1 Lodge Street, Asheville, North Carolina
This house is best associated with...
George Washington Vanderbilt
George W. Vanderbilt II, of "Biltmore" Asheville, North Carolina
George Henry Vanderbilt Cecil
George H. Vanderbilt Cecil, Owner & President of Biltmore Farms, North Carolina
Not for Pleasure Alone
In 1889 - the same year that work started on the chateau - George established the "Biltmore Forest School" which was the first institute for scientific forestry in the United States. The majority of the estate's employees lived at the town of Best and that same year Vanderbilt purchased the town and renamed it "Biltmore Village". In a time when plumbing and central heating was unheard of in ordinary houses, he provided both in the cottages he built for his employees. He paid good wages and at Christmas all the staff and their children were invited up to the chateau for a celebration - each one receiving a present from under the towering tree in the Great Hall.
The Chateau, Gardens & Winery
Back in America, it took 1,000 workers and 60 stonemasons six years to build Biltmore, all at an estimated cost of $6 million, which included the construction of an $80,000 railway just to get the materials on site! The estate is entered via the arched Gate Lodge from which proceeds a three mile driveway past wild streams, woodland pools and ravines before coming out onto a grand esplanade lined by an avenue of trees.
The gardens closest to the main house follow the lines of those at the Château Vaux-le-Vicomte near Paris, while elsewhere are found the 16th century Italian gardens and their three reflecting pools; the four-acre English Walled Garden; the Azalea Garden; and, the shrub garden interlaced with ponds and lagoons. In addition to these, the "Biltmore Estate Winery" processes more than 250 tonnes of grapes annually.
To touch on just some of its other wonders: the 18th century painted ceiling in the elaborately-panelled Baroque library was imported from a Venetian palazzo. The room stands over two stories high and houses Vanderbilt's collection of over 20,000 books - not just for show either, he was reckoned the best-read man in the US, said to devour 80-books a year! Other rooms and features of note include the indoor sunken, marble Winter Garden with its domed skylight supported by Gothic vaulting which is centered by a fountain attributed to Karl Bitter; stained glass windows by Maitland Armstrong; and, the Tapestry Gallery features three tapestries made in 16th century Belgium as well as portraits of the Vanderbilts by John Singer Sargent... and, so the list goes on!
Among the vast collection of treasures on display at Biltmore are paintings by Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919) and James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834-1903); tapestries that once belonged to Cardinal Richelieu (1585-1642); and, a gaming table with a set of ivory chessmen formerly in the possession of the French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte.
Surrounded by such opulence, it could have been easy to forget the day-to-day lives of ordinary folk, but Vanderbilt continued to give back to the community, particularly in Biltmore Village where he erected All Souls Cathedral, a hospital, a school and shops.
In 1898, George met someone with whom he shared his ideals in Edith Stuyvesant Dresser (1873-1958) and they were married in Paris that year. In 1901, they co-founded the "Biltmore Estate Industries" providing apprenticeship programs in traditional crafts such as weaving and woodworking. Students were even encouraged to make reproductions of furniture found within the chateau that they could then sell for personal income. Spurred on by the programme's success, Edith established the "School for Domestic Science" where young women with poor job prospects were trained in skills such as cooking and cleaning, whereby they could find employment.
Vanderbilt died in 1914, and though greatly saddened, his widow continued with her responsibilities towards the estate and the community. She built a new hospital, encouraged literacy programs, and served as president of the State Agricultural Society. In 1915, in an effort to keep Biltmore self-sustainable and honor her husband's memory, she sold 87,000-acres to the U.S. Forest Service, creating the Pisgah National Forest. Today the estate has been reduced to 8,000-acres, but as was Vanderbilt's dream, under his grandsons it remains completely self-sustainable and provides a legion of jobs for the local community.
In 1932, Cornelia was the same age as the century and life in the country in the midst of the Depression was proving dull for an heiress with a trust fund of $50 million. Leaving her mother and husband to manage the estate, she took off for the bright lights of Manhattan under the premise of studying art. Two years later, she was in Paris (never to return to the States), where she divorced her husband, dyed her hair pink and changed her name to "Nilcha"! In the late 1940s, she found love in England, marrying the former aide-de-camp to the Governor-General of Canada and living between London and their farm outside Oxford. After his death she married once more before her own in 1976.
Carrying on Today
In 1960, Cornelia's two sons (who inherited Biltmore on her death in 1976), George and William, returned to the house in which they born to assume management of the family estate. George chose to operate "Biltmore Farms" while his younger brother, Bill Sr., took on the task of managing the Biltmore estate, through "The Biltmore Company". In 1965, the house was fully opened to the public and today Bill Sr.'s son, William Amherst Vanderbilt Cecil Jr., operates the estate as President of the Biltmore Company.
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