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George Vanderbilt established the first agricultural operations at Biltmore to produce dairy products, meat, poultry, fruits, and vegetables for use in Biltmore House. However, it was his hope that the estate would be self supporting, and by the mid-1890s, many departments, including Landscaping, the Farms and Dairy, and the Nursery, had become commercial operations. Biltmore Farms was the name given to the expanding agricultural operation, which included the Biltmore Dairy. Biltmore Farms letterhead listed such diverse products as “A.L.G.G. Jerseys and Butter, Southdowns [sheep], Berkshires [hogs], Prize Winning Poultry, Market Garden Products, [and] Sourwood Honey.”

By the turn of the century, hundreds of men were employed in the agricultural operations. Many lived on Biltmore Estate in homes that either pre-existed the creation of the estate or were designed by estate architects and constructed to house workers and managers. A 1901 article described workers’ homes on the estate:

So it is that not only do you find a nook of old England in Biltmore village, but miles away from it you come upon other groups of cottages with their shrub and flower-decked yards and bit of garden in the rear — each has its half dozen or more rooms, its heating and cooking stoves, sewer and pure water, yet the tenant pays only four or five dollars a month, according to the size of the house which he occupies.1

A number of these homes were concentrated in the area adjacent to the Dairy and Horse Barn complex. In fact, so many families resided in this part of the estate that it came to be known as the “farm and dairy village.” Adjacent to the Horse Barn and the Dairy were four large managers’ cottages (two on each side of the Horse Barn) as well as a row of eight smaller workers’ houses to the east known as The Line. Also near the Dairy and Horse Barn was Antler Hall, a large pre-existing home divided into smaller apartments for the families of Dairy workers. It is said to have been located in the flat overlooking the river, with three floors and 32 rooms; it was demolished in 1936.2 Many hundreds of families called the farm and dairy village home throughout Biltmore’s history.

Dairy worker John Paul McCrary’s daughter Blanche recalls, “Most of the housing for the Farm or Dairy workers were houses of three to five rooms — plastered inside with running water in [the] kitchen, an instant flush toilet off the wide hall leading to the back of the house. The outside of the house was finished with plaster containing small rocks (called pebble-dashing). Houses were well built, easy to heat, fairly cool in the summer.”3 The McCrarys lived in three different houses on the estate. In fact, it was not uncommon for families to move four or even five times from one house to another as they were needed in different areas or as their families grew.4

Life for the families of dairy workers revolved around the village and the work done at the Dairy. Gladys Corn Nelson, daughter of blacksmith James Fanning Corn, recalled going to see the cows milked and the calves being fed on Sunday afternoons. She also watched the milk cans being delivered to the Creamery, and wrote, “I also remember that my sister Eva and I got to go to the creamery every day where we picked up our gallon of ‘good ole Jersey milk.’”5

The average rate of pay for dairy workers was 85 cents a day at the turn of the century. Many of the workers charged a good portion of their wages against purchases they made at the company store, first located in the Horse Stables, and later in the Main Dairy. There they could purchase any of the household supplies that they could not produce at home or in their gardens. Some families charged so many items that the wage-earner only received a few dollars after the deductions were made for purchases at the store.6

At the turn of the century, a trip into Biltmore Village or Asheville would have been somewhat of an adventure for many estate workers. Because most families did not have their own transportation, a man from the store in Biltmore Village came to the village homes on Tuesdays to take orders that were delivered on Fridays. Dairy manager, Arthur Towe is said to have arranged for washerwomen from the village to come onto the estate on Tuesdays and Fridays to assist the managers’ wives with laundry and other chores.7 Even by the 1940s, transportation could be a problem for some families.8