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The Vanderbilt Family

George Vanderbilt’s Country Estate

George Vanderbilt, grandson of famed shipping entrepreneur and industrialist Cornelius “the Commodore” Vanderbilt, first visited Asheville, North Carolina, in 1888. Captivated by the area’s natural beauty, he slowly began purchasing land, ending up with 125,000 acres for what would become his country estate. Determined to make this a self-sustaining home, George enlisted architect Richard Morris Hunt to design and build the 250-room château. Landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted was also hired to create formal gardens and transform the former farmland into a beautiful pastoral landscape.

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Learn more about the backgrounds and interests of Biltmore’s first hosts, George and Edith Vanderbilt. Together they made myriad contributions to the Asheville community, including an abundance of employment and educational opportunities, while establishing what their magnificent estate would be for generations to come: a welcoming oasis of style, charm, and gracious hospitality.

GEORGE VANDERBILT

EDITH VANDERBILT

A Legendary Romance

Edith Dresser's formal engagement photo, 1898
Edith Dresser’s formal photo for her engagement to George Vanderbilt, 1898

Biltmore House officially opened to family and friends on Christmas Eve, 1895. George Vanderbilt had a beautiful new family home, but as America’s most eligible bachelor of his time, no one to share it with.

That all changed on April 28, 1898, when he proposed to Edith Stuyvesant Dresser. A family friend, Edith was 10 years younger than George and admired for her beauty and personality. She was hailed as cosmopolitan and cultured, yet humble and down to earth. The couple shared a passion for learning and travel that they enjoyed throughout their marriage.

On June 1, 1898, George and Edith were joined as husband and wife in a private 15-minute civil ceremony in a town hall in Paris, France. The next day, they followed French tradition with a religious ceremony at the American Church of the Holy Trinity in Paris. Close friends and family were invited to this ceremony, which was surprisingly simple and modest considering the media fanfare that surrounded the event.

A quiet Italian honeymoon followed, and then George brought his bride to Biltmore Estate. Estate employees welcomed Edith to her new home by lining up along the Approach Road. A giant horseshoe made out of goldenrod flowers with the phrase “Welcome Home” greeted the couple as they arrived at Biltmore House.

Biltmore House Becomes a Family Home

The happy couple added to their family on August 22, 1900, with the birth of their daughter Cornelia. It was a joyous occasion celebrated among the family and recorded by local newspapers. The Spartanburg Journal wrote, “A new star has appeared at famous Biltmore, and the charming mistress of this most gorgeous home is smiling upon her first born, a tiny girl called Cornelia Stuyvesant Vanderbilt, and the world shares in her new found happiness.”

Cornelia spent her childhood at Biltmore, and often played with the local children whose families lived and worked on the estate. When Cornelia was 13, tragedy struck when her father George unexpectedly died following an emergency appendectomy in Washington, D.C. in March 1914. Mrs. Vanderbilt returned to the estate after her husband’s death, but eventually consolidated the family businesses and properties.

The Arrival of a New Generation

Cornelia Vanderbilt wedding day
Cornelia Vanderbilt’s formal wedding portrait, 1924

A decade later, wedding bells rang as Cornelia married the Honorable John Francis Amherst Cecil at All Souls Church in Biltmore Village on April 27, 1924. It was a wonderful celebration as guests from around the world descended upon the quiet little town of Asheville. John Cecil was a British diplomat and a descendant of Lord Burghley, who was High Treasurer to Queen Elizabeth I.

A second generation arrived at Biltmore House a year later. George Henry Vanderbilt Cecil was born in Biltmore House in 1925. Three years later, William Amherst Vanderbilt Cecil was born in Biltmore House. George and William were educated abroad in Switzerland and England, but always returned home to Biltmore for holidays and summer vacations.

The brothers were instrumental in caring for the estate as adults. William especially was involved in overseeing the care of Biltmore House, the estate, and The Biltmore Company. Today, Biltmore remains a family business, with the fourth and fifth generations of George Vanderbilt’s descendants involved in day-to-day operations. Along with more than 2,000 employees, they continue Biltmore’s mission to preserve this national treasure.

Sons of Cornelia Vanderbilt Cecil and John Francis Amherst Cecil (and grandsons of George Vanderbilt),
William Amherst Vanderbilt Cecil and George Henry Vanderbilt Cecil, circa 1930

John Nicholas Brown (son of Edith Vanderbilt’s sister Natalie Dresser Brown) having tea with his cousin Cornelia Vanderbilt, circa 1906

Cornelia Vanderbilt and the Honorable John Francis Amherst Cecil at their wedding, April 1924

George and Edith Vanderbilt on the South Terrace of Biltmore House, circa 1900

Edith Vanderbilt and daughter Cornelia with their horses and beloved St. Bernard dog near Library Terrace, circa 1916

Edith Vanderbilt with infant daughter Cornelia around the time of her christening, October 1900