Biltmore Estate is a large (8,000-acre) private estate and tourist attraction in Asheville, North Carolina. Biltmore House, the main house on the estate, is a Châteauesque-styled mansion built by George Washington Vanderbilt II between 1889 and 1895 and is the largest privately owned house in the United States, at 178,926 square feet (16,622.8 m2) of floor space (135,280 square feet (12,568 m2) of living area). Still owned by one of Vanderbilt’s descendants, it stands today as one of the most prominent remaining examples of the Gilded Age.
In the 1880s, at the height of the Gilded Age, George Washington Vanderbilt II, youngest son of William Henry Vanderbilt, began to make regular visits with his mother, Maria Louisa Kissam Vanderbilt (1821–1896), to the Asheville, North Carolina, area. He loved the scenery and climate so much that he decided to create his own summer estate in the area, which he called his “little mountain escape”, just as his older brothers and sisters had built opulent summer houses in places such as Newport, Rhode Island, and Hyde Park, New York. Vanderbilt named his estate Biltmore derived from “Bildt,” Vanderbilt’s ancestors’ place of origin in Holland, and “More”, Anglo-Saxon for open, rolling land.
William A. V. Cecil, Sr. returned to the estate in 1960 and joined his brother to manage the estate and make it a profitable and self-sustaining enterprise like his grandfather envisioned. He eventually inherited the estate upon the death of his mother, Cornelia, in 1976, while his brother, George Henry Vanderbilt Cecil, inherited the then more profitable dairy farm which was split off into Biltmore Farms. In 1995, while celebrating the 100th anniversary of the estate, Cecil turned over control of the company to his son, William A.V. Cecil, Jr.
The Vanderbilt family is an American family of Dutch origin that was prominent during the Gilded Age (1870-1900). Their success began with the shipping and railroad empires of Cornelius Vanderbilt, and the family expanded into various other areas of industry and philanthropy. Cornelius Vanderbilt’s descendants went on to build grand mansions on Fifth Avenue in New York City, luxurious “summer cottages” in Newport, Rhode Island, the palatial Biltmore House in Asheville, North Carolina, and various other opulent homes.
The Vanderbilt’s were once the wealthiest family in America. Cornelius Vanderbilt was the richest American in history until his death in 1877. After that, his son William acquired his father’s fortune, and was the richest American until his death in 1885. The Vanderbilts’ prominence lasted until the mid-20th century, when the family’s 10 great Fifth Avenue mansions were torn down, and most other Vanderbilt houses were sold or turned into museums in what has been referred to as the “Fall of the House of Vanderbilt”.
Branches of the family are found on the United States East Coast. Contemporary descendants include fashion designer Gloria Vanderbilt, her youngest son, journalist Anderson Cooper, musician John P. Hammond, screenwriter James Vanderbilt and actor Timothy Olyphant.