When he was just 25 years old, George W. Vanderbilt discovered the ideal location in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina for his friend, the architect Richard Morris Hunt, to construct a 250-room French Renaissance chateau. The enormous mansion would be known as “Biltmore.”
Vanderbilt bought a total of 125,000 acres around the location after deciding to build his mountain castle close to Asheville, North Carolina. The 8,000-acre Biltmore Estate now includes formal and informal gardens created by Frederick Law Olmsted, America’s founding father of landscape design.
Biltmore House has remained the focal point of Vanderbilt’s legacy despite the fact that the unparalleled beauty of Biltmore Estate is the result of the joint creative talents and vision of all three men—Vanderbilt, Hunt, and Olmsted. This magnificent house, a National Historic Landmark, is still the biggest private property in America.
On Christmas Eve in 1895, George Vanderbilt formally welcomed guests and family into the house. He had built a country getaway where he could indulge his interests in horticulture, reading, and the arts. George moved to the estate with his new wife Edith Stuyvesant Dresser (1873–1958) after their 1898 summer wedding in Paris. They gave birth and raised their lone child, Cornelia (1900–1976), at Biltmore.
Fun fact: Anderson Cooper is the great, great nephew of George Vanderbilt, who was Gloria Vanderbilt’s great uncle.
In 1889, work began on building Biltmore House, a vast project that featured a mansion, gardens, farms, and woodlands. Frederick Law Olmsted, a landscape architect, and Richard Morris Hunt, an architect, both worked for George Vanderbilt in the 19th century (1822-1903). A four-story stone house with a 780-foot façade served as the area’s focal point, creating a monument of equal majesty to the nearby mountains. Hunt used features from three renowned early-16th-century châteaux in the Loire Valley—Blois, Chenonceau, and Chambord—such as the stair tower and the steeply-pitched roof—to create the architecture in the highly adorned style of the French Renaissance.
When George Vanderbilt opened Biltmore House in 1895, despite having been under construction for six years, it was still not finished. The home is made of more than 11 million bricks, and the enormous stone spiral staircase has 102 steps and rises four levels. A 72-bulb iron chandelier suspended from a single point hangs through the center of the structure.
Grandson of businessman Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt, Vanderbilt was an erudite, multilingual, well-traveled, and informed about literature, art, music, architecture, agriculture, and gardening.
As Biltmore House was being built, Vanderbilt traveled with architect Hunt, whose varied and sophisticated preferences had an impact. The two men bought artwork, ceramics, bronzes, rugs, and furniture while on their travels throughout Europe and the Orient. All of it would eventually be included into the assortment of items that are still on display at Biltmore House today. Visitors both then and now find the collection, which reflects Vanderbilt’s own interests and tastes, to be the most fascinating.
The interior features paintings on the walls and, in one instance, the ceiling by Renoir, Sargent, Whistler, Pellegrini, and Boldini. Sheraton and Chippendale furniture designs can be found here. The salon features a chess set and game table that belonged to Napoleon while he was living in exile on St. Helena, and the library showcases Chinese goldfish bowls from the Ming Dynasty.
In the Tapestry Gallery and Banquet Hall, eight Flemish tapestries from the 16th century are shown. Marble and wood flooring are covered in fifty Persian and Oriental rugs.
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The Biltmore House
In addition to the opulent bedrooms upstairs on the second and third levels, there are spaces where visitors used to enjoy afternoon tea and play games in the parlor. The Observatory and Maids’ Bedrooms are located on the fourth floor, which also offers stunning views of the front of the house. A modern domestic nerve center, with a main kitchen, two specialist kitchens, a big laundry complex, refrigeration systems, and pantries, helped the domestic servants keep the entire house working smoothly down stairs.
At the time of its construction, Biltmore House was regarded as one of the most technologically advanced buildings ever created and is still respected today for its creative engineering. It is entirely electric and centrally heated. It had two elevators, complex indoor plumbing for all 34 bedrooms, some of Thomas Edison’s earliest light bulbs, a fire alarm system, an electrical call box system for staff, and a telephone, which was still a relatively novel device at the time.
A gym, indoor pool, and bowling alley are all positioned below because Vanderbilt also intended his mountain house to offer family and friends leisure activities.
While Biltmore House is the centerpiece of the estate, it is obvious that Olmsted’s genius is a fundamental component of Biltmore when standing on the library terrace and looking down into the gardens. His expansive landscape serves as an appropriate backdrop for this magnificent château.
Mountain laurel, rhododendron, native azaleas, and white pines coexist alongside rare Franklinia and Persian ironwood trees. Each spring, 50,000 tulips are planted in a four-acre Walled Garden, which also has an All-American Rose Garden, summer annuals in the warmer months, and chrysanthemums in the fall.
Because of the special horticultural conditions at Biltmore, the blooming season lasts from early spring until the first frost, or from March through November, something is in bloom there. The conservatory is brimming with vibrant tropical plants like poinsettias, orchids, lilies, cactus, and bougainvillea even in the dead of winter. Learn more about Biltmore’s horticultural history by reading this.
The Historic Horse Barn, created in 1900 by architect Richard Howland Hunt, was formerly the center of agricultural operations on Biltmore Estate and is now home to craftspeople, musicians, exhibitions of vintage farm equipment, and more in Antler Hill Village.
Accurate Biltmore Value
According to Buncombe County tax appraisers in 2017, the 135,000 square foot Biltmore House is valued at around $37 million. With 2,194 acres, the House, hotels, restaurants, and other buildings, the portion of the estate that is accessible to the general public is worth more than $300 million.
Who currently owns Biltmore Estate?
The family is still the estate’s owner. Bill Cecil Jr., a great-grandson of George Vanderbilt, currently serves as the CEO of the Biltmore Company. The majority of Biltmore’s remarkable expansion was the result of his father’s efforts, along with those of William Amherst Vanderbilt Cecil, George Vanderbilt’s grandson. On October 31, 2017, he passed away.
Only a few weeks later, Mimi, his wife, passed suddenly. Cecil wed Mary “Mimi” Ryan, an attorney with a Wall Street firm, in 1957. They relocated to Asheville from New York in 1960 to concentrate on protecting Biltmore by incorporating tourism. When compared to the mid-1970s, when there were only 100 employees at Biltmore, there were 2,400 in 2017.
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