The 9th Annual Newport Mansions Food and Wine Festival will be held from September 19th to the 21st at The Elms, Rosecliff and Marble House. A variety of events are held all weekend long, with the Grand Tastings on Saturday and Sunday as the main event.
The festivities start on Friday, September 19th with Wine and Rosecliff, a night of great music, food and vintages. Wines presented at this event are generally not found at the grand tastings. Some wineries showcasing their wines are: Villa Maria, Nicolas Gueillatte, Chateau d’Escalan, Sequoia Grove, Larkin Wines and others.
The Grand Tastings take place on the Marble House grounds on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. Guests can enjoy hundreds of wines from around the world as well as food samples from many caterers and restaurants. A variety of celebrity chefs will be around for free demonstrations and book signings. This year, Sara Moulton and Martha Stewart will be among the celebrity chefs sharing their skills. There will be a silent auction for luxury goods and wines and each guest receives a souvenir glass.
Other events happening over the course of the weekend include: the Collectible Wine Dinner (Saturday, 7pm at the Elms), Newport After Dark (Saturday, 9pm, Forty One North), Winemaker brunch (Sunday, 1030am, Marble House) and a variety of wine seminars held at the Hyatt Regency Hotel (Friday) and the Chinese Tea House at Marble House (Saturday and Sunday).
The Breakers is by far the most famous mansion in Newport. If you only see one mansion while visiting, most will choose the Breakers. Today, this giant “palace” measures 250 feet by 150 feet and contains 70 rooms, over four floors. Millions of visitors have visited the Breakers since it became open to the public in the 1970’s.
Cornelius Vanderbilt II bought the property and original Breakers in 1885 from Pierre Lorillard to be used as a summer home for his family. The original building burned down in 1892, which resulted in a much larger version being built, modeled after the Renaissance palaces in Genoa and Turin. Work began in 1893 and took just over two years to complete. Hundreds of workers helped lay the stones and whole rooms were built in Europe and then shipped to Newport.
Richard Morris Hunt was the architect for the Breakers, who worked on many other Newport mansions, including Ochre Point and Marble House. Hunt died before the Breakers was complete, but wished to be remembered for the stick-style cottages he built early in his career. However his fame rests with the Breakers and other stone palaces.
This was Vanderbilt’s second home and as it was being built, the anticipation grew. There were many rumors surrounding the art and amenities of the mansion, and on August 14th, 1895, those rumors were put to rest at the combined house-warming/coming-out party of Gertrude Vanderbilt. Over 300 guests were in attendance and were greeted by the great hall, which rises nearly 50 feet and is lined with Caen stone. The East wall, made almost entirely of glass allows for a view to the lawn, ocean and the reef that gave the Breakers its name. Guests marveled at the two story dining room and “grotto-like” billiards room. The two-level kitchen, the size of a normal size house had sealed doors that no odors could escape from.
Cornelius Vanderbilt II was the grandson of Cornelius Vanderbilt, who started the family fortune. He was worth more than $70 million, but worked as a bank clerk, making $50 a month and lived on that salary. He worked long hours and became the chairman of the family’s railroad empire. He married Alice Claypoole Gwynne and was a devoted husband. The Vanderbilts were not known for their entertaining because of the amount of time that Vanderbilt dedicated to his family business and philanthropy. He donated his time and more than a million dollars a year to various charities and much of it was anonymous. Unfortunately, a year after the Breakers opened, Vanderbilt suffered a stroke. He died three years later at the age of 56.
Countess Laszlo Szechenyi (Gladys Vanderbilt) leased the Breakers to the Preservation Society of Newport County for $1.00 a year in order to raise funds for the restoration of the Hunter House. It was finally acquired in 1972, and millions have been visiting ever since.
Some of the biggest attractions in Newport are the Newport Mansion, which wouldn’t be available to the public without the efforts of the Preservation Society of Newport. The Preservation Society was founded by a group of visionaries in 1945. Their goal was to save Newport’s historical architecture from neglect and ruin. It is a non-profit organization, which now has 11 properties, 7 of which are National Historic Landmarks. They have worked to “protect, preserve and present” these houses as museums to share the history of Newport with further generations. The Preservation Society of Newport is the largest cultural organization in Rhode Island, and is continuously working to engage the public in America’s heritage.
These historical building date back as far as the 1700’s and tell the story of America from the Colonial Era through the Gilded Age. More than 900,000 people visit these 11 properties every year, learning about what New England life was like within the last 250 years. From the Hunter House to the Breakers, guests can explore history and see what life was like. Both audio tours and guided tours are available.
The Preservation Society is always working to improve the historic experience and get their guests involved. This past summer, the audio tour of the Elms was updated, which includes recent research and tells the story of the Venetian paintings in the dining room. It also adds more information about servant life in the Gilded Age, incase you can’t experience the separate servants life tour.
In October 2013, the Preservation Society was approved by the RI Historical Preservation and Heritage Commission, to create a visitors center at the Breakers, Newport’s largest mansion. This new center will get rid of the current ticket booth, portable restroom trailer, vending machine shed and seasonal ticket tent and create a one-story building that adopts the style of the original landscape. It will offer visitors information about the Breakers as well as the other Preservation Society properties. It will also offer refreshments and comfortable bathrooms. No irreversible alteration to the landscape will happen and the historic “fabric” and “viewsheds” will be preserved. They are just waiting on the appeal to the Newport Zoning Board.
I decided to write a piece on the top ten historical attractions in Newport RI to assist our guests if time is short. Most if not all of these landmarks are within walking distance of the Marshall Slocum Inn and/or have free ample parking. Although there are significantly more than 10 historical landmarks we decided to offer a top ten list to guide our guests when visiting Newport. For those guests who are staying longer at the bed and breakfast there are many more places and sites to see than these ten.
- The Breakers – The Breakers is undoubtably the most famous tourist attraction in Newport RI for domestic and international visitors. Completed in 1895, The Breakers is a concrete example of the Vanderbilt families exorbant wealth derived from, amongst other things, the New York Central Railroad. This National Historic Landmark consists of 70 rooms adorned with rare marble, alabaster, and gilded woods. Perhaps the most enjoyable feature of the Breakers are the spectacular views of the Atlantic Ocean and the historic Cliff Walk.
- Touro Synagogue – The Touro Synagogue is the quintessential example of Roger Williams’s promotion of religious tolerance and could be a main topic of why Rhode Island is it’s own state. Completed in 1763, the Synagogue became the first accepted active place of worship in the United States for Jewish persons. During the British occupation of Newport RI the synagogue survived burning due to it’s usefulness to the British troops as a hospital and meeting place. Recently, a beautiful new visitors center was completed giving tourists a great resource to learn about Judah Touro and his followers.
- The Marble House – Inspired by the Petit Trianon at Versailles, the Marble House is the other grand property of the Vanderbilt family. The house is ordained with gold and marble throughout which architect, Richard Morris Hunt, intended to be a statement of wealth during the infamous Gilded Age. Alva Vanderbilt, the properties owner, held her “Votes for Women” rallies at the mansion as part of her lifelong commitment to women’s rights.
- Rough Point – Rough Point is the home of Doris Duke, heiress and art collector who turned her good fortune into a life’s work in philanthropy. Most of Duke’s fortune came from the tobacco plantations owned by her family and she is said to have donated up to $400 million throughout her lifetime. Her philanthropic legacy continues today throughout the City of Newport by means of the Newport Restoration Foundation and the Doris Duke Foundation.
- National Museum of American Illustration – The National Museum of American Illustration is perhaps the most under visited and cautiously marketed attraction in Newport. Located at Vernon Court, a Gilded Age mansion on Bellevue Avenue, the building hosts the first national museum devoted exclusively to American illustration art, featuring Norman Rockwell, Maxfield Parish, JC Leyendecker, NC Wyeth, Jessie Willcox Smith, and 150 other artists.
- The Elms – A personal favorite of the staff at the Inn, The Elms was completed in 1901 as a summer retreat for coal magnate Edward Berwin and his wife Herminie. Features of the house include modern amenities that were unheard of at the time as well as floor to ceiling artwork and tapestries. Perhaps the best part of the Elms preservation is the behind the scenes tour where visitors can see the staff living quarters, boiler room, laundry room, kitchen, and the secret roof deck with expansive views of Newport and the Atlantic Ocean.
- Fort Adams – Situated in a strategic location overlooking Narragansett Bay, Fort Adams is a unique example of coastal defense systems utilized pre Revolutionary War up to World War II. Visitors can take a guided tour of the interior of the fort, the many underground tunnels, and the amazing overlook posts with 360 degree views of Aquidneck Island and Narragansett Bay. Fort Adams is also home to the Jazz and Folk Festivals which occur each summer in Newport.
- The Newport Mill – The Newport Mill is located in beautiful Touro Park and is thought to be the oldest remaining structure in Newport. There is no confusion about it’s usage from the 18th century onward but the debate rages on as to the buildings origin and purpose. Some theories point to an astronomical tool and others to an observatory for the Chinese. In a document of 1741 the tower is described as “the old stone mill” an d in 1760 the Tower was used as a haymow. During the American Revolution, the tower was used by the Americans as a lookout, and by the British to store ammo.
- The Cliff Walk – Other than the Breakers the Cliff Walk is perhaps the number one tourist attraction in Newport. Although there is not a lot of historical facts associated with the walk it offers too many beautiful scenic views and has been around since the Gilded Age to be left off this list. The 3.5 mile walk was used by the Vanderbilts and all their wealthy neighbors on walks to Easton’s Beach. In 1975 the walk was designated as a National Historic Trail, the first in New England.
- Washington Square – Two of Colonial America’s most significant structures are located at either end of Washington Square, the Colony House and the Brick Market. Built in 1741, the Colony House is one of the best maintained surviving Georgian buildings in the United States. The stately building was used for the colonial legislature during the fight for independence. Another example of classic Georgian architecture is the Brick Market built in 1762. The traditional open first level served as a marketplace for trading, much like Fanueil Hall in Boston.
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.
The Isaac Bell House sits on the corner of Bellevue Avenue and Perry Street and is one of the best examples of shingle style architecture in the nation. It was built between 1881 and 1883 by McKim, Mead and White as the summer residence for Isaac Bell Jr. Bell was a wealthy cotton broker and the brother-in-law of the publisher of the New York Herald, James Gordon Bennett.
This house blends English Queen Anne with New England colonial. The architects used Oriental design influences which created a new “vernacular” style, known now as “shingle style.” The Isaac Bell House helps illustrate the evolution of Newport as a premier place for great design and a distinctly American style of architecture. This house also features Arts and Crafts interiors, an open floor plan and Japanese inspired columns.
This house was passed through a variety of owners before being purchased by the Preservation Society of Newport County in 1994. The house was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1997.
Most people tend to visit the main 5 mansions when visiting Newport – The Breakers, Marble House, The Elms, Rosecliff and Chateau-Sur-Mer, but there are many others to see as well. An example of one of these “under the radar” mansions is Kingscote, which opens for the season on May 11th.
George Nobel Jones of Savannah, Georgia, wrote to Richard Upjohn, the founder of the American Institute of Architects, in September of 1839, asking him to build a cottage with “eight chambers” and a few sleeping quarters for servants, as well as “water closets” and a bath indoors. Neither man knew that the cottage that was designed would help represent a transition in Newport – a transition from a city struggling from the post-revolutionary economic collapse to a “thriving cosmopolitan resort.”
Many southern plantation owners spent summers in Newport as an escape from the heat of the south. They would stay in small hotels, private boarding houses or rented cottages. George Jones’ family was among this group of people, and he was one of the first to build a cottage used solely for his personal use in the summer. This was just another way Kingscote aided in making Newport a premier summer resort destination.
The house was completed in 1841, and is an example of Gothic Revival architecture. Gothic Revival began in the mid eighteenth century in England and features a smaller, human scale with a large variety of form and decoration. It relies on organic inspiration and is more picturesque than impressive. It uses asymmetry and a variety of textures in its gables, dormers and lattices. Kingscote has held true to this style of architecture and is one of the last surviving wooden structures of its size, period and style in the US.
Kingscote was sold in 1863, after the Civil War severed Jones’ ties with Newport, to William Henry Hunter King. King was not new to the Newport scene and his family had strong ties with China. He amassed a large collection of Chinese porcelains, paintings and furnishings that are still used to decorate the house. King, unfortunately suffered a mental breakdown and was admitted to a mental hospital in 1866. The house then began to get passed down to other members of the King family. In 1880 this cottage was officially registered as “Kingscote” and a year later, David King, added a three story addition to the home. This addition added the most lavish room in the house, the dining room. The last two owners and residence of Kingscote were, Maud Armstrong, the daughter of Ella Louisa Rives King, and her daughter Gwendolen. Ella was adamant about the preservation of Kingscote and Maud and Gwendolen held true to that, refusing to sell the estate to the government in order to build a school. When Gwendolen passed in 1972, she left Kingscote and all its furnishings to the Preservation society so that it could be enjoyed by others as it was enjoyed by her family for over a century.
One of the most frequent question I am asked from guests is “What is the best Mansion in Newport?” Usually my answer is that all of the houses are different and appeal to everyone in their own way. While this is true, I think that the house with the most character and spirit is The Elms. The Breakers is the most impressive and the largest but it seems to have been primarily designed to throw huge parties. The Marble House was essentially built to one up the Breakers and it shows with it’s pure volume of Gold and Marble throughout the mansion. Lastly, although elegant, Rosecliff is used for weddings and other functions and it’s decor is often in a transistion phase setting up for these events.
The Elms, which is suprisingly on the non water side of Bellevue Avenue was designed by Horace Trumbauer for Edward Julius Berwind. Mr. Berwind was born in Philadelphia in 1848, the son of German immigrants. At the young age of 17, he was appointed to the United States Naval Academy which was then located in Newport. After a 10 year career in the Navy, Berwin joined is brothers in the lucrative coal business. Soon after joining the famliy business, Mr. Berwin was appointed head of the New York office and grew the business to the largest coal supplier of the marine industry.
The design of the Elms, lead by Horace Trumbauer, was based on an 18th century adaptation of the Chateau d’Asnieres near Paris. French interior decorators filled the house with enough period furniture, paintings, and tapestries to qualify The Elms as an instant museum. From the outside, The Elms seems to have only 2 stories but this was done on purpose to hide the staff’s quarters, kitchen and laundry. Not suprisingly, a coal fired heating system, which was way ahead of it’s time, was installed to protect the many valuable antiques and paintings inside. Coal was transported through an underground rail system to maintain the allure that the house ran itself by itself.
Undoubtably, the most impressive aspect of The Elms is the grounds. Many theories abound as to why the Berwinds invested so much money into landscaping design but most likely it was done to compensate for the lack of ocean views. Upwards of $300,000 was spent to outfit the grounds and pay for the twelve gardeners needed to keep everything in tip top shape. The 10 acre park contains almost 40 species of trees and shrubs as well as many statues and fountains.
The Berwinds were said to divide their time between the mansion and their steam yacht anchored in Newport Harbor. Mrs. Berwind died in 1922 and Mr. Berwind continued to work in New York and visit Newport on the weekends until he was 85. After passing at the age of 88 in 1936, Berwind’s sister assumed control of the house until 1961. The Elms was saved from destruction by the Preservation Society of Newport County and the house was opened as a museum on August 20th, 1962.
So, if you want to tour a Mansion ripe with spirit and character visit the Elms and be sure not to miss out on their wonderful behind the scenes tours where you can view the basement and the servants living quarters.
Only in Newport can you walk through centuries of American life in an afternoon. Each house you visit is an authentic icon of one of the great eras of American history. Hunter House was here when the Battle of Bunker Hill was fought; Chateau-sur-Mer saw the age of global commerce by American clipper ships like Flying Cloud; and The Breakers opened as the Vanderbilt’s latest achievement in the era in which railroads revoultionized the nation much the way jetliners and the internet would do a century later.
Five remarkable audio tours bring you a new and unique perspective on the lives of the people who lived and worked in the grand mansions of Newport. Based on personal diaries, letters, records, and oral histories, these audio tours offer the personal stories of the men and women who lived in each house and the household staff who cared for them.
Explore the Breakers, Marble House, The Elms, and Rosecliff at your own pace with state of the aret digital audio players. At The Breakers, you can choose from the main audio tour or a Family tour, which piques the imagination of youngsters and their parents alike by brining the house, its furnishings, and even its sculpture to life as never before.
Hunter House – Pass through the front door of Hunter House and you step back inot Newport’s 18th century Golden Age, the era before the American Revolution. It was the home of a merchant, ship owner and colonial deputy, which later became the Revlutionary War headquarters of the French Navy. You’ll see up close a great collection of exquisite colonial furniture, created by legendary Newport craftsmen like the Townsends and Goddards.
Chateau-sur-Mer – A product of the American-China Trade and one fo America’s great Victorian houses, Chateau-sur-Mer was home to three generations of the Wetmore family. You’ll see hand carved Italian woodwork, Chinese porcelains, Egyptian and Japanese Revival stenciled wallpapers, and rare trees from as far away as Mongolia.
The Breakers – The Breakers is a surviving jewel of the New York Central Railroad fortune, making a statement about the global sensibilities of the Vanderbilt family. The 70-room summer estate of Cornelius Vanderbilt II includes a two and a half story high Great Hall and a Morning Room adorned with platinum leaf wall panels. Its interiors feature rare marble, alabaster, and gilded woods throughout.
The Elms – The summer retreat of coal magnate Edward Berwind and his wife Herminie, The Elms was a thoroughly modern house in 1901. So technologically advanced for its time it appeared to work as if by magic, it also house monumental art works, including wall sized Venetian paintings, Chinese lacquer panels and tapestries.
Rosecliff – The newest Newport Mansions audio tour brings Rosecliff’s history and romance to life with never before told stories and first person remembrances of its colorful families. From Tessie Oelrichs, who built this fantasy in terra cotta, to the Monroes of New Orelans, the last family to call Rosecliff home, you’ll discover the very human story of Newport’s great party house.
Marble House – Created by Alva Vanderbilt and Richard Morris Hunt and inspired by the Petit Trianon at Versailles, Marble House contains 500,000 cubic feet of marble. Intended as an ultimate statement of Gilded Age privilege, only a few years later it hosted Alva’s “Votes for Women” rallies on the back lawn. Hear the words of Alva Vanderbilt, her daughter Consuelo and many more, brought to life in the award winning audio tour.
Notes: This text was taken from the Newport Mansions Explore the American Story Brochure