Who Owns the Biltmore Estate? The History of America’s Largest Home

A guest looks on at the Biltmore estate

The Biltmore estate remains a family business today (photo by Alaina O'Neal/TheSmokies.com)

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Cornelius Vanderbilt was a man who knew how to do two things really well: 

Grow an impressive set of mutton chops and make an obscene amount of money in railroads and shipping. 

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. 

Commodore Vanderbilt – as he was called by the other nearby captains – married his first cousin Sophia at the age of 19. The couple had 13 children.

Okay, there were three things Commodore Vanderbilt knew how to do really well. 

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 and most powerful families in the world. 

This is the world Cornelius’s grandson George Vanderbilt was born into. A world of extreme wealth and decadence.

And after Cornelius married another cousin, this one the improbably named socialite Frank Armstrong, a world of extreme philanthropy. 

If we include marrying cousins, we’re up to four things Cornelius was good at.

George was the youngest child of William Henry Vanderbilt, the Commodore’s oldest son and fellow mutton chop aficionado.

William – who went by Billy – inherited $100 million when his father died and had doubled that fortune by the time of his death nine years later.

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The Biltmore Winery
When you visit Biltmore, guests over 21 years old may enjoy a complimentary wine tasting (photo by Alaina O’Neal/TheSmokies.com)

What family built the Biltmore Estate?

Two years later, as the youngest of nine, George first came to Asheville, North Carolina.

After a second visit – this one 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 is believed to be America’s largest home. The construction spanned six years.

Not being burdened by things such as worrying about 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. 

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 Biltmore was about 125,000 acres, but part of the property was later sold to the federal government to create the Pisgah National Forest.

The Biltmore estate in Asheville, NC
In 1930, the Biltmore house was opened to the public for the first time (photo by John Gullion/TheSmokies.com)

How are the Cecils related to the Vanderbilts?

Cornelia married a British aristocrat named John Cecil in 1924. The Cecils had a pair of sons, George and William.

And in 1930 – due to the depression – the Biltmore house was opened to the public for the first time.

Shortly after that, George’s daughter got bored with life at the Biltmore and moved without her husband to New York. 

There she began studying art before moving to Paris where she divorced John Cecil, dyed her hair pink and took to calling herself Nilcha. 

She 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. 

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. 

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What family owns Biltmore Estate?

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. 

“Biltmore is still family-owned, and we are still passionate about our mission of preservation through self-sufficiency – a philosophy embraced before the first stone was ever placed,” he says on the Biltmore website.

“We remain self-sustaining through innovation, creative thinking, and listening to guests who continue to tell us they want more ways to connect with Biltmore.”

Do any Vanderbilts still live at Biltmore?

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!

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Photo of author


John Gullion

John Gullion, Managing Editor at the Citizen Tribune, is a freelance contributor for TheSmokies.com LLC – the parent company of TheSmokies.com and HeyOrlando.com.

16 thoughts on “Who Owns the Biltmore Estate? The History of America’s Largest Home”

  1. I’ve been to the Biltmore twice. Once with my ex-wife and daughter. That was around 2004. Then again in 2015 with a lady I was dating. I plan on visiting again in the near future.

  2. I have been to the Biltmore House many times and love it each time. Thank you for opening it to the public.

  3. I have had the privilege of visiting the Biltmore 3 times. Twice, while Chihuly was displayed there.

    My great Uncle Theodore (Ted)Defosses was employed at Biltmore for years as a caretaker. The story Uncle Ted told us is he kept suggesting, I believe to a member of the Cecil family (?) Biltmore grapes , because of the quality, should be used to produce wine. I know he would be so pleased at the success of the Winery!

    My father, Ted was named after my great uncle Ted. I am so thankful I was able to know him and spend time with him in my younger years, during trips he and Aunt Berdie, made North to New Hampshire, to see his sister (Lena) , my grandmother, and his many other siblings.

    The first time I went to Biltmore was with my Aunt Mary Jane, Lena’s daughter. I am so grateful that your family has opened the home to the public. It was so moving to be able to walk through the estate my great uncle was so passionate about and cared for and to also be able to learn more about your family. I walked from room to room wondering what pieces my uncle had repaired or restored for the joy and wonder of the guest to see.

    My dad passed when I was in my 20’s, I had a special connection with my Uncle Ted and Aunt Berdie. I have an article about him being named Mr. Fix It of the Year, that highlighted his skills and the preservation and repair work he did at the Biltmore, which along with his stories is how such a small town girl, such as myself, knew of the Biltmore at a young age.

    It was one of the first places I traveled to outside of New England, my Aunt Mary Jane took me to see it and then we spent time in North Carolina with other family, it was such a great trip!

    If there is any truth to the grape story, he was right, your wines are delicious even though I know not all the wines produced with the Biltmore label are made with grapes from the Estate, it is just neat to see the stories of my youth come to fruition.

    I just want to thank you and your family for the blessing of being allowed to be a part of something that was so important to my great uncle, just by opening your home to the public. I also just want to thank you and your family for all your philanthropic endeavors in our country and your contribution to the legacy of transportation and travel.

    May God continue to bless your family, your staff and visitors and all your endeavors in 2022 and beyond.
    Darla L.

  4. My Daughter and I were there November 14 2021
    It was grand and all dressed up for Christmas we toured the house and gardens, ate lunch at the restaurant I would definitely recommend visiting this estate

  5. I have had the pleasure of touring Biltmore twice in my lifetime. Once I was the in the spring and was able to see the beautiful spring gardens. The second visit was during their Christmas display. It was then that the indoor glory of Biltmore absolutely shines through the abundance of decorated trees and other decorations. Anytime you have a chance to visit Biltmore know that you are in for a visual treat.

  6. My husband and I have been there a couple of times but are now retired. The cost to travel there, stay in a hotel and visit the estate have become prohibitive on retirement income.

  7. Hello there
    One day Mabrey ( husband) and I will visit grounds., its on our bucket list
    God bless
    The Mabreys

  8. I finally decided to spend the money for Biltmore tickets. As frugal as I am, I felt like I got my money’s worth just driving through the grounds to the Mansion. A spectacular place to visit and a tribute to the artisans that made it all happen.

  9. I love visiting the Biltmore but sorry to say with Covid and the increase of membership it has to take a back for a long while
    After 20 years of membership it’s sad
    It’s something to enjoy if can

  10. Absolutely LOVE Biltmore Estate!! Been there twice (Christmas & summer). Such a fantastic place. If you get a chance to tour it go on the most extensive tour that open to the public & allow plenty of time to see everything possible! If I lived in Asheville I would do anything possible to work there. It’s just so incredibly beautiful!! Worth every penny to see it!!!!! 💕

  11. Many years ago I took my mother and great nieces Nicole and Michelle Lewis. My mom was in a wheelchair and we would have to wait on the elevators. My niece Nicole would entertain everyone telling them the new house they moved in was as big as the Biltmore Estate and of course detailed her new house whick was probably less than 2,000 SQ ft. I think she probably was about 5 or 6 years old. We have never laughed so hard in our lives. She was quite the story teller (still is). My friends and I try to go at least once a year. Love it. 💕

  12. My hubby and I visit Biltmore as often as possible, trying to experience each season there for the lovely gardens. Although we live in Northern Illinois we make a must see part of vacations. We spent three days staying at Antler Inn last year and it was lovely! My hubby went fly fishing with one of your guides and I had planned horseback travel, but unfortunately the weather wasn’t well for it, so I can’t wait to go again to visit the grounds, take a horseback ride and the rooftop tour! I only wish I lived close enough that I could work at the estate and help share the splendor of America’s beautiful estate with others! Love the Biltmore – thank you for opening your home to a gracious and endearing America! Keep it classy. See you in the spring! Biltmore has stolen my heart!

  13. Visiting Asheville always entailed a visit also to Biltmore Village and to The Biltmore Estate. I no longer remember all of the numerous wonderful excursions through the gorgeous home, unbelievable gardens, and the other addional amenities, always ending with a glass of wine. It took years just to accomplish an overall view of this amazing estate…not visiting every area yet. It saves me a return trip to France each time…the same feeling of living within our illustrious past for a brief time. Very satisfying 😌!

  14. Over the years I’ve heard great things about the Biltmore but after seeing it for myself it was was even more spectacular than one could imagine. We went in early December when it was decorated for Christmas. The ticket included the evening holiday tour and the next day Garden tour. I must say… It is more spectacular than you could ever imagine. In the winter and cool out side, the thought of a long walk when the leaves have mostly fallen didn’t excite me. Well…it ended up being an unbelievable experience. We walked 7 miles without even noticing . Then when entering the inside gardens I was blown away! This is definitely a bucket list item, a must see; a two day trip I will never forget and will share again and again with friends, family and acquaintances.

  15. I am 85 yes. old and have never been there. It has always been my wish to visit it. It is just too expensive for me.

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