting Room
    • The colorful décor in rich jewel tones of red, cobalt, gold, and green is drawn from the room’s splendid Axminster—the only rug of English origin in Biltmore House.
  • Mrs. Vanderbilt’s Bedroom
    • The tree ornaments are inspired by the Vanderbilts’ courtship which took place in Paris. The room features a soft mix of lilac, amber, and cream colors drawn from the distinctive oval ceiling.
  • Main Kitchen
    • Look for a whimsical gingerbread replica of Biltmore House.

Christmas at Biltmore

Enjoy the daytime celebration November 1, 2019–January 5, 2020, and experience Candlelight Christmas Evenings through January 4, 2020.

Moving into America’s Largest Home

Almost a century and a quarter ago this month, George Vanderbilt moved into Biltmore House.

Have you ever moved into a custom-designed new home? If you have, you know that the punch list never seems quite buttoned-up on moving day. Little details seem to linger even after the last box is unpacked—and it was no different for the owner of America’s Largest Home.

Archival image of Biltmore House under construction, May 8, 1894
Archival image of Biltmore House under construction, May 8, 1894

Ground was broken in 1889, and during the course of the six years that followed, George Vanderbilt had been in close touch with his supervising architect Richard Sharp Smith, Biltmore House lead architect Richard Morris Hunt, and landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted. Hunt passed away in August 1895, just months before completion of the house, but Sharp Smith was able to complete the plan.

Archival image of the Brick Farm House, circa 1889
Archival image of the Brick Farm House, circa 1889

When he came to stay for periods of time at the construction site, George Vanderbilt stayed in what was called the Brick Farm House, a property he purchased from Asheville entrepreneur B. J. Alexander in 1889. Sharp Smith renovated the property, which included a mill and farm buildings, so that it was comfortable enough to accommodate Vanderbilt and his project team when they visited to check on the estate’s progress.

In the months leading up to the official opening, carpentry and cabinetry were among the final touches. With George Vanderbilt’s move-in scheduled for October, archival information shows that Richard Sharp Smith hired 16 additional cabinetmakers to speed up progress.

Biltmore House contractors, including Richard Sharp Smith (second from right), circa 1892
Biltmore House contractors, including Richard Sharp Smith (second from right), circa 1892

On his first night at Biltmore, George Vanderbilt slept in the Bachelors’ Wing because his bedroom wasn’t finished. There was another issue, too, described in the papers of Frederick Law Olmsted:

When the water was turned on in the stable… to get ready for the servants to occupy, it was found that it would not go up to the second floor where the servants [sic] rooms are.

The problem was soon fixed and water flowed a few days later, but there were still a few outstanding details to hammer out. With family and friends expected for Christmas 1895, Sharp Smith hired an additional 10 cabinetmakers in December. While almost all the carpentry was finally completed in 1896, additional cabinetry projects extended into 1897.

View of front façade of Biltmore House
View of front façade of Biltmore House

Today, when you visit Biltmore House, you can see first-hand the incredible attention to detail that went into every aspect of the house. But as you might imagine, even this architectural masterpiece was subject to the challenges faced in any home-building project. By seeing the vision of the project through until the end, George Vanderbilt and his design and construction team created a landmark with enduring quality that we still enjoy today.

Comparing Biltmore House to Downton Abbey

Did you know everyday life in Biltmore House bore striking resemblance to fictional life at Downton Abbey? In honor of Biltmore playing host to Downton Abbey: The Exhibition, let’s take a look at some of the similarities—and differences—between these two grand homes.

Archival image of estate workers during harvest season at Biltmore, ca. 1900

A Working Estate

The greatest overarching parallel between Downton Abbey and Biltmore is the idea of both as working estates overseen by one man and his family. While Downton Abbey is set in England, George Vanderbilt’s vision for Biltmore was heavily influenced by the model of similar English estates. There were numerous tenant families working the land, and the Vanderbilts grew to know each of these families closely over the years.

Servants' Hall in Biltmore House
The Servants’ Hall in Biltmore House, where staff could relax and socialize

Household Staff

Within the houses, the standards of domestic service were much the same between the Crawleys and the Vanderbilts. While there were some differences in the ways American and English households were managed, the housekeeper played a major role. At Biltmore, this role was primarily filled by Mrs. King; for Downton Abbey, it’s Mrs. Hughes—both known for their massive house key rings and calm demeanors.

Detail of electrical switchboard in the sub-basement of Biltmore House

Technological Advancements

Though numerous characters within the Downton Abbey household, both above stairs and below, expressed concerns about advancements in technology, they were widely embraced at Biltmore. Even in 1895, Biltmore House was constructed with many of these in mind: telephones, elevators, forced heating, mechanical refrigeration, an electric servant call bell system, electric lighting, and more. 

Restoring the wallcovering of the Louis XV Room in Biltmore House
Restoring the wallcovering of the Louis XV Room in Biltmore House

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 also been a prime concern at Biltmore for George Vanderbilt’s descendants. Today, the estate is owned and overseen by the fourth and fifth generations of the family.

Join us November 8, 2019 through April 7, 2020 to experience Downton Abbey like never before—amid George Vanderbilt’s magnificent estate—with Downton Abbey: The Exhibition at Biltmore.

Feature image: Biltmore House, ca. 1910

Keeping Track of Biltmore Gardens Railway

Twice a year, Biltmore’s Conservatory is home to Biltmore Gardens Railway, an elaborate G-scale railway with locomotives and rail cars weaving through the historic greenhouse’s exotic botanicals and miniature replicas of estate landmarks – even one of the Conservatory itself! A second railway display is located in Antler Hill Village where trains travel past replicas of the Eiffel Tower, London’s Tower Bridge, and other European landmarks visited by George Vanderbilt during his world travels. 

Working from original floor plans, drawings with elevations, and photographs of Biltmore House and other estate structures, a team with Applied Imagination constructed the Biltmore replicas using natural materials they gathered from estate grounds. The result is a stunningly accurate version of Biltmore. 

Scale model replica of Biltmore House inside Conservatory.

Some fun facts and figures to consider about Biltmore Gardens Railway: 

“Luxuriant” bamboo, as Frederick Law Olmsted called it when planning George Vanderbilt’s gardens and grounds, was harvested and used as the roofing material on the Biltmore House replica. Grapevine was also collected and fashioned into Biltmore’s iconic gargoyles. 

1,700 – The number of hours it took to construct the 10-foot-long replica of Biltmore House, compared to… the 6 years it took to build the 250-room Biltmore House in the late 1800s.

6 – The number of artists it took to build the scale model of Biltmore House, compared to… the 1,000 workers it took to build Biltmore House in the late 1800s.

5,000 – The number of tons of Indiana limestone used to build Biltmore House in the late 1800s, compared to… the 25 types of items harvested from estate grounds to create replicas of Biltmore House and other buildings. This included horse chestnut, magnolia leaves, hickory nuts, lotus pods, bamboo, pine cone scales, acorn caps, winged bean, star anise, grapevine, honeysuckle, ash bark, oak bark, pine bark, elm bark, hickory bark, eucalyptus leaves, day lily stem, rose of sharon, cedar branch, walnuts, stewartia, wisteria, turkey tail fungus, and contorted Filbert.

Artists from Applied Imagination suited up in waders to snip a few treasures from the Italian Garden pools. The lotus pods growing there were just too perfect to pass up, and ended up in the creation of the Stables. 

Woman gathering seed pods from the Italian Garden pool.

6 – The number of separate railroad tracks running through the Conservatory carrying locomotives and rail cars around the buildings. The trains cross bridges and trestles on varied levels and through multiple rooms.  

8 – The number of estate building replicas in the Conservatory. 

7 – The number of artists it took to create all of the replicas in the Conservatory.

3,745 –The number of combined hours it took to construct eight estate building replicas for the Conservatory exhibition.

Overhead trellis carries scale model train through the Conservatory.

8 – The number of buildings in the display at Antler Hill Village. 

1,050 – Amount of railroad track in feet required for the displays.

1 – Amount of weeks to install Biltmore Gardens Railway at two locations on the estate.

Biltmore Gardens Railway is a wonderful, fun-for-all-ages feature at Biltmore this summer. Plan your visit now

Biltmore Gardens Railway: A Fun-For-All-Ages Experience

In the summer of 2019, Biltmore Gardens Railway brought large-scale model railroads and handmade buildings connected with Biltmore and its founder George Vanderbilt to two locations on the estate—the Conservatory and Antler Hill Village.

The exhibition featured replica structures fashioned from all-natural materials, largely collected from the estate, to offer a one-of-a-kind, fun-for-all-ages experience.

Enjoy a special look at the structures and stories that inspired Biltmore Gardens Railway.  ​

Conservatory Display: Structures from the estate and surrounding area

Photograph of Biltmore House from George Vanderbilt’s collection, ca. 1910

Biltmore House with Fountain & Rampe Douce
Completed in 1895, Biltmore House was a collaborative effort between George Vanderbilt and architect Richard Morris Hunt. It took six years to construct America’s Largest Home®. The 250-room French Renaissance chateau contains more than four acres of floor space, including 35 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms, and 65 fireplaces.

Photograph of the Stable Complex construction from George Vanderbilt’s collection, ca. 1894

Stable Complex
An important part of a turn-of-the-century country home, the stables housed the Vanderbilts’ 30–40 driving and riding horses. Correspondence in Biltmore’s Archives indicates that George Vanderbilt made every effort to procure the best horses possible for the estate. Original horses’ names included Ida, Pamlico, and Maud.

Photograph of the Conservatory from George Vanderbilt’s collection, ca. 1910

​Conservatory
This grand structure was built to provide flowers and plants for Biltmore House year-round—a role it continues to fulfill today. Carefully placed at the lower end of the Wall Garden so as not to obstruct the view from Biltmore House, the Conservatory includes a Palm House and an Orchid House and spans more than 7,000 square feet.

Photograph of All Souls’ Church from George Vanderbilt’s collection, ca. 1906

All Souls’ Church
Commissioned by George Vanderbilt, All Souls’ Church was the anchor—architecturally, spiritually, and socially—of nearby Biltmore Village. The church as well as the rest of the buildings in the village were the result of a collaboration between Biltmore House architect Richard Morris Hunt and landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted.

Photograph of the Biltmore Passenger Station from George Vanderbilt’s collection, ca. 1899

Biltmore Passenger Station*
The Passenger Station in Biltmore Village was the first stop for many of the Vanderbilts’ guests when they arrived in Western North Carolina on their way to the estate. Family and friends were met there by the Vanderbilts’ carriage or car and brought up the breathtaking three-mile Approach Road to Biltmore House.

Photograph of deer at the Bass Pond Waterfall from the Biltmore collection, ca. 1950

Bass Pond Waterfall
Designed by landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, the Bass Pond was created by greatly enlarging an old creek-fed millpond. In order to keep the pond free of sediment and debris caused by heavy rains, Olmsted engineered an ingenious flume system to divert debris and storm water through a conduit laid on the lake bed.

Photograph of The Gardener’s Cottage from George Vanderbilt’s collection, ca. 1892

The Gardener’s Cottage
One of the first buildings completed on the estate, the Gardener’s Cottage served as the residence of Biltmore’s first head gardener. The one-and-a-half story stone cottage was originally occupied Mr. Robert Bottomley, who was the estate’s head gardener until November 1903.

Photograph of the Lodge Gate from George Vanderbilt’s collection, ca. 1900

Lodge Gate
Located at the entrance to the estate from Biltmore Village, the Lodge Gate provided round-the-clock security by means of a resident gatekeeper. Other entrances to Biltmore also had gatehouses and gatekeepers, though the Lodge Gate was considered the main entrance to George Vanderbilt’s grand estate.

Antler Hill Village Display: Landmarks from George Vanderbilt’s travels

Photograph of Pisgah National Forest Entry Gate, ca. 1916-1936

Pisgah National Forest Entry Gate – Transylvania County, North Carolina
Just before George Vanderbilt’s death in 1914, he was involved in negotiations to sell a large portion of his estate to the federal government in hopes that it would become a forest preserve. His wife Edith later completed this undertaking, selling 87,000 acres of the estate to establish the core of what later became Pisgah National Forest.

Photograph of Vanderbilt Mansion in Hyde Park, ca. 2009

Vanderbilt Mansion – Hyde Park, New York
George Vanderbilt’s brother Frederick Vanderbilt and his wife Louise created a seasonal home in Hyde Park, NY. The house was inspired by a classical Palladian villa and was surrounded by formal and informal gardens designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, who later served as the landscape architect for Biltmore.

Photograph of a Dutch windmill taken by George Vanderbilt’s grandson, William A. V. Cecil, ca. 1950

Windmill & Three Classic Canal House Façades – Amsterdam, The Netherlands
The Vanderbilt family line originated in Holland in the village of De Bilt, not far from Amsterdam. The Vanderbilts’ ancestors immigrated to the Dutch colony of New Netherland around 1650, eventually settling near present-day Staten Island, New York. George Vanderbilt visited his family’s homeland in 1897.

Photograph of the Eiffel Tower from George Vanderbilt’s collection, ca. 1890

Eiffel Tower – Paris, France
This Paris landmark was already an icon when George and Edith Vanderbilt were married on June 1, 1898 in a civil ceremony after a whirlwind courtship abroad. An understated religious ceremony was held the following day at the American Church of the Holy Trinity, attended only by family and close friends.

Photograph of the Arc de Triomphe from George Vanderbilt’s collection, ca. 1885

Arc De Triomphe – Paris, France
After the Vanderbilt’s Parisian marriage ceremony, the wedding party attended a breakfast at the apartment Edith shared with her sisters on Rue Vernet, just an avenue away from the iconic Arc de Triomphe. Edith’s sister Natalie provided two bottles of champagne that their maternal grandfather had set aside at Edith’s birth to be served on her wedding day.

Colorized photograph of Tower Bridge, ca. 1900

Tower Bridge – London, England
In June 1897, George Vanderbilt rented an apartment on London’s Pall Mall to witness the celebration surrounding Queen Victoria’s 60-year reign. Among his guests viewing the festivities from the balcony was his future bride, Edith Stuyvesant Dresser, likely marking the beginning of their romance.

Engraving of the USS Vanderbilt, ca. 1862

USS Vanderbilt – Transatlantic Service
Cornelius “The Commodore” Vanderbilt, George Vanderbilt’s grandfather and founder of the family fortune, commissioned a steamship in 1856 dubbed the Vanderbilt, once hailed as “the largest vessel that has ever floated on the Atlantic Ocean.”

*Feature image: Recreation of Biltmore Passenger Station; this structure is on display in both the Conservatory and Antler Hill Village.