Adventures in the Villa


Newport, RI

2019-04-20 – Airstream Caravan Travels – Asheville, NC and Biltmore!

Today we went to see the Biltmore Estate, right here in Asheville.  We arrived, parked, and walked about 1/2 mile to the see grand vista over the front lawn:


This is the largest privately owned house in America.  Yes, it is still owned by the Vanderbilt family, the 5th generation since George Washington Vanderbilt II had the house built between 1889 and 1895.  The house is a Châteauesque-style mansion, and it measures over 178,000 sq. ft.  It is one of the finest examples of mansions of the “Gilded Age”.

We walked down the lane adjacent to the lawn, then stood in line in the biting cold while we waited to be admitted at the appointed hour.  At least we had something interesting to look at…


In the 1880s, at the height of the Gilded Age, Vanderbilt began to make regular visits to the Asheville area. He loved the scenery and climate so much that he decided to build his own summer house in the area, which he called his “little mountain escape”.  His older brothers and sisters had built luxurious summer houses in places such as Newport, Rhode Island, and Hyde Park, New York.   (See my blogs from the summer of 2017…)  Their father, William Vanderbilt, had died unexpectedly young, so his massive fortune was inherited by his many children while they were in their 30s; they all went on a building spree, spending all this money.  But George Vanderbilt did not get along with many of his siblings, and he was considered a black sheep of the family, so he had no desire to build his house near theirs.  Vanderbilt bought almost 700 parcels of land, including over 50 farms and at least five cemeteries; a portion of the estate was once the community of Shiloh.  A total of 125,000 acres were assembled.  Archives show that much of the land was in very poor condition, and the farmers and other landowners were glad to sell.

Vanderbilt hired Richard Morris Hunt to design the mansion, with Frederick Law Olmstead hired to design the grounds.  Olmstead turned the 8,000 acres directly around the mansion into luxurious parks, woods, meadows, and gardens.  The rest of the land was made into commercial lumber forests.

Construction of the house began in 1889. In order to facilitate such a large project, a woodworking factory and brick kiln, which produced 32,000 bricks a day, were built onsite, and a three-mile railroad spur was constructed to bring materials to the building site.  A separate village (Biltmore Village) was built to house many of the workers and their families and to attend to their daily needs.  A trade school (Biltmore Estate Industries) was opened to train the local youths in making hand-crafted wares.  Biltmore Dairy was built to provide milk, butter and other foods to the newly formed community.  Construction on the main house required the labor of about 1,000 workers, including 60 stone masons.  Vanderbilt went on extensive trips overseas along with Hunt to purchase decor as construction on the house was in progress. He returned to North Carolina with thousands of furnishings for his newly built home including tapestries, carpets, paintings and prints, linens, and decorative objects, all dating between the 15th century and the late 19th century.

George Vanderbilt opened his opulent estate on Christmas Eve of 1895 to invited family and friends from across the country who were encouraged to enjoy leisure and country pursuits.  George married Edith Stuyvesant Dresser in 1898 in Paris, France; their only child, Cornelia Stuyvesant Vanderbilt, was born at Biltmore in 1900, and grew up at the estate.

The appointed hour arrived; we were allowed into the house.  They have an excellent audio tour which allowed us explore at our own pace.  Also interesting is the way the tour has been “curated”.  The audio tour makes it seem like the butler has greeted us in the entry hall, and he is going to escort us through the house, introducing us to other house-guests and servants  and showing us the many features of the house.  We are all here for one of the famous house parties, and the gala banquet is tonight.

All the rooms are populated with manikins with clothing recreated to match period photos of the Vanderbilt family. (Yawn)

The house and the family have an interesting history:

The family occupied the house from 1895 and into the early 20th century, living their lavish lifestyle.  Then, in 1914, to combat the impact of the newly imposed income taxes, and the fact that the estate was getting harder to manage economically, Vanderbilt initiated the sale of 87,000 acres to the federal government.  Before the sale was finalized, Vanderbilt unexpectedly died (of complications from an emergency  appendectomy); his widow completed the sale and that property became the nucleus of the Pisgah National Forest.  Still overwhelmed with running such a large estate, Edith Vanderbilt began consolidating her interests and sold several separate businesses that had been established when the house was built: Biltmore Estate Industries in 1917 and Biltmore Village in 1921.  Edith intermittently occupied the house, living in an apartment carved out of the former Bachelors’ Wing, until the marriage of her daughter to John Francis Amherst Cecil in April 1924.  The Cecils went on to have two sons who were also born in the house.

In an attempt to bolster the estate’s financial situation during the Great Depression, Cornelia and her husband opened Biltmore to the public in March, 1930, at the request of the City of Asheville, which hoped the attraction would revitalize the area with tourism.  

After the divorce of the Cecils in 1934, Cornelia left the estate never to return; however, John Cecil maintained his residence in the Bachelors’ Wing until his death in 1954. Their eldest son, George Henry Vanderbilt Cecil, occupied rooms in the wing until 1956. At that point Biltmore House ceased to be a family residence and continued to be operated as a historic house museum.

Their younger son William A. V. Cecil, Sr. returned to the estate in the late 1950s and joined his brother to manage the estate (which was in financial trouble) and make it a profitable and self-sustaining enterprise like his grandfather envisioned.  He eventually inherited the estate upon the death of his mother, Cornelia, in 1976, while his brother, George, inherited the then more profitable Biltmore Dairy, which was split off into Biltmore Farms.  In 1995, while celebrating the 100th anniversary of the estate, Cecil turned over control of the company to his son, William A. V. Cecil, Jr.  After the death of William A. V. Cecil in October 2017 and his wife Mimi Cecil in November, their daughter Dini Pickering began serving as board chair and their son Bill Cecil is CEO.  The Biltmore Company is still privately held.

Today, the estate property is 4,300 acres.  The property is run as an “amusement park” for tourists who love gilded age estates.  There is a hotel and an inn, restaurants, a winery,  several gift shops, a nursery, and every other thing that tourists love.  (No roller coaster.  yet…)  The main house and the views are well protected, but it is clear that they want you to come and stay a week and spend lots of money along the way…

Biltmore has 250 rooms in the house, including 35 bedrooms for family and guests, 43 bathrooms, 65 fireplaces, 75 servant bedrooms, three kitchens, and 19th-century novelties such as electric elevators, forced-air heating and cooling, centrally controlled clocks, fire alarms, and a call-bell system.  The principal rooms of the house are located on the ground floor.  The largest room in the house is the Entry Hall.  (Just like my 1905 house in Redlands…)


(My center table is smaller, with fewer flowers…)

The Winter Garden always seemed like a strange place to me, but I’ve never spent a winter in Asheville, NC.  The skylight is marvelous:


The Banquet Hall measures 42 feet wide and 72 feet long, with a 70-foot-high barrel-vaulted ceiling. The table can seat 64 guests, overlooking the triple fireplace that spans one end of the hall. On the opposite end of the hall, on the upper level, is an organ gallery that houses a 1916 Skinner pipe organ.


To the left of the entrance hall is the 90-foot-long Tapestry Gallery, which leads to the Library, featuring three 16th-century tapestries. This room serves little function except as a place to showcase the three tapestries.  We did hear on the tour that the family took tea here in the afternoons…


The two-story Library contains over 10,000 volumes in eight languages, reflecting George Vanderbilt’s broad interests in classic literature as well as art, history, architecture, and gardening.  The second-floor balcony is accessed by an ornate walnut spiral staircase, and the balcony includes a passage behind the fireplace.


The second floor of the house is accessed by the cantilevered Grand Staircase of 107 steps spiraling around a four-story, wrought-iron chandelier holding 72 light bulbs.  The Second Floor Living Hall is an extension of the grand staircase as a formal hall and portrait gallery.  Located nearby in the south tower is George Vanderbilt’s gilded bedroom with furniture designed by Hunt.  His bedroom connects to his wife’s Louis XV-style, oval-shaped bedroom in the north tower through a Jacobean carved oak paneled sitting room with an intricate ceiling.

The remainder of the second floor contains various elaborate bedroom suites for family and close family friends and other honored guests.

The third floor has many guest rooms for couples, families, and single women, each given names that describe the furnishing or artist with which they were decorated.  The rooms all have connecting doors so that they can be configured into suites as needed…

The fourth floor has more than 20 bedrooms that were inhabited by housemaids, laundresses, and other female servants.  Also included on the fourth floor is an Observatory with a circular staircase that leads to a wrought iron balcony with doorways to the rooftop where Vanderbilt could view his estate.  Male servants were not housed here, however, but instead resided in 40+ bedrooms above the stable complex.

The guest rooms for bachelors were on the second and third floors on the opposite end of the house, adjacent to the service courtyard and stables complex.  It contains the Billiard Room, which is equipped with both a custom-made pool table and a carom table (table without pockets).  The room was mainly frequented by men, but ladies were welcome to enter as well.  Secret door panels on either side of the fireplace led to the private quarters of the Bachelors’ Wing, where female guests and staff members were not allowed.  The wing includes the Smoking Room, which was fashionable for country houses, and the Gun Room, which held mounted trophies and displayed George Vanderbilt’s gun collection.

The basement level featured activity rooms including an indoor 70,000-gallon heated swimming pool with underwater lighting, a bowling alley, and a gymnasium with once state-of-the-art fitness equipment.  The service hub of the house is also found in the basement; it contains the main kitchen, pastry kitchen, rotisserie kitchen, several walk-in pantries, walk-in refrigerators, the servants’ dining hall, laundry rooms and additional bedrooms for staff.  The sub-basement contains the heating and air conditioning systems, giant water heaters, and massive storage rooms.

So after two hours of fun we returned to the truck… We did get to drive through the entrance court and the formal gates…


Unfortunately, due to the severe rains, a few of the estate roads were closed, and their signs pointing us to the exit were faulty.  But after driving around in circles for 45 minutes we made our way out.  The views along the way were pure North Carolina:


I had been to Biltmore many years ago, on a tour given via the AIA convention.  We had the regular tour, then a special tour just for us architects, where we saw the attic and roof structure, the servants rooms, several un-restored guest rooms, the bachelor quest quarters, and even the sub-basement.  After the tours we were given free access to return to any of these spaces for the rest of the day.  It was marvelous…

None of the gaudy details and goo-gaas impress me (that’s why I am not posting hundreds of photos of every room…); what interests me the most is the incredibly complicated program that Hunt and Vanderbilt worked out.  Remember, Vanderbilt was not even married when the house was designed and built.  The complexity of the separate areas for family and guests, male and female servants, separate circulation hallways and stairs so that the servants could move about the house relatively inconspicuously – all this is so very complicated in a house of this size.  I love this stuff!

The plantation Big Houses were nice to look at, but they were only 3, 6, or 8 rooms to a floor, with no bathrooms, no servants quarters, no kitchens, no mechanical systems – just simple boxes.  The complexity of  a great house like Biltmore, with 250 rooms and multiple stairs and circulation spaces… Wow!  It was great fun to see…

We returned to the Villa in the rain, and had a relaxing afternoon and evening.

And an enjoyable time was had by all…

2017-07-26 Nor by Nor’east Caravan – Travel day to Campobello

Today is our last day in Maine. We are moving once again, this time into New Brunswick, Canada, specifically to Campobello Island, the summer home of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

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We left the campground in Trenton about 10:00 am, and headed north on highway 1, a small, 2-lane road that leads further and further away from civilization. Finally, after about 2 ½ hours we turned east and drove through the town of Lubec, which claims to be the easternmost city in the USA. Who am I to argue?

We went through customs, with our experience being similar to crossing the border in Niagara Falls, which we did back on June 24.   Once onto the island we found our campground and settled in.

Campobello Island is located at the entrance to Passamaquoddy Bay, adjacent to the entrance to Cobscook Bay, and within the Bay of Fundy. The island has no road connection to the rest of Canada; the bridge we drove over connects it to Lubec, in Maine. Reaching mainland Canada by car without crossing an international border is possible only during the summer season and requires two separate ferry trips, the first to nearby Deer Island, then from Deer Island to L’Etete.

Measuring 8.7 miles long and about 3.1 miles wide, it has an area of 15.3 sq miles; the island’s permanent population in 2011 was 925.

Campobello has always relied heavily on fishing as the mainstay of the island economy; however, the Passamaquoddy Bay region’s potential for tourism was discovered during the 1880s at about the same time as The Algonquin resort was built at nearby St. Andrews and the resort communities of Bar Harbor and Newport were beginning to develop. Campobello Island became home to a similar, although much smaller and more exclusive, development following the acquisition of some island properties by several private American investors. A luxurious resort hotel was built and the island became a popular summer colony for wealthy Canadians and Americans, many of whom built grand estates there.

Included in this group were Sara Delano and her husband James Roosevelt Sr. from New York City. Sara Delano had a number of Delano cousins living in Maine, and Campobello offered a beautiful summer retreat where their family members could easily visit.  From 1883 onward, the Roosevelt family made Campobello Island their summer home.  Their son Franklin D. Roosevelt would spend his summers on Campobello at the family home from the age of one until, as an adult, he “acquired” his own property — a 34-room “cottage” — which he used as a summer retreat until 1939.  It is next door to Sara and James Roosevelt cottage.  You might wonder why he chose to live next door to his mother?  Simple:  She bought the house and gave it to him.

It was at Campobello, in August 1921, that the future president fell ill and was diagnosed with polio, which resulted in his total and permanent paralysis from the waist down. Roosevelt did strive to regain use of his legs but never again stood or walked unassisted.

During the 20th century, the island’s prosperity from its wealthy visitors declined with the change in lifestyles brought on by a new mobility afforded by automobiles, airplanes, and air conditioning in large inland cities. Nonetheless, for President Roosevelt, the tranquility was exactly what he and his family cherished, and the property remained in their hands until 1952 when it was sold by Elliott Roosevelt (Franklin and Eleanor’s fourth child). Elliott decided to sell the house after his mother, Eleanor, had sold it to him. Elliott sold it to Victor Hammer and his brother Armand Hammer of Boston and they owned it up until 1963. However, they said Eleanor was always welcome to come whenever she pleased, and her last visit was in 1962 to attend the opening of the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Bridge connecting Campobello Island to Lubec, Maine. In 1962 the brothers tried to sell it but got no takers; (The were asking $50,000 for it, fully furnished with all the Roosevelt furniture…) they subsequently donated the cottage to the U.S. and Canadian governments in 1963 as an international park. The Roosevelt Campobello International Park is the only one of its kind because it is run by both the Canadian and American governments, the park being located in Canadian territory. The park is now equally staffed by both Americans and Canadians.

In 1960, motion-picture producer Dore Schary and director Vincent J. Donehue made the film Sunrise at Campobello, based on Schary’s Tony Award winning Broadway play of the same name. Starring Ralph Bellamy as Franklin D. Roosevelt, the film covers the years 1921 to 1924 at Campobello Island and events leading up to Roosevelt’s nomination as the Democratic Party’s candidate for president.

So now you know more about Campobello than most Americans do.  (If people DO know about Roosevelt’s time here, they are always surprised to find out that it is in Canada…)

We went for a walk and found a nearby beach on the bay.  The land mass you see in the background is Grand Manat Island; Nova Scotia is beyond that, across the widest part of the Bay of Fundy…


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Some folks have asked for a better picture of the Squarestream on this caravan; here it is:

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This is a 1989 32′ Airstream Land Yacht. It is aluminum skinned, but instead of rivets they used high-strength epoxy to attach the skins to the frames. It resulted in a much more rigid unit. However, they were not popular with the traditionalists, so the series was dropped a few years later.

And, as is our custom, here are pictures of our grandchildren, as they learn all about water balloons……

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2017-07-26 Ian and Roisin

2017-07-24 Nor by Nor’east Caravan – Maine – Bar Harbor, Acadia National Park, Seal Harbor, Northeast Harbor, and Lobster!

Mt. Desert Island is quite a beautiful place, with rocky shores and quiet harbors.

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Like Newport, RI, Mt. Desert Island was a favorite place for the very wealthy to have summer cottages.  However, rather than being sophisticated and elegant, filled with grand, showy homes, like Newport, MDI was known for its quiet, rustic ways.  Homes, while huge, and filled with servants, were simple, wood houses, with fireplaces and always set back into the wilderness.  Some of the houses from the late 19th century survive, but many were torn down by the 1950s because they were obsolete and too rustic for modern living.  The descendants of the original families who had homes here (Fords, Rockefellers, Astors, Vanderbilts) still have homes here, and many come for the summer season; but the houses are not as visible – they are mostly hidden in the woods…

The heart of social life, for those who participated, was (and is) the town of Bar Harbor. Many elegant hotels line the waterfront. Many of the families, though, stayed away from the town – they preferred to be in the woods, and along the sea, living the simple life – swimming, sailing, and taking long carriage rides along the carriage roads (mostly built by John D. Rockefeller). In fact, most of the land making up Acadia National Park was donated by the Rockefeller family.

We had been warned about the terrible traffic both in Bar Harbor, and in Acadia; we also were warned about road construction in the area.  So, armed with good maps we set off at 7:00 am (along with Larry and Kathy Warrren) to get an early start on the day.  We easily found the “good” road, and we easily found parking in Bar Harbor.  We strolled down empty streets; the only people out this early are folks heading for the whale watching boats. We were soon at our destination – Sunrise Café.  We enjoyed a nice quiet breakfast in this tiny place, then we walked along the Shore Path. The path runs right along the water’s edge, and it extends from the edge of town for about 1 ½ miles. We then could walk back along quiet residential streets. It was a great way to start the day.

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Once back to the car we headed up Cadillac Mountain, the tallest “mountain” along the Atlantic coast – about 1,500 feet elevation. (In California we call these “hills”…)  From here you can see all the islands surrounding the main island of Mt. Desert Island.  The views are stunning!


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As the park began getting busy we headed to the quieter side of the island, where many of the original wealthy families had their summer cottages.  We stopped in Seal Harbor, a beautiful place, and amazingly quiet.  The town of Seal Harbor consists of a church, an empty store building, a coffee house, and a bookstore.  And, of course, a real estate office.  There are three or four houses along the water’s edge, and many more in the hills.  All the houses are simple, neat, and unassuming.  There is a tiny Yacht Club perched on the side of the hill overlooking the harbor.

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Someone even built a very nice new vacation house right at the harbor’s edge:

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The next town is Northeast Harbor, a bustling place, filled with many art galleries. The harbor is much larger, and ferries run regularly between the harbor and two of the larger islands just off shore: Great Cranberry Island and Little Cranberry Island.  Many houses dot the streets of the town and the surrounding hills. People who live in Seal Harbor must come here to shop and eat.

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By now we were ready for lunch. We had been tipped off to another fabulous lobster pound, Trenton Bridge Lobster Pound. Only it was much more of a restaurant than a lobster shack. They served wine and offered napkins, eating utensils, and tools for eating the lobster.  Lobsters were great, but it was not as much fun as a real lobster pound…

We decided to call it a day and head back to the Villa. Tonight we had GAM #5, and we are hosting.  As we arrived at the RV Park it started to rain.  And it continued to rain.  Cold rain.  Maine rain.  We decided to have our GAM inside The Villa – all 10 of us.  It was cozy. But it was much nicer than sitting in the pavilion out in the cold.  We had great snacks and there was free flowing wine as we got to know another set of new friends. An enjoyable time was had by all…


2017-07-09 Nor by Nor’east Caravan -Newport, Rhode Island – Summer Cottages, day 2

Today, being Sunday, we checked out a local church to attend… We used the Emmett Raitt method for selecting a church and picked the one whose service time was most suitable to our Sunday activities.  This happened to be:

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So we drove into Newport, and attended a service for the “frozen chosen”.   No one sang, the choir was terrible, and the hymns were VERY SLOW!  But it was a good service of reflection and we don’t regret attending…  It is a very small church, and very traditional. Even though their hymnal contained “modern” praise songs, the piano player made sure we didn’t get carried away and get excited over a fast tempo…

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We have two tours scheduled for today:  “Beneath the Breakers” , which will explain all the technology behind the operations of The Breakers, and “The Servants’ Life” at The Elms, my favorite house here in Newport.

We began at The Breakers, in the Gate House:

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Originally intended for the caretaker, the cottage was most predominately occupied by the Estate Engineer.  His scrupulous notes have help recreate this picture of the technology beneath the Breakers…

We began in the Parlor of the house. We then descended about 30′ beneath the ground to the main Boiler Room:

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The below-grade room, close to the street, allowed coal to be dumped directly from the street into the coal bins, via chutes:

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The Boiler Room is located far from the main house as a fire-prevention measure; it is connected to the main house via a tunnel, complete with fire doors.  Steam pipes, hot water pipes, and electrical conduits all run through this tunnel into the basement of the main house.

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As we continued on the tour we learned about the elevators, the elctrical system, how warm air was circulated through the house via radiators in the basement, and all sort of the latest technology of the house.  It was FASCINATING!

After the tour we had time for a quick lunch at Le Forge restaurant in Newport:

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Our next tour was “The Servants’ Life” at The Elms.  We started by climbing 3 flights of stairs to the third floor:

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The third floor servants’ bedrooms had the feel of an old fashioned college dormitory. The hall was wide and well lit (note the skylights and the glass block floors allowing light into the second floor below).

The rooms were spartan but spacious:

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Because the third floor was hidden by the house’s parapet, there was a private roof-top space available to the servants:

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There was also a view to the harbor beyond:

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From this vantage point you can get a better view of the carriage house:

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After touring the servants’ quarters, we descended the stairs to the basement; I showed a quick photo of the kitchen yesterday, but here is another:

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There was a laundry in the basement, truck storage, a bakery, and a root cellar: the two story high Boiler Room is also here…

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Mr. Berwind made his money in the coal industry, so he had state-of-the-art coal delivery system:  There was a grate in the street; coal was delivered through the grate into carts, and the carts were rolled on rails through tunnels to the coal bins in the sub-basement:

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It was another great day. An enjoyable time was had by all…





















2017-07-08 Nor by Nor’east Caravan -Newport, Rhode Island – Summer Cottages, day 1

The day was sunny for a change, but not too warm. I’ve been looking forward to seeing the Summer Cottages again since I first saw them nine years ago…

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These were summer homes, used for 6-8 weeks each summer.  These are houses of the Gilded Age.  And gilded they were.  Gold and platinum were used as common decoration. Many of the interiors were ripped from palaces and castles in Europe, dismantled, sometimes cut into pieces, shipped to America and installed in these giant “cottages”. Nothing exceeds like excess here.  As architectural critic Ellsworth Toohey once said, (I paraphrase here…) “The house has a lovely garden gate, fine in proportion and workmanship. It is installed on the ceiling of the Dining Room”.

Pieces of furniture were cut up and used as decoration on stairways.  Huge paintings were cut in half, or reshaped into ovals, to fit into a room.  The money spent was pocket change to these people – labor was cheap and palaces and castles were cheap.

The various Vanderbilts had four houses here in Newport.  We toured two; one has been incorporated into a college, the other we could not fit into our schedule.

In any case, I love houses, even ostentatious ones. Even when a room hurts my eyes to look at it… We saw five houses today…

The Breakers; Cornelius Vanderbilt II; 138,000 s.f.; 70 rooms; 15 Bedroom suites; 33 staff bedrooms; 40 full time staff.  Architect: Richard Morris Hunt;

Marble House;  William Vanderbilt; 50 rooms; 7 Bedroom suites.  Architect: Richard Morris Hunt; contains over 500,000 cu. ft. of marble.

RoseCliff; Theresa Fair Oelrichs; 9 Bedroom suites; 33 staff bedrooms;      . Architect: McKim, Mead, and White

The Elms; Edward Berwind; 48 rooms; 7 Bedroom suites; 16 staff bedrooms; 40 full time staff.  Architect: Horace Trumbauer

Isaac Bell House; Isaac Bell; 7 Bedroom suites; 3 staff bedrooms.  Architect: McKim, Mead, and White

There isn’t a lot to say about these houses. The pictures tell the story:

The Breakers:

The biggest of all the Newport Mansions, and the best preserved; only lived-in for a few years…

The Approach:


The Grand Hall:

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More of the grand, gilded rooms…

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The Dining Room:

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The Billiard Room:

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Sitting Room; note the platinum accents in the wallpaper…

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The Music Room:

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The Library:

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And more utilitarian spaces… The 2 story Butler’s Pantry:

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The Kitchen:

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And, finally, the view over the grand lawn:

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Marble House:

Over 500,000 cu. ft. of marble was installed inside and out…

The Approach:

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The Dining Room:

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The Library:

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The Dining Room:

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The Drawing Room:

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The Grand Stair:

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The Master Bedroom:

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The other Master Bedroom:

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The the fun rooms…

The Kitchen:

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The Housekeeper’s Office:

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Part of the Butler’s Pantry:

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All the furnishings were sold off in 1941; in the early 1950s the house bought by a family from New Orleans, who summered here until the 1960s; most furniture is from the 1950s…

The Approach:

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The Grand Stair:

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Entrance to the Drawing Room:

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The Drawing Room:

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The Ballroom:

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The Library:

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The Dining Room:

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The Master Bedroom:

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The Elms:

My favorite of the grand mansions.; The Berwind family started spending their summers in Newport in the 1890s, and they had The Elms built in 1901; Mrs. Berwind died in 1922; Mr. Berwind invited his niece,Julia Berwind, to take over hostess duties in the house.  Mr. Berwind died in 1936. Julia remained in the house until her death in 1961.  When Julia Berwind died, The Elms was one of the very last Newport cottages to be run in the fashion of the Gilded Age: forty servants were on staff, and Miss Berwind’s social season remained at six weeks each year.  The family lived day-to-day on the second floor. The first floor was for entertaining only… The kitchen and other service rooms are in the basement, and there is a hidden third floor containing the servants’ bedrooms (more on this tomorrow…). Mr. Berwind loved technology and the house was fitted with all the latest devices, and was continually being updated until Mr. Berwind’s death in 1936. Julia had no interest in technology, so nothing was changed after 1936.

The approach:

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The Grand Hall:

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The Grand Stair:

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The Library:

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The Conservatory:

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The Drawing Room:

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The Music Room:

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The Dining Room:

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Mrs. Berwind’s Bedroom; this was also her sitting room, where she would receive lady friends during the day:

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Mr. Berwind’s Bedroom:

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Mr. Berwind’s Bathroom:

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The Upstairs Hall; the stained glass skylights in the ceiling get their light from glass block floor in the servants’ hall on the third floor; the actual skylight is above the third floor, in the roof. (More on this tomorrow).

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The Family Sitting Room on the second floor:

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The Kitchen:

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The Grand Lawn to the rear:

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The Carriage House:

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After touring these four houses, we needed a break. We took a long walk along “Cliff Walk”, a beautiful ocean front walkway around Newport:

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There were even surfers:

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We had time for one more house:

The Isaac Bell House:

This house is totally different from the others; it is not a neoclassical stone pile, but a post-Victorian cottage at a more human scale. It is older than the grand houses, but it portends what is coming, and what continued long after the neoclassical craze was over. This is the type of house Frank Lloyd Wright was trained to design. He took it to a whole new level…

This house was lived-in up until the 1990s, as a boarding house, a nursing home, and other uses.  It is still undergoing restoration…

The Exterior:

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The interior hall is dark:

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The Stair:

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Here we see something this house has in common with the others: These decorative panels were bought as bedsteads in Europe, dismantled and cut apart, and used as decoration on the stair:


The Living Room:

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The Dining Room:

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The Library:


The Upstairs:

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So it was a long day. We headed back to the Villa and the rest of the caravaners… An enjoyable time was had by all…























2017-07-07 Nor by Nor’east Caravan -Newport, Rhode Island

More rain today… But the caravan continues with a trolley tour of Newport, RI, and a harbor tour on the Amazing Grace…

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Our convoy of caravanners arrived and parked at William Rogers High School in Newport. We were promptly picked up by two trolleys and we were given a nice overview of Newport. We saw the port and the fort.  We saw President Eisenhower’s summer White House (this was before the days of Camp David…).  We drove along and peeked behind the gates of the “Summer Cottages” of New York City’s elites.  We heard gossip and other stories about the cottages and their owners and their guests.  We heard about the servants and their lives.  It was a nice general backdrop for our future visits.

Eisenhower’s house, on the grounds of Fort Adams:

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After the trolley ride we had lunch at the Brick Alley restaurant.  Lobster Bisque, stuffed quahogs, clam chowder, lobster rolls, steamers…

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The trolleys took us to the docks where we boarded the Amazing Grace:

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The harbor tour was great. If there is anything I like as much as houses it is boats.  And houses overlooking boats are about the best!

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There some pretty nice boats in the harbor, but it was not a very pleasant day to be boating:


The house at the top of this post is called “Clingstone” by its owners, but the locals call it, “The House on the Rock.”  It was built in 1905, perched atop a small, rocky island in an island group called “The Dumplings” in Narragansett Bay, near Jamestown, Rhode Island.

The dwelling, designed by Philadelphia socialite J. S. Lovering Wharton and artist William Trost Richards, is a three-story 23-room 10,000-square-foot shingle-style cottage.  The structural system of heavy mill-type framing was designed to withstand hurricane force winds.

The original owner, relative of industrialist Joseph Wharton, built the house in response to the government condemning his earlier summer home in order to build Fort Wetherill.  Wharton summered here until his death in the 1930s. Heavily damaged by a hurricane in 1938, the residence was vacant from the time of his wife’s death in 1941 until it was purchased in 1961 by Boston architect Henry Wood.  Wood, a distant cousin of the Philadelphia Whartons, was able to purchase the property for $3,600, the amount owed in back taxes. It has been restored and is now available as a summer rental…


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After the harbor tour we were shuttled back to the high school. A few of us decided to stop in at a tavern in town.

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The White Horse Tavern, constructed in 1652 in Newport, Rhode Island, is believed to be the oldest tavern building in the United States.  Everyone in the place will tell you so… They will also tell you that they have documented that John Hancock, Paul Revere, and Samuel Adams all were here.  Jackie Kennedy Onassis often lunched here while spending time at her family’s summer cottage nearby…

Frances Brinley constructed the original building on the site.  In 1673, the lot was sold to William Mayes, and the building was enlarged to become a tavern. The building was also used for large meetings, including use as a Rhode Island General Assembly meeting place, a court house, and a city hall.  William Mayes, Sr., obtained a tavern license in 1687 and William Mayes, Jr., a well-known pirate, operated the tavern through the early eighteenth century.  The operation was named “The White Horse Tavern” in 1730 by owner Jonathan Nichols.  During the American Revolution, Tories and British troops were quartered there around the time of the British occupation and the Battle of Rhode Island.  After years of neglect as a boarding house, Newport’s Van Bueren family donated money to the private Preservation Society of Newport to restore the building in 1952. After the restoration, the building was sold and once again operated as a private tavern and restaurant.  Today it still remains a popular drinking and dining location.  

We had some drinks and snacks and enjoyed meeting a few other caravanners.  An enjoyable time was had by all…













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