In the 1880s, George Washington Vanderbilt II came to the mountains of North Carolina with a dream. He also came with the type of generational wealth typically reserved for kings and pharaohs and in later years, Jeff Bezos.
George Vanderbilt wanted a summer house, a little mountain escape far away from the luxurious New England summer homes of his brothers and sisters.
Vanderbilt purchased nearly 700 parcels of land. Specifically, 50 farms and at least five cemeteries, amounting to roughly 125,000 acres.
The result was one of the more remarkable homes in the world and certainly renowned in the Eastern United States.
George Vanderbilt had a mission of preservation through self-sufficiency.
Designed by architect Richard Morris, it took six years to construct the Biltmore mansion.
In fact, the construction necessitated the building of a woodworking factory and a brick kiln. As a result, 32,000 bricks a day were produced on-site.
In addition, a three-mile-long railroad spur was constructed to deliver building materials to the site. In all, the construction of the main house required 1,000 workers and 60 stonemasons on-site.
The home has an indoor pool in the basement, a bowling alley, 65 fireplaces, 35 bedrooms and 43 bathrooms.
Now it is the largest private residence in America.
How much did Biltmore cost to build?
It took about $6 million in 1895 dollars to construct North Carolina’s answer to Versailles.
I’ve seen varying estimates in what that amounts to in today’s dollars. But according to the CPI inflation calendar, $6 million in 1865 is the equivalent to about $102.6 million today.
Cornelius Vanderbilt, George Vanderbilt’s grandfather, did well for himself in the steamboat game. He also got into the railroad game and made money in Manhattan real estate.
By the time he died in 1877, he had a worth of $105 million, roughly $2.8 billion today.
Cornelius left the lion’s share – roughly 95% to his son Billy and Billy’s four sons. The other 5% was split among Vanderbilt’s other son and nine daughters.
Family members thought it was odd that Billy – who some sources say was often thought of as a “blockhead” and a “blatherskite” by his father – would get so much of the money. But blatherskite or not, Billy was determined to get his and more.
Namely, he hired a corrupt spiritualist to fool the elderly Commodore.
The spiritualist convinced the Commodore that his deceased wife, Billy’s mother, was reaching out from beyond the grave to channel the family fortune to Billy.
It seems Billy the Blockhead may not have had morals or scruples. But he inherited $100 million from his father in 1877 and had doubled it by the time of his death in 1885.
For the record, $200 million in 1885 is about $5.7 billion today.
Billy’s son George, who built the iconic Biltmore house, inherited $2 million from his grandfather. He received another million from his father, $5 million upon his father’s death plus the earnings from a $5 million trust fund.
Are the Vanderbilts still rich?
You might think that the descendants of Cornelius Vanderbilt running around spending such exorbitant amounts of money on such things as summer homes would have run through the Commodore’s wealth.
You’d be right … and wrong.
It’s impractical to follow all the tendrils of the Commodore’s descendants. However, it seems that some are doing significantly better than others.
The most famous of those is the fashionista and socialite Gloria Vanderbilt. She died in 2019 with a relatively small fortune of which she left $1.5 million to her son, CNN’s Anderson Cooper.
Gloria’s father Reginald, an avowed playboy and gambler, squandered most of that branch of the Vanderbilt family tree’s fortune.
There are similar stories up and down the family tree. Still, other branches of the family tree have fared better.
The North Carolina descendants have done well for themselves thanks in large part to the Biltmore.
George died fairly young at the age of 51. He and his wife, Edith Stuyvesant Dresser, had only one child, Cornelia Vanderbilt.
Cornelia was raised at Biltmore. In 1924, she married British Aristocrat John Cecil. The couple had two sons, George and William.
In 1934, Cornelia left John behind to manage things while she lived the life of a bohemian in New York and Paris. She had plenty of money to live life as she pleased and she did.
At the time of his death in 2017, Cornelia’s son Bill was worth an estimated $10.1 billion. His brother George had the pick of inheritance and chose the dairy farm instead of the house. He died considerably less wealthy than his brother but still did quite well.
How much is Biltmore Estate worth?
In a 2017 article from the Asheville Citizen-Times, Asheville’s local paper, tax appraisers put the value of the Biltmore House and public lands – which does not include all 8,000 acres remaining in the estate, at about $100 million price tag.
Current estimates seem to put that worth today at about $155 million.
They estimated that the entire Biltmore Estate, including the hotels, restaurants, conservatory, outbuildings and private residencies, is worth nearly $300 million, which would be closer to $344 million in today’s value after adjusting for inflation.
How much does the Biltmore Estate make a year?
The entire Biltmore estate has annual revenue of roughly $50 million, but the majority of that goes back into maintaining the estate and properties.
It’s hard to determine how much actual Vanderbilt wealth remains. How many fortunes were lost and regained and lost again?
It seems the family’s chief legacies are the university in Nashville that bears his name (he provided the initial $1 million endowment) and his grandson’s little mountain getaway.
Over the years, Biltmore has grown to include Antler Hill Village and Winery, including Antler Hill Farm, The Inn on Biltmore Estate, Village Hotel on Biltmore Estate, an Equestrian Center and numerous restaurants.
The current CEO of Biltmore Company is Bill Cecil Jr, George Vanderbilt’s great-grandson.
There are plenty of places to visit in the mountains. But none are quite like the Biltmore.
Have you visited the Biltmore Estate tourist attraction? What did you think? Let us know in the comments.
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