News Releases

The Vanderbilts from Staten Island

Asheville, NC

When George Vanderbilt arrived in Asheville, N.C., for the first time in 1888, it was a monumental moment in his personal history. Soon, this modest western North Carolina city would capture his heart with its rugged beauty and become his new home. He would shape a new life here by purchasing 125,000 acres, building a magnificent 250-room chateau, and creating grand gardens and nurturing forests on the property. Later, the house would become a home with his marriage to Edith Stuyvesant Dresser and the birth of his daughter, Cornelia. The Vanderbilt family tree would expand and dig deep roots in Asheville with a second and third generation that would call the estate “home” and take over the management of Biltmore.
 
A Modest Beginning in Staten Island
But before Vanderbilt’s arrival in North Carolina, the Vanderbilt family hailed from Staten Island, New York. George’s grandfather, Cornelius “Commodore” Vanderbilt, created the family fortune through sheer determination and will. With a $100 loan from his mother, he launched a modest ferry service that grew into a fleet of more than 100 steamboats that crossed the globe. The success of his business created uncommon wealth and parlayed the family into high society.
 
The Commodore was the patriarch of a large family that included 13 children, 37 grandchildren and 27 great-grandchildren. Upon his death, he left his $100 million estate to his eldest son, William Henry.
 
The Vanderbilt Family Grows
William Henry Vanderbilt doubled the family wealth and settled his family into a mansion on the prestigious Fifth Avenue in New York City. George Vanderbilt was the youngest of William’s eight children and had a fondness for learning and travel.
 
He appreciated his father’s extensive art collection and began collecting art and books at an early age. He journeyed across Europe, Asia and Africa as a young man in search of new experiences and culture. Although he eventually owned four other homes in Bar Harbor, Maine; Washington D.C.; New York City; and Paris, France, it was western North Carolina that captured Vanderbilt’s heart.

Discovering Western North Carolina
Vanderbilt arrived in Asheville, N.C., in the late 19th century as his mother’s traveling companion. At the time, the southern Appalachian Mountains were famous for their restorative health claims. Tourists flocked to the region to enjoy its mineral springs and mild climate.
 
While exploring the area, Vanderbilt decided to build a home here and enlisted the help of architect Richard Morris Hunt and landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted. In 1895, his vision was complete when Biltmore House opened to family and friends on Christmas Eve.
 
The Next Generation Arrives
Today, George Vanderbilt’s great-grandson William (Bill) A.V. Cecil, Jr. serves as CEO and president of Biltmore. His great-granddaughter, Diana “Dini” Cecil Pickering, serves as Vice Chairman of the Board of Directors, is a member of the company’s Executive Committee, and acts as the Family Office President. Together, they ensure Biltmore will exist for future generations to come.
Return to news