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The Presence of a President

Estate History 02/17/14

Written By Leeann Donnelly

Biltmore has had the privilege to welcome many notable people through this grand Entrance Hall, but the presence of a president has always been a rare honor.  In recognition of Presidents’ Day, we are remembering those special guests.

President George Washington could not have visited Biltmore in person, but we were honored to serve as a temporary home for his well-known portrait.  The painting was stored here by the National Gallery of Art during World War II.  The unfinished Music Room on the first floor of Biltmore House was refitted with a steel door, bars on the windows, and other protective measures outlined by the gallery staff. On January 8, 1942, 62 paintings (including the portrait of George Washington) and 17 sculptures arrived in Asheville under heavy guard.

The iconic portrait was painted by Gilbert Stuart, an 18th century America’s master portrait artist. In his five-decade career, he produced well over 1100 pictures. Of these portraits, nearly one-tenth are images of George Washington, to whom he was introduced by their mutual friend Chief Justice John Jay. It is interesting to note that each of Stuart’s portraits of Washington, about 100 in all, is based on one of three life portraits of the president.  Happy Birthday Mr. President.

President William McKinley, Jr. visited Biltmore Estate on June 14, 1897.  George Vanderbilt was in Europe at the time and Estate Superintendent Charles McNamee was in London, so Butler Walter Harvey gave President McKinley and his entourage a tour of Biltmore House.

President Theodore Roosevelt visited Biltmore Estate on September 9, 1902.  President Roosevelt met Dr. Carl Schenck, the German forester Mr. Vanderbilt had hired to oversee the Biltmore forestry operation.  He also took a drive across the estate, toured the gardens, and toured the Main Dairy Barn where our Winery is now located.

President Jimmy Carter attended a fundraising dinner on September 22, 1978 at the Deerpark pavilion on Biltmore Estate and spoke to a crowd of approximately 300 guests.

Presidential candidate Ronald Reagan visited Biltmore in early May 1980 as part of a multi-city visit to North Carolina.  Rick King, former vice president of Biltmore House, gave Reagan and his wife Nancy a tour of the home.  Reagan went on to win the presidential election in November 1980.

President and Mrs. Barack Obama visited on April 24, 2010 while on a trip to Asheville and were greeted by the Cecil family for a tour of Biltmore House.

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