Sustainable Haven Blog

Mansion Cleaning at The Biltmore Estate

I recently had the chance to visit the gorgeous Biltmore House in lovely Asheville, NC over the holidays. The Biltmore Estate was built by members of the Vanderbilt Family between 1889 and 1895 and is the largest privately owned house in the US.

The project was lead, in part, by architect Federick Olmstead, who designed famed Central Park and considered the Biltmore one of his last and greatest projects. Still owned by members of the Vanderbilt family today, you may be interested to read about the spectacular rise and fall of the family here or a brief history of Biltmore.

Courtesy of

A bachelor who later went on to have one child with his wife, George Washington Vanderbilt spared no expense filling the Biltmore full of priceless art and books, making it difficult to even put a value on the incredible home. Although the main levels of Biltmore were breathtaking, my favorite section was, naturally, the humming basement level of the home, where workers would have handled all the cooking, cleaning and maintenance.

Amazingly well-preserved and still filled with the giant, early laundry machines and home care products of the time, I was overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of what it took to keep a house that size, with all of its year-round guests, plied with food, fresh linens and an average of six (!!) changes of clothing per guest each day, as required by etiquette.

Above left you can see the large, pull-out industrial drying racks used for table linens and the stacked laundry soap and cleaners on the shelf to the right. These are old boxes of Gold Dust Washing Powder, an all purpose dish and laundry cleaner developed in the late 1880s by the Nathaniel Kellogg Fairbank Soap Manufacturing Company.

Pictured above is one of the ironing rooms. To the left you can see a box of Putnam Dyes, a company that developed an early form of bleach and clothing dye. The box, for some strange reason, shows Revolutionary War soldier General Putnam being pursued by Red Coats.

Vanderbilt was notoriously generous and paid New York wages to all of the North Carolina workers who helped care for the home. Although surely back-breaking work, a job at the Biltmore was a prized one to have and workers were really the life force of the home. Cauldrons, washing boards, basins and more stretched into several different rooms. Can't you just imagine the place teeming with life in preparation for a huge banquet?

After a grueling day of work, I hope someone was able to sneak a dip in the Biltmore's heated pool on the same basement level because, boy, that is one sweet swimming hole!

Leave a comment

← Older Post | Newer Post →