Things you never knew about the Biltmore Estate: $100 loans, pink hair and family drama
Every time I visit Biltmore I am amazed. Amazed by its beauty, the architecture and its rich history. I’ve been fortunate enough to take the tour many times now – both self-guided and with audio. Below, are some of the fascinating facts I learned along the way.
IN THIS ARTICLE
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1. The Vanderbilt family built their fortune on a $100 loan
Cornelius Vanderbilt began his working life ferrying passengers between Manhattan and Staten Island in the early 1800s on a boat he bought with $100 he borrowed from his mother. For reference, that $100 would be the equivalent of about $3,000 today. He was married to Sophia Vanderbilt and the couple had 13 children. Vanderbilt built a massive fortune in steamships and then moved into the rail. By the time Sophia died in 1868 after 55 years of marriage, the Vanderbilts were among the wealthiest families in the world.
2. George Vanderbilt, Cornelius’s grandson, actually built Biltmore
George Vanderbilt was the youngest child of William Henry Vanderbilt, the Commodore’s oldest son. William – who went by Billy – inherited $100 million when his father died and had doubled that fortune by the time of his death 9 years later.
George, the youngest of nine, first arrived in Asheville, NC two years after his father’s death. After a second visit in 1888, he began purchasing land in the Blue Ridge Mountains. His vision was to create America’s answer to the Chateaux of the Loire Valley in France. Construction began in 1889 on the massive 250-room French Renaissance chateau. An entire community of craftspeople came together to build what it believed to be America’s largest home.
3. Construction spanned six years
The construction of Biltmore spanned six years. Not burdened by things such as making a living, George was free to live the life of a country gentleman. His vision was that Biltmore would be self-sustaining and he threw himself into hobbies such as horticulture and agriscience. He oversaw experiments in scientific farming, animal bloodline breeding and forestry. He married Edith Stuyvesant Dresser in 1898. The couple’s only child was born two years later, the same year construction of the main dairy and horse barn began. George died when his daughter Cornelia was only 13, following complications from an appendectomy in Washington D.C.
4. Biltmore spans 175,000 square feet
The home spans 175,000 square feet, which is more than four acres of floor space. It includes 35 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms, 65 fireplaces, an indoor pool and a bowling alley. The original size of the estate was about 125,000 acres, but part of the property was later sold to the federal government to create the Pisgah National Forest.
5. George’s daughter wasn’t interested in Biltmore
George’s daughter Cornelia married a British aristocrat named John Cecil in 1924. They had a pair of sons, George and William. In 1930 – due to The Depression – the Biltmore House was opened to the public for the first time.
Shortly after that, Cornelia got bored with life at the Biltmore and moved without John Cecil to New York. There, she studied art before moving to Paris. There, she officially divorced John Cecil, dyed her hair pink, took to calling herself Nilcha and never returned to the Biltmore or the United States again. She went on to live her best life, marrying Captain Vivian Francis Bulkeley-Johnson who was a hero of the First World War. After the captain’s death in 1968, she married a man 26 years her junior named Bill Goodsir. They met and fell in love when he served as her waiter.
But while Cornelia was off doing her thing, the Cecils ran her father’s dream home. On her passing, Biltmore fell to George and Bill. The elder son chose the majority of the land and the more profitable – at the time – dairy farm leaving the house and grounds to Bill. Over the years, under the leadership of the Cecils, Biltmore has pursued George’s vision of sustainability while adding the winery, the Inn and Antler Hill Village along the way.
6. Now the Cecils and the Vanderbilts own Biltmore
Today, the Cecil family remains at the helm of the Biltmore Estate. William Amherst Vanderbilt Cecil Jr – who goes by Bill – is president and CEO.
7. Nobody lives at Biltmore today
The Vanderbilt family stopped residing in the Biltmore mansion in the 1950s. However, the Biltmore company remains an essential part of the region and brings in millions of visitors each year. The mansion also brings in millions in tourist dollars and offers substantial employment nearby. To learn more about visiting Biltmore, visit their website.
Have you visited Biltmore Mansion? Let us know in the comments! Click here to view the web story version of this article.