The Biltmore Estate
America’s Largest Privately Owned Home
In the 1880s, George Washington Vanderbilt II began visiting the Asheville, North Carolina mountains. His visits made him fall in love with the scenery, climate, and location. He decided to build a summer house in the area. He named his “little mountain escape” Biltmore from “DeBilt” (his ancestors place of origin) and “moor” (Anglo-Saxon for open, rolling land).
Vanderbilt bought close to 700 parcels of land totaling almost 100,000 acres. Construction began in 1889. To facilitate construction of the Richard Morris Hunt designed house, a woodworking factory had to be built along with a brick kiln that could produce 32,000 bricks a day, and a three-mile railroad spur had to be built from Asheville to take construction materials to the site. Building the main house required a labor force of a thousand workers and sixty stone masons. The project was so vast, it was enough to fill the new town of Biltmore. Biltmore, the town, was built to support Biltmore, the estate.
Mr. Vanderbilt made numerous trips overseas to buy thousands of furnishings for the house, including tapestries, carpets, prints, linens, and decorative objects dating from the 15th century to the late 19th century.
George Vanderbilt opened the estate as an unmarried gentleman on Christmas Eve 1895. Family and friends from across the country attended the event.
George would marry Edith Stuyvesant Dresser in 1898. They would have one child born at Biltmore in 1900, who was named Cornelia Stuyvesant Vanderbilt. Cornelia would grow up on the estate.
It is estimated that Vanderbilt spent much of his inheritance on the construction of his home. With the Congressional passage of income tax and estate expenses, Vanderbilt began the sale of 87,000 acres of his land to the Federal government. He died in 1914 and his wife closed the deal to sell the land for the use of Pisgah National Forest.
It has been said the house is big. Let’s look at some facts: there are 178,926 square feet of floor space. It’s true, it is the largest private home in the United States. (For the sake of comparison, the next largest with 109,000 square feet, is Oheka Castle in West Hill, Suffolk County, New York. Suffolk County is the eastern most county of the four that are on Long Island.) Only four houses in the United States are over 100,000 square feet and the White House in Washington is not one of them. It has only 55,000 square feet.
At Biltmore, the total house space is four acres. There are 250 rooms, 35 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms, 65 fireplaces, and three kitchens. The house was built with electricity because Vanderbilt knew Thomas Edison.
The banquet hall is the largest room, it measures 42 by 72 feet. The table has seating space for 64 guests. There is a 70-feet tall, vaulted ceiling. To the left of the entrance is the tapestry room that is 90 feet long. The library is two stories and holds 10,000 titles in eight languages.
The third floor has guest rooms and the fourth floor has 21 bedrooms for female servants. The male staff was housed in rooms over the stable complex.
The basement at Biltmore holds several activity rooms, it is the largest basement area in the country. The activity rooms hold a 70,000-gallon heated swimming pool with underwater lighting, a bowling alley, and a gymnasium. Also, the main kitchen, the pastry kitchen, and the rotisserie kitchen. There are walk-in refrigerators and the servants’ dining hall, laundry rooms, and additional staff bedrooms.
The estate was planned as a facility that would be self-supporting. One of the profit centers was Biltmore Dairy Farm. As a child, I can remember milk being delivered to my home more than 100 miles away from Biltmore Dairy.
The Vanderbilts began scientific forestry programs, poultry farms, cattle farms, and hog farms. Today, the estate is still owned by Vanderbilts’ descendants and covers approximately 8,000 acres.
The Biltmore Company is one of the largest employers in Asheville. The dairy barns were turned into the Biltmore winery in 1985. Two new luxury hotels have been built on the estate, and the property tax value today is $157-million.
The estate is one of North Carolina’s most popular tourist attractions.