Beyond the Gates of Newport Society
Not all of the Newport Mansions are Museums
One of the oldest cities in the country, the Society Capital of America for the prosperous, Newport Rhode Island is celebrated by a splendid display of countless structural designs, most noteably the mansions bult as summer cottages for the incredibly wealthy of the Gilded Age. But even though many of the mansions are now opened to the public as museums, there are still many Newport mansions still in private hands and viewable only through the front gates.
Photos by Linda S. Manning
Many 17th century fishing captains built modest colonial homes along the waterfront and close to the wharves. In the 1700’s known for her excellent port, Newport was a bustling city trading rum and spices. On a small scale, a building boom was in existence. Some of the oldest pre-revolutionary homes were built on the waterfront. Newport, for hundreds of years has attracted a varied population of inhabitants. With the success of production of luxury goods from famous artisans such as Townsend-Goddard, the 1800’s brought about talented architects such as Sanford-White, Peabody and Sterns, Richard Morris Hunt, George Champlin Mason and many more. The later part of the 1800’s found many pillars of society, the Vanderbilt, the Berwinds and the Oelrich’s in yet another building boom of the now famous Newport Summer Cottages along picturesque Bellevue Avenue.
With her glorious 22 miles of coastline surrounded by Rose, Gould and Coaster Harbor Islands, she is a magnificent representation of time gone by. Today, dressed up with gas lit lamps on cobblestone streets the Grand Mansions of long ago, still stand majestically on avenues and drives.
Step back to the past during the time of glitz and glamour and enjoy the elegant and luxurious mansions, many of which are now owned by The Preservation Society. However illustrated brilliantly, many of the remarkable mansions standing impressively on the high-status Bellevue Avenue and Ocean Drive were owned by various people of society, the Goelets, the Thaws, the Gammells, the Warrens, the Drapers and the Knights. Many of these flamboyant homes never open to the public stand as a testimony of the wealthy and their choice of superb architects of its time.
Beachmound, located on the end of Bellevue Avenue and the beginning of Ocean Drive overlooking Bailey’s Beach was built by Henry Ives Cobb for Benjamin Thaw in 1898. With walls and high hedges, it is difficult to see. Mr. Thaw was grandson of John Thaw who established a branch of the United States Bank of Philadelphia. The Thaws were major stockholders in that enterprise. Beachmound is a typical representation of a Colonial Revival structure. Gloriously standing today it houses condominiums and a third floor apartment of 3,000 square feet renting on a monthly basis in the summer for $12,000.
Built near the waters edge, on Ocean Avenue High Tide, a French Norman designed structure was erected in 1900 for New York industrialist and real estate operator, William Starr Miller. Architect Warren & Wetmore captured the essence of design. The interior was designed by Ogden Codman.
Horace Trumbauer, Architect for Edward C. Knight built Clarendon Court off Bellevue Avenue in 1904. Surrounded by cement walls and decorative gates Clarendon was built as a grand English house of the 18th century. Trumbauer also designed and built The Elms, for Edward Julis Berwind.
Champ Soleil built with 22 rooms by New York Architect Polhemus & Coffin in 1929 depicts a French-Norman Chateau. Located on 5.5 acres and planned after a residence in Versailles, the wrought iron gates imported from a Queen Anne home in London make viewing difficult. In 1946, landscape architect Unberto Innocenti designed the French parterre and formal gardens. Robert Goelet, son of Ogden Goelet, (owner of Ochre Court given to Salve Regina) purchased and completely renovated the mansion.
A drive on Bellevue Avenue with all its opulence and architecture shows the many mansions erected in past times that now transitioned to condominiums, such as Sherwood on 553 Bellevue.
The Orchard behind green and gold iron gates on Narragansett Avenue was built for Mrs. William Draper. A long tree lined drive fringes the estate.
As we wander through history, there isn’t a better place than Newport Rhode Island to experience the lavish and ornate architecture that skirts the oceans edge. Keep in mind most of the splendid cottages owned by affluent individuls are behind walls, gates, fences and lots of trees.
Enjoy a scenic drive and see for yourself!
With its centuries of appeal from the Colonial days of the 1600’s to a venue for the wealthy during The Gilded Age in the late 1800’s, Newport boasts the birth of a prosperous society’s summer cottages used for lavish parties for the likes of the Dukes, Astors, and Vanderbilts.