Time Travel: George Vanderbilt’s Visit to Japan

Time travel with us to explore George Vanderbilt’s visit to Japan that began on September 1, 1892.

George Vanderbilt’s visit to Japan

Just as visitors do today, Vanderbilt and his cousin, Clarence Barker, toured countless temples and other cultural sites during their visit to Japan. But they apparently worked in some shopping as well, as Biltmore’s archives indicate.

Ni-o guardians, carved wood. Edo period (1603-1868).

Like most of us, George Vanderbilt purchased souvenirs to remind him of the fascinating places he visited. Unlike us, however, he had a 250-room home under construction with plenty of space for accessories!

Perceptions of other places

Time Travel: George Vanderbilt's Visit to Japan
Nagasaki, Takabato Island. Photo purchased by George Vanderbilt, 1892.

Today, it’s hard to imagine how “foreign” Japan seemed to Americans at the end of the 1800s. The country had been closed to most Westerners for 200 years, only opening somewhat to trade beginning in the 1850s.

In Vanderbilt’s time, Japan was viewed as a place untouched by the west’s industrialization and modernization. Popular literature of the time evoked a far-off land where feudal traditions persisted and its people lived a simpler life.

Netsuke souvenirs from George Vanderbilt's trip to Japan
Carved netsuke, originally used as toggles on kimonos

To many Americans, Japan and its culture was exotic and rooted in tradition, offering a blend of spirituality and aesthetic beauty. To George Vanderbilt, deeply interested in history, the arts, and collecting, the allure must have been irresistible.

A far-east adventure

Invitation to Emperor of Japan's birthday celebration, 1892.
Invitation to Emperor of Japan’s birthday celebration, 1892

The trip itself was an adventure. Vanderbilt and Barker—one of his favorite traveling companions—had just returned from Spain when an invitation arrived to attend the Emperor of Japan’s birthday celebration. Soon after, they packed their trunks and, on September 1, 1892, embarked on the first leg of a 10-week itinerary.

First, they accompanied Biltmore architect Richard Morris Hunt to Chicago to see his preliminary work on the World’s Columbian Exposition.

Photo of George Vanderbilt's cousin Clarence Barker
Clarence Barker, George Vanderbilt’s cousin and frequent travel companion, ca. 1890

From there, the pair continued westward, stopping in Yellowstone National Park at the Mammoth Hot Springs hotel. Upon reaching San Francisco, they boarded ship for the week-long journey to Yokohama to begin their exploration of Japanese culture and customs—and evidently, quite a bit of shopping!

Shopping for souvenirs

Time Travel: George Vanderbilt's Visit to Japan
Ceremonial samurai swords with decorative display stand

Antiques shops and art dealers were obviously part of the itinerary, as Vanderbilt eventually shipped 32 cases of art and decorative objects back to America. Among his purchases were:

  • Satsuma ceramics, including a koro or ceremonial incense burner, for $85—a significant sum 122 years ago
  • Two suits of samurai armor along with spears and swords
  • Netsuke—miniature sculptures originally used as kimono toggles
  • Bronze sculptures
  • Lacquer boxes and sculptures
  • Varied screens and fans
  • Bamboo curtains
  • 1,000 festive paper lanterns

Time travel today at Biltmore

Aerial view of Biltmore House
Aerial view of Biltmore House and the Italian Garden

We hope you’ll consider Biltmore in your current and future plans. It’s an excellent place to “time travel” into our storied past!

If you’d prefer to visit without leaving the comfort of home, be sure to enjoy virtual tours of the estate, or indulge in a bit of shopping in our online store.

Featured image: Pagoda at Horinja-Nana. Photo purchased by George Vanderbilt, 1892

Richard Sharp Smith: A Western North Carolina Legacy

Biltmore House architect Richard Morris Hunt collaborated with Richard Sharp Smith to create America’s Largest Home® as well as other buildings on the estate and in the surrounding area.

Among others, Smith remained in the Asheville area and contributed their talents to many homes and buildings around the region. Let’s take a look at Smith’s work in the Asheville and Western North Carolina.

After receiving architectural training in England, Richard Sharp Smith came to America in 1882, joining Richard Morris Hunt’s New York office in 1886. A pivotal point in his career came when he was assigned as Biltmore’s supervising architect, responsible for overseeing construction onsite. Following Hunt’s death in August 1895, Smith became Vanderbilt’s lead architect.

All Souls’ Church, designed by Richard Morris Hunt with construction overseen by Richard Sharp Smith, ca. late 1895–early 1896
All Souls’ Church, designed by Richard Morris Hunt with construction overseen by Richard Sharp Smith, ca. late 1895–early 1896

Once this major project was completed, Richard Sharp Smith started his own firm in Asheville, raising a family and becoming one of the area’s most popular architects until his death in 1924. At the time of his passing, the Asheville Citizen said:

“After long years of residence in Asheville, Smith has done more than any other person to beautify the city. He came to Asheville just at a time when he was needed, and was really a pioneer architect in the community…

Smith worked in styles ranging from Arts and Crafts to Tudor to Colonial Revival. And not surprisingly, many of these homes and buildings are reminiscent of Biltmore House and other structures on the estate.

Biltmore Village Post Office, designed by Richard Sharp Smith, ca. 1903
Biltmore Village Post Office, designed by Richard Sharp Smith, ca. 1903

“Two beautiful examples of Richard Sharp Smith’s residential style—the Annie West House at 189 Chestnut Street in Chestnut Hill and the Charles Jordan House at 296 Montford Avenue—include pebbledash stucco, archways, and rooflines, much like his buildings in Biltmore Village,” said Leslie Klingner, Biltmore’s Curator of Interpretation.

In downtown Asheville, Smith was the architect for the E.W. Grove Office at 324 Charlotte Street, the Elks Home—also known as Hotel Asheville—at 55 Haywood Street, and the Young Men’s Institute on Eagle Street. Saint Mary’s Episcopal Church on Charlotte Street, Grace Episcopal on Merrimon Avenue, and All Souls’ Church in Biltmore Village are also his creations.

Young Men’s Institute in downtown Asheville, designed by Richard Sharp Smith, ca. 1893
Young Men’s Institute in downtown Asheville, designed by Richard Sharp Smith, ca. 1893

Smith’s work is evident throughout Western North Carolina, including homes in Flat Rock and courthouses for Henderson, Jackson, and Madison counties.

“Many of the buildings that define Asheville today were designed by Richard Sharp Smith,” said Leslie. “It’s enjoyable to see these structures and worth taking the time to notice the arches, tile work, pebbledash, and architectural features that relate to Biltmore House.”

Restoring Our Roof: North Tower Ridge Cap Project

In 2015, several leaks in Biltmore House made it clear the time had come for restoring our roof.

We brought in Huber & Associates, a firm of historical and restoration roofing experts, to remove the original North Tower Ridge Cap from America’s Largest Home®.

Restoring the roof of Biltmore House
A worker removes a section of the original ridge cap under the watchful eye of a grotesque carving

After carefully removing each section and taking it back to their Florida workshop, the team used the original pieces as models to build an all-new ridge cap for restoring our roof.

This seven-month project shows our commitment to our continuing mission of preserving Biltmore. Here’s how the work unfolded:

April 2015

The crew arrived at Biltmore and spent several days disassembling the North Tower Ridge Cap and preparing the pieces for travel.

A worker removes a section of the original copper roofing
A member of Huber & Associates carefully removes an original section of the North Tower Ridge Cap

May 2015

Three different weights of copper were discovered — 18, 20, and 24 ounce — as well as a leaf from one of the vertical panels that still had some of the original gold leaf intact!

Restoring the roof panels
An original roof panel with George Vanderbilt’s monogram still shows traces of gold leaf

About 900 individual pieces arrived in Florida, where they were inventoried and analyzed.

June 2015

Scaffolding in place to access North Tower Ridge Cap restoration on roof of Biltmore House
Scaffolding in place to access North Tower Ridge Cap restoration on roof of Biltmore House

Meanwhile, work continued at Biltmore to repair any underlying leaks in the roof, and a temporary ridge cap was created to prevent further damage while the replacement was being built in Florida. 

August 2015

Restoring elements of the roof of Biltmore House
Exact reproductions of decorative copper components from the North Tower Ridge Cap

The crew at Huber & Associates created separate casts for stamping, pouring, and forming new molds to replicate the original pieces.

October 2015

Restoring our roof at Biltmore House
Huber & Associates returned to install the replicated pieces of the ridge cap

Huber & Associates finished their painstaking replication of the North Tower Ridge Cap and brought all the pieces (original and new) back to Biltmore for installation. The photo above shows one of the new copper sections being installed next to an original portion of the ridge cap with its distinctive green patina.

November 2015

Installation of the new North Tower Ridge Cap began and the project was completed in late November. The original pieces were placed in storage.

The new copper ridge cap is a reddish-brown color that looks much like it did when Biltmore House was completed in 1895. It is being allowed to acquire a natural patina over time rather than trying to match it by modern methods.

Restoring our roof with new copper sections
A worker installs a new section of the North Tower Ridge Cap

Biltmore was honored to receive the Griffin Award for Restoration—given annually by The Preservation Society of Asheville and Buncombe County for projects that accurately depict the form, features, and character of a property as it appeared at a particular period of time—for this preservation initiative.

We are grateful to our amazing employees and to Huber & Associates for all their hard work. 

Spring is a Special Time to Honor Olmsted

Spring is a special time to honor Frederick Law Olmsted, Biltmore’s landscape designer.

Bench by Biltmore's Bass Pond
A quiet spot near the Bass Pond highlights Olmsted’s landscape design

When designing Biltmore’s historic gardens and grounds, Olmsted knew that spring would set the stage for all the glorious seasons to come.

Today, the meticulously maintained landscape still stand as a timely tribute to Olmsted’s springtime birthday.

Born April 26, 1822, Olmsted is known as “the father of American landscape architecture,” with premiere projects including Central Park in New York City and the grounds of California’s Stanford University.

Olmsted designed this lagoon to reflect Biltmore House
The Lagoon is one of Olmsted’s many landscape designs for Biltmore

“There are many beautiful American parks and landscapes that reflect Olmsted’s genius,” said Parker Andes, Director of Horticulture, “but it’s the design for Biltmore that is considered Olmsted’s masterpiece.”

According to Parker, Olmsted had already worked on several Vanderbilt family projects when George Vanderbilt approached him in 1888 for advice on the North Carolina property he’d already purchased.

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

Olmsted’s frank assessment

Azaleas along the Approach Road in spring
The Approach Road to Biltmore House is lined with azaleas each spring

“Olmsted was frank in his assessment, advising Vanderbilt that the soil seemed to be generally poor, with most of the good trees having been culled already,” Parker said. “He noted that the topography was unsuitable for creating the type of park scenery that characterized the English country estates that Vanderbilt admired.”

Olmsted planned colorful blooms for spring in Biltmore's Shrub Garden
Colorful spring blooms in Biltmore’s Shrub Garden

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 and its surrounding gardens expanded.

Olmsted wrote that he was nervous, not sure how to “merge stately architectural work with natural or naturalistic landscape work,” but Olmsted biographer Witold Rybczynki says that the landscape architect achieved something completely original at Biltmore: the first combination of French and English landscape designs.

White wisteria blooming in Biltmore's Walled Garden
White wisteria blooming in the Walled Garden

“You can see Olmsted’s creativity and skill in the transitions between Biltmore’s formal and natural gardens, and his use of native plants, small trees and large shrubs, and color and texture year-round,” said Parker. 

Now that Biltmore welcomes 1.7 million guests each year, the historic gardens and grounds must be protected and preserved as carefully as Biltmore House and all other original parts of the estate.

Kids in Biltmore's Azalea Garden
Guests of all ages love discovering Biltmore’s “outdoor rooms” like the Azalea Garden

“In addition to the impact of so many visitors, the landscape has changed and matured over the past century,” said Parker, “and the challenge for today’s landscaping team lies in determining what Olmsted intended.”

Landscaping crew at work in Biltmore's Walled Garden
Landscaping crews at work to carry on Olsted’s vision for Biltmore

“The team uses archival resources such as early plans, original plant lists, letters of correspondence, weekly reports written during the construction of the estate, and information about Olmsted’s design philosophies to help them preserve the landscape style while remaining true to Olmsted’s vision,” Parker noted.

Plan your visit this spring

Prepare to be dazzled as the splendor of spring unfolds across Biltmore’s historic gardens and grounds and thousands of blossoms create a tapestry of color across the estate.

Featured blog image: A couple enjoys a visit to the estate’s historic gardens and grounds

Biltmore’s Top 5 Most Naturally Romantic Spots

Biltmore Estate’s year-round natural beauty and long tradition of hospitality have earned its recognition as a romantic destination for more than a century. But with 8,000 acres to explore, it can be hard to pick the perfect must-see romantic spot to share with your loved one. 

Whether you’re planning a romantic getaway, a scenic date, or even proposing to your sweetheart at Biltmore, get inspired with this list of the top five most naturally romantic spots on the estate!

Tea House guest photo
📷 by @sasha_playz_musik

5. Tea House

Strategically set on the far west corner of the South Terrace, this romantic spot offers sweeping views of the surrounding Blue Ridge Mountain vistas.

Tennis lawn guest photo
📷 by @jason.rosa

4. Tennis Lawn & Pergola

Tucked away between the Pergola and the Shrub Garden is the Tennis Lawn, an often overlooked “outdoor room” with a fairy-tale view of America’s Largest Home®.

Conservatory guest photo
📷 by @rongriswell

3. Conservatory

Indoor enchantment awaits in Biltmore’s Conservatory, a private tropical oasis that houses a wide variety of exotic plants beneath its grand glass roof. This romantic spot offers multiple greenhouses to explore with your sweetheart!

Bass Pond Bridge guest photo
📷 by @avidavlhiker

2. Bass Pond Waterfall & Trails

An easy stroll down our Azalea Garden path leads to rewarding views of our Bass Pond bridge, Boat House, and, of course, the Bass Pond Waterfall—a picturesque backdrop for many Biltmore proposals!

Lagoon guest photo
📷 by @georgebassen

1. Shores of the Lagoon

Perfect for a picnic or a pleasant stroll, the shores of Biltmore’s Lagoon offer a number of quiet, romantic spots with a marvelous view of Biltmore House in the distance.

The Inn guest room photo
📷 by @t_r_a_v_e_l_n_o_w

BONUS! One of our onsite lodging properties

An overnight stay on the estate offers the opportunity to wake up on George Vanderbilt’s magnificent estate with your sweetheart. Our four-star Inn, cozy Village Hotel, and private Cottages on Biltmore Estate each offer a distinct and memorable experience for your next romantic getaway.

📷 by Camryn Glackin; Couple enjoys a spring picnic in a field at Biltmore
📷 by Camryn Glackin

Romantic Spots on Biltmore Estate to Propose

If you’re planning to pop the question during a visit to Biltmore, consider this list of romantic and picturesque locations for your proposal:

  1. In a Horse-Drawn Carriage: Couples wishing for some privacy (and a very discreet driver) may take one of our horse-drawn carriages for a gentle journey through forests and pastures, and stopping at the top of a hill that features a stunning view of the back of Biltmore House.
  2. At the Statue of Diana, Goddess of the Hunt: After an easy hike to the top of the hill where The Statue of Diana stands, catch your breath and take in the majestic view of Biltmore House with sky and the Blue Ridge Mountains in the background. Then proceed!
  3. In the South Terrace Tea House: With its gorgeous views of Mount Pisgah and the southern end of Biltmore House, the Tea House is a charming, open-air structure.
  4. On top of Biltmore House: The guided Rooftop Tour takes you to the roof for up-close inspections of the home’s structure and intricate carvings. Don’t let the gargoyles and grotesques scare you. They’re harmless.
  5. By the Bass Pond Waterfall: This is a more secluded location, below the formal gardens. This location is great in springtime or during October when the leaves are changing colors.
  6. During a candlelight dinner: Our estate chefs create incredible meals using fresh ingredients grown right on the estate.
  7. On The Inn’s Veranda: Relax with your sweetheart on a grand outdoor veranda where the estate’s sparkling wine can be delivered for your big moment.
  8. Under the Pergola next to the South Terrace: This spot by Biltmore House is particularly romantic in springtime when Wisteria vines are blooming.
  9. In the Italian Garden: Pop the question by one of the semi-secluded benches in the Italian Gardens. The reflecting pools full of lily pads and other exotic blooms set a soothing tone for an early summer evening proposal.
  10. On a scenic picnic: If you like to bike or hike, you can pack a picnic, rent bikes or take one of our many hiking trails for an exciting adventure. Stop at the Lagoon to picnic and pop the question.

Biltmore Furniture Conservator is a Desk Detective

Although her day-to-day responsibilities may include anything from cleaning 100-year-old china to inhibiting biologic growth on outdoor statuary, when Genevieve Bieniosek, Furniture Conservator, tells you she has a desk job, she means it literally.

Desk detective

Biltmore furniture conservator is a desk detective
Photo of the desk paired with some of its component parts, including six of the eight legs

Biltmore’s Museum Services team has been working for several years to return the Oak Sitting Room to its original appearance during the Vanderbilt era of 1895-1914.

Like detectives, team members carefully sift through photographs, letters, and other details for clues to the furnishings and objects that were found in the room originally.

Historic details

One prominent item that will be displayed in the Oak Sitting Room is a massive desk or bureau Mazarin, named for its association with Cardinal Mazarin, a chief minister to Louis XIV, the king of France in the seventeenth century.

This type of desk was developed in France in the mid-1600s and functioned as a writing table with drawers on either side of a kneehole.

Such furnishings were often decorated with intricate wood and brass marquetry in the style of Andre-Charles Boulle, a royal cabinetmaker to Louis XIV.

While thes desk is original to the Biltmore collection, itt only appears in archival photos dating from the 1930s when the house was first opened to the public.

Conservator's tools
A selection of tools needed for this project

A massive project takes shape

That’s where Genevieve’s expertise comes into play. “The desk was probably already an antique when George Vanderbilt purchased it,” Genevieve said. “When we began this project, the desk had been stored as separate pieces for many years. There are multiple layers of old repairs, from both before and after Vanderbilt used it.”

In addition to locating all the pieces, like the legs that were discovered in a drawer in the conservation lab and a bag of tiny brass shapes that had come off the desk over the years, Genevieve must be able to understand how earlier repairs were made, including the mix of adhesives that might have been used to reattach sections of delicate brass marquetry that have lifted or come loose from the desk’s elegantly veneered ebony surface.

Rubbings taken from pieces of brass
Rubbings are created from sections of brass and identified according to its original placement

Slow and steady progress

“We originally allowed two years to complete the repairs,” said Genevieve, “and three or four people have been working on the desk on and off during that time. We are re-gluing sections of brass and wood that are loose, and in cases where the brass or veneer is missing, we make templates and cut replacement pieces to fit.”

Pieces of brass marquetry for the desk
New brass marquetry shapes cut to fit the original desk

The original brass marquetry was also engraved in fine detail, adding depth to the design, but Genevieve says they will paint the lines rather than cutting them, to distinguish modern repairs from the original.

A decorative desk leg showing old and new brass marquetry
Desk leg shows contrast of newly repaired and polished design with original

“It’s important that we document everything we’ve done so that future conservators don’t have to wonder or guess,” Genevieve said. “Not knowing how or why something was done makes the repairs that much more difficult and time-consuming.”

Featured image: Genevieve Bieniosek carefully polishes the decorative brass marquetry on one of the desk’s eight legs

Biltmore Goes to Great Heights for Preservation

Biltmore goes to great heights for preservation, because our mission is to preserve the estate for the enjoyment of future generations.

This means that every aspect of Biltmore must be cleaned, inspected, repaired, and restored on a regular basis. And that’s no easy feat! Biltmore spans an impressive 175,000 square feet, which is more than four acres of floor space. The 250-room French Renaissance chateau includes 35 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms, and 65 fireplaces. Every sweep of the broom and delicate touch of dusting breathes life into the past, ensuring that the tales woven into the very fabric of Biltmore endure the test of time.

Great heights for preservation

Cleaning the Grand Staircase and Chandelier at Biltmore
Cleaning the Grand Staircase and its 4-story chandelier takes preservation to new heights!

It also means that our guests sometimes get amazing glimpses of the work that goes on behind the scenes in America’s Largest Home®.

Winter Garden woodwork

In September 2016, for example, Connie Dey, Housekeeping Supervisor, and members of her team utilized a 40-foot scaffold to clean the oak woodwork that surrounds and supports the glass ceiling in the Winter Garden.

Couple views Winter Garden in Biltmore House
The beautiful Winter Garden woodwork undergoes a deep cleaning every three years for preservation purposes.

Part of our ongoing preservation efforts, treating the wood that supports the glass takes place about every three years. Sun damage is evident closest to the top of the ceiling, which dates back to the late 1890s.

This area receives full sun for several hours on bright days. Making sure the wood stays moisturized is key to keeping it protected–sort of like applying sunscreen every three years.

Connie and her team vacuumed and wiped dirt away to ready the surfaces for an application of a special wood polish containing beeswax, carnauba wax, and orange oil. The entire project took about a month.

High standards of cleaning

Going to great heights for preservation includes cleaning the Banquet Hall
Staff members go to great heights to clean the Banquet Hall.

While some projects like the Winter Garden ceiling are done every few years, Biltmore House itself gets a thorough deep cleaning each winter after Christmas at Biltmore ends.

“Winter is usually our quietest season,” said Connie Dey, “so it’s the perfect time to clean things without getting in the way. And visitors often enjoy watching the process–my team gets lots of questions from guests about how to clean their own homes!”

Not all preservation projects unfold on a grand scale. Often, it’s the meticulous attention to small details that play the largest part in maintaining Biltmore House. Behind closed doors, our caretakers dedicate themselves daily to seemingly normal tasks like dusting the books on the bookshelves. The walls of the Library house about half of George Vanderbilt’s personal collection of 20,000 volumes. About one-third of the volumes were antiquarian purchases, the oldest of which is an Italian work published in 1561. Without proper care, the knowledge of our past would be lost to time.

Our mission of preservation

The statue of Diana overlooking Biltmore House is a hidden gem in the landscape.
Statue of Diana overlooking Biltmore House

Our mission to preserve Biltmore as a privately-owned, profitable, working estate emphasizes preservation first. Learn more about our efforts to preserve, restore, and conserve this National Historic Landmark with the help of our in-house conservation department.

Featured image: Connie Dey stretches over the Winter Garden to reach every inch of wood with her dust mop to prepare the wood for its moisturizing treatment 

Lights, Camera, Biltmore: A Magnificent Movie Location!

Lights, camera, Biltmore! A magnificent movie location since the golden age of Hollywood, Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina, has starred as a majestic backdrop for more than a dozen unforgettable feature films.

The continued appeal of this National Historic Landmark as a movie and television filming location is clear: the sprawling 8,000-acre estate includes Biltmore House–a majestic French Renaissance-style chateau that can easily be seen as a castle–plus acres of formal gardens and miles of rolling hills and scenery, all conveniently located in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Discover six of the most notable movies filmed at Biltmore Estate throughout the years:

A Biltmore Christmas (2023)

Front lawn of Biltmore House decorated for Christmas
Biltmore’s timeless Christmas celebrations hit the big screen in Hallmark Channel’s “A Biltmore Christmas,” premiering in 2023.

Deck the halls and grab the popcorn because Biltmore is coming to Hallmark Channel this Christmas season with the premiere of A Biltmore Christmas, starring Bethany Joy Lenz and Kristoffer Polaha.

Viewers are sure to get into the holiday spirit with this time-traveling romance set during our most beloved and storied season—Christmas at Biltmore—and the Golden Age of Hollywood.

Fun Film Fact: A Biltmore Christmas marks the first time that Biltmore Estate has served a central role in the storyline of a film.

The Swan (1956)

West view of Biltmore House above the Lagoon.
The western view of Biltmore House above the Lagoon has been featured in many films, including “The Swan” and “Being There.”

In this classic Hollywood drama, actress Grace Kelly portrays a princess attempting to secure an advantageous marriage to secure the throne taken from her family during Napoleon Bonaparte’s rule.

Biltmore House appears extensively throughout the film as the exterior of Kelly’s palatial home with one particularly iconic scene taking place along the Lagoon and French Broad River.

Fun Film Fact: Although it was not featured in the film, one of Biltmore’s most notable treasures is a game table and chess set once owned by Napoleon Bonaparte. Learn more about this and other fascinating objects in Biltmore’s collection.

Last of the Mohicans (1992)

Bass Pond Bridge in autumn
Biltmore’s iconic Bass Pond Bridge was featured in “The Last of the Mohicans.”

The producers of this award-winning drama starring Daniel Day-Lewis were searching for locations that resembled the old-growth forests of New York’s Catskill Mountains as they might have appeared at the beginning of the 19th century.

Luckily for Hollywood, Biltmore’s elaborate grounds were planned by Frederick Law Olmsted–the father of American landscape architecture–nearly 100 years earlier and included forest land and mature trees suitable for the producers’ cinematic needs.

In addition to the sweeping fields and forests, the movie features a scene in which a carriage crosses the estate’s signature red brick Bass Pond bridge designed by Biltmore House architect Richard Morris Hunt.

Fun Film Fact: When filming extended into the fall, the production crew used organic green paint in several locations to create the illusion of summer foliage.

Forrest Gump (1993)

Guest running along sunflower-lined paths of Biltmore Estate.
Run, Biltmore, run! The winding road that leads to Antler Hill Village was featured in “Forrest Gump.”

With settings ranging from Greenbow, Alabama, to the jungles of Vietnam, you may wonder how Biltmore was included as a movie location in this beloved 1993 Tom Hanks classic.

During one scene where Forrest Gump is running across America, he was actually running along the road which leads to The Inn on Biltmore Estate® and Antler Hill Village & Winery!

Richie Rich (1994)

Facade of Biltmore House, America's Largest Home
Biltmore House served as the sprawling estate of the world’s richest comic book family in “Richie Rich” when this iconic 90s movie was filmed at Biltmore Estate.

Richie Rich featured many interior shots of Biltmore House, and some rooms were left largely unaltered during filming–even paintings of Vanderbilt family members were prominently featured.

Although the estate does not feature the Rich family’s signature dollar sign topiaries on the lawn or a Mount Rushmore-inspired family portrait looming over the gardens, this delightful comedy remains a family favorite for all ages.

Hannibal (2001)

Aerial view of Biltmore's Antler Hill Barn
Antler Hill Barn was one of the filming locations for the movie “Hannibal.”

In the chilling sequel to The Silence of the Lambs, an ensemble cast, including Oscar-winning actors Julianne Moore, Anthony Hopkins, and Gary Oldman, offered dramatic performances against the stunning backdrop of Biltmore.

Featuring the estate as the home of the reclusive Mason Verger, the thriller incorporated many different locations such as the arched Lodge Gate and the façade of Biltmore House, some of the grand rooms on the first floor, and several outlying buildings including Antler Hill Barn, which had not yet been restored at the time of filming.

Additional movies filmed on Biltmore Estate:

Aerial view of Biltmore Estate.
Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina, makes for a magnificant movie location.

Although Biltmore was created to provide a restful retreat from the outside world, sometimes the bright lights and top stars of film and television come calling when they require a setting like no other!

Here are additional movies filmed either in part or entirely on Biltmore Estate:

Tap Roots (1948)

Being There (1979)

The Private Eyes (1980)

Mr. Destiny (1990)

My Fellow Americans (1996)

Patch Adams (1998)

The Odd Life of Timothy Green (2012)

On the record with Biltmore’s Oral History Program

The filming of these movies has become part of Biltmore’s ongoing history, and memories related to the process have been added to our collection of oral histories to be preserved as such. The recollections of staff involved in what will become iconic moments in Biltmore’s on-screen legacy have been captured alongside hundreds of other records detailing associations with Biltmore from the early 20th century to the present.

A Tribute to the First Hostess of Biltmore

As the youngest of eight children, George Vanderbilt had a very close relationship with his mother, Maria Louisa Kissam Vanderbilt, who became the first hostess of Biltmore.

After his father’s death in 1885, it was George who took on the task of caring for her, a task that played a significant role in the selection of Asheville as the location for Biltmore.

But before we delve into that, let’s take a look at a few pieces from our archives and collection that highlight their special mother-son bond.

The Elm Island Series

Photo of George Vanderbilt in 1873
Photograph of George Vanderbilt in 1873, two years after receiving The Elm Island Series from his mother

For George’s ninth birthday, his mother gave him three volumes from Reverend Elijah Kellogg, Jr.’s Elm Island Series and within each, she inscribed “George from Mama Nov. 14th 1871.” With titles like Boy Farmers of Elm Island and The Ark of Elm Island, one might guess that George had a taste for adventure, but the stories are also instructive.

Throughout the series, the main characters are faced with all sorts of ethical dilemmas that challenge their resolve to be upstanding young men, all while they navigate the treacherous waters of the West Indies.

Maria Louisa’s thoughtful gift helps to shed light on George’s boyhood interests as well as how deeply she valued and encouraged her children’s moral and intellectual growth.

The gift of a poem

An unsigned, undated poem was found tucked away among some of George’s personal papers. Bound with a ribbon, the three pages were composed in perfect penmanship. Upon reading the poem, it becomes apparent that it was from Maria Louisa, written for the occasion of George’s 21st birthday.

Through her carefully-crafted prose, Maria Louisa bids her youngest son to heed the call of work, to put right what he finds wrong:

To give a kindly word of cheer
To those who heavy burdens bear
Such work will bless, when nobly done.
And such work comes to every one.
He helps the age in which he lives,
Who does his best – and his best gives
To carry sunshine everywhere…

Just as his mother urged, George did, in fact, develop a sound moral compass and strong philanthropic sense, qualities that helped establish his original vision for Biltmore.

In the Blue Ridge Mountains

The first hostess of Biltmore: Maria Louisa Kissm Vanderbilt
Vanderbilt party near Biltmore Station; March 1891. Seated (L-R) are Margaret Bromley, Maria Louisa Vanderbilt, Marguerite Shepard, and two unidentified women; unidentified person seated behind Mrs. Vanderbilt. Standing (L-R) are Margaret Shepard, possibly Frederick Vanderbilt, and George Vanderbilt.

In 1887, Maria Louisa visited Asheville with George, now her designated caretaker, amid growing concerns over her health.

While we have no archival documentation stating the exact nature of Maria Louisa’s health problems, we do know that Asheville’s mountain air was promoted as a curative for a variety of ailments.

As a result of their visit, George fell in love with the area’s landscape—as well as its supposed medicinal benefits to aid his dear mother—and he set into motion the process of acquiring land for his country retreat.

Family portraits by Sargent

Painting and mannequin of the first hostess of Biltmore for A Vanderbilt House Party -- The Gilded Age exhibition in 2019
(L – R) Mrs. William Henry Vanderbilt by John Singer Sargent, 1888; mannequin representing Mrs. Vanderbilt with clothing recreated from that portrait for the 2019 A Vanderbilt House Party – The Gilded Age exhibition

Around that same time, George commissioned renowned artist John Singer Sargent to paint a portrait of his mother which is displayed in the Tapestry Gallery in Biltmore House, along with Sargent’s 1890 portrait of George himself.

In 1895, Sargent painted Richard Morris Hunt, Biltmore’s architect, and Frederick Law Olmsted, the estate’s landscape architect; both of these works can be seen in the Second Floor Living Hall.

Other Vanderbilt family portraits by Sargent include Mrs. Benjamin Kissam, George’s aunt, and Mrs. Walter Rathbone Bacon, one of George’s favorite cousins.

Yet it is Sargent’s portrait of Maria Louisa, titled Mrs. William Henry Vanderbilt, that has been referred to as “one of Mr. Sargent’s greatest successes in portraiture.”

The first hostess of Biltmore

Detailed paper wig created for Maria Louisa Vanderbilt's mannequin
Detailed paper wig created for Maria Louisa Vanderbilt’s mannequin as part of our 2019 A Vanderbilt House Party exhibition

Maria Louisa visited Biltmore only three times—once while the house was still under construction—before she passed away. According to the Guest Book, she visited at Christmas 1895 when the house first opened, presiding as hostess, and then again the following May.

After her passing on November 6, 1896, in New York, condolences sent to George came from many, including his dear friend John Singer Sargent, among others.

And though Maria Louisa Kissam Vanderbilt was only able to visit her youngest son’s visionary masterpiece a few times, she is remembered fondly as the first hostess of Biltmore.

Plan your Biltmore visit today

Today’s guests can admire the Sargent portrait of Maria Louisa Kissam Vanderbilt to the left of the door into the Library.

Whether you’re planning a surprise for your own mother or simply looking forward to visiting America’s Largest Home®, we invite you to join us soon.

Solving a Mystery in the Kitchen Pantry

Solving a mystery in the Kitchen Pantry at Biltmore took some detective work, but our Museum Services staff finally cracked the case!

“Among the many place settings of china in the Biltmore collection, one set had remained a mystery for many years,” said Lori Garst, Curatorial Assistant.

Solving a mystery in the Kitchen Pantry
A cup, saucer, and plate from the collection of unidentified china

While the set was often referred to as “the Christmas china” because it was used during a 1931 holiday party, or “the employee china” because it was later used by staff members, the origin of the china—and its original purpose in Biltmore House—remained unclear.

Cup, saucer, and teapot featuring George Vanderbilt's monogram
George Vanderbilt’s elegant white china with burgundy and gold trim. It was manufactured by Minton and Spode-Copeland, and used for everyday occasions.

“Most of the china in Biltmore House was chosen by George Vanderbilt,” Lori said. “He selected an elegant white china with a burgundy and gold pattern, manufactured by both Minton and Spode-Copeland. It features his monogram and was used every day for family and guest meals.”

Cornelia Vanderbilt’s china matches her father’s pattern but includes her own CSV monogram.

China featuring Cornelia Vanderbilt's monogram
While Cornelia Vanderbilt’s china closely matches the pattern her father selected for use in Biltmore House, their monograms distinguish one set from another

“We know that Edith Vanderbilt ordered Cornelia’s china in 1923,” said Lori. “And Mrs. Vanderbilt requested that Cornelia’s monogram be in the same style as her father’s.  I think it is sweet that her service blended in with the style her father had chosen.”

But what of the mysterious china collection on the shelves of the Kitchen Pantry in the Basement?

Museum Services began to look for clues about its history. While not as fine as the monogrammed Vanderbilt china, the gold-trimmed white pattern rimmed in crisp navy was definitely elegant and the amount of it suggested it had been purchased with a large number of people in mind.

Solving a mystery in the Kitchen Pantry of Biltmore House
Trimmed in gold and rimmed in navy, this china is elegant, but more sturdy than the monogrammed family china in the collection

“We began with the manufacturer’s mark on the bottom of each piece,” said Lori. “Kniffen & Demarest Co. manufactured hotel and steam ship supplies, so the china was well-made and rather sturdy to stand up to use by guests and passengers in public settings.”

Biltmore conservator shows manufacturer's mark on the bottom of a china saucer
A conservator shows the Kniffen & Demarest Co. name on a piece of the so-called mystery china

While Museum Services was researching details for our Fashionable Romance: Wedding Gowns in Film exhibition, they finally discovered written references to the china in conjunction with Cornelia Vanderbilt Cecil’s wedding. 

“This set was also sometimes referred to as ‘the wedding china,’ but we never knew which of its three names was correct until recently,” said Lori. “The pieces came together at last, and we realized that this was the china that had been ordered for the buffet at Cornelia Vanderbilt and John Cecil’s wedding breakfast.”

After the ceremony at All Souls Church in Biltmore Village, the wedding guests and additional reception guests (500 people were invited to the ceremony and reception; another 2500 were invited only to the reception) arrived at Biltmore House.

John and Cornelia Cecil wedding party at breakfast in the Winter Garden of Biltmore House
John and Cornelia Cecil and their attendants at the wedding breakfast in the Winter Garden of Biltmore House

The newlyweds and their attendants were served at a table in the Winter Garden, and all the other guests enjoyed a buffet in the Banquet Hall, which featured this china.

As the years passed, the Kniffen & Demarest china was still used, but its original purpose was forgotten.

Today, it’s stored in the Kitchen Pantry where it receives the same care and attention as all the other china in Biltmore’s collection.

Enjoy your own Vanderbilt china service

China pattern based on an original set used by the Vanderbilt family
Porcelain tea set from the Vanderbilt Service

Whether you prefer a tea service or an entire place setting, this beautiful porcelain serveware is based on a Sevres pattern, circa 1888, that the Vanderbilt family once used at Biltmore. The original is on display in the Oak Sitting Room, but you can now enjoy the reproduction set in your own home.