The early roots of Biltmore Estate Industries

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“For the past year or so, the work has been primarily among the children of the community,” wrote Dr. Rodney Swope, rector of All Souls Church, in the church’s 1902 yearbook.

He had arrived at Biltmore Village in 1896, recruited by George Vanderbilt to lead the model village in worship and good works.

By 1902 there were 14 clubs, as well as a Sunday school and the Clarence Barker Memorial Hospital and Dispensary.

There were also many social activities. Ladies’ after-school tea was called “Happy Hour,” inspired by a social worker named Miss Drinker, Biltmore historian Mary Hyde noted in a 2002 interview.

Episcopalians of all souls were not as fierce as others when it came to puffs of alcohol. In January 1908, the New York Times reported, Swope accepted a donation of an estate on St. Dunstan’s Road that the Presbyterian Home Mission Board had rejected for its connections.

The donor was John A. Roebling – civil engineer and son of the man who built the Brooklyn Bridge; and Roebling, a virulent anti-prohibitionist, was leaving town because it had dried up.

No tobacco

Along with such liberalism, All Souls has focused energetically on the connection between hard work, craftsmanship, and moral strength.

When Swope said that the work of the church was mainly among children, he could refer to the Girls’ Club, engaged in drawing and sewing; the Boys ‘Club, the Junior Boys’ Club and the Young Men’s Institute, which involved both African American boys and men.

When the Boys’ Club was formed in 1901, the directory reports, “a constitution was drafted prohibiting the use of tobacco and bad language. The boys decided to engage in woodcarving.

Women leaders

The club was inspired by and teacher Eleanor Vance, a skilled woodcarver who, along with Charlotte Yale, a weaver, came to Biltmore Village in April 1901 for Eleanor’s health.

They were both recent graduates from Moody Bible School, so when Dr Swope heard about boys attending Vance’s private workshop, he asked the women to link their crafts to the mission of the church.

Edith Vanderbilt, who had married George in 1898, became interested and moved the club to better premises at 8 Biltmore Plaza, the 1903 directory noted.

In 1905, the two clubs were combined to form Biltmore Estate Industries, which sold their chairs, frames, boxes, needlework, baskets, and other expert-made items in nine states.

Seeing that their parents needed the children’s time to support their families, Ms Vanderbilt arranged for them to be paid for their time at work in the afternoons.

The 1905 directory reported about $ 1,000 in sales to Biltmore Estate Industries and $ 600 in labor. The total profit was $ 66.02 – a good year.

Continuous inheritance

The legacy of Biltmore Estate Industries has continued. After George Vanderbilt’s death in 1914, Vance and Yale moved their store to Tryon, where they established Tryon Toy-Makers and Wood-Carvers.

Fred Seely bought Biltmore Estate Industries from Edith Vanderbilt in 1917, changed its name to Biltmore Industries, and moved it near the Grove Park Inn. Weaving was a big part of this business, as were Seely’s legendary marketing skills.

Seely gave each industry visitor a fabric sample. “He was able to tell people that Helen Keller wore a yarn at the home of Biltmore Industries because she received fabric during her visit to make a dress,” said Sherry Masters, Managing Director of Grovewood Gallery.

The gallery and museum have existed since 1992, after 40 years of ownership by Harry Blomberg,

Now the gallery is working with the new management of the Grove Park Inn to make the two properties an attraction for craft enthusiasts; and focuses on expanding its presentation of precious wood objects.

Citizen Times columnist Rob Neufeld

Rob Neufeld wrote the weekly “Visiting Our Past” column for the Citizen Times until his death in 2019. The column was originally published on October 29, 2012.


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