Building Biltmore House: Meet Key Figures


Samuel Isaac Bean

A stonecutter specializing in monuments and sculptures, Samuel Isaac Bean (1867–1947) came to work at Biltmore in 1891. According to his descendants, George Vanderbilt gifted Bean with leftover tile from the construction of Biltmore House, which he used to start S. I. Bean & Company. Bean also worked on many iconic buildings in Asheville, including the Basilica of St. Lawrence. S. I. Bean & Company remained in operation by his descendants until the 1990s.

Image credit: Buncombe County Special Collections, Pack Memorial Public Library, Asheville, North Carolina

Architect & Builder

Rafael Guastavino

Spanish architect Rafael Guastavino y Moreno (1842–1908) was hired by the Hunt firm to execute Biltmore’s tiled vaulted interiors such as the Swimming Pool. He had immigrated to the United States in 1881, where he introduced his namesake method of creating curved tiled surfaces strong enough to stand without internal supports. Guastavino’s technique was utilized in more than 1,000 buildings nationwide, including New York City’s Grand Central Terminal. After Biltmore’s completion, he lived in nearby Black Mountain until his death.

Image credit: Guastavino Fireproof Construction Company architectural records, 1866 – 198, Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library, Columbia University


William Logan

William Logan (1860–1921) served as a foreman over an African American landscape crew during the construction of the estate. Prior to construction, he played an integral role in George Vanderbilt securing land from the African American community of Shiloh.  Logan was a respected leader and minister who negotiated the cost of resettlement, including replacing their church and relocating their cemetery. The community was rich in spiritual culture, education, and civic engagement. Some of Logan’s descendants still live in Shiloh.

Image credit: Photo courtesy of Viola Owens-Turner, Frank Owens, and Juanita Mitchiner, descendants of William Logan

Estate Superintendent

Charles McNamee

Handpicked by George Vanderbilt, attorney Charles McNamee (1856–1923) purchased land for the creation of the estate. During construction, McNamee directed operations, including site logistics, labor management, and communications with Vanderbilt. After construction, he oversaw day-to-day operations as superintendent. McNamee left Biltmore in 1904 and he and his wife later moved to Detroit, Michigan.

Image credit: Photo used with permission


George Washington Payne

George W. Payne (1838–1927) was employed as a blacksmith on the Esplanade, or what would become the front lawn of Biltmore House, during the construction. His responsibilities included creating and repairing necessary tools and building materials, from horseshoes to bridge irons. Payne lived in the Shiloh community, where he served as a representative of the Shiloh community school. Later in life, Payne owned and operated a blacksmith shop in Asheville.

Image credit: Photo courtesy of Family Historian and Publicist Regina Lynch-Hudson

Supervising Architect

Richard Sharp Smith

After his immigration to the United States in 1882, architect Richard Sharp Smith (1852–1924) supervised construction on behalf of the Richard Morris Hunt firm. Smith ensured blueprints were followed, deadlines were met, and quality standards were maintained throughout construction. George Vanderbilt commissioned him to design additional estate buildings, including those in Biltmore Village. Smith established a private practice that shaped the architecture of Asheville and Western North Carolina over the next two decades.

General Laborer

Lewis Waters

Born in South Carolina to parents who were enslaved at the time, Lewis Waters (1860–1935) was contracted to remove building debris at Biltmore before later joining the Landscaping Department. Waters was part of a large general workforce responsible for tasks such as clearing grounds, grading landscapes, and finishing roads across the massive estate. When construction was finished, Waters continued to work for Biltmore before purchasing an apple orchard in Edneyville, North Carolina.

Image credit: Colorized image of Emmer and Lewis Waters courtesy of Darin Waters, their great-grandson


Karl August Maschker

Karl August Maschker (1848–1932) immigrated to the United States from Germany with his family and arrived in Asheville in 1886. His obituary stated he built the “winding stairway in the beautiful mansion of the late George… Vanderbilt,” referring to the spiral staircase in the Library. Maschker and his family left for Illinois in 1896, after much of the construction had finished. While in Illinois, Maschker worked as a carpenter before opening a confectionary.

Image credit: Photo courtesy of Robin Orvis