A visit to the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina provides an opportunity for students to glimpse back into the Gilded Age and experience George Vanderbilt’s dream of an integrated self-sufficient community. Biltmore Estate offers low-cost student tickets to the house and to River Bend Barn, an organic working farm. Educational support, tied to state instructional standards, provides educators with a field trip opportunity that is affordable and complements classroom instruction.
The Biltmore House is the largest privately owned home in America. Not only is it the most beautiful home of its time, it was also wildly ahead of its time. With indoor pluming, bowling ally, pool, and elevator, the Biltmore, in the 1880s, held more luxuries then general population holds.
The 250 room house contains 34 bedrooms and 43 bathrooms. George Vanderbilt purchased 125,000 acres in western North Carolina and started construction on the elaborate home in 1889. There are parts of the house that were not completed in George’s life time. My advice to really capture the beauty and history of this house would be to take a weekend staying at the on site hotel and take both the architectural tour and the butler tour.
Christmas at Biltmore Estate
From November 7th through January 3rd, Biltmore is decorated for Christmas. Biltmore House was opened on Christmas Eve in 1895 and George Vanderbilt’s descendants still maintain the rich traditions begun at that time, including a 35-foot tree in the Banquet Hall, decorated with gift packages and holiday ornaments. Estate guides escort student groups of twenty through the various rooms, explaining the history of the house and highlighting the importance of Christmas in the Vanderbilt legacy.
Although any season offers a complete educational experience, a Christmas field trip is particularly rewarding. The fully decorated house focuses on the best of Victorianism. Every room features Christmas trees adorned in a variety of motifs while an abundance of wreaths and holiday foliage, most of it from the estate gardens, gives a feeling of mirth. During the Christmas season, holiday carols and hymns are played on the organ above the Banquet Hall. Students may be amazed by the enormous gingerbread rendition of the Biltmore House in the Pastry Kitchen. Student house tours are 2 hours long and do not include every room.
Educational Resources and Handouts
Biltmore estate provides lesson plans, student workbooks, and research handouts for elementary school grades. These are downloadable on the Biltmore website. Although no such support material is available for high school students, teachers can request information booklets about the house and develop enrichment activities to help students better understand the history of the house. Sample activities include:
- Developing a “treasure hunt” activity linked to each room that will be visited.
- Creating a journal that highlights a particular theme tied to the house.
- Writing a brief essay after the visit that asks students to imagine what it would have been like to walk into the house in 1895.
- Identifying aspects of Victorianism by creating a collage
At a time when segregation was the norm in the South, George Vanderbilt opened an integrated school for his employee’s children, perhaps one of the first in North Carolina. On one occasion, he overheard a racial comment made by an employee and dismissed the man. Mr. Vanderbilt read and collected 23,000 books, many of which line the walls of his comfortable library. These characteristics of a man associated with one of the most powerful and wealthy late 19th-century families lend themselves to student discussion and reflection. To what extent did Mr. Vanderbilt use his position to make life better for others?
For students, the house tour, coupled with a one-hour visit to River Bend Barn, provides a learning laboratory that makes the past come alive. All support material is aligned to the standard course of study guidelines set by the North Carolina Department of Education. Teachers can also earn continuing education credits geared toward professional development.
Biltmore Estate Dining and Shopping
As if the house wasn’t enough to be completely floor you with its beauty and character, there are many wonders to see while walking the grounds. Take a walk through the gardens, the conservatory, the village and winery. Also, stroll around the pond and view a beautiful waterfall. After all that walking your sure to get hungry and though you have many options of dining, my favorite was the Stable Cafe. On exiting the house you can enter the stables that have been transformed into beautiful shops and an amazing cafe.
Biltmore House offers students box lunches prepared by Deerpark Restaurant, an on-site establishment. The cost per student is $8.00. Adjacent to the house exit, students can enjoy a quick snack at the Bake Shop or the Ice Cream Parlor. The Stable Café, located in the same compound, offers a varied menu with affordable prices. The Stable complex is also a mini-shopping mall with souvenir shops, a candy shop, a Christmas shop, and a toy shop.
Christmas at Biltmore Student Group Prices
- Monday – Thursday: $16.00
- Friday – $18.00
- River Bend Barn – $5.00
A Field Trip to Biltmore is exciting and fun for students in all grade levels. Christmas at Biltmore offers a colorful step back into history at an affordable price and lends itself to an array of enrichment activities that enhance instructional goals. Reservations can be made by calling 800-411-3812.