Adventure U.S.

Historic Biltmore Village

Historic Biltmore Village is located in the Blue Ridge Mountains, outside Asheville, North Carolina. This small English town is nestled outside the gates of the Biltmore Estate. Nicknamed “A Millionaire’s Village,” it was where George Vanderbilt’s employees lived.

Today, Biltmore Village is a Disneyesque-style village featuring original century-old homes which have been converted into retail shops and restaurants. Wander down its tree-lined streets. Admire Tudor cottages. Gaze in awe at the cathedral’s stained glass windows.

“Biltmore Village was conceived by a visionary millionaire, designed by world-renowned architects and home to humble estate workers.”

HistoricBiltmoreVillage.com

Before Vanderbilt bought all the land to build his manor, it was a small town named after William J. Best (the owner of the Western North Carolina Railroad.) Prior to its settlement, this land standing in the shadow of the Blue Ridge mountains was the home of the Cherokee.

Biltmore Village History

Don’t visit Biltmore Village if you expect a history lesson on what life was like back in 1900. Although original village houses remain in Biltmore Village, there are no historic markers providing information.

Truthfully, I would have loved to see a sign in front of a cottage on all All Soul’s Crescent—“Designed architect Richard Sharp Smith. Constructed 1900. Typical residence for valet, cook, or chauffeur.”

But I can highly recommend HistoricBiltmoreVillage.com to see the late 1890s/early 1900s photographs of the village cathedral and cottages, village school, and post office.

The Last Castle

Before visiting historic Biltmore Village, I highly recommend reading The Late Castle: The Epic Story of Love, Loss, and American Royalty in the Nation’s Largest Home.

Author Denise Kiernan brings to life the stories of the people responsible for building the mansion and the village.

“The book’s vitality lies in the details [Kiernan] reveals about the architects, writers and peers of the Vanderbilts who spent time at Biltmore.”

The New York Times Book Review

Walking Tour

I highly recommend booking a walking tour to discover the history of Biltmore Village. Historian Sharon Fahrer is the owner of History @ Hand. Sharon’s mission is to make history accessible through interpretive history panels in public spaces, walking tours, lectures, and exhibits.

The 70-minute Biltmore Village walking tour covers several blocks with stops at historic buildings, such as The Cathedral of All Souls, the hospital, the post office, and the former train depot.

Sharon explained that Biltmore Village was conceived as “the grand entrance” to Vanderbilt’s estate. “He was lord of the manor for the village,” said Sharon.

Vanderbilt practiced his philanthropy through the church. “There was a school and a hospital. There were boys and girls clubs, which morphed into Biltmore Industries. This is where it all started. Vanderbilt owned the whole town.”

“In my interpretation of it, Biltmore Village was the Disney World of the time. Everything had to be perfect.”

Sharon Fahrer

Workers’ homes had water and electricity. “People say ‘he [Vanderbilt] built these temporary houses’ where the workers lived. But once their jobs were over, they were taken away. These were all permanent accommodations. For instance, there were retail stores with apartments over them. It wasn’t just little houses,” added Sharon.

She urged me to go inside The Cantina at Historic Biltmore Village to see their photo exhibit. Running along a side wall, the photo exhibit showed old-time photos of Biltmore Estate and Biltmore Village.

Historical photo exhibit at The Cantina restaurant

Frederick Law Olmsted

Biltmore Village was conceived by landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted. His vision was to create a grand entrance to the home of George W. Vanderbilt. Today, The Biltmore Estate is the most visited house in America.

Considered the father of American landscape, Olmsted’s lists of designs include New York’s Central Park, Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, Boston’s Emerald Necklace, Chicago’s Jackson Park, and Montreal’s Mount Royal. He also designed the grounds of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC.

Olmsted created what many consider his masterpiece—the Approach Road to Biltmore—while paying homage to all the estates and parks he had visited as a young man.

The Cathedral of All Souls

Unfortunately, we were not able to go inside The Cathedral of All Souls. The doors remain locked to visitors during the pandemic except when services are held. But Sharon did provide me with its history.

All Souls Episcopal Church was consecrated on November 8, 1896. Vanderbilt missed the ceremony as he had to rush to New York City. His mother had died. “Vanderbilt brought his minister down from St. Bartholomew’s Church in New York to consecrate this place. And when he got here, he got a telegram that his mother had died. So he had to turn right around and go back to New York. He never even came for the consecration,” said Sharon.

Both the name and geography have shaped All Souls Episcopal Church for over 126 years.

“Built by George Vanderbilt as the parish church for the village adjacent to the Biltmore House, it was seen by Vanderbilt as the connecting piece for the daily life of all persons, all souls, in the region.”

The Cathedral of All Souls

Olmsted designed the village in a fan shape. Since the church was the village’s most important building, it is located at the pivot.

Vanderbilt’s daughter Cornelia and the Honorable John Francis Amherst Cecil were married at the Cathedral of All Souls on April 27, 1924. “The village children of all the people who worked at the estate were dressed in white and they made a flower arch for the bride and groom,” said Sharon. “A couple of years ago, a present wrapped in ribbon. It turns out it was a piece of the groom’s cake. They must have been giving each employee a piece of this wedding cake. It was fruitcake. They said it looked like swiss cheese.”

Richard Morris Hunt

The Cathedral of All Souls is the only one remaining of the six churches that architect Richard Morris Hunt designed in the U.S. The other churches have burned or been demolished.

“The church draws architectural aficionados as the last surviving sanctuary designed by Richard Morris Hunt, the father of American architecture.”

Citizen-Times
The Cathedral of All Souls (side view)

The Romanesque Revival-style building is a daunting presence. The signature pebble dash is used. The terracotta roof is red tile. There is a central tower that reaches skyward. It is set in a flared-wave pyramidal roof. The mix of eaves, ridges, and gables creates is picturesque.

I could see the stately trees reflected in the three long windows on the right side of the cathedral.

According to Architects & Builders, The Cathedral of All Souls is considered one of Hunt’s least known but finest churches. The design of the four wings of the narthex, apse, and transepts is intended to maximize parishioners’ participation.

Parish School

Biltmore Village was an early model of the self-sufficient village. It included all the critical services which residents required, including church, school, train depot, and retail stores. The Biltmore Parish School opened in 1898.

According to the Biltmore village website, its inaugural class had 28 students. It employed two teachers when it opened. Cornelia Vanderbilt attended the Biltmore Parish School.

The school was part of the Episcopal church’s mission. “In its early days, it sponsored a school for mountain children and, in later decades, was the home for Asheville’s first school designed for children with special needs. It also supported the establishment of a nearby hospital, and in recent years has established a therapeutic counseling center for non-insured and underinsured persons,” according to the church’s website.

Church playground

Today there is a playground at the Cathedral of All Souls where children can scamper and play. The original schoolhouse was torn down.

Train Depot

Thanks to Kiernan’s book as well as Sharon’s tour, I learned about the “famous folks,” who came to Vanderbilt’s home for his fetes. The Who’s Who included F. Scott Fitzgerald, Thomas Wolfe, Teddy Roosevelt, John Singer Sargent, James Whistler, Henry James, and Edith Wharton.

At the turn of the century, these guests would typically arrive by train from New York City, Washington DC, or other environs.

Biltmore Village’s historic train station—Southern Railway Passenger Depot—was designed by architect Richard Morris Hunt.

Opened in 1896, the one-story depot features a low-hipped roof, overhanging eaves, half-timbering, brick foundation, and pebbledash finish. There is the central porte coche where a horse-drawn carriage would pass through to disembark passengers.

Biltmore Estate Office

Hunt died before the Biltmore Estate was finished. He only built three other village buildings—the Biltmore Estate Office, The Cathedral of All Souls, and the Parish Hall.

Biltmore Village Hospital

The Biltmore Hospital Extension and Memorial Mission Hospital is listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.

Battle Wing, Biltmore Hospital

Architect Douglas Ellington designed the Tudor Revival hospital, which is located at 14 All Souls Crescent. The original structure opened in 1929-1930.

The hospital is a 4-story building with a flat roof. It features brick and stone.

Bucolic Cottages

I would love to spend a night inside one of the cottages designed by Richard Sharp Smith. The British architect built these quaint homes as well as residences in Montford, Chestnut Hill, and Grove Park. (He worked in Richard Morris Hunt’s company and served as supervising architect for the Biltmore Estate.)

Smith stayed in Asheville after his tenure at Biltmore. My guide told me that he designed over 700 buildings before his death in 1924.

“In the period from 1900 to 1920, Smith was responsible for virtually every major structure in downtown Asheville. He helped to define the character of the city in his time, and he designed many houses in suburban Asheville neighborhoods such as Montford, Chestnut Hill, and Grove Park.”

NC State University Libraries

I can picture myself heating a tea kettle on the stove for my mid-morning break. There is a scone purchased at a local bakery. My copy of the Asheville newspaper lies on my table.

Village bakery

But I can’t pay attention because I am looking outside my window. Is that dapper man dressed in his tailored tweed suit and English walking cap, and tapping his cane possibly Richard Sharp Smith? Or is it just his ghost surveying his building projects?

If only I could time travel to the late 1800s to meet these legendary men who built Vanderbilt’s Biltmore Estate and Village.

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48 Comments

  • Reply
    Ada
    April 30, 2022 at 5:08 pm

    I think you might finally have me convinced that I need to head to the Blue Ridge Mountains immediately. Biltmore Village looks extremely relevant to my interests!

  • Reply
    Heather
    April 30, 2022 at 5:50 pm

    Oops I’ve never heard of Biltmore Village and it looks amazing! Will have to add it to my list. 😄

  • Reply
    Bejal
    April 30, 2022 at 6:01 pm

    I’ve never heard of Biltmore village until now-always love reading your posts that introduce me to new places. Most intrigued about the cathedral. I hope I can visit one day.

    • Reply
      Terri
      April 30, 2022 at 7:55 pm

      Thank you so much! I was really disappointed that I didn’t get to tour the inside of the Cathedral. I really want to learn more about the stain glass windows. They were designed by a colleague of Louis Tiffany.

  • Reply
    Katy
    April 30, 2022 at 6:53 pm

    What a fun historical place to visit in North Carolina!

    • Reply
      Terri
      April 30, 2022 at 7:54 pm

      I agree. Western NC is a fascinating place. I can’t wait to go back.

  • Reply
    Brittany
    April 30, 2022 at 7:02 pm

    This is such a cool post, Terri! We didn’t explore the Biltmore Village when we visited Asheville and the Biltmore Estate a few years ago, but now I wish that we had. I guess I’ll just have to go back and explore it next time 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

    • Reply
      Terri
      April 30, 2022 at 7:53 pm

      I made the same mistake. I visited Biltmore Estate in 2020. I didn’t realize there was a historic village associated with it. I am so glad that I was able to tour it when I returned in April 2022.

  • Reply
    Erin
    April 30, 2022 at 7:36 pm

    The Parish school looks pretty interesting. I didn’t realize it went as far back as the 1800s. This looks like such a fun trip for the whole family!

    • Reply
      Terri
      April 30, 2022 at 7:52 pm

      The Biltmore Village was constructed in the late 1890s after the Biltmore Estate opened. It is a fascinating place to visit.

  • Reply
    Kristin
    April 30, 2022 at 8:03 pm

    This looks so cute! I didn’t even realize that the Biltmore Estate was so big.

    • Reply
      Terri
      April 30, 2022 at 8:46 pm

      Biltmore Estate is huge. The village sits outside the estate. I hope you get to visit one day.

  • Reply
    Jeanine
    April 30, 2022 at 9:13 pm

    What an amazing little village, I love the older style homes especially when they are cared for as appears to be the case here…I am a lover of historic things this is well worth a look… thank you for sharing I love it

    • Reply
      Terri
      May 1, 2022 at 6:09 am

      I too am glad that the old cottages were not torn down in the name of progress, to be replaced by indescript office buildings. We need to save more historic buildings.

  • Reply
    Catherine - Savvy Family Travel
    April 30, 2022 at 9:40 pm

    Biltmore Estate is a destination in itself, I had no idea there was also a whole village to explore! Glad to have a reason to go back. I’d love to see the old train station.

    • Reply
      Terri
      May 1, 2022 at 6:08 am

      I wish the old train station still was active. But you can walk back in time when you visit the cathedral.

  • Reply
    Stephanie
    April 30, 2022 at 11:41 pm

    I would love to explore this area! That cathedral is incredible!! I will totally remember this for the next time I’m in North Carolina!

    • Reply
      Terri
      May 1, 2022 at 6:07 am

      I hope you get to visit one day! Check out my other posts on my visit to the Black Mountain College and historic Montford. So much to see!

  • Reply
    Mayi
    May 1, 2022 at 3:06 am

    I would love to visit Baltimore Village, especially the intriguing looking Cathedral of All Souls. I love seeing all types of architecture. Thanks for sharing.

    • Reply
      Terri
      May 1, 2022 at 6:06 am

      I am also fascinated by architecture. This region is famous for its 19th century architecture plus the Biltmore “chateauesque-style” estate.

  • Reply
    Lina
    May 1, 2022 at 3:33 am

    I never heard of Biltmore Village before but it looks like a nice place to discover!

    • Reply
      Terri
      May 1, 2022 at 6:05 am

      Agreed! It is a fun place to explore.

  • Reply
    Alma
    May 1, 2022 at 3:59 am

    Such interesting history about Biltmore Village. I can just see it would be very captivating with various elements to explore.

    • Reply
      Terri
      May 1, 2022 at 6:05 am

      I will probably revisit Biltmore Village because I want to see the inside of the cathedral.

  • Reply
    Katy
    May 1, 2022 at 4:00 am

    Wow Biltmore Village is definitely my kind of place! I love that it has history and hills and I always love a walking tour.

    • Reply
      Terri
      May 1, 2022 at 6:03 am

      I agree. You learn so much on a walking tour.

  • Reply
    Sharyn
    May 1, 2022 at 4:50 am

    What a fabulous place this is. It would be wonderful to time travel to the period – as long as it was easy to get back.

    • Reply
      Terri
      May 1, 2022 at 6:03 am

      I agree lol! I don’t want to get stuck back in 1898! Those long skirts must have been a nuisance.

  • Reply
    Alexandrea
    May 1, 2022 at 6:43 am

    I’ve actually been thinking about a road trip down to Ashville this summer! It’s only about 5 hours from me, and I don’t know why it’s taken me this long! If I do get down that way, I will definitely be checking out Biltmore Village. The church is beautiful. And, good to know there is a walking tour as it’s my favorite way to learn about a new place. Thanks for the info!

    • Reply
      Terri
      May 1, 2022 at 6:56 am

      I just love Asheville & the Blue Ridge Mountains. It offers everything – history, hiking and great restaurants. You will love it. Definitely book a walking tour!

  • Reply
    Sarah
    May 1, 2022 at 10:11 am

    At first glance I would’ve said this is somewhere in Europe! What fascinating finds you come across. I love reading about them! I’d love to get to the Blue Ridge Mountains one day – it looks like such a scenic and historic spot!

    • Reply
      Terri
      May 1, 2022 at 12:05 pm

      I think you would love western North Carolina. It offers so much – small mountain towns, arts & crafts, breweries, and great hikes in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

  • Reply
    Chelsea Messina
    May 1, 2022 at 12:47 pm

    The architecture is so beautiful. I love learning the history behind the places we visit. Thanks for sharing!

    • Reply
      Terri
      May 1, 2022 at 3:02 pm

      I agree. It is rare when you have one or two architects who design all the homes in a village. This makes Biltmore Villlage so special.

  • Reply
    Sharon
    May 1, 2022 at 3:21 pm

    Looks like a beautiful place. Thanks for the advice.

    • Reply
      Terri
      May 2, 2022 at 5:43 am

      I hope you get to visit.

  • Reply
    Pam
    May 1, 2022 at 4:37 pm

    Looks like such a unique place to visit – with the same architects. Must be a lot of history here. Very cool!

    • Reply
      Terri
      May 2, 2022 at 5:42 am

      It is like stepping back in time! I think you will enjoy.

  • Reply
    Sarah
    May 1, 2022 at 8:24 pm

    Thanks so much for sharing this! We want to get to the Biltmore and I actually had no idea that the village even existed! Super cool!

    • Reply
      Terri
      May 2, 2022 at 5:42 am

      It is a nice place to visit or stay after your tour of Biltmore Estate. Enjoy!

  • Reply
    Sharon Fahrer
    May 2, 2022 at 9:29 pm

    I enjoyed your account. I would like to mention the architect you reference is not Richard Hunt Smith but Richard Sharp Smith. He stayed in Asheville after his tenure at Biltmore and designed over 700 buildings before his death in 1924. He must have been a work acholic! Thanks for mentioning me in your blog!

    • Reply
      Terri
      May 3, 2022 at 9:46 am

      Sharon, thank you for the personal tour of historic Biltmore Village. I fixed my error regarding Richard Sharp Smith. I had no idea that Smith designed over 700 buildings before his death.

  • Reply
    mohana and aninda
    May 3, 2022 at 4:10 am

    What a pretty village! And so scenic. The church is beautiful. I’d love to visit and learn more about the history of the place.

    • Reply
      Terri
      May 3, 2022 at 9:45 am

      I hope you get to visit one day and see the cathedral.

  • Reply
    Jasmina
    May 6, 2022 at 5:21 am

    Oh wow, what a fascinating place to discover! I love the architecture here!

    • Reply
      Terri
      May 7, 2022 at 9:29 am

      I agree! I love to visit historic towns when I travel.

  • Reply
    Krista
    May 7, 2022 at 12:26 pm

    It looks like a great place to visit as part of a day trip. It’s definitely a unique site with the US and is still on my list.

    • Reply
      Terri
      May 7, 2022 at 2:23 pm

      I hope you get to visit Washington DC. But you should plan to stay a minimum of three days. There is so much to see & do.

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