Noonmark Antiques

Newport Mansions

Charles HammellComment

In July, I like to use my birthday as an opportunity to visit bucket list sites. This year, I chose the Newport, Rhode Island Mansions. My goal was to take a broad sweep of the Mansions on this visit and decide if I would like to return. I purchased advance tickets, which would permit us to visit five of the available nine Mansions open to the public. Each Mansion had an audio tour. I did not take the audio tours. I wished to experience the mansions "as is" as a first time visitor. Next time, yes, there will be a next time, I will read up on all these fabulous residences and be prepared for the audio tours.

I was extremely fortunate on this trip. The Mansions had just revoked the long standing "no photograpghy" policy. Folks were permitted to use I- phone and non flash cameras. My only regret is that I did not take more photos. There are books filled with images to purchase at the end of the tours, but, I would have enjoyed my own photographic memories much more.

The first Mansion we toured was the Breakers. This is by far the largest Mansion and certainly quite oppulent. Cornelius Vanderbilt II is responsible for this 70 room monster facing the sea.The original home was destoyed by fire. In 1893, Cornelius commissined this four story Italianate style palace. I breezed through too quickly. Take your time. It is jaw droppingly gorgeous. I found it curious that the Mr. and Mrs. bedrooms faced the street and not the sea.

Our second stop,The Elms, was completed in 1901. Edward J. Berwind had Philadelphia affiliations and was head of a thriving coal company. The commissioned architect of this lovely home also designed the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Though this Mansion is not on the water, it holds a preeminent place on Bellvue Avenue. While we were there, The Vienna Piano Trio were perfoming in the ballroom. It was a delight to experience the drifting melodies throughout the house as we toured. At least, I could hear them, because I wasn't using the audio tour!

Our third stop was Marble House. I was eager to see a Mansion clad in marble. I was not disappointed. Opulent is a good start for a descriptive adjective for this summer residence. The owner, William K. Vanderbilt only got to spend two summers here before he divorced his wife and moved to Paris. It took four years for this house to be completed. Marble was imported from Europe. It was and still is indeed a masterpiece. Again, take your time through this incredible creation.

We were determined to visit Hunter House, which was not on our advance ticket. We made the mistake of attempting to drive over to the other side of Newport mid-day to see this early American treasure. We lost valuable time stuck in traffic only to discover that the tickets were $30. a piece for the tour. I decided that we should tour Hunter House when we returned. Yes, we shall return! Apparently, housed here is one of our country's finest collections of period furnishings made in Rhode Island. Names such as Townsend and Goddard and Gilbert Stuart enticed us,but we opted to wait and be prepared the next time we visit.

Our final tour of the day was Rosecliff Mansion. It is indeed lovely on a less grand scale. The rooms are not as fully furnished as the other Mansions. This summer residence was commissioned in 1898 by Theresa Fair Oelrichs, silver mining heiress and organizer of extravagant fetes. Charlie explained the end story which was  a sad one and cast a melancholy pall even on a brightly lit afternoon in the rose garden. Maybe I didn't want to know the ending. The ever present ocean and horizon bearing sky stretched on, including us briefly in the story as we wandered on the lawn and through the garden. It was a full day. And about to become more exciting when we went to birthday dinner at Castle Hill Inn. See my next Blog entry.