Imagine a place so magical and so breathtaking that you must have just stepped into the pages of your favorite childhood fairytale. The sports fanatic may find this feeling at Yankee Stadium; the art critic at the Louvre; and the world traveler while looking out from the top of the Swiss Alps. For tourists, this feeling of awe and excitement comes upon visiting the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina. Asheville, a thriving and eclectic town nestled in the mountains of western North Carolina, has grown from a small community to a prime tourist destination in the State. This growth is due to the presence of the Biltmore Estate.
The town of Asheville started as a small mountain outpost in 1797 where many famous frontiersmen stopped as they began explorations of the west (exploreasheville.com). Asheville rests in the heart of the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains, making it not only a scenic location, but one filled with numerous natural resources. First, the town grew only steadily but then had an outburst of growth upon the arrival of the railroad around 1880. This railroad and the opportunities that it offered to Asheville gave Asheville county-seat status. Consequently, Asheville became a “boom town” with many varying industries including “potteries, forges, and tanneries” (Chase 14-15). Equally important, the livestock industry helped to fuel the economy and “corn was the main cash crop” (Chase 16,23). When George W. Vanderbilt arrived in the city in the late half of the 1880s, Asheville had made a name for itself as one of the south’s most premier vacation spots. People began to travel and eventually stay in Asheville because of its beauty and the new perks that it had to offer. The magical city had begun.
Without a doubt, the presence of the Biltmore Estate has truly aided in the continuation of this original success of the city of Asheville. But what has turned into a worldwide sensation, started as the small idea of George W. Vanderbilt, the heir to a large family fortune. Vanderbilt was the grandson of “Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt” who began a shipping and railroad business in the North (Rickman 10). The Commodore was a very “powerful man” (Croffut 43). Specifically, his “financial empire” made the Vanderbilt family well known and made them one of the richest families in America (Rickman 9).Vanderbilt moved from New York to start a new and flourishing life in the South where lifestyles were consistently growing to be quite rich and immaculate. Vanderbilt’s legacy, the Biltmore Estate, is the perfect example of the southern high-life at a high price of 100 million dollars.
Building this storybook home began in 1889 and was a six year venture. First, only the best were hired to create the dream land. Frederick Law Olmstead, the designer for New York City’s Central Park, along with the aid of Richard Morris Hunt, created a home with a style that was adapted from the French Renaissance (Biltmore.com). A National Historic Landmark was born and opened on Christmas Eve. George shared his home with his wife Edith. They had one daughter, Cornelia, who lived in luxury in the immaculate palace.
Many years passed as the family lived in midst of a masterpiece. Their lifestyle, much like their home, was ornate and envied by many. Daily luxuries included a bowling alley, swimming pool, gardens spanning seventy-five acres, and access to 125,000 acres of natural playground (OurState.com) For lovers of knowledge and art, the Estate boasted a collection of 185 paintings and 10, 000 prints (OurState.com). The family hosted numerous friends, many of whom were famous, in the numerous banquet halls. There was sure to never be a line for the bathroom with a home built with more bathrooms than beds (43 to 35 respectively) (OurState.com). In addition, the Estate boasted its own creamery, dairy, pig and poultry farm, and market garden that “supplied produce for the Vanderbilt’s and their guests” (Rickman 58).
Unfortunately, the years grew unhappy as George died very young at the age of 51 due to an “unexpected blood clot that lead to an emergency appendectomy” (Rickman 15). America too began to fall on unsettling times with the coming of the depression. Asheville had unfortunately become a city with the “highest per capita debt in the United States” (Rickman 128). It was Cornelia who approached by local government officials, opened the home to the public to raise spirits and tourism once again in the area. It was then that the Vanderbilt family passed on their legacy for public appreciation.
Since its opening to the public, the Biltmore has remained a powerful force in the economy of Asheville. Unlike many homes of its kind, the Estate is very private in that it is still run solely by family members of the original owners who strive to maintain the legacy of its founder . It runs its own farming, forestry, and winemaking industries and accepts no government grants.
The government and Cornelia made the right decision in offering the home to the public. Over one million people visit the house every year. That is one million people that walk Asheville’s streets, shop in their shops, and eat at their restaurants. If the beauty of the home is not enough to attract visitors, the Estate has attracted even more attention through the opening of shops of its own, a luxury hotel, a winery, a dairy, and festivals of varying types every year. One of the most popular of these festivals is the Flower Festival. Every Christmas, the Estate boasts a beautiful Christmas display that keeps people coming back annually. All of these aspects have contributed to Asheville’s success today.
Today, years after its near disastrous demise, Asheville has proven to be a nationwide success and thriving spot for tourism. The town has proven to be quite interesting. Asheville has grown to be the largest city in Western North Carolina. Many people in Western North Carolina, who live in smaller towns, travel to Asheville because of its large variety of entertainment, restaurants, and healthcare (ashevillenc.gov). In addition, Asheville now attracts a large amount of visitors because of its thriving local art scene. Today many people, including celebrities such as Steve Martin, Andie MacDowell, and Gladys Knight, call Asheville their home (exploreasheville.com). The Biltmore Estate aided in the popularity of Asheville in two crucial ways: the Estate draws tourists and “created a large land and property boom” (Starnes 68). This land and property that visitors were first attracted to now form the modern streets covered in both historic and modern buildings, that create the remarkable town of Asheville, NC.
Chase, Nan K., and Aldo P. Magi. Asheville : A History. Jefferson: McFarland & Co., 2007. Print.
Croffut, W. A.. The Vanderbilts and the Story of Their Fortune. New York: Arno P, 1975. Print.
“Explore Asheville.” Explore Asheville, NC Asheville, NC’s Official Tourism Web Site. Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority, 2011. Web. 26 Feb. 2011.
Henion, Leigh Ann. “Biltmore Insider’s Tour.” Our State Magazine, 2011. Our State Magazine. Web. 23 Mar. 2011.
“Our Story.” Biltmore. Biltmore Estate, 2011. Web. 26 Feb. 2011.
Rickman, Ellen Erwin. Biltmore Estate. Charleston: Arcadia Pub., 2005. Print.
Starnes, Richard D. “‘A Conspicuous Example of What is Termed the New South’: Tourism and Urban Development in Asheville, North Carolina, 1880-1925.” North Carolina Historical Review (1979). Print.
About the Author
Shelby Hudspeth is a Freshman at UNC majoring in Political Science. She has loved the Biltmore Estate since she was little and has visited there many times!