A number of residential communities followed the creation of the Biltmore name, the first most notably being Biltmore Forest.
Preservation Society of Asheville and Buncombe County executive director Jack Thomson detailed its history following the airing of a video featuring longtime residents George A. V. Cecil, Bobby Moore, Eugene “Bob” Carr, Anne Fuller Field Coxe, and Carnie Smith.
Thomson said there were 111 houses built in Biltmore Forest in the 1920s.
“The 30s slacked off with the Great Depression. My research shows that from the 1920s through the 1980s there were only two years on record when there were no houses built, 1933 and 1944 with the terror of World War II. 1950 saw the explosion of growth in Biltmore Forest, and in fact, I think personally and professionally as a preservationist that it deserves attention in and of itself, especially with the enthusiasm we’re seeing in the American Midcentury Movement,” he said.
In the video, Cecil said that after his grandfather George died, Edith Vanderbilt was left with a very large unproductive real estate portfolio, and limited liquidity. The trustees of the estate consulted Biltmore attorney Junius Adams about how to most responsibly dispose of some of the land. Adams and Chauncey Beadle proposed the idea of a Biltmore Forest residential development with upscale houses that would not detract from the rest of the property.
“Shortly after they started, somebody came up with the bright idea that they could sell more lots if they had a country club,” Cecil said. Biltmore Forest didn’t have enough money, so they approached Edith Vanderbilt who responded with her favorable consideration. The Biltmore Forest Country Club opened on July 4, 1922, and Vanderbilt served on its first board of governors.
An urban legend, unrelated to these interviews tells us that Mrs. Vanderbilt had another motivation to have the Biltmore Forest Country Club built. It is said that while visiting the Country Club of Asheville, she was asked to extinguish her cigarette because women were not allowed to smoke at the club. One supposes that at Biltmore nobody would dare to raise such an objection.
Carr said his parents moved to Asheville in 1925 when he was one year old. By 1927 they were building one of the first houses south of Biltmore Forest Country Club. “For many years we were the first house on Greenwood Road, before it was paved.” Carr remembered the Biltmore Forest Police Department rode Harley Davidson motorcycles. “You had Roy Creasman, chief of police with four officers working for him. Each one had his own motorcycle,” he said.
Moore said his parents, both of whom were doctors, moved to Biltmore Forest in 1938 when there were maybe 40 houses, but certainly fewer than 50 homes. “There were not a lot of people in the forest, it really was a forest.” When not in school, he and his friends would ride their bicycles to the swimming pool at the country club, or anywhere else they wanted to go.
Smith’s parents bought their house on Monte Vista Road in the spring of 1944. “Of course, it was during the war, so the children constantly played war games. We had forts deep into the woods. The forest was a great place for a kid to grow up, very special,” he said.
Coxe’s family moved to Buena Vista Road before her sister was born in 1931. The height of the Great Depression seems an unlikely time to build a new house, but according to Carr the three Coxe brothers were financially well situated, being backed by their father, Colonel Coxe, who owned the original Battery Park Hotel in downtown Asheville. Coxe said she remembers Biltmore Forest being very happy, secure, and fun. “We had a nice group of neighborhood children, and we played together all the time. Cecil Pless and Jimmy Wolcott in the houses near ours communicated with a Tarzan-like yell. I can still hear them doing it.”
Pless, who was not in the video presentation, said “I remember how the Biltmore Forest police would take the widow ladies to the doctor when they couldn’t get a ride. It was a different place, but I wouldn’t be surprised to hear they do the same thing today. We had a volunteer fire department, and every time an alarm would sound people would get up and run to the fire. I had a horse in the back yard for about two years, and we’d ride up and down Buena Vista and White Oak Road. The only thing you had to worry about were clotheslines if you were riding at night. We had a lot of fun growing up. I feel like I’m the luckiest guy in the world to have grown up here,” Pless said.
By Mark-Ellis Bennett