Biltmore Dairy: An Udderly Fascinating History

George Vanderbilt established Biltmore Dairy operations at his estate in Asheville, North Carolina for three main reasons: to supply dairy products to Biltmore House, to provide an example to others on how to run a successful farm, and to generate income through commercial product sales.

Imagine having a Vanderbilt for your milkman—flavoring your coffee with cream from the dairy of a multi-millionaire. It is enough to make one smack his lips and imagine the product is richer than that of ordinary dairymen.
– “A Millionaire Farmer,” St. Louis Globe Democrat, 1894

Biltmore Dairy delivery wagon, ca. 1900
Biltmore Dairy delivery wagon, ca. 1900

Beyond the dairy, original agricultural operations included sheep, hog, and poultry farms, and a substantial market garden for produce. All of these endeavors, collectively named Biltmore Farms, contributed to George Vanderbilt’s ability to fulfill the estate’s mission of self-sufficiency.

However, Biltmore Dairy was the most successful of all of Biltmore’s enterprises, providing the estate with a financial cushion that would see it through George Vanderbilt’s death, two world wars, the Great Depression, and beyond.

Cows in main dairy barn
Cow stalls in the main dairy barn, ca. 1930

The Legacy of Biltmore Dairy

Much of this success was thanks to the Vanderbilts’ prized herd of Jersey cows. Of all major dairy breeds, Jerseys produce the richest milk—high in butterfat, protein, and calcium. They also produce a higher volume of milk per each pound of body weight than other type of cattle.

The Biltmore Dairy Farms herd, believed to be the largest herd of registered Jerseys in the world, is unquestionably one of the finest and best known.
– “Souvenir Edition Annual Meeting of the American Jersey Cattle Club,” June 3, 1942

Biltmore Dairy workers, ca. 1910
Biltmore Dairy workers, ca. 1910

To ensure that the herd maintained excellent health, staff included a full-time veterinarian and a dairy bacteriologist. Dairy workers kept detailed records on the herd and conducted regular inspections to ensure their living conditions were of the highest quality.

The herd was primarily housed in the estate’s Main Dairy Barn—what is now Biltmore’s Winery. Just down the road was the Creamery, where cream was separated from the milk. Milk was then bottled and sold, while the cream was made into butter, buttermilk, cottage cheese, and, of course, ice cream.

Biltmore's Main Dairy Barn
Biltmore’s Dairy Barn (what is now the Winery), May 30, 1913 (Courtesy of Alice Marie Lewis)

The Tasty History of Biltmore Ice Cream

Biltmore’s ice cream played a leading role at estate gatherings, including Cornelia Vanderbilt’s birthday parties, Christmas celebrations, and May Day festivities. Almost every oral history interview in our archives that mentions a childhood memory on the estate also includes a reference to ice cream.

After Biltmore House opened to the public in 1930, guests could view the milking rooms and processing areas in the Dairy Barn, sample the milk, and buy ice cream. Biltmore Dairy was so successful, and its products were so well-known that it became an attraction in its own right for estate visitors.

Biltmore Dairy milkmen and delivery trucks, ca. 1935-1940
Biltmore Dairy milkmen and delivery trucks, ca. 1935-1940

It was around this time that the dairy’s delivery wagons were replaced with trucks and the fleet grew from 30 vehicles to over 400 in just 15 years. Salesmen were now able to market the products as far away as Charlotte, which at the time was a windy, wooded five-hour drive.

Unfortunately, the market shifted. With the advent of chain grocery stores came a cheaper, more efficient way to purchase milk, eventually making door-to-door dairy delivery obsolete. Biltmore Dairy and other smaller, family-run businesses were unable to compete with expansive commercial operations. In April of 1985, Biltmore Dairy was sold to Pet, Inc.

A family enjoying ice cream in the Stable Courtyard at Biltmore
A family enjoying ice cream from Biltmore Dairy Bar® in the Stable Courtyard

Enjoy Biltmore Ice Cream Today

Today, Biltmore continues to draw inspiration from Biltmore Dairy. Biltmore Dairy Bar® in the Stable Courtyard was named in honor of our agricultural heritage. Additionally, vanilla ice cream based on a delicious original Biltmore Dairy recipe is offered at both Biltmore Dairy Bar® and at the Creamery in Antler Hill Village.

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

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

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

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

Conservatory Display: Structures from the estate and surrounding area

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photograph of Vanderbilt Mansion in Hyde Park, ca. 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Colorized photograph of Tower Bridge, ca. 1900

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

Engraving of the USS Vanderbilt, ca. 1862

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

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

The Top 5 Most Naturally Romantic Spots on the Estate

Biltmore’s stunning natural beauty and long tradition of hospitality have earned it 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 spot to share with your loved one. Take a look at our list of the top five most naturally romantic locations on the estate.

Tea House

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

Tennis Lawn

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.Tennis Lawn

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.Conservatory

Bass Pond Waterfall

An easy stroll down our Azalea Garden path leads to this rewarding view of the Bass Pond Waterfall—a picturesque backdrop for many Biltmore proposals.Bass Pond Waterfall

Shores of the Lagoon

Perfect for a picnic or a pleasant stroll, the shores of the Lagoon offer a number of quiet, cozy spots that have a marvelous view of Biltmore House in the distance.Lagoon

Biltmore is an ideal place to spend special time with your sweetheart. Plan your visit today.

Image credits
Feature image: Stephanie Wilson
Tea House image: Yu Lin Hsu
Tennis Lawn image: Jason Rosa
Conservatory image: The Biltmore Company
Bass Pond image: Breanoh Lafayette-Brooks
Lagoon image: Gary Horne