Adventures in the Villa


Rhode Island

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:

2017-07-09 First Presbyterian

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:

2017-07-09 Le Forge


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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2017-07-08 Newport - Marble House 09a

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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…













2017-07-05 Caravan Rendezvous

Today we begin the Nor by Nor’east Caravan!  Today we join with 24 other Airstreams to spend 6 weeks exploring the Atlantic Coast from Rhode Island to Prince Edward Island.

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We left Croton Point in the Hudson Valley with our destination being Ashaway, Rhode Island.  We wanted to avoid driving the New York City area, as well as coastal Connecticut, so we headed straightaway for Danbury, CT.  After a short drive we found ourselves at the largest Trader Joe’s store we have ever seen.

After replenishing our supplies we continued on our way.  Somewhere, on Highway 6, in the middle of Connecticut, we thought we spotted an Airstream far ahead of us.  Soon we confirmed that it was an Airstream, and we thought we could see another ahead of it.  I pushed the throttle ahead a bit, and, lo and behold, there were THREE Airstreams, all heading east, and all from Kentucky!  We soon passed them and we all made our way into Rhode Island and the Ashaway RV Park.  There we joined the others, many of whom had been there for two or three days already.  We parked the Villa, got set up, and met our leaders, Trevor and Gale Lake.

Connecticut and Rhode Island stickers:


Being the neighborly types, we invited our 2 neighbors to happy hour at our site.  I guess word spread, because 35 people showed up. An enjoyable time was had by all.

That evening we had an orientation meeting to discuss the general culture of the caravan and to confirm and explain tomorrow’s activities.

The group meeting:

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The campground:

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The caravan will last 41 days and we will camp at 11 places; we will travel about 1,000 miles, including side trips, detours, and excursions.  The weather today was warm and sunny; we won’t be so lucky tomorrow, when we head to Mystic Seaport…

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