Biltmore Estate and the Impact on Appalachia

George Vanderbilt started construction on the Biltmore mansion in Ashville in 1889. The building process took six years, and the year 1895 saw the formal opening. A self-sustaining environment was intended to be the building's background as they introduced livestock breeding and food cultivation. (Bryan, 2014). The farm introduced the farm to table heritage, which is still well-liked in the area today, by selling its dairy and agricultural goods locally. (Fortson, 2016). Following Vanderbilt's convictions for adopting forest management, strategies for forest conservation were created in order to produce wood resources sustainably in the future. When George died in 1914, his wife Edith had to sell part of the forest reserve as a means for sustaining the estate. Tis formed the first American national forest.

The regions’ early settlers mainly lived a rural lifestyle of herding, hunting and farming as a subsistence and economic activity. After the civil war, most people of the south resorted to large scale cotton farming and this did not favor the people of Appalachia because of the damaged terrain. This led to regional isolation due to derailed economy. This combined with the economic depression of the time severely damaged the survival of Appalachia. The area became characterized with chronic poverty though with time, the economic class of the people rose. The coming of George to build the Biltmore estate helped the community to revive their economy since he helped in reclamation of the damaged terrain and started food production which was sold to most locals (Bolgiano, 2008). Similarly, his coming led to the provision of an example of possibility and locals could emulate his example by also trying to produce their own food just like he did.

Initially, the terrain of Appalachia did not allow for farming and that left locals to depend on subsistence farming. They could not adopt commercialized farming for this reason and the option left was to join the lambing and coal mining industries as laborers as it promised employment for the people. As the industries declined, the people started migrating to bigger towns in search for jobs and employment in industries. After the civil world war, lambing became rampant because of the increase in demand for timber. The availability of the rail made it possible to transport timber and this led to peaking of its production in the region. After the near depletion of the forests, large companies moved out of the region and only circular saws and small mills overtook the industry (Fortson, 2016). This was not sustainable for the region and they had to look for supplementary ways for earning wages and getting alternative means of employment.

The World War I saw the boom of the mining industry with coal marble and feldspar being some of the products. This declined in the great depression and later boomed during World War II. However, there was the later introduction of mechanization of industries which led to a decline in employment opportunities. Coal mining was no longer a primary source of income in the region and locals in the bid of getting some money resorted to selling of land. This explains how George Vanderbilt managed to acquire a massive piece of land. The land George acquired were those abandoned by their owners who were migrating in search for employment elsewhere and those of people who had vast land that they thought were of no use to them (Bryan, 2014).

Appalachia was in the middle of its struggles when George Vanderbilt decided to settle in the area. The area suffered from massive logging, economic sidelining, coal mining and poverty (Bolgiano, 2008). The region failed to make any meaningful economic standing for the region leaving it to lag behind. George Vanderbilt had a desire of owning a home in a serene environment and that led him into his search and final settlement in Appalachia. During his visits he purchased 125 thousand acres and decided to build his home. With the help of an architect named Richard Morris Hunt, he decided to build an astonishing palace for his home through a replication of European estates (Fortson, 2016).

The desire for building Biltmore estate originated from a visit to Nashville and seeing the damaged landscape which George believed could be restored. The land had faced massive grazing, erosion, cropping and destruction of trees. George took the advices of Olmsted in restoring and developing into an agricultural experiment (Drake, 2001). This led to the development of school of forestry in America. George hired the services of Gilford Pinchot to be in charge of the conservation of the forest.

The desire of Vanderbilt was to have a unique house different from the rich homes of his time. This led to the decision for building a traditional agrarian house that comprised of tenant farms, a church, a school and a small town. His efforts into the construction were to make the estate self-sustaining and able to make its own food as well as income. This led to rearing of sheep, poultry, nurseries, swine and herds. The initial intentions for building the estate was not to make it a museum. It was just to be a home for his family and entertaining of private guests. However, this changed over time and the home had to be opened to the public because of its opulence (Bryan, 2014).

The philanthropy of Edith helped her to set up projects for changing the lives of the Appalachian people. Edith sponsored education of the moonlight schools that promoted adult literacy. Instructors of the institution were in touch with the local rural residents by trying to get their opinions regarding the things they wished to study. This was in line with the concepts of initiating adult learning since adults are fond of taking up what they choose and feel is of help to their lives. They want to have their decisions considered as that makes them to feel valued. She also formed the school for domestic learning where Appalachian women learnt the skills for being maids and that led to their earning of higher incomes. Edith was approachable and loving to the local women and she could make frequent visits to their homes in a bid for developing a better understanding of their lifestyles (Drake, 2001). She could gift them with clothes, blankets and food and always presented herself on special occasions such as childbirth. She could even assist the midwives during childbirth and brought necessities for the newborns.

In order to make herself acceptable to the society, Edith started a homespun way of making her clothes (Drake, 2001). She helped in times of medical needs and could take patients to the estate hospital in her car whenever they needed treatment such as in the outbreak of the flu epidemic. Edith was loved by the people in Appalachia and they took her as an example of neighborliness, something that was rarely found in people of her class. She could even make use of her private doctor to care for Appalachian children since medical care was not easily attainable (Boehm, 2009). She was always keen on the lives of those living around her and that set her apart from women of her class. Instead of sidelining the workers for their lowliness, she looked for ways of transforming their lives and bettering their futures as well as that of their children. In such a way, she created a social impact on both adults and children and that assurance could only be maintained through empowerment of everyone in the estate.

The efforts of the Vanderbilt to change the habits of the Appalachians had their challenges. The greatest challenge was in teaching them to maintain a hygienic lifestyle which was overly wanting in the area (Clark, 2008). For instance, there was an occasion that the Vanderbilt family offered a stove for a family that did not have sufficient heating means and on checking up with the family, they found the stove pushed to a corner in the house. On inquiry they were met with an excuse that leaving the stove in the middle of the house left no room for spitting tobacco. This was a gross habit that the Appalachians had and it exposed them to the dangers of communicable diseases. In the bid to have them educated, the Vanderbilt had to bring medical specialists to give talks to the people as a way for helping them to understand the need for maintaining proper hygiene as a way for reducing the levels of contracting communicable diseases (Williams, 2002).

Poor diet also contributed to the poor health of the Appalachians. They dwelt much on starch and proteins as the staple of the people. To make a transformation about this trend, edith launched a competition with a cash reward for those who indulged in vegetable planting. With time, the Appalachians embraced the use of available vegetables in their meals and that helped in the reduction of disease and improvement of health. It was a campaign for bettering the lifestyles of the people and it impacted the lives of the Appalachians positively. Other than caring for the physical wellbeing of the Appalachians, Edith ensured that the people were happy especially on occasions such as Christmas (Boehm, 2009). She organized for Christmas parties and gifted the workers, their spouses and their children during Christmas festivals.

The adults of Appalachia suffered job limitations beyond the farm work. The economy was so bad and the poor people suffered the most. This prompted Edith to look into a better means of helping the people especially the women to find extra means for supporting their families (Drake, 2001). By setting up a sewing industry in the mountains, she became sure that the women could find a better source of employment and income for supporting their families. The clothes produced could cloth the children and proceeds from the sales offer money for buying food. She supplied the women with wool which would be used to make nice clothes for selling to the high societies (Clark, 2008). Edith took her time to teach sewing classes and formed connections with her friends who would buy clothes from the women in the estate. It was a groundbreaking effort that Edith displayed in taking up the role of marketing the woven products. It was a revolutionary step for the region and that made the industry to become a high ranking effort for improving the economic status of the people through the craft movement (Jugtown & Compton, 2017). This was a great impact that Edith made in the Appalachian community.

The plight of the white women was harsh but what African Americans in the region experienced surpassed their predicament. African Americans already suffered being in the wrong gender within the society but also faced the discrimination of race. This left them with few opportunities on the mountains and Edith felt for their plight and sought to make them useful in the society. She knew that the problems of poverty and ill health were possible to manage if the people had good employment. This prompted the starting of the starting of the domestic science school. The school mainly served African American women though white women with no jobs eventually took up the chance of getting trained too. Due to slavery, menial jobs were left for African American men with their wives suffering from lack of employment (Bolgiano, 2008). Edith realized that there was need for transforming the situation through empowerment of the women to be economically stable. This could help the women to provide for their families as well as to find means for handling abusive situations in their relationships. This was an impact that helped Appalachian women in forging their own paths in life and not suffering from discrimination oppression and abuse as the minority in the society.

Domestic schools are not the most applauded by modern day historians. However, Edith saw it as a need and it served best in helping the women in changing their lives. The assumption for starting the school was not that women only fit in doing domestic work. It only set a starting point through where other forms of learning could start and that led to the introduction of basic literacy to the women. The women found the right tools for getting hired for better paying jobs and that raised their statuses within the society. With writing and reading skills, the women ere adequately equipped for diversifying their employment opportunities within the estate and beyond.

In the time that Edith interacted with the Appalachians, she was able to make commendable impacts on the lives of the locals. Taking her time to know their lifestyles brought her close to the needs of the people and prompted her to find means of developing solutions for changing their lives. Even though George was the pioneer of the Biltmore estate and philanthropy, Edith took the effort a step ahead and brought real change to the people. It was clear to Edith that bringing real change to the people required getting into their homes and building their trust. With that, she was able to make a real impact to the lives of the Appalachians.

Biltmore Estate Industries was also an instrumental aspect that impacted the lived of young boys from Biltmore estate. They were offered woodworking class instructions which also formed the culture of arts in the bid to uplift the social livelihoods of Appalachians. Craft skills were the efforts for getting revenue from affluent members of the society (Jugtown & Compton, 2017). Those who enrolled into the craft schools were sole fenders for their families and their craft achievements offered them with a sense of self sufficiency as they became capable of earning income from their skills. Through the guidance and sponsorship from the Vanderbilt, the commercialization of the Appalachian weaving products became a reality. Even after the death of George Vanderbilt, Edith never lost hope but looked for means of transforming the estate and that led to its being Biltmore industries (The Biltmore Company, 2009). The greatest effort was to ensure that the people in Biltmore estate never lacked meaningful employment. Through the knowledge of higher bargaining with the right skills, starting the technical avenues offered young people with an opportunity for getting necessary trainings that could help them to find jobs with high wages.

During the period of the great depression in 1930, John Cecil and Cornelia made their home a public destination leading to a boost of the economy to the locals. The estate also acted as the store for World War II works of art. Cecil was an optimistic entrepreneur and his determination was to revive the estate and improve its operations. As an estate owner, he knew the importance of preserving the property and worked towards his achievement faithfully. He developed a good relationship with the locals and estate workers and that formed a motivation that led to the improvement of the estate. The preservation of the Biltmore entity came with the registration of products for marketing and creation of new revenue systems. Introduction of new agricultural enterprises such as raising of freshwater prawns and routs were some of the efforts he put in his bid for finding what could work for the estate. The estate wheeled the economy of the region by offering employment and also creating a foundation for other businesses.

The success of the estate came through the complementary nature of Edith and George in their commitment to Biltmore estate. Edith was industrious, talented, compassionate and independent while George was an intelligent and focused visionary who had a wide worldview. They were socially progressive people and held a belief for being the source of transformation for the less privileged people in their lives. To better the quality of the lives of Appalachians, they came up with schools, programs, industries and initiatives for achieving personal dreams and bettering the lives of employees in their estate. Their love for family extended beyond taking care of their only daughter Cornelia to ensuring that they developed an intimate relationship with Biltmore families in the estate. This was an effort that went on until the death of George when she had to take up the lead role of running the estate. Through commitment towards ensuring the sustainability of the estate, she managed to handle her duties even in grief. After the loss of her husband. She was devoted to Biltmore and that guided the estate through to the 20th century (Bryan, 2014). The legacy continues today with the assurance of hospitality, commitment self-sufficiency being the backdrop of all business operations. The impact of George and Edith to the community of Biltmore is a long lasting one that history upholds given the generosity with which the couple treated their workers and changed their lives for good.


Bryan, J., M. (2014). Biltmore Estate: The Most Distinguished Private Place. New York: Rizzoli. Print.

Boehm, L., K. (2009). Making a Way Out of No Way: African-American Women and the Second Great Migration. Oxford: University Press of Mississippi. Print.

Clark, S. (2008). “Edith Vanderbilt.” Asheville: The Biltmore Company, 2008. Print.

Drake, R. B. (2001). A history of Appalachia. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky.

Bolgiano, C. (2008). Appalachian forest odyssey. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books.

Fortson, B. (2016). A Nutshell History of North Carolina. Charleston, SC: The History Press. Print.

Drake, R. B. (2001). A history of Appalachia. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky.

Jugtown, P, & Compton, S. C. (2017). Jugtown Pottery, 1917-2017: A century of art and craft in clay.

The Biltmore Company. (2009). Biltmore Estate. Web. 29 October 2009.

Williams, J. A. (2002). Appalachia: A history. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

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