Written by Stanley Greenberg Friday, 03 September 2010 00:00
The name Vanderbilt has its own mystique. The family came from Holland, the town of Bilt. Vander means “from the” and Bilt is the geographical place.
Cornelius Vanderbilt (1794-1877), the patriarch, was American-born, and a real “go-getter.” He exited school at an early age and entered into various capitalist ventures. Steamships and railroads (New York Central) were the source of his spectacular fortune of $100 million.
It has been said that his philanthropy was due to Cornelius being one of the “Robber Barons” of the late 19th century. There was no income tax, and that made it easier to accumulate fortunes. Andrew Carnegie also assuaged his conscience through gifts to libraries and Carnegie Hall.
Cornelius’ $1 million gift eventually became known as Vanderbilt University. He passed this fortune onto his son William George Vanderbilt (1821-1896), who eventually doubled the fortune. His philanthropy includes funding the Metropolitan Opera and the Medical School of Columbia University.
George Vanderbilt (1862-1914), William’s son, saw his future on a trip to Asheville, North Carolina. He amassed 125,000 acres with his fortune, and began the founding of the Biltmore Estate. “Bilt” for the Dutch town, and “more”, an old English word for gently rolling hills. George spared no expense; he hired Frederick Law Olmsted, the man who did the topography for Central Park in Manhattan.
We had ventured 800 miles from home to a new and interesting place. America has many riches, and many stories of small towns, wonderful sites and happy people.