Newport Rhode Island is a place like no other. More than any other town, it stands as a visual reminder of the Gilded Age, the period between 1878-1899, when Americans who achieved monumental wealth celebrated it in ways never before, nor since, seen.
A few weeks ago my friend invited us to spend the night at a house she was renting for the week (pictured here), located approximately 30 minutes outside of Newport.
It sat so close to the ocean that the water, when the tide was in, was just feet away from the house. If you look closely you can see the lines in the sand where the surf settled. Fisherman and I slept on the lower level which consisted of a bedroom and powder room, but we had a front row seat to ocean views, and the sounds of the waves crashing on the shore lulled us to sleep.
We hadn’t given much thought originally to extending our trip into Newport, but once we decided to do so I did some research and found an excellent deal at a B&B located in the heart of town. The deal was so good I was afraid of what we might find (it had mixed reviews on TripAdvisor). In fact, I felt compelled to bring our own sheets and towels fearing bed bugs or other such creatures that go bump in the night.
Thankfully, my concerns were unfounded. The room, while small, was tastefully and simply decorated with lovely antiques, and was sans any bed bugs.
This picture was taken along the famous Cliff Walk, a short walk from our B&B. Look closely. Do you see a dog’s face in the rocks?
Have you ever seen a fence with locks on it and wondered its significance? Apparently couples place a lock on a bridge, fence or gate to represent their love. Typically their names or initials are inscribed on the lock and the key is thrown away to symbolize unbreakable love.
A trip to Newport would not be complete without a tour or two of its famous mansions. The Breakers, Newport’s ‘Crown Jewel’, is arguably the most famous of them all and has long been Rhode Island’s most popular tourist attraction. Built by Cornelius Vanderbilt III, it consists of 70 rooms (33 reserved for the help) and I believe is approximately 128,000 square feet. And to think this is what The Vanderbilt’s called a ‘cottage’!
No interior pictures are permitted on any of the tours. You will just have to use your imagination when I tell you many of the ceilings would give the Sistine Chapel a run for its money. Countless ornate, hand carved moldings, covered in gold leaf, sparkle throughout this opulent home. This masterpiece of French and Italian influence amazingly took only two years to build (1893-1895) at a cost of over 7 million dollars, which is equivalent to over $150 million today. Many sections of the home were built in Europe then taken apart and shipped to their final destination in Newport. Whether the ornate character of most of the Newport Mansions is to your liking or not, one must appreciate the exceptional craftsmanship and attention to detail that is apparent throughout these homes.
At the back of the mansion to the right, is this large but oh-so-charming home that stole my heart. Imagine waking up to that setting every morning!!
We toured one other mansion, ‘Marble House’, built by William Vanderbilt (Cornelius’ younger brother) between 1888-1892, as a gift to his wife Alva for her 39th birthday. True to its name, the house has 500,000 cubic feet of marble. Marble floors, ceilings, walls…just about everything imaginable is marble.
Having divorced in 1895, just three years after the completion of the home, Alva and William didn’t enjoy Marble House as a couple for long. After William’s death, she had this Chinese Tea House built where she hosted rallies for women’s right to vote. Her political activism was in stark contrast to her sister-in-law Grace (Cornelius’ wife), who very much played the role of a high society ‘proper’ lady. If you’ve watched Downton Abbey, does that call to mind any similarities between Mary, Edith and Sybil?
How many faces can you find in this tree? I see eight, once of which looks like a monster. Hint: it’s toward the bottom right side of the tree.
On our way home we stopped off in the upscale community of Watch Hill and had lunch. Afterwards we took a short walk to The Ocean House, a fabulous resort that recently underwent a $157 million dollar renovation. Yes, you read that right.
A short walk from The Ocean House and you can catch a glimpse of Taylor Swift’s home. Rumor has it this lovely home was in ruins and was purchased by her for $4 million. Looks like she did a fabulous job of returning this stately home to is original glory.
Here’s a view from the beach. Apparently, the front of the house is constantly being guarded and we did in fact see guards while we were there. I found it amusing that there was also two signs on each side of the gate reading ‘I knew you were trouble when you walked in…No Trespassing’.
In contrast to many of its neighbors, this home is fairly modest, but I love it, and I have a feeling many of you reading this would rather have this one than some of the other behemoth mansions we’ve seen so far.
Visiting Newport is like stepping back in time. You can almost hear the sound of the galloping horses in a game of polo, or the laughter of the children on the great lawns playing croquet, or the excitement of the crowds as Harold Vanderbilt, an expert yacht racer, defended the America’s Cup.
Without exception, these fabulous homes from America’s Gilded Age are our windows into a time of rapid change and creativity in American culture. Technology was advancing at an unprecedented pace, bringing with it fortunes we can barely comprehend. I’m glad that for us and future generations to come, most of these homes have been preserved as museums and are now part of our cultural heritage. Without them our appreciation and understanding of this fascinating period in our history would be severely handicapped.
In other news…we have the grandkids this weekend, and this week we hope to work on the storage under the deck, installing the lattice and trying to fix up any openings that could potentially be considered ‘welcome home’ signs for a few critters.