Since it’s completion in 1852, Chateau-sur-Mer has undergone a major transformation. Chateau-sur-Mer was first built by Seth Bradford, for William Shepard Wetmore, as a romantic Italianate villa. Wetmore wanted something a little more than the ordinary summer home and therefore had his made of rough-cut, Fall River granite, giving it a more rugged look, which wasn’t found in any of the other seaside villas. Though smaller than it is now, it was expensive and substantial enough to be considered palatial. It became a turning point in domestic architecture and triggered an architectural competition among summer residents.
Wetmore was a great entertainer and was featured in the New York Times for his “fete champetre,” held in 1857, and attended by over 3,000 guests. This party was the “start” of Chateau-sur-Mer. Unfortunately, when Wetmore died in 1862, his estate was passed to his son, George Peabody Wetmore, who undertook a major rebuilding of his fathers estate.
Richard Morris Hunt was the architect hired for the project. He altered the appearance of the Chateau so much that many believed the original had been torn down and replaced. His revisions began in 1871. He switched the main entrance from the west side to the north, built a grand carriage entrance, and replaced the gambrel roof with a steeper mansard roof. Hunt tore out the old service wing and replaced it with a billiards room, added a wing on the north side for a service area and new dining room, and created a dramatic entrance hall three stories high with balconies, skylights and an imperial staircase.
Several years later he continued the transformation of Chateau-sur-Mer and added another floor above the dining room and service wing as well as raising the mansard roofs. Critics have since used words such as “stern” and “severe” to describe this impressive mansion.
George Peabody Wetmore died in 1921 and left the estate to his two daughters, Edith and Maude, who began adding some softer touches to the very masculine residence. The house gradually filled with contemporary paintings and drawings and Chinese porcelain. The furnishings of the house were auctioned off after the death of Edith Wetmore in 1968, many of which were purchased by the Preservation Society, whom also purchased the estate.
Located on Ocean Drive, Brenton Point State Park is the perfect place to spend a relaxing afternoon in Newport. Brenton Point is located right where Narragansett Bay meets the Atlantic and has one of the greatest views in town. Picnicking, hiking and fishing are some of the activities that can be enjoyed here, as well as simply sitting back and enjoying the cool ocean breeze.
Brenton Point’s history dates back to early Rhode Island history. Brenton Point State Park was named after Governor William Brenton, a religious refugee from the Massachusetts Bay Colony. After living in Boston for four years he was “vigorously excused” in 1637 and spent time in Anne Hutchinson’s Portsmouth community before settling at the southern end of the Island in 1639. He divided his land, which today would not only be Brenton Point, but Castle Hill, Hammersmith Farm and Fort Adams, into two farms. Brenton understood that this area was very good for raising sheep (one of Rhode Island’s earliest economic export), and eventually he was raising 11,000 sheep. Brenton not only became a prosperous land owner, but also a prominent political figure in the colony.
William Brenton became the governor of Rhode Island and served from 1666 to 1669. Brenton happily took chances in annual elections and held office under the Charter of 1663. He died in 1674. Two years after Brenton’s death, Newport faced its first real challenge when the Wampanoag Indian Chief, Metacomet, united Indian tribes to expel white settlers in the mainland Massachusetts and Rhode Island towns. Fortunately, Newport and Portsmouth avoided massacres and being burned to the ground, and instead took in refugees from the areas that did. During the time that followed, Brenton Point and Castle Hill held their guard against pirates who were also seeking refuge in Narragansett Bay.
In the first half of the eighteenth century, Brenton point became a “portal” to the Privateers (commercial ships ready to wage war on England’s enemies). In 1776, Newport was a captured town, behind enemy lines, in the American Revolution. Cannons at Brenton Point and Castle Hill defended any attempts of the Americans to free the inhabitants under British garrison control for three years.
When the war was finally over, Newport and the surrounding farms were devastated for decades. Eventually the city was rescued by those seeking summer fun. Farm houses from before the civil war were transformed into guest houses. Wealthy industrialists from New York and Pittsburg began building mansions along Cliff Walk and Ocean Drive. Theodore M. Davis from Boston built a house known as “The Reef” in 1885 at Brenton Point, which became famous for its walled gardens and green houses. The estate took up eighteen acres, and after Davis’ death it went to Mr. and Mrs. Milton Budlong who used it until 1941.
During WWII, the site was one of the gateways to Narragansett Bay, making it an ideal location for coastal artillery battery. The house was returned to the Budlongs in 1946, but remained unoccupied and thus continued to deteriorate, until finally, a fire destroyed the villa in 1960. In 1969 the site became “open space property ,” under the control of the State of Rhode Island as part of the Green Acres Program. It became a Brenton Point State Park in 1976.