I’ve been toying with the idea of putting together a package based on the ties between the Biltmore Estate and our historic house and neighbourhood for a while now and finally decided to do a small version this Christmas. I think a lot of people come to Asheville and see the Biltmore as a distinct entity without putting it in context with the rest of the city. Asheville was already an established town when George Vanderbilt chose it for his country home. The Biltmore Estate did not function apart from the community but drew from the community for much of the staff. And the people that Vanderbilt brought to Asheville stayed on and helped form Asheville as we know it today.
One such person was Richard Sharp Smith. He was born in Yorkshire, England and came to the United States in 1882. By 1886 he was working for Richard Morris Hunt and was assigned to work on the Biltmore House as its supervising architect. He met his wife in Asheville, Isabella Cameron, who was a member of the Biltmore staff. By 1900 Smith was firmly established as the leading architect in Asheville and over the next 20 years would be responsible for almost every major building in Asheville, including the Basillica of St. Lawrenceand a humble bungalow at 177 Cumberland Avenue which later became the Carolina Bed & Breakfast. Other builders and architects copied his style and his influence can be seen in the historic neighborhoods of Montford and Chestnut as well as Biltmore Village.
Those are the cold facts of the story. But like the sentence “George Vanderbilt opened Biltmore House for the first time to family and friends on Christmas Eve 1895” which begins so many articles about the Biltmore Christmas celebrations, the plain facts don’t give us very much of an idea of what that Christmas was like. We know that Vanderbilt brought in a 40 foot tree, a tradition which continues in the Banquet Hall today, but we don’t know where they went to find the tree. Was it snowing? How hard was it to chop such a big tree down and who were the men entrusted with the job? Were they local? Was their family excited to know their father was part of such an endeavor? Would that same family have had a tree of their own? For the most part these are things which are lost to us except in our imaginations.
So we are challenging our guests to come to Asheville this Christmas and use their imaginations to see it as it might have been then. Stroll through the historic Montford District where our Asheville Bed & Breakfast is located. There are more than 65 houses on Cumberland Avenue alone which were built between 1895 and 1920. Imagine them filled with merchants, lawyers, dentists and retired officers of the American Civil War, both Confederate and Yankee. Children might have played in the snow in Montford Park after walking home from schools on this street. And neighbors might have said hello as they passed each other walking to town in the same way we do now.
James and I will travel to one of the nearby Christmas Tree Farmsin early December to
cut down a fresh tree for the parlor of our Asheville Inn and we will decorate it with glass ornaments carefully chosen and collected over the years. The house will be festooned with garlands and the scents of oranges, cinnamon and pine will fill the halls. From my family’s history as well as from our own years living in England I will bake for you traditional holiday mince pies and homemade fruitcake which bears little resemblance to the commercial variety so disdained, and rightly so, by so many. Even the mythical sugarplum may make an appearance!
During the day, you may enjoy all the richness that is Asheville from the quirky shops and wonderful restaurants to the grandeur of the Biltmore at Christmas. Thousands of lights, endless flowers and 56 Christmas trees adorn the estate and grounds. This year’s theme is the Nature of Christmas which the Biltmore’s floral manager says is taken two ways: many of the decorations are made of natural materials but it also emphasizes the roots of Christmas and the family atmosphere. James and I will be happy to suggest seasonal activities, great hikes and excursions to enhance your visit. (My next blog will give more details on holiday activities in and around Asheville).
The Victorian’s often hung small gifts on their trees and our gift to you is a delightful Christmas ornament to take home with you to remind you in future years of your Asheville Christmas.
For details and pricing please visit our Specials page or call 828-254-3608.