George Vanderbilt: A Thoughtful Wine Collector

George Vanderbilt was a thoughtful wine collector, whether at home or abroad.

Taste and style were two hallmarks of his life, and both are reflected throughout Biltmore—his private country estate in Asheville, North Carolina.

Visually stunning and technologically advanced, Biltmore House is a testament to Vanderbilt’s vision.

A Thoughtful Collector

Discover Biltmore white wines for outdoor entertaining
George Vanderbilt’s legacy of gracious hospitality lives on with Biltmore wines handcrafted from grapes grown in the estate’s own vineyard or selected from trusted west coast partners

George Vanderbilt was well-known as a collector, travelling the world gathering art, sculpture, furniture, and books. He also enjoyed wine, frequently purchasing it abroad and bringing cases of wine back to his home in Asheville to share with his family and friends.

Vanderbilt’s gracious hospitality was legendary, and a visit to his home was characterized by the best in comfort, entertainment, and attention to every detail, including the wines that graced his table and delighted his guests.

Man in a suit examining the library of Biltmore wines in the Winery
Wine cellars don’t have to be stuffy–evaluate your space and your lifestyle for options!

Wine research at Biltmore

In 2008, wine consultant John Hailman visited Biltmore to look at Vanderbilt’s wine cellar and the vintages stored there, and to review wine-related notes and correspondence from the Vanderbilt era.

Having been a wine columnist for the Washington Post, with his work nationally syndicated for more than a decade, Hailman is considered one of the foremost authorities on wine. In 2006, he wrote Thomas Jefferson on Wine, an examination of Jefferson’s influence as a wine connoisseur and collector in the early days of the nation.

Archival Bltmore wine receipt
A portion of an archival receipt for a wine and spirits order to be delivered to Biltmore House

Through Hailman’s research, we now have a better understanding of George Vanderbilt as a thoughtful wine collector. Archival correspondence, notes, and receipts suggest that Vanderbilt was well-versed in wines, purchasing those he enjoyed sharing.

Vanderbilt was also a practical buyer, preferring high quality vintages at reasonable prices, such as wines from Chateau Pontet-Canet which is still in business today in the Bordeaux wine region of France.

“Good enough for anybody”

Celebrate with Biltmore sparkling wines
Our handcrafted Biltmore bubbles make any occasion more special

Vanderbilt’s trusted wine purveyor Alexander Morten was known for his excellent taste and recommendations, and would have been a worthy provisioner for the Vanderbilt lifestyle. George Vanderbilt relied upon Morten’s suggestions and his outstanding contacts in the industry. In one letter dated February 14, 1914, Morten advises Vanderbilt on a particular vintage for an upcoming ball, suggesting:

“As to Champagne for a ball:- I can strongly recommend Pierlot 1906. This is a good, sound vintage wine, price $32.50, and is used almost exclusively by many of our customers for dances and entertainments of that ilk. If you have the slightest hesitation, however, I can recommend Pol Roger 1906; price $36. We also have Krug, Clicquot and Pommery of 1906 and 1904; but these are more expensive. The Pierlot is good enough for anybody.”

This letter is particularly poignant, as George Vanderbilt passed away in Washington, DC, just a month after he received this letter. We don’t know what type of ball the Vanderbilts might have been planning, but the preparations were apparently abandoned after Mr. Vanderbilt’s unexpected death.

“You have only to examine the amount and variety of crystal and stemware in the Biltmore collection—glasses for every possible occasion and type of beverage—to see the importance of wines and spirits as an integral part of dining and entertaining,” said Leslie Klingner, curator of interpretation.

Crystal glasses with George Vanderbilt's monogram
Delicate crystal glasses with George Vanderbilt’s monogram on the Banquet Hall table

“Knowing that George Vanderbilt collected and enjoyed wine—and served it to his guests—forges a very real and logical connection between the Vanderbilts and the wine business their descendants have developed and continue to nurture today,” Leslie said.

Savor Biltmore Wines

Two couples enjoying white wine outdoors
Enjoy Biltmore wines while visiting the estate or savor them at home

Be sure to visit Biltmore’s Winery and make reservations for a complimentary tasting of some of our most popular wines. Relax and enjoy our wines by the bottle or glass at the adjacent Wine Bar, then stock up on your favorite vintages at estate shops or online.

Featured blog image: John Singer Sargent portrait of George Vanderbilt paired with a selection of our fine Biltmore wines, including our Antler Hill series

Every Day is Earth Day at Biltmore

Earth Day is celebrated on 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 an estate greenhouse

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 Biltmore’s friendly goats that enjoys nibbling invasive plants. Credit: The Biltmore Company

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 Asheville and 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 cultivate more than 30 varieties of wildflowers 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.

Corporate Social Responsibility Team

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

In addition to these best practices, Biltmore encourages employees to become members of the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Team that focuses on reducing, reusing, and recycling for the estate.

Other CSR projects include working with monarch butterflies, cleaning and monitoring bluebird houses around the property, and a variety of other small-scale efforts that make a big difference in our community.

Sustainable practices 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.

Cork recycling barrel at Biltmore
A wine cork recycling barrel at Biltmore

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

Moving into America’s Largest Home

Moving into America’s Largest Home would be a work in progress for George Vanderbilt as Biltmore House was not quite finished for his October 1895 move-in date.

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 George Vanderbilt’s magnificent new house in Asheville, North Carolina.

A ground-breaking project

Archival image of America's Largest Home under construction
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 remained in close touch with Biltmore House lead architect Richard Morris Hunt, supervising architect Richard Sharp Smith, and landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted. Hunt passed away in August 1895, just months before Vanderbilt moved in, 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.

Archival photo of some of the contractors who built America's Largest Home
Biltmore House contractors, including Richard Sharp Smith (second from right), circa 1892

Finishing the last details of America’s Largest Home

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.

Front façade of America's Largest Home
View of front façade of Biltmore House

Plan your visit today

Today, when you visit Biltmore Estate, you can see first-hand the incredible attention to detail that went into every aspect of America’s Largest Home. 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, more than 125 years later.

Biltmore: Olmsted’s Living Masterpiece of Landscape Design

Biltmore is a living masterpiece of landscape design thanks to the work of Frederick Law Olmsted, the estate’s landscape architect.

Celebrating Olmsted’s Bicentennial

Family walking in Olmsted's mature landscape design at Biltmore
From formal gardens to woodland spaces, explore Olmsted’s living masterpiece at Biltmore

This year marks the 200th anniversary of Frederick Law Olmsted’s birth, and Biltmore is one of 120 organizations nationwide coming together as Olmsted 200: Parks for All People to create 12 months of programming and events designed to strengthen and expand parks, open space, and the American quality of life.

“For our part of the national celebration, we have added a collection of scenic stops across the property to provide details on the work Olmsted accomplished here at Biltmore,” said Lauren Henry, Associate Curator. “These interpretive signs present a rich and detailed overview of Olmsted’s final masterpiece and his enduring legacy of landscape design architecture.”

This virtual tour of Biltmore’s historic gardens and grounds provides an exciting perspective on the landscape design that Olmsted created for George Vanderbilt’s magnificent estate.

Early years

A native of Hartford, Connecticut, Frederick Law Olmsted’s early years included a wide variety of work opportunities that shaped his views and helped cultivate his interest and skill in landscape design.

In addition to his best-known career as a landscape architect, Olmsted managed a gold mine in California; he spearheaded the U.S. Sanitary Commission for the North during the Civil War; and he established The Nation, a weekly journal that is still in existence. His impact on America ranges far beyond the field of landscape design.

Other notable landscape design projects

Olmsted's landscape design: Bass Pond waterfall at Biltmore
The Bass Pond waterfall is a hidden gem in the gardens at Biltmore. Find your way to it following the trail around the Bass Pond.

In 1857, Olmsted became the superintendent overseeing work on Central Park in New York City. During the course of that complex project, he evolved into an expert in the planning of parks and landscapes. For the rest of his professional career, Olmsted would plan, design, and oversee some of the most important public and private outdoor spaces in the nation.

  • Prospect Park, Brooklyn, NY (1866)
  • U. S. Capitol Grounds, Washington, DC (1874)
  • Emerald Necklace, Boston, MA (1878)
  • Niagara Reservation, Niagara Falls, NY (1887)
  • World’s Columbian Exposition, Chicago, IL (1893)

Biltmore: a living masterpiece of landscape design

Landscape architect Fredrick Law Olmsted, George Vanderbilt, and other key Biltmore figures, 1892
Landscape architect Fredrick Law Olmsted (seated, center) and George Vanderbilt (standing, center-right) with other key Biltmore figures, 1892.

Before considering designs for his future home, George Vanderbilt brought Olmsted to the land he had purchased to assess its potential. Olmsted agreed with Vanderbilt that distant views of the Blue Ridge Mountains were pleasant, though the land itself was poor.

In order to restore this land, which was not suitable for the extensive parks Vanderbilt envisioned, Olmsted advised undertaking scientific forestry—a first for America, though the practice existed in Europe.

Portrait of Olmsted by Sargent and aerial view of landscape design at Biltmore, ca. 1950
(L-R) Portrait of Frederick Law Olmsted at Biltmore by John Singer Sargent; commissioned by George Vanderbilt, ca. 1895; aerial photograph of Biltmore House & Gardens, ca. 1950

The success of the final design of Biltmore House and its extensive home grounds, fields, and managed forests was the result of the strong collaborative effort between George Vanderbilt, architect Richard Morris Hunt, and Frederick Law Olmsted.

Though Hunt’s focus was the house and Olmsted’s the grounds, there were times when they shared ideas, with the goal of a functional and harmonious final product in mind. Vanderbilt encouraged the ambitious ideas of both men, paving the way for some of their finest work.

Discover Olmsted’s legacy at Biltmore today

Couple hiking in the woods at Biltmore
Enjoy the landscape designs that Olmsted envisioned for Biltmore more than a century ago

Biltmore was a project that stretched Olmsted’s design abilities and was unique among his body of work for its fusion of French and English (or formal and naturalistic) design influences.

The scope and variety of his endeavors here were made possible through the support of George Vanderbilt, who also saw the value in his vision. Today, Biltmore works to maintain Olmsted’s design intent and remains a key part of Olmsted’s legacy as his last great project.

We invite you to discover Olmsted’s ongoing legacy at Biltmore for yourself by enjoying our historic gardens and grounds as a guest or Annual Passholder.

Biltmore’s Historic Honeymooners

Did you know Biltmore has historically been the site of many honeymoons and romantic occasions?

Perhaps it’s the warm, pink glow of the mountains as the sun sets over the Deer Park, the way the wind carries a sweet perfume from the gardens into the air, or the subtle whisper of a bottle of sparkling wine being masterfully uncorked nearby, but one thing is for sure—love is certainly in the air at Biltmore.

From before construction of Biltmore House was completed all the way to our modern day guests who visit, there is no denying that this historic estate offers a desirable destination for a romantic getaway any time of year.

Get to know some of Cupid’s earliest captives and the historic honeymooners who spent their precious time together at Biltmore many moons ago.

Jay & Adele Burden’s Honeymoon

Jay and Adele Burden honeymooned at River Cliff Cottage on Biltmore Estate, c. 1895
Jay and Adele Burden honeymooned at River Cliff Cottage on Biltmore Estate, c. 1895

One of Biltmore’s earliest guests included newlyweds, Jay Burden and Adele Sloane, George Vanderbilt’s niece. The darling young couple spent their honeymoon with a romantic retreat to River Cliff Cottage at Biltmore in June of 1895, months before Biltmore House was completed.

“Adele, actually Lila Sloane’s older sister, wrote about Biltmore being terribly romantic years before she married Jay Burden—it seems her opinion didn’t change!” says Meghan Forest, Biltmore’s Archives and Curatorial Assistant.

Ernesto & Edith Fabbri’s Honeymoon

Biltmore Honeymooners Ernesto and Edith Fabbri, c. 1896
Biltmore Honeymooners Ernesto and Edith Fabbri, c. 1896

Ernesto Fabbri and Edith Shepard, another one of George Vanderbilt’s nieces, celebrated their nuptials with a honeymoon at Biltmore after their 1896 wedding.

Records indicate that Biltmore remained a special place for the Fabbris as they visited Biltmore six more times together over the next nine years, bringing along their children after they were born.

George & Edith Vanderbilt’s Homecoming

George and Edith Vanderbilt on the South Terrace of Biltmore House, c. 1900
George and Edith Vanderbilt on the South Terrace of Biltmore House, c. 1900

George Vanderbilt was a bachelor when he first moved into Biltmore House. It would only be a few short years before he met his bride-to-be, Edith Stuyvesant Dresser.

After whirlwind courtship abroad, George and Edith were married in Paris in a 15-minute civil ceremony on June 1, 1898. The couple honeymooned in Italy for three months before arriving home to Biltmore in October.

Ever the romantic, a 1910 correspondence shows that George coordinated some modifications to Biltmore House as a surprise for Edith when she returned home from a trip abroad, including adding stairs by the Porte Cochere to provide access to a forest trail.

Willie & Lila Field’s Honeymoon

Biltmore Honeymooners Willie and Lila Field, c. 1902
Biltmore Honeymooners Willie and Lila Field, c. 1902

One of George Vanderbilt’s closest comrades, William B. Osgood Field, was a frequent guest at Biltmore. During subsequent visits, “Willie” was introduced to one of George Vanderbilt’s nieces, Lila Sloane. It seems there was some matchmaking at play as the duo may have been deliberately encouraged to do activities together. The couple became engaged at Biltmore and spent their honeymoon on the estate, as well.

An interest piece about the Willie and Lila Field honeymoon from society columnist “Cholly Knickerbocker” read:

“[George Vanderbilt] is fond of paying this particular kind of compliment to his young relatives, and Biltmore, one of the most fairy-like country seats in this country, has been the scene of quite a number of honeymoons, and of the inauguration of what have turned out to be happy marriages. In this case the selection of Biltmore for the honeymoon will be especially appropriate. For it was there that Willie Field and Lila Sloan first plighted their troth and became engaged.”

Cornelia & John F.A. Cecil’s Wedding

Portrait of the Honorable and Mrs. John F.A. Cecil’s wedding party inside the Tapestry Gallery, c. 1924
Portrait of the Honorable and Mrs. John F.A. Cecil’s wedding party inside the Tapestry Gallery, c. 1924

Wedding bells rang as Cornelia, George and Edith Vanderbilt’s daughter, married the Honorable John Francis Amherst Cecil at All Souls Church in Biltmore Village on April 27, 1924.

No detail was spared in this elaborate celebration that welcomed notable guests from around the globe and intrigued society columns.

Biltmore is a Romantic Getaway for the Ages

Romantic sunset view of the Deer Park from Biltmore's Library Terrace
Romantic sunset view of the Deer Park from Biltmore’s Library Terrace

Whether it’s warming up together by the fireside at The Inn on Biltmore Estate, taking a mini tropical vacation inside the Conservatory, marveling at the grandeur and history inside Biltmore House, sharing a sweet treat in Antler Hill Village, or spending time exploring the gardens and grounds at dusk, we can say confidently that Biltmore’s reputation as a romantic getaway for sweethearts has aged like a fine wine.

No matter the time of year, we invite you to find, rekindle, or celebrate your love at Biltmore. For the ultimate romantic getaway, join us as an overnight guest at our four-star Inn, cozy Village Hotel, or one of our private historic Cottages and enjoy the beauty of this “fairy-like” country estate as George Vanderbilt intended.

New Exhibition Explores Construction of Biltmore House

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

A new take on our construction story

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

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

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

Discovering personal connections

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

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

Design dream team

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

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

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

Planning and inspiration

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

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

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

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

Building Biltmore House

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

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

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

Biltmore House comes to life

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

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

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

The end of a long journey

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

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

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

Experience Building Biltmore House and more

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

8 great reasons to visit Biltmore this fall
In addition to enjoying our Building Biltmore House exhibition, enhance your visit with a Rooftop Tour that includes spectacular views and stories.

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

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

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

Reflections of The Gilded Age at Biltmore

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

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

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

What is the Gilded Age?

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

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

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

Gilded Age Fashions

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

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

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

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

The Gilded Age series

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

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

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

Plan a Visit Biltmore!

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

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

Books by the Thousands: A Bibliophile’s Collection

At the age of 12, George Vanderbilt began keeping meticulous records in a series of journals called “Books I Have Read,” a habit he continued throughout his life. By his death in 1914, he had logged 3,159 books, which means that between 1875 and 1914, he read an average of 81 books a year.

Three volumes of George Vanderbilt’s “Books I Have Read” journal series
Three volumes of George Vanderbilt’s “Books I Have Read” journal series

It was well known that George was a bibliophile. A turn-of-the-century New York journalist wrote of him:

He was a bookworm, a student… And his love of books came all from his own inner consciousness, for he was not graduated from any college, and his education, while not neglected, had not been carried beyond the ordinary limits of high schools, though now, I doubt not, he is one of the best read men in the country.”

A testament to his passions for books and collecting, the walls of the Library in Biltmore House are lined with walnut shelves housing about half of George’s personal collection of 20,000 volumes.

The collection ranges in subject from American and English fiction to world history, religion, philosophy, art, and architecture. About one-third of the volumes were antiquarian purchases, the oldest of which is an Italian work published in 1561.

Cedric, George Vanderbilt’s beloved Saint Bernard, lounging in the Library, 1898
Cedric, George Vanderbilt’s beloved Saint Bernard, lounging in the Library, 1898

The collection also includes many French titles—4,326 to be exact—and George’s “Books I Have Read” journals show that he read many of them. Both fiction and non-fiction, the volumes speak to George’s interest in France and its culture as well as his fluency in the French language.

Just as the journals help us to understand how well-read he was, they give us insight into which authors George favored, though it’s difficult to say who his favorite actually was.

An excerpt from one of the “Books I Have Read” journals with a note on the birth of George Vanderbilt’s daughter
An excerpt from one of the “Books I Have Read” journals with a note on the birth of George Vanderbilt’s daughter

We know he was fond of French author Honoré de Balzac’s work. George noted having read more than 80 Balzac titles and there are a total of 218 books by the author in his collection.

We also know that of the 30 works by Charles Dickens listed in his journals, George read many of them more than once. For instance, there are two mentions of The Pickwick Papers, which George read at age 13 and again when he was 25.

The elegant binding on the books in George Vanderbilt’s collection are each a work of art
The elegant binding on the books in George Vanderbilt’s collection are each a work of art

George also favored Sir Walter Scott. He read many of his 273 books by Scott two or three times. He read Waverly, a groundbreaking historical novel, in 1875, 1897, and again in 1910.

Most of the books George collected were sent to one of the great bookbinders of the period, such as Riviere, Stikeman, Lortic, or David. A few months later, they would return, beautifully bound in Moroccan leather with gilt lettering and decoration, to be placed on the shelves of the Library in Biltmore House.

July Travels of George Vanderbilt

The travels of George Vanderbilt were extensive, to say the least. He visited more than 25 countries, crossing the Atlantic Ocean a total of 60 times by the end of his life. But more specifically, he was a champion of the July getaway, often spending the entire month abroad.

Portrait of young George Vanderbilt, 1878
Portrait of young George Vanderbilt, 1878

Childhood Travels

George’s love of travel can be traced back to his youth. He spent much of his childhood visiting museums, libraries, and historic sites throughout Europe with his family. In 1879, at the age of 16, George accompanied his father on a three-month-long summer tour of England and France. Their travels took them to Versailles, the Louvre, Napoleon’s tomb, the National Gallery in London, Windsor Castle, and the graves of philosophers Voltaire and Rousseau.

He wrote in his July 1879 travel journal (feature image):

“July 4th 1879 Friday. Went out to Rouen [France]… It is said to be one of the quaintest towns in the world and is renowned for its medieval architecture. The cathedral is beautiful as also St. Maclou, we also went to the Museum of Antiquities and went to a little restaurant to get a little breakfast. But by far the finest sight is St. Ouen a magnificent cathedral of perfect medieval architecture.”

George Vanderbilt during Spanish travels with cousins, 1891
George Vanderbilt during Spanish travels with cousins, 1891

Abroad with Cousins

Years later, in 1891, George spent two months—including much of July—exploring Spain with three of his cousins. They first arrived in Gibraltar and then travelled to the capital city of Madrid; Seville, a town known for its enormous cathedral which houses the tomb of Christopher Columbus; and Ronda, an old Moorish hilltop town. When the trip came to its end, instead of returning home, George stayed at the Grand Hotel in London until August.

George and Edith Vanderbilt’s honeymooon villa, 1898
George and Edith Vanderbilt’s honeymooon villa, 1898

An Italian Honeymoon

July was also the first full month of George and Edith Vanderbilt’s four-month-long honeymoon. Following their Parisian wedding in June 1898, the Vanderbilts stayed near Stresa in the Lake District of Italy. A peaceful Italian villa served as the couple’s home base as they explored the area’s spectacular Alpine scenery and took short trips to visit some of Europe’s finest museums and galleries.

George Vanderbilt wrote to artist James McNeill Whistler, July 10, 1898: 

“[We] have spent a delightful fortnight in the villa on Lake Maggiore and return there from here via the beautiful Stelvio pass, so that nature fills out & continues the interest of this little tour. It was Mrs Vanderbilts first visit to both Venice & Vienna & it has been an added pleasure of course to see her delight and interest and the way the pictures really took possession of her…”*

Summertime blooms in Biltmore's Italian Garden
Summertime blooms in Biltmore’s Italian Garden

Legacy of Travel

While extensive travel like this was rare 120 years ago—especially before the advent of the airplane—it is still unusual today. July may inspire a longing to escape from the everyday, but for many of us, travels of that nature are simply not feasible. With our fast-paced lifestyles, it can be difficult to find the time.

Luckily, you can experience the legacy of George Vanderbilt and his lifelong love of travel with an overnight stay at Biltmore. From the iconic French château to the Italian Garden, George’s time spent abroad influenced many elements of the estate. Satisfy your longing to travel this summer with a Biltmore getaway, the perfect European-inspired escape. We invite you to plan your escape today.

*Source: Letters of J. McN. Whistler 1855-1903; A.M. Whistler, 1829-1881.

Buckspring Lodge: A Summer Retreat for Sheep

In addition to Biltmore House in Asheville, NC, the Vanderbilts had another home on the estate’s original 125,000 acres: Buckspring Lodge.

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

George and Edith Vanderbilt at buckspring Lodge
George and Edith Vanderbilt sitting on the front steps of Buckspring Lodge, their rustic retreat on Mt. Pisgah

An Elevated View

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

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

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

Family, Friends & Biltmore Sheep

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

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

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

New Life for an Old Cabin

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

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

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