The Gilded Age of Newport (RI)

(continuer en français) – Last updated: July 19, 2022

At the tip of Aquidneck Island in southern Rhode Island, Newport has an astonishing collection of grand mansions. These are the holiday homes built by the wealthy on the East Coast from the mid-19th century onwards. This was the Gilded Age of Newport.

An article on Newport’s fine mansions sounds like the sales catalogue of a real estate agent specialising in high-end, luxury properties. To visit, the basic route is along Bellevue Avenue and Cliff Walk.


Kingscote, 1841

George Noble was a wealthy southern planter who found the summers too hot and built a cottage in Newport. Inspired by the European Gothic style with a medieval feel. William Henry King was the second owner and his descendants bequeathed the house to the Preservation Society of Newport in 1972.


Chateau-sur-Mer, 1851

William S. Westmore had become wealthy in the Chinese trade. He built this holiday home, one of the first of these large houses, leading others to join him, relocating their New York social life for the summers around leisure activities. Threatened with destruction, Château-sur-Mer was bought by the Preservation Society of Newport in 1969.


White Lodge, 1863

Built for Henry Sigourney in 1863, the house is now divided into a dozen flats.


Isaac Bell House, 1883

Isaac Bell’s ancestors arrived in America in 1640 and became wealthy by investing in various fields, such as cotton and transatlantic cables. Shortly after the construction of his house in Newport, noted for its use of wooden shingles, Isaac Bell was appointed ambassador to the Netherlands.


De La Salle, 1884

Built by William Weld, from a patrician family in Boston since the 17th century. One of his descendants was Governor of Massachusetts, one of many examples of the involvement of wealthy Newport residents in public office.


Osgood-Pell House, 1887

William Osgood owes his fortune to zinc mining. The house he had built in Newport is sober with a Romanesque touch. The Pells were later owners, one of whom served as a Rhode Island Senator for 36 years. It is now the headquarters of the Preservation Society of Newport. In the garden stands a statue of August Belmont, a prominent politician of the late 19th century.


Inchiquin, 1887

The house was built by John O’Brien, a New York stockbroker. His father was Irish and was involved in the Rebellion of 1798. Inchiquin was the seat of the O’Brien dynasty of Irish nobility dating back to Brian Boru around the year 1000.


Marble House, 1888

William K. Vanderbilt built Marble House in the style of the Petit Trianon in Versailles. He gave it as a birthday present to his wife Alva, who divorced him a few years later. She became known as a leading figure in Newport social life, supporting for example the cause of women’s suffrage. For these various activities she had the Chinese tea house designed in the gardens overlooking the ocean. The Preservation Society of Newport was able to purchase the house in 1963.


Rough Point, 1891

Frederick W. Vanderbilt, a sibling of William, built this large house directly on the ocean in 1891. After several wealthy owners, the last heiress, Doris Duke, bequeathed the house to the Preservation Society of Newport, which opened it to the public in 2000.


The Breakers, 1893

Cornelius Vanderbilt II, the eldest of the third generation of wealthy Vanderbilts, built a summer residence in Newport, seeking to outdo his brothers with this Italianate palace. The Breakers remained in the family with its luxurious interior design until it was purchased in 1972 by the Preservation Society of Newport to ensure its future.

In a normal year, more than a million visitors come to admire and dream about these sleeping beauties that are slowly waking up. If a half-day tour allows you to go along Bellevue Avenue and return via Cliff Walk, you need a minimum of two days to have time to visit the interior of those that are open to the public.

The next part of the presentation of Newport’s beautiful ‘cottages’ can be found here.

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  1. I’ve visited Newport a few times over the years and have toured through some of these mansions. It’s hard to imagine what life must have been like for the people that lived here. But it’s neat to catch a glimpse into their lifestyle and poke around these huge houses.

    Liked by 1 person

    • How fortunate to have been able to visit Newport in detail, I suppose being based in Boston for a few years makes it easier. Given their wealth and tastes, the owners were able to put together the best of the best at the time. Today we can enjoy it as visitors.

      Liked by 1 person

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