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.
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