February 1890: Construction Underway for Vanderbilt’s Biltmore Estate

Have you ever visited Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina? Construction for the mansion with 255 rooms began in 1889. Biltmore remains the largest privately owned home in the United States. Today, visitors can tour the mansion to glimpse life during the Gilded Age.

Asheville Citizen-Times: May 23, 1890

In the 1800s, the Vanderbilt family amassed a vast fortune through various business enterprises, including railroads and steamboats. In 1888, 26-year-old George Washington Vanderbilt, a quiet and studious young man, traveled to Asheville with his mother to spend the summer. He was captivated by the landscape and quietly used a proxy agent to purchase tracts of land.

As word got out that Vanderbilt had purchased property, intense curiosity arose as people speculated about possible plans for the land. Some rumored theories included an industrial and agricultural school for poor children, a massive private park dotted with villas, a game preserve, or a stock farm.  

The Morganton Star: October 31, 1889

In October 1889, speculation ended when a wagon bearing a five-foot model of Biltmore moved through the streets of New York on its way to the office of prominent architect Richard M. Hunt. Hundreds viewed the towers and turrets of the imposing building. It was soon confirmed that the model was a castle that would be built on land in North Carolina purchased by Vanderbilt. The estate was purportedly named Bilton House but soon became known as Biltmore.  

Construction of the castle began and took six years to complete. During this time, Vanderbilt continued to expand his land acquisitions around the estate. One holdout was Joshua Moore, who lived in a small cabin just a few miles from Biltmore House. Vanderbilt repeatedly offered to buy Moore’s property, but he refused. It took nearly 20 years, and in 1903, Moore finally sold his land to Vanderbilt for $2,250 – significantly higher than Its estimated value of $75.

Biltmore House was constructed of hand-tooled Indiana limestone at a cost of $6 million (more than $200 million today). It contains nearly four acres of floor space, 178,000 square feet, 35 bedrooms, and 43 bathrooms. The Banquet Hall features a 75-foot ceiling and a massive triple fireplace. Curious people seeking a glimpse of the imposing castle would travel to Biltmore during construction. They roamed the construction site, gazed at the view from the dining room, and even chiseled pieces of stone from an archway as souvenirs. Souvenir seekers weakened one granite arch so much that it had to be torn down and built again. From that point on, admission to the site was restricted.

Asheville Citizen-Times: December 19, 1895

On Christmas Eve in 1895, Biltmore was completed and officially opened. Several hundred employees and their families were treated to a holiday banquet with Christmas gifts. The servants at the mansion received a $10 Christmas bonus. Later that day, Vanderbilt’s family and friends gathered for the first time at the mansion. The 33-year-old host was still single, and newspapers dubbed him the greatest catch in the country.

In 1898, Vanderbilt married Edith Stuyvesant Dresser. Their only child, Cornelia Stuyvesant Vanderbilt, was born at Biltmore in 1900.

The Philadelphia Inquirer: August 12, 1900

Vanderbilt loved Biltmore, but his life was cut short in 1914 when, at age 51, he died from complications due to an appendectomy. He left his beloved Biltmore to his daughter, 12-year-old Cornelia. In 1930, Cornelia and her husband, John Cecil, opened Biltmore House to the public.

Visitors can still tour Biltmore Estate, which contains its original furnishings and art collection. The house has been designated as a National Historic Landmark, and descendants of Vanderbilt still run the family business. To learn more about Biltmore, search Newspapers.com™ today.

Share using:

Related Posts

22 thoughts on “February 1890: Construction Underway for Vanderbilt’s Biltmore Estate

  1. Thank you for the story of THE BILTMORE ESTATE. It would be great to go and see it but I am not able to travel.

    1. Perhaps there will be a virtual tour offered, in which I enjoy as much as actually visiting cities.

    2. Peggy, If they ever again on the Hallmark Channel show “Christmas at Biltmore” be sure to watch it. Not only is it a great movie (about time travel) it shows many of the interiors of the mansion. I had just visited in November and watched this movie in December. I was impressed how true to the real mansion it was. Maybe that show will appear on the Hallmark Channel this coming summer when they air some Christmas shows for “Christmas in July” or whatever its called.

  2. I’ve toured Biltmore three times since moving to North Carolina sixteen years ago. It takes a full day to see it all; it’s truly breathtaking. A tour of Biltmore should be on the “Bucket List” of every American.

    1. Hah! Today’s economy most people have to decide between eating out or paying the bills. Eating out is now almost as much as a regular resturant which I shudder to think of the cost of one haven’t ate in one pre covid when it was between 30-35$ for all 3 of us.

      That’s the cost of a regular fast food place though if you skip the side orders you’ll lower the cost per meal below 10$. The fries and drinks are what nails you though Mcdonalds (at least ours) gives me a large free water that’s actually quite cold if you ask them too.

  3. Visted Biltmore in summer of 2023. The house is amazing but even more breathtaking is the grounds. Beautiful!

  4. My Mother and I toured the Biltmore and enjoyed it very much. We lunched in the stable cafe and the food was good. We were visiting the Choctaw Casino- Cherokee. We went to the Cherokee museum and did a little genealogy research. Our casino guide also drove along a river and we saw the train wreck that was used in Harrison Ford’s version of “The Fugitive”. We also went toward the Smokies to part of the Appalachian Trail. So there is lots to do in the area.

  5. Visited Biltmore in the early 90’s. Had friends who had moved to Asheville. They highly recommended we visit Biltmore. It was a wonderful tour by a very knowledgeable guide (Docent). He had stressed Biltmore is the largest family home in America. At the completion of the tour one of the guests questioned the comment. He stated that the Hearst Mansion was larger. The Guide didn’t miss a beat. He reiterated Biltmore is the largest “single” family structure on one footprint while the Hearst Mansion may have more square footage it is multiple buildings. Of course the person was from California. Things never change.

  6. You’d think with the vast wealth of the Vanderbilts it would cost less than $80 to gawk for a few hours. After spending the same amount to get into Graceland in Memphis, it just didn’t make good economic sense for a person with limited funds to go see the Biltmore. Hearst Castle is about half. So is Fallingwater and Taliesin West. Iolani Palace in Honolulu is $20. My goodness, it only costs $20 to get into the Palace at Versailles.

    1. It was $25-$35 in 1977 when my wife and I went there. That and to “Trail of Tears” Cherokee pageant should be on EVERYBODYS bucket list. One can not forget the experience. Should be in Texas though. lol.

    2. Hearst Castle is owned by the State of California. Tax money supporting it.
      Biltmore is privately owned with no tax money!

  7. I have been to the Biltmore House and Garden several times. It is pricey, but unless something has changed the Cecils still own it and the goal of all of the businesses on the estate is to be self sufficient and upkeep is expensive. The alternative would be to give it to the Park Service. There is also the issue of estate taxes, so if it were to be handled wrong the entire estate could face the fate of being broken up to pay inheritance taxes. Condos everywhere!

  8. My 4th great grandfather, Joshua Jones, and his family are buried on the estate in the family graveyard. His offspring was the hold out who sold his home place for $2,250 when it was valued at the time at $75. There is a marker at the location with the names of family members buried there. Family can visit the grave by making arrangements in advance for escort to the area. He was a Revolutionary War Captain. It would be interesting to tour the estate as well at the grave site.

  9. Many years ago my family toured Biltmore as part of a North Carolina vacation. We were descending the main staircase when I said, “I can’t imagine living here.” My thirteen-year-old daughter immediately said, “I can.” Ah, youth.

  10. I have been twice. One was a behind the scenes tour, more from the perspective of the employees. It was fascinating. At Christmas it absolutely amazing, decorations from the period of his time throughout the house. Probably would need reservations. The wine was impressive.

  11. We visited the Estate 7 years ago, and it was well worth the cost and time. We were fans of the PBS show, Downton Abbey, and having watched prior to visiting Biltmore, our understanding how these large mansions were managed and run at the turn of the century was enhanced . It is not far from Gatlinburg, TN, and the Great Smokey Mountain Nat’l Park. There is a lot to do there also. I would like to go back sometime in the future.

  12. When I visited the Biltmore, I saw that George Washington Vanderbilt and Edith Stuyvesant Dresser had separate bedrooms. The door to his bedroom had a number of locks but the door to his wife’s bedroom had maybe one lock. The guide explained that they were concerned that George might be kidnapped but it was unlikely that Edith would be kidnapped. We loved the visit and took the tour which enabled us to see more of the house.

Comments are closed.