Story by Arnold Berke
The popular image of Biltmore, the palatial estate built during the 1890s by railroad magnate George Washington Vanderbilt, is one of immensity and luxury. The 250-room French Renaissance-style structure, located in Asheville, N.C., is the largest house in the country, crammed with lavish furnishings and surrounded by magnificent formal gardens.
Less well known is the fact that, from its inception, the 8,000-acre estate hosted a large agricultural venture, complete with a dairy, cropland, livestock operations, and a scientifically managed forest. Now the centerpiece of that farming enterprise, a 1902 horse barn, has been restored as the latest addition to the tourist attractions offered at the estate. Designed by Richard Howland Hunt, son of Biltmore architect Richard Morris Hunt, the 26,000-square-foot building, clad in rough pebbledash stucco and roofed in red metal, consists of an octagonal chain of one- and two-story structures linked to surround a courtyard. The barn sheltered horses, mules, feed and farm equipment, dairy wagons, and blacksmith and repair shops.
The structure also served as the center of social life for families who worked on the estate. George Vanderbilt’s wife, Edith, known for her community work in the area, taught Sunday school there; classes and festivals were also held at the facility. Long used for storage, the barn opened to the public in April, interpreting Biltmore’s agricultural legacy with displays of vintage tractors and other equipment, demonstrations of traditional crafts like woodworking, and folk music performances. Open nearby are a kitchen garden that grows fruits, vegetables, and herbs, and a farmyard populated with horses, calves, chickens, and lambs. The barn and surrounding area “will hopefully become a new node of activity for Biltmore,” in addition to the main house, the winery, and the inn, says William Cecil, Jr., Vanderbilt’s great-grandson and CEO of the privately operated estate.
Biltmore Estate is open 365 days a year.
Admissions Gate and Reception & Ticket Center Hours:
January–March: 9:00 a.m.–4:00 p.m. ET
April–December: 8:30 a.m.–5:00 p.m. ET
Call 800-624-1575 or 828-225-1333.
For Inn on Biltmore Estate reservations: call 800-624-1575 or 828-225-1600.
Biltmore Estate, 1 Approach Road, Asheville, N.C. 28803.
From Preservation Online: The magazine of the National Trust for Historic Preservation http://www.nationaltrust.org/Magazine/story/index.htm