A Desirable Destination for Romance

Even before construction of Biltmore House was officially completed, George Vanderbilt offered world-class hospitality—and a desirable destination for romance—to family and friends who visited his estate.

Destined for romance

In honor of the romantic traditions of Valentine’s Day, let’s take a look at some of the very first Biltmore visitors: newlyweds Jay and Adele Burden.

Adele was George Vanderbilt’s niece, the daughter of his sister Emily Vanderbilt Sloane. She had been a frequent visitor to the estate, even during early stages of construction, and Adele’s love of Biltmore is evident in her diary entries.

George Vanderbilt, the Burdens, and Cedric the Saint Bernard crossing the river on Biltmore's ferry

George Vanderbilt, the Burdens, and Cedric the Saint Bernard crossing the river on Biltmore’s ferry

Words in a diary

Welcoming in the new year of 1894 at Biltmore nearly a year before the house officially opened, Adele wrote:

“Only a word to begin the New Year with. I made my good resolutions last night sitting over a little dying fire. The window was wide open, and the cold night air blew in. The stars were all out, and there was a hushed stillness everywhere as if something were expected. It has been so gloriously beautiful out today; it made me feel wild.”

A courtship begins

In fact, 1894 would be a significant year for Adele. She was courted by a handsome young man, James “Jay” Abercrombie Burden, whose family owned the Burden Iron works, one of the most successful such firms in the country.

Adele had no shortage of suitors, but with his clean-cut good looks, Harvard education, and superior athleticism, Jay soon won Adele’s heart. He proposed in December and the couple married on June 6, 1895, in what was reported to be one of the costliest American weddings held at the time.

Jay and Adele Burden on the steps of River Cliff Cottage at Biltmore

Happy honeymoon!

Of all the possible destinations far and wide, the Burdens chose Biltmore as the place to begin their honeymoon. They spent the first 10 days of their married life at River Cliff Cottage, which was built at the same time Biltmore House was under construction.

Just before her wedding, Adele wrote:

“The next day we go down to Biltmore to spend ten days in the dear little house Uncle George has given to us. How perfect it will be!”

Adele and her husband Jay were the first in a long line of friends and family welcomed as guests at Biltmore to experience what would become George Vanderbilt’s legendary hospitality.

Experience Biltmore Estate as destination for romance

Couple with sparkling wine by a fireplace
Celebrate your romantic occasions at Biltmore

Join us to experience the rich history of hospitality and romance at Biltmore Estate, located in Asheville, NC.

Whether you’re visiting for Valentine’s Day or simply want to shake off winter’s chill while enjoying an exciting glimpse into the past, the estate is always a great destination for romance!

Featured image: George Vanderbilt and Cedric the St. Bernard with newlyweds Adele and James Burden at Biltmore

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

Although this year has presented some unique travel challenges–especially for large-scale journeys like George Vanderbilt’s visit to Japan, 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

Savor the Art and Science of Winemaking

“The art and science of winemaking—for nearly 20 years, that’s how Bernard Delille and I described ourselves,” said Sharon Fenchak, winemaker and vice president of wine production for Biltmore.

Sharon Fenchak and Bernard Delille enjoy a glass of wine in Biltmore's vineyard
Biltmore winemakers Sharon Fenchak and Bernard Delille (now retired) enjoy a glass of wine in Biltmore’s vineyard

“Before his retirement in 2018, that’s also what we accomplished as a team,” Sharon said. 

A shared philosophy

“Our backgrounds were very different, with Bernard having begun his winemaking career in France,” said Sharon, “while my passion for the craft began while I was in the U.S. Army, stationed in Vicenza, Italy.

Despite their differences, the two shared a philosophy of creating high-quality wines that are true to varietal character while still being food-friendly and approachable.

Savor the art and science of Biltmore wines
Sharon and Bernard at work in Biltmore’s wine lab, tasting the scientific results of the art of winemaking

Raising a glass to retirement

When Bernard announced he planned to retire in July 2018, all the members of the wine production team wanted to handcraft a special wine that would commemorate their years of working together.

“We knew it had to be outstanding,” Sharon said. “It needed to speak to all that we’ve accomplished as a team, and to reflect the distinctive direction in which we’ve developed Biltmore wines.”

Art and science in Biltmore’s vineyard

Grapes ripening in Biltmore's vineyard
Grapes ripening in Biltmore’s vineyard

For the wine itself, Sharon and the wine production team looked no further than the natural outgrowth of “art and science” in Biltmore’s vineyard.

When she joined Biltmore’s wine production team in 1999, one of Sharon’s first projects involved a clonal selection initiative in the estate’s vineyards. “Clone” refers to a cutting or bud from an original varietal.

Biltmore winemaker Sharon Fenchak in the vineyard
In addition to her other winemaking responsibilities, Sharon oversees the estate’s vineyard

“The vineyard team was working with Dijon Chardonnay clones,” said Sharon, “and we were looking for those best suited to the conditions of the estate vineyard. From a winemaking and viticulture standpoint, clones 76, 95, and 96 showed great promise, producing smaller, looser clusters of grapes with more intense flavors and aromatics.”

The 2017 harvest of these distinctive clones would result in the first release featuring them exclusively, and Sharon knew these grapes were the perfect ones for a signature Chardonnay in honor of Bernard’s dynamic career and their long partnership.

Labeling a work of art

“For the label, we wanted something that illustrated the idea of art and science,” Sharon said. “The marketing team created a number of different concepts, from traditional monograms to some very fun graphics that had grape vines turning into the scientific formula for malolactic fermentation!”

X marks the spot

Commemorative label for the Bernard and Sharon wine
The commemorative Chardonnay label featuring Bernard’s handwriting font at the bottom

According to Lisa Vogel, art director, the design finally came together with an X-shaped cross of the two winemakers’ names and a traditional wax seal featuring their initials in the middle.

“Everyone admired Bernard’s beautiful penmanship,” said Lisa, “so we created a special font entitled ‘Delille’ from his actual handwriting to further personalize the collaboration represented by the label and the wine inside the bottle.”

“It’s a remarkable Chardonnay with a compelling label,” said Sharon. “I hope that everyone who tries it truly savors the art and science of winemaking it represents—including the expertise of our vineyard team who nurtured and harvested the grapes and the care with which the wine production team handcrafts all our Biltmore wines.”

Savor our wines by the bottle or glass

Woman enjoying Biltmore Estate Chardonnay
Biltmore wines are perfect for warm weather sipping!

Purchase Biltmore wines at the estate, online, or find them close to home.

While visiting Biltmore’s Winery, reserve a time to savor a complimentary tasting of our award-winning wines in person.

Discover Biltmore’s Distinctive Shrub Garden

Summer at Biltmore is a glorious season–and the perfect time to discover Biltmore’s distinctive Shrub Garden.

Discover Biltmore’s distinctive Shrub Garden

Landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted designed many of the areas closest to Biltmore House as a series of outdoor rooms that beckoned guests to step outside and enjoy their surroundings.

Discover Biltmore's distinctive Shrub Garden
A family enjoys an outdoor picnic in the Shrub Garden

Biltmore’s Shrub Garden, located between the Italian Garden and the Walled Garden, invites guests to lose themselves among the winding paths and lush plantings.

Stone steps in Biltmore's Shrub Garden
Stone steps beckon you to discover new delights in the Shrub Garden

Caring for this distinctive space

For Brooke Doty, a member of the estate’s landscaping team since 2017, Biltmore’s Shrub Garden offers a subtle beauty in striking contrast with other portions of Olmsted’s design.

“It’s not as obvious as the Walled Garden with all its bright, blooming flowers, but the Shrub Garden is a place of deep shade and clean structure. The shapes of the mature trees and the open, airy feel of the pathways make it the perfect place for wandering,” said Brooke.

Jack-in-the-pulpit plant in Biltmore's Shrub Garden
Uncovering a native jack-in-the-pulpit plant

In caring for Biltmore’s Shrub Garden during the past several years, Brooke has come to appreciate more than just the overall plan of the area.

“I constantly see things I never saw before,” Brooke said. “Things that you don’t notice immediately. There are plantings that are tucked back away from the paths, and specimens that you won’t find in most gardens.”

Notable specimens

Discover Biltmore's distinctive Shrub Garden
Brooke examines the decorative fruits of the Japanese Snowbell tree

Styrax japonicus or Japanese Snowbell is one such horticultural gem; the tree is known for producing cascades of flowers in the spring, interesting fruits in summer, modest fall color, and shapely limbs for winter interest.

The Shrub Garden is also the home of two state champion trees. One is the golden rain tree (Koelreutaria paniculata) with clusters of small yellow seed pods that hang from its nearly weeping branches in early summer.

Discover Biltmore's distinctive Shrub Garden
State champion river birch with cables to support its branches

The other is a massive river birch (Betula nigra) with distinctive, cinnamon-colored curling bark. In addition to its champion status, the river birch is one of the original plantings in the garden.

“From champion trees to the ‘bones’ of Olmsted’s design, Biltmore’s Shrub Garden offers something interesting for every season,” said Brooke. “I’m always encouraging guests to spend more time here exploring the paths, enjoying the quiet beauty, and discovering the little surprises that await you around each turn.”

Colorful summer blooms against the brick tunnel bridge in the Shrub Garden
Colorful summer blooms against the brick tunnel bridge in the Shrub Garden

Plan your summer visit today

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

In addition to exploring our glorious historic gardens during peak season, enjoy all that Biltmore offers this summer, including Biltmore Gardens Railway, on display in Antler Hill Village July 1–September 7.

Featured blog image: Brooke Doty at work in the Shrub Garden

Uncork Refreshing Summer Cocktails with Biltmore Wines

Warm summer temperatures naturally call for cool drinks, so whether you’re poolside or porch-side, uncork refreshing summer cocktails with Biltmore wines!

Try our exceptional sparkling wines in your favorite fizzy cocktails and explore our recipes for homemade sangria.

Sparkling Cocktails

Ruby Slipper   |   Pomegranate Pas de Deux Punch   |   Southern Belle

Sangria

White Wine Sangria   |   Red Wine Sangria

Ruby Slipper

Ingredients

Method
Combine vodka, grapefruit juice, and grenadine in a mixing glass over ice. Shake well and strain over ice in a tall glass. Top with Pas de Deux Moscato. Garnish with a fresh strawberry on the rim. Single serving.


Pomegranate Pas de Deux Moscato Punch

Ingredients

  • 1¼ ounces Stoli Ohranj Vodka
  • ¾ ounces Cointreau
  • 1 ounce pomegranate juice
  • ½ ounce fresh-squeezed orange juice
  • 2 ounces Pas de Deux Moscato Sparkling Wine
  • Orange wheel for garnish

Method
Combine vodka, Cointreau, pomegranate juice, and orange juice in a mixing glass over ice. Shake well and strain over ice in a tall glass. Top with Pas de Deux Moscato. Garnish with an orange wheel. Single serving.


Southern Belle

Ingredients

• 5 ounces Biltmore Estate Romance Brut Sparkling Wine
• 1 ounce Amaretto Disaronno
• 1 ounce apricot brandy
• Fresh apricot or star fruit, sliced for garnish

Method
Pour brandy and amaretto into champagne flute. Add sparkling wine to the glass. Garnish with apricot or star fruit slice. Single serving.


Biltmore Winery’s White Wine Sangria

Ingredients

• 1½ cups sugar
• ½ cup water
• 2 Fuji apples
• 2 D’Anjou pears
• 2 nectarines
• 1 mango
• 2 blood oranges
• 6 oranges
• 3 lemons
• 2 limes
• ½ cup brandy
• 2 bottles Biltmore Estate Chardonnay

Method
Mix sugar and water in a small saucepan to create a simple syrup. Heat over medium heat until sugar is dissolved and set aside to cool. Slice or dice apples, pears, nectarines, mango, blood oranges, 2 oranges, 2 lemons, and 1 lime. Juice the remaining oranges, lemon, and lime.

In a gallon pitcher, mix simple syrup, brandy, juice, and Chardonnay. Add fruit and refrigerate overnight or until needed. Serve in a wine glass filled 2/3 full with ice. Yields 1 gallon.


Red Wine Sangria from The Inn on Biltmore Estate

Ingredients

Method
Mix first 6 ingredients together. Fill 4 wine glasses 2/3 full with ice and top each with 1 ounce of sparkling wine. Garnish each glass with one lime and orange wedge. (This recipe, minus the sparkling wine, can be mixed ahead of time and stored in the refrigerator for up to 7 days.) Serves 4.

Simple syrup: Mix 1½ cups sugar with ½ cup water in a small saucepan and heat over medium heat until sugar is dissolved. Chill.

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 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

Lights, Camera, Biltmore: A Magnificent Movie Location!

Lights, camera, Biltmore! Since the golden age of filmmaking, Biltmore has starred as a majestic backdrop for some unforgettable movies.

Biltmore House and the French Broad River in Asheville, NC, make a perfect movie location
West view of Biltmore House above the French Broad River near Asheville, NC

Although the estate 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.

A magnificent movie location

The appeal as a movie location is obvious: the 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 near Asheville, North Carolina.

Here are five of Biltmore’s most notable big screen appearances:

The Swan

In this classic 1956 drama, actress Grace Kelly portrays a princess attempting to secure an advantageous marriage that will 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.

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.

Biltmore's Bass Pond Bridge, featured in The Last of the Mohicans, another movie shot at Biltmore.
Bass Pond Bridge, featured in The Last of the Mohicans

Last of the Mohicans

Producers of this 1992 drama starring Daniel Day Lewis were searching for locations that resembled the old-growth forests of the 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.

Last of the Mohicans movie trivia: 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

With settings ranging from Greenbow, Alabama to the jungles of Vietnam, you may wonder how Biltmore was selected 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

In 1994, America’s Largest Home served as the sprawling estate of the world’s richest comic book family.

Richie Rich featured many of 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.

Antler Hill Barn, one of several movie locations at Biltmore
Antler Hill Barn was one of the filming locations for the movie Hannibal

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.

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.