In the early 1900’s, Newport transformed into a summer resort area for many of America’s wealthiest. Families from the Vanderbilt’s to the King’s and Griswold’s, built their summer “cottages” on the streets of Newport, many overlooking the ocean. Today, many of these mansions have been preserved by the great work done by the Preservation Society of Newport County, and have become one of the most popular attractions when visiting Newport.
The Breakers is the most popular mansion due to its size and amazing location, but there are many other great mansions to visit. The Elms, Marble House, Rosecliff and Chateau-sur-Mer are also very popular and are among the main five that are open for the majority of the year. Later in the season Kingscote, the Green Animals Topiary Gardens, the Isaac Bell House, Chepstow and the Hunter House open for tours. All of these mansions offer something different and take guests back in time to see what life was like and how architecture and has developed throughout their history.
The Breakers is the grandest of the “summer cottages” in Newport. It was built by the Vanderbilt’s in 1893 and is a symbol of the family’s social and financial superiority. The current version was built to replace an earlier wood-frames house that had been destroyed by a fire. The 16th century palaces of Genoa and Turin inspired the Breakers and it was kept in the family until 1972 when it was purchased by the Preservation Society.
Marble House was a social and architectural landmark that helped set the tone for Newport’s transformation into a summer resort area filled with lavish mansions. It was built between 1888 and 1892 for Mr. and Mrs. William K Vanderbilt. William gave the house to his wife as a 39th birthday present, however they divorced in 1895 and Alva remarried to Oliver H.P. Belmont and moved down the street to Belcourt Castle. She later added the Chinese Tea House to the property and held rallies for women’s rights. She sold the house in 1932 and it was acquired by the Preservation Society in 1963.
The Elms was the summer residence of Mr. and Mrs. Edward Julius Berwind of Philadelphia and New York. Berwind made his fortune in the coal industry and had his house designed in 1898, after the mid 18th century French Chateau d’Asnieres. Construction ended in 1901 and the house remained in the family until it was purchased and opened to the public in 1962. The Elms not only offers an audio tour of the property, but also a behind the scenes Servants Life Tour, which allows you to see a different side of the mansions.
Rosecliff is well known for its movie history. Movies such as Amistad, 27 Dresses, True Lies, and The Great Gatsby were filmed there, and it is also a popular venue for hosting various events throughout the year. It was completed in 1902 and Theresa Fair Oelrichs, a Nevada silver heiress, hosted grand events and had famous guests, such as Harry Houdini. It was given to the Preservation Society in 1971.
Chateau-sur-Mer was the most palatial residence in Newport from 1852, until the completion of the Breakers in the 1890’s. It is a showcase of High Victorian architecture and furniture. It was built for William Shepard Wetmore, a China trade merchant, as an Italianate-Style Villa. It remained in the family until the Preservation Society purchased it in 1969.
Other Preservation Society mansions include: Kingscote, Chepstow, Hunter House, Isaac Bell House and the Green Animals Topiary Garden in Portsmouth, which open up later in the year. For a complete operating schedule, click here. To look at ticket options and purchase, click here.