George Washington Vanderbilt II : biography
George Washington Vanderbilt II (November 14, 1862 – March 6, 1914) was a member of the prominent United States Vanderbilt family, which had amassed a huge fortune through steamboats, railroads, and various business enterprises. He built and owned Biltmore, the largest home in the United States.
On 1 June 1898, George W. Vanderbilt married Edith Stuyvesant Dresser (1873–1958) at the American Cathedral in Paris, France. They had one daughter, Cornelia Stuyvesant Vanderbilt (1900–1976). In 1912 George and Edith booked passage on the Titanic but changed their plans before departure, sailing and arriving in New York before the Titanic sank.
After his death, George's widow sold approximately of the property to the United States Forest Service at $5 an acre, fulfilling her husband's wishes to create the core of Pisgah National Forest. She sold additional land as finances demanded; today, about remain. Edith Dresser Vanderbilt later married Peter Goelet Gerry (1879–1957), a United States Senator from Rhode Island. Cornelia Stuyvesant Vanderbilt (George and Edith Vanderbilt's only child) married British aristocrat, John F. A. Cecil, a descendant of William Cecil in 1924. Her sons, George and William, eventually inherited the property. George Cecil, the older of the two sons, chose to inherit the majority of the estate's land and the Biltmore Farms Company, which was more profitable than the house at the time. The younger son, William Cecil was thus left with Biltmore House, and is credited with preserving the chauteau which (though still privately owned) has been opened to the public.
The youngest child of William Henry Vanderbilt and Maria Louisa Kissam. George II was named after his father's youngest brother, George Washington Vanderbilt II, the third son to survive to adulthood of the family founder, Cornelius Vanderbilt. (Uncle George II had died young at age 26 of tuberculosis contracted during his service in the Civil War.) Cornelius' tenth child, George I, was born in 1832 and died in 1836.
As the youngest in William's family, George II was said to be his father's favorite and his constant companion. Relatives described him as slender, dark-haired, and pale-complexioned. Shy and introverted, his interests ran to philosophy, books, and the collection of paintings in his father's large art gallery. In addition to frequent visits to Paris, France, where several Vanderbilts kept a home, George traveled extensively, becoming fluent in eight foreign languages.
His father owned elegant mansions in New York City and Newport and an country estate on Long Island, died in 1885 of a stroke, leaving a fortune of approximately $200 million, the bulk of which was split between his two older sons, Cornelius Vanderbilt II and William K. Vanderbilt. George W. Vanderbilt II inherited $1 million from his grandfather and received another million on his 21st birthday from his father. Upon his father's death, he inherited $5 million more, as well as the income from a $5 million trust fund. He ran the family farm at New Dorp and Woodland Beach, now the neighborhood of Midland Beach on Staten Island, New York where he was born, then lived with his mother in Manhattan until his own townhouse at 9 West 53rd Street was completed in 1887. The Vanderbilt family business was operated by his older brothers. This left George to spend his time in intellectual pursuits.
In 1891 he joined the New York Society of the Sons of the American Revolution.
In the 1880s, George visited western North Carolina with his mother. On a trip there in 1888, when he was twenty-six, he decided to build a country home there. In 1889, he purchased acreage in Asheville, North Carolina and began construction of the Biltmore Estate. He continued buying land until the estate eventually encompassed 125,000 acres equal to . It would have taken a week to travel on horseback around the property. Modeled after the great French Châteaux of the Loire Valley, the 250-room mansion on the remaining 8,000 acres was the largest of all the Vanderbilt houses. It remains the largest privately owned home in the United States and one of the most prominent remaining examples of the Gilded Age. The buildings were designed by famed architect Richard Morris Hunt and the grounds landscaped by Frederick Law Olmsted. On Christmas Eve 1895, Biltmore House opened its doors for its first family celebration. An art connoisseur and collector, George filled his mansion with Oriental carpets, tapestries, antiques, and artwork, including paintings by Renoir and Whistler, and a chess set that had belonged to Napoleon Bonaparte.
At Biltmore, George led the life of a country gentleman. Having a great interest in horticulture and agriscience, he oversaw experiments in scientific farming, animal bloodline breeding, and silviculture (forestry). His goal was to run Biltmore as a self-sustaining estate. In 1892, Olmsted suggested that Vanderbilt hire Gifford Pinchot to manage the forests on the estate. According to Pinchot, who went on to be the first Chief of the United States Forest Service, Biltmore was the first professionally managed forest in the U.S; it was also the site of the Biltmore School of Forestry, the first such school in North America, established in 1898 by Dr. Carl Schenck.
He died due to complications following an appendectomy in Washington, D.C. He was interred in the Vanderbilt family mausoleum at the Moravian Cemetery in New Dorp in Staten Island, New York.
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