Nestled in the mountains, near the point where the Swannanoa River flows into the French Broad, there is a beautiful land. Natural resources are abundant. The bottomland is rich and fertile. And the history is long and varied. Before it was Biltmore Village, it was the town of Best. Before that, it was home to the Cherokee. If you’ve ever visited, if you’ve ever seen the area, it’s easy to understand why so many people from so many eras have been eager to call this place home.
Biltmore Village was originally modeled after and still, today resembles a small English village. It boasted the area’s first railroad station but was transformed into an idyllic village that served not only to provide a fitting entrance to George Vanderbilt’s Biltmore Estate but also to function as an independent and self-sustaining community. From the beginning, it was described as a “model village” and as “A Millionaire’s Village,” among epithets. Biltmore Village was and is a uniquely designed place—unique because it was originally built and owned by a single individual, but also because it was designed and built as one of the earliest examples of a planned mixed-use community where people would live and work and have all the necessary amenities, including stores, post office, school, and church, close at hand.
Biltmore Village has been home to many community activities throughout the years.
- In 1898, the village greens were used for military drill exercise during the Spanish-American War.
- In September 1902, when U.S. president Theodore Roosevelt visited the estate, schoolchildren assembled on the village green in a tiled pavilion decorated with bunting and flags.
- The Parish School utilized the village greens on either side of Lodge Street as a baseball field and for activities such as May Day celebrations, which included the erection of a Maypole and decorated throne for the May Queen.
- In August of 1903, the 1st Regiment of the National Guard (about 600 men) made a summer encampment in the Village for five days.
- Edith Vanderbilt planned and held many events in Biltmore Village. On May 8, 1905, the New York Times printed an article titled “Floral Parade at Biltmore” that claimed, “Mrs. George Vanderbilt Plans for Show to Rival California’s.” Her Biltmore Village parades featured carriages creatively decorated with flowers and greenery. Residents of the estate, the village, and surrounding areas participated in these special occasions.
- Biltmore Village housed the Boys Club as early as 1903, and ultimately became the Boys and Girls Club. The club’s mission was expanded to one of education and included classes in woodcarving, cabinetmaking, basketry, and weaving to teach marketable skills to the students. In 1905, the older and more advanced students were reorganized as Biltmore Estate Industries, supported financially by Edith Vanderbilt and located at 8 Plaza.
- In 1918, Dwelling No. 16 on All Souls Crescent was leased as officers’ quarters; and as of February 1920, a cottage and three stores in Biltmore Village were still being leased by the U.S. government.
- On April 29, 1924, Cornelia Vanderbilt married the Honorable John Francis Amherst Cecil in Biltmore Village at All Souls Church. In the days before the wedding, the village bustled with activity as family members, friends, and guests from around the world arrived. The union was perhaps the most significant social event that occurred in Biltmore Village during the 1920s. As the newlywed couple left the church, they were greeted by children of Biltmore Estate workers forming an aisle with branches of flowers held high.
Biltmore Village has weathered many floods, several quite devastating, throughout the years, but interestingly enough, the Cathedral of All Souls has not flooded once.
-Excerpts and adaptations from Around Biltmore Village by Bill Alexander