Architecture for Kids

Newport, Rhodes Island
The Gilded Age

Although Newport never recovered from the devastation of the British occupation during the Revolutionary War, it remained a summer destination throughout the 19th Century, especially among Southern plantation owners, as well as increasing numbers from New York, Boston and Baltimore. Most visitors boarded at farms until the first hotel was erected in the mid1820s on Catherine Street. The first summer houses date to the 1830s and were built on the hill above the port. The best known early cottage is Kingscote, a Gothic house, built by the Georgian planter George Noble Jones in 1839. Chateau-sur-Mer, a romatic Italianate villa was erected in 1852 by Willian Shepard Wetmore who had made his fortune in the China trade.

By the 1860s, it was no longer fashionable to stay in a hotel. Families rented or owned a cottage. Also, the Civil War depleted the Southern visitors. Summer guests tended to come from New York and Boston. It was not only a summer resort for America's financial elite, but also its artists, writers, diplomats, politicians, jurists, historians, educators, scientists, engineers, and architects.

Newport cottages of the 1860s, 70s, and early 80s were large, comfortable and oriented to the out-of-doors. By the late 1880s, however, the new cottages being designed by McKim, Mead and White and Richard Morris Hunt became palatial.

Examples of "cottages" of the Gilded Age are below:
Kingscote, 1839. Richard Upjohn, architect. Additions, 1881, Stanford White, architect. A charming "Rustick Gothick" home, light in scale and irregular is shape. It is nestled among trees and flowers and was picturesque without the cloying quaintness of later Victorian cottages. Contrary to popular impressions of Victorian homes being dark and dreary, the house was light and ariy with many large windows and an aviary, filled with birds, over the front door.
Chateau-sur-Mer, 1852, Seth Bradford, builder. Expansion, 1872, Richard Morris Hunt, architect. The original house was a romantic Italianate villa in keeping with other summer cottages in Newport at the time, but larger and constructed of stone rather than the customary wood. The expansion was an extension and transformation that was suggestive of the marble houses that were to come. The house was built for William Shepard Wetmore who made his fortune in the China trade. It was considered almost palatial at the time.
Marble House, 1892, Richard Morris Hunt, architect. Built for William K. Vanderbilt, Marble House defines what a mansion should be. With 500,000 cubic feet of white marble, it is fronted by four towering Corinthian columns moddeled after - but larger than - those of the Temple of the Sun at Heliopolis. The Vanderbilt commission gave Hunt an unparalleled opportunity to practice his Beaux Arts knowledge, regardless of cost. Modelled after the Petit Trianon at Versailles and reminiscent of the White House and the Temple of Apollo, Marble House was acclaimed as a classical masterpiece that set the standards for similar efforts to follow. Everything in the house weas done on a grand scale, from teh bronze entrance grill to the Gold Ballroom, not the largest, but certainly the most ornate in Newport.
The Breakers, 1895, Richard Morris Hunt, architect. A summer home built for Cornelius Vanderbilt II, this palace sums up the Gilded Age of Newport. It is 250 feet by 150 feet with 70 rooms. It is modeled after the Rennaissance palaces of Turin and Genoa. It was completed in just over 2 years, and whole rooms were designed and built in craftsmen's shops in Europe and then shipped and reassembled in Newport. Hunt died before The Breakers was completed and Vanderbilt suffered a massive stoke a year later.
Rosecliff, 1898, McKim, Mead and White, Stanford White, principle architect. Modeled after the Grand Trianon at Versailles, Rosecliff was built for Mrs. Hermann Oelrichs, wife of the American agent for the North German Lloyd steamship line. This is a smaller version of the 100 room Trianon, keeping just the main block and the two flanking wings. Many of the neoclassical exterior details remain, such as the paired Ionic columns, arched French doors, and the multi-tiered entablature toppped with statues. The exterior walls are brick finished with white terra cotta tiles.
The Elms, 1899, Horace Trumbauer, architect. Commissioned by Edward Julius Berwind, the largest single owner of coal properties in the country, The Elms is an adaptation of the 18th century  Chateau d'Asnieres near Paris. Paris interior decorators Jules Allard and Sons provided period furniture, paintings, and tapistries. The park and formal gardens surpassed most in a Newport where landscapes mattered.
Return to Home Page
Return to the Romantic

Colonial Newport

The photographs in this section are by Richard Cheek and are taken from Newport Mansions: The Guilded Age, 1996, a publication of The Preservation Society of Newport County.