Key Figures in Biltmore's History
Although bringing the vision for this magnificent estate to life required the talents of many, there are six key figures whose contributions were absolutely essential to what it became.
George Washington Vanderbilt
The youngest of eight children born to William Henry and Maria Louisa Kissam Vanderbilt, George Washington Vanderbilt was known from childhood for his reflective demeanor and thoughtfulness towards others. Quiet and patient like his father, he also inherited William Henry’s appreciation of art and antiques and would grow up to become a patron of the arts, an early adopter of new technology, and a collector of rare and beautiful objets d’art.
Edith Dresser Vanderbilt
Despite the loss of both parents when Edith Stuyvesant Dresser was only 10, she and her older brother and three sisters experienced a fulfilling childhood under the care of their maternal grandparents. One of the four “Dresser Girls”, Edith and her sisters were raised with a rigorous schedule which included study, exercise, music lessons, and prayer, but still allowed plenty of time outdoors.
Cornelia Stuyvesant Vanderbilt Cecil
Named in honor of prominent members of her mother’s and father’s families, Cornelia Stuyvesant Vanderbilt is the only child of George and Edith Vanderbilt. Her birth was not only a joyous occasion celebrated among family and friends, it was also a newsworthy event recorded in the society pages of the era. Cornelia spent her childhood at Biltmore, and counted among her many playmates her cousins, the children of families who lived on the estate, and of course, the Vanderbilt family’s beloved Saint Bernards.
John Francis Amherst Cecil
The third of four boys born to Lord William Cecil and Mary Rothes Margaret Tyssen-Amherst, John Francis Amherst Cecil grew up at Didlington Hall in Norfolk, England. His father was a descendant of Sir William Cecil, 1st Baron of Burghley and Lord High Treasurer to Queen Elizabeth I. While serving as First Secretary of the British Embassy in Washington, D.C., John was introduced to Cornelia Vanderbilt, one of the nation’s most eligible heiresses.
Frederick Law Olmsted
Frederick Law Olmsted was born in Hartford, Connecticut. His father was a merchant and one of his favorite pastimes was taking trips through the countryside to study landscapes. Young Frederick often accompanied him, inheriting the elder Olmsted’s fascination for the beauty of nature’s canvas.
Richard Morris Hunt
With their mother and father both hailing from prominent Vermont families, Richard Morris Hunt and his two brothers were destined for great accomplishments. Elder brother William became a famous painter, and Leavitt, the youngest, an attorney and photographer, while Richard became one of the most accomplished architects in the world.