Newport Mansions and Museums

Published on Wednesday, 14th March 2018 - 5:07PM03/14/2018

Newport Rhode Island was the summer playground of America's wealthiest families, including the Vanderbilts, the Astors, and the Morgans. During the 19th Century, America's elite summered here, usually for only six weeks. 

They raced their yachts in Narragansett Bay, relaxed at Bailey's Beach, played tennis at the Newport Casino (the current site of the International Tennis Hall of Fame) on Bellevue Avenue, and hosted extravagant parties at their homes at night. 

Some of the Newport Mansions are open on weekends throughout the year. The Breakers is open daily, year-round. Others only on special occasions. During the summer, they're open daily, but they can be busy. Be prepared to wait a half an hour or so. It's well worth it.

Mansion etiquette:

  • You can take photos and videos outside, but not inside
  • You need 1 to 1 1/2 hours to tour a mansion
  • All mansions have free parking (except Hunter House)
  • Kids are welcome - strollers aren’t
  • Buses leave the Visitors Center for the mansions every 20 minutes
  • The Breakers and Rosecliff are fully wheelchair accessible (Marble House and The Elms are partially wheelchair accessible)
  • The Breakers, The Elms, Marble House and Rosecliff offer tours in different languages

The Breakers

44 Ochre Point Ave., Newport, RI 02840

The Breakers is the grandest of Newport's summer "cottages" and a symbol of the Vanderbilt family's social and financial preeminence in turn of the century America. Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt (1794-1877) established the family fortune in steamships and later in the New York Central Railroad, which was a pivotal development in the industrial growth of the nation during the late 19th century. The Commodore's grandson, Cornelius Vanderbilt II, became Chairman and President of the New York Central Railroad system in 1885 and purchased a wooden house called The Breakers in Newport during that same year. In 1893, he commissioned architect Richard Morris Hunt to design a villa to replace the earlier wood-framed house which was destroyed by fire the previous year. Hunt directed an international team of craftsmen and artisans to create a 70 room Italian Renaissance- style palazzo inspired by the 16th-century palaces of Genoa and Turin. Allard and Sons of Paris assisted Hunt with furnishings and fixtures, Austro-American sculptor Karl Bitter designed relief sculpture, and Boston architect Ogden Codman decorated the family quarters.

The Vanderbilts had seven children. Their youngest daughter, Gladys, who married Count Laszlo Szechenyi of Hungary, inherited the house on her mother's death in 1934. An ardent supporter of The Preservation Society of Newport County, she opened The Breakers in 1948 to raise funds for the Society. In 1972, the Preservation Society purchased the house from her heirs. Today, the house is designated a National Historic Landmark.

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The Elms

367 Bellevue Avenue, Newport, RI 02840

The Elms mansion was the summer residence of Mr. and Mrs. Edward Julius Berwind of Philadelphia and New York. The Elms was built in 1901 for approximately $1.4 million. It was modeled after the French chateau d'Asnieres outside Paris. Beautiful terraces, sunken garden and Venetian paintings.

This stunning Newport mansion was the summer home of coal magnate Edward Julius Berwind. Mr. Berwind and his wife Sarah commissioned Horace Trumbauer to build them a home modeled after the French Château d'Asnières in 1898.

The home was completed in 1901 and remained in the family until the early 1960's. It was purchased by the Preservation Society of Newport County in 1962, within weeks of being demolished (yes, they were really going to demolish it!). It became a National Historic Landmark in 1996. 

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Marble House

596 Bellevue Ave, Newport RI 02840

Marble House was built between 1888 and 1892 for Mr. and Mrs. William K. Vanderbilt. It was a summer house, or "cottage", as Newporters called them in remembrance of the modest houses of the early 19th century. But Marble House was much more; it was a social and architectural landmark that set the pace for Newport's subsequent transformation from a quiet summer colony of wooden houses to the legendary resort of opulent stone palaces.

Mr. Vanderbilt was the grandson of Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt, who established the family's fortune in steamships and the New York Central Railroad. His older brother was Cornelius II, who built The Breakers. Alva Vanderbilt was a leading hostess in Newport society and envisioned Marble House as her "temple to the arts" in America.

The house was designed by the architect Richard Morris Hunt, inspired by the Petit Trianon at Versailles. The cost of the house was reported in contemporary press accounts to be $11 million, of which $7 million was spent on 500,000 cubic feet of marble. Upon its completion, Mr. Vanderbilt gave the house to his wife as a 39th birthday present. 

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Rosecliff

548 Bellevue Ave, Newport RI 02840

Commissioned by Nevada silver heiress Theresa Fair Oelrichs in 1899, architect Stanford White modeled Rosecliff after the Grand Trianon, the garden retreat of French kings at Versailles. After the house was completed in 1902, at a reported cost of $2.5 million, Mrs. Oelrichs hosted fabulous entertainments here, including a fairy tale dinner and a party featuring famed magician Harry Houdini.

"Tessie", as she was known to her friends, was born in Virginia City, Nevada. Her father, JamesRosecliff salon Graham Fair, was an Irish immigrant who made an enormous fortune from Nevada's Comstock silver lode, one of the richest silver finds in history. During a summer in Newport, Theresa met Hermann Oelrichs playing tennis at the Newport Casino. They were married in 1890. A year later, they purchased the property known as Rosecliff from the estate historian and diplomat George Bancroft. An amateur horticulturist, it was Bancroft who developed the American Beauty Rose. The Oelrichs later bought additional property along Bellevue Avenue and commissioned Stanford White to replace the original house with the mansion that became the setting for many of Newport's most lavish parties.

Rosecliff is now preserved through the generosity of its last private owners, Mr. and Mrs. J. Edgar Monroe, of New Orleans. They gave the house, its furnishings, and an endowment to the Preservation Society in 1971. 

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Chateau-sur-Mer

474 Bellevue Avenue Newport, RI 02840

Chateau-sur-Mer is a landmark of High Victorian architecture, furniture, wallpapers, ceramics, and stenciling. It was the most palatial residence in Newport from its completion in 1852 until the appearance of the Vanderbilt houses in the 1890s. It was the scene of memorable entertainments, from the "Fete Champetre", an elaborate country picnic for over two thousand guests held in 1857, to the debutante ball for Miss Edith Wetmore in 1889. 

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Rough Point

Young Doris Duke

680 Bellevue Ave, Newport RI 02840

Doris Duke, the reclusive tobacco heiress, and philanthropist loved Newport and summered here for many years. Rough Point, the 39,000 square foot mansion with 105 rooms, was one of her many beautiful homes.

Duke passed away in 1993, and after some legal issues were sorted out, the property was opened to the public in 2000. I was lucky enough to see it at that time when I worked a small event that was held there for the opening.

Located at the southeastern end of Bellevue Avenue, Rough Point overlooks Newport's beautiful rocky coastline and can be seen from the scenic Newport Cliff Walk. 

This property is very different from the other Newport mansions. There are guided tours here, but it was actually dedicated as a museum, which Duke required in her will. 

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NATIONAL MUSEUM of AMERICAN ILLUSTRATION

492 Bellevue Ave., Newport RI 02840

The National Museum of American Illustration (NMAI) was founded in 1998 by Judy Goffman Cutler and Laurence S. Cutler to house their art collection from the "Golden Age of American Illustration," (1895-1945). The NMAI opened its doors to the public on July 4, 2000. The National Museum of American Illustration is proud to have had the support of The National Arts Club (NAC) as its founding institution.

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NEWPORT ART MUSEUM

76 Bellevue Ave., Newport RI 02840

Since being founded in 1912, the Newport Art Museum has been a dynamic cultural gathering place, attracting an eclectic mix of artists, students, academics, preservationists, and visitors from around the world. Inclusiveness, professionalism, high-quality exhibitions, engaging programming, and a dedication to individual growth and learning have always been valued. The Art Museum is one of only 6% of American museums to be fully accredited by the American Association of Museums.

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NEWPORT CAR MUSEUM

1947 West Main Rd., Portsmouth, RI 02871

The private collection of some 50 automobiles at the Newport Car Museum focuses on six decades of modern industrial automotive design and celebrates cars as works of art. From the 1950s to the present, separate exhibits of Ford/Shelby Cars, Corvettes, World Cars, Fin Cars and Chrysler Mopars have been carefully curated to appeal to men as well as women and to all generations, from grandparents to parents to children.

They reflect a time when artists who likely would have been the great sculptors in the Renaissance Age became stylists, designers and industrial engineers for the Big Three American auto manufacturers and leading European companies such as Jaguar, Porsche, Mercedes Benz and BMW, perhaps enjoying more creative freedom than will ever be experienced by their counterparts today.

There is something educational and inspirational to be gained by all who immerse themselves in the wonder, history, design and beauty of these vehicles as well as the eclectic Mid-Century furnishings that echo the personality of these eras and further enhance the modern design experience at the Newport Car Museum.

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INTERNATIONAL TENNIS HALL OF FAME

The historic grass courts

194 Bellevue Ave., Newport, RI 02840

Following a visit to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in the early 1950s, Jimmy Van Alen, then-President of the Newport Casino, and his wife Candy decided that tennis also needed a place to honor its great figures. The Newport Casino was in danger of demolition, and with its rich tennis history, it was the perfect spot to establish a hall of fame. Jimmy Van Alen successfully lobbied the leadership of the United States Lawn Tennis Association to sanction the establishment of a National Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport. The venerable Newport Casino became the National Lawn Tennis Hall of Fame and Museum and was officially recognized by the International Tennis Federation in 1986.

With over 1,900 artifacts of tennis history displayed throughout the redesigned exhibit galleries, the museum delivers an entirely new, engaging visitor experience. After touring the museum, explore the 7-acres that make up the historic grounds of the Newport Casino, from the newly built indoor courts to the manicured grass courts of the Bill Talbert Stadium.

Capt. Joe of All About Chaton Mouille'

USCG Captain - 100 Ton Coastal w/ Sailing and Towing Endorsements