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…

2017-07-08 Newport - Breakers 01

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:

2017-07-08 Newport - Breakers 03

2017-07-08 Newport - Breakers 04

2017-07-08 Newport - Breakers 09


More of the grand, gilded rooms…

2017-07-08 Newport - Breakers 05


The Dining Room:

2017-07-08 Newport - Breakers 07


The Billiard Room:

2017-07-08 Newport - Breakers 10


Sitting Room; note the platinum accents in the wallpaper…

2017-07-08 Newport - Breakers 11

2017-07-08 Newport - Breakers 12


The Music Room:

2017-07-08 Newport - Breakers 13


The Library:

2017-07-08 Newport - Breakers 14


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

2017-07-08 Newport - Breakers 15


The Kitchen:

2017-07-08 Newport - Breakers 17


2017-07-08 Newport - Breakers 16


2017-07-08 Newport - Breakers 18


And, finally, the view over the grand lawn:

2017-07-08 Newport - Breakers 19


Marble House:

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

The Approach:

2017-07-08 Newport - Marble House 01


The Dining Room:

2017-07-08 Newport - Marble House 02


The Library:

2017-07-08 Newport - Marble House 03


The Dining Room:

2017-07-08 Newport - Marble House 04


The Drawing Room:

2017-07-08 Newport - Marble House 05


The Grand Stair:

2017-07-08 Newport - Marble House 06


The Master Bedroom:

2017-07-08 Newport - Marble House 07


The other Master Bedroom:

2017-07-08 Newport - Marble House 08


The the fun rooms…

The Kitchen:

2017-07-08 Newport - Marble House 09b

2017-07-08 Newport - Marble House 09a

2017-07-08 Newport - Marble House 09


The Housekeeper’s Office:

2017-07-08 Newport - Marble House 10


Part of the Butler’s Pantry:

2017-07-08 Newport - Marble House 11



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:

2017-07-08 Newport - Rosecliff 01


The Grand Stair:

2017-07-08 Newport - Rosecliff 02


Entrance to the Drawing Room:

2017-07-08 Newport - Rosecliff 03


The Drawing Room:

2017-07-08 Newport - Rosecliff 04


The Ballroom:

2017-07-08 Newport - Rosecliff 05

2017-07-08 Newport - Rosecliff 06


The Library:

2017-07-08 Newport - Rosecliff 07


The Dining Room:

2017-07-08 Newport - Rosecliff 08


The Master Bedroom:

2017-07-08 Newport - Rosecliff 09


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:

2017-07-08 Newport - The Elms 01


The Grand Hall:

2017-07-08 Newport - The Elms 02

2017-07-08 Newport - The Elms 03

2017-07-08 Newport - The Elms 04


The Grand Stair:

2017-07-08 Newport - The Elms 06


The Library:

2017-07-08 Newport - The Elms 07


The Conservatory:

2017-07-08 Newport - The Elms 08


The Drawing Room:

2017-07-08 Newport - The Elms 09


The Music Room:

2017-07-08 Newport - The Elms 10


The Dining Room:

2017-07-08 Newport - The Elms 11


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

2017-07-08 Newport - The Elms 14

2017-07-08 Newport - The Elms 16


Mr. Berwind’s Bedroom:

2017-07-08 Newport - The Elms 17

Mr. Berwind’s Bathroom:

2017-07-08 Newport - The Elms 18


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).

2017-07-08 Newport - The Elms 15


The Family Sitting Room on the second floor:

2017-07-08 Newport - The Elms 19


The Kitchen:

2017-07-08 Newport - The Elms 20


The Grand Lawn to the rear:

2017-07-08 Newport - The Elms 24


The Carriage House:

2017-07-08 Newport - The Elms 28


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

2017-07-08 Newport - Cliffwalk 08

2017-07-08 Newport - Cliffwalk 06

2017-07-08 Newport - Cliffwalk 05

2017-07-08 Newport - Cliffwalk 01

There were even surfers:

2017-07-08 Newport - Cliffwalk 07


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:

2017-07-08 Newport - Isaac Bell 04

2017-07-08 Newport - Isaac Bell 01

2017-07-08 Newport - Isaac Bell 03

2017-07-08 Newport - Isaac Bell 02


The interior hall is dark:

2017-07-08 Newport - Isaac Bell 30

2017-07-08 Newport - Isaac Bell 11


The Stair:

2017-07-08 Newport - Isaac Bell 31

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:

2017-07-08 Newport - Isaac Bell 23


2017-07-08 Newport - Isaac Bell 36


The Dining Room:

2017-07-08 Newport - Isaac Bell 37


2017-07-08 Newport - Isaac Bell 22


The Library:


The Upstairs:

2017-07-08 Newport - Isaac Bell 38


2017-07-08 Newport - Isaac Bell 29


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…























2017-07-04 Hudson Valley, NY; Roosevelt’s many houses in Hyde Park, and the Great Estates of the Vanderbilts

On 4th of July  we once again took to the train; this time going north, to Poughkeepsie.  At the train station we were shuttled to FDR’s Hyde Park estate, Springwood.  It has a nice driveway approach:

2017-07-04 Hyde Park FDR 31


The house has a great presence as you approach:

2017-07-04 Hyde Park FDR 01

However, it is really a simple (yet large) farm house. Those columns you see aren’t marble, or even stone; they are wood, fashioned to imitate stone.  Inside, the rooms are quite plain, except for the Living Room; it is quite lovely:

2017-07-04 Hyde Park FDR 12


2017-07-04 Hyde Park FDR 11


The Sitting Room:

2017-07-04 Hyde Park FDR 13a


The Dining Room:

2017-07-04 Hyde Park FDR 13b


FDR was born in this house and lived here his entire life; for all but the last four years his mother lived here as well.  There are no permanent accommodations for the fact that he spent most of his waking hours in a wheelchair.  There is a ramp from the main level down to the Living Room, but when visitors were expected, he would transfer from the wheelchair to his desk chair in the Living Room, the ramp was removed and stored, and the wheelchair was hidden.  To access the upper level, he transferred himself into the dumbwaiter, and he hoisted himself up by using the ropes and pulleys.

As I said, FDR’s mother, Sara, lived here with FDR and his wife Eleanor.  FDR was a bit of a “Mama’s Boy” and Eleanor and Sara never got along well. Both Eleanor and FDR built separate, private houses for themselves on the estate, although FDR never slept in his…

Also on the grounds of the estate is the FDR Library; it was the first presidential library built, and it is the only presidential library that was actually used by a sitting president. It was built in about 1941, and expanded after his death.  There is a moving art installation in the garden: given by Winston Churchill’s grand-daughter, it is a sculpture made from pieces taken from the Berlin Wall.  It is entitled “Freedom of Speech”.  The western side is covered in graffiti; the east side is blank…

2017-07-04 Hyde Park FDR 22


In addition to being born here, and living here all his life, FDR is also buried here:

2017-07-04 Hyde Park FDR 07.jpg


Next we visited the Vanderbilt Estate, also in the city of Hyde Park.  Is is just one of many Vanderbilt mansions in America…

From the late 1870s to the 1920s, the Vanderbilt family employed some of the United States’s best Beaux-Arts architects and decorators to build an un-equalled string of New York townhouses and East Coast palaces.

The list of architects employed by the Vanderbilts is a “who’s who” of the New York-based firms that embodied the “eclectic” styles of the American Renaissance: Richard Morris HuntGeorge B. PostMcKim, Mead, and WhiteCharles B. AtwoodCarrère and HastingsWarren and WetmoreHorace TrumbauerJohn Russell Pope and Addison Mizner were all employed by the eight grandchildren of Cornelius “Commodore” Vanderbilt, who built only very modest houses for himself.

Commodore’s grandchildren inheritted about $200,000 from their father, and they treated it as play money to indulge their home-building passions;  I count 24 houses…

  1. Cornelius Vanderbilt II (1843–1899), built a townhouse, the “Cornelius Vanderbilt II House” (1883) at 1 West 57th Street, New York by George B. Post. Enlargements by George B. Post and Richard Morris Hunt. This mansion was, and remains, the largest private residence ever built in Manhattan. Demolished.  Also, “The Breakers” in Newport, Rhode Island, in 1892–95, which was also designed by Richard Morris Hunt.  Also, “Oakland Farm” (1893), mansion and stables on 150 acres in Portsmouth, Rhode Island. Demolished.
  2. Margaret Louisa Vanderbilt (1845–1924), built a townhouse (1882), part of the Triple Palace, at 2 West 52nd Street, provided to them by her father and shared with her sister Emily Thorn Vanderbilt and their families. Demolished.  Also,  Woodlea (1892–95), designed by McKim, Mead & White, a country estate in Scarborough, New York, now the Sleepy Hollow Country Club.
  3. William Kissam Vanderbilt (1849–1920) had three houses designed by Richard Morris Hunt.
    • Petit Chateau“, the New York City townhouse at 660 Fifth Avenue, built in 1882 with details drawn in part from the late-Gothic Hôtel de Cluny, Paris. Demolished in 1926.
    • “Idle Hour” country estate in Oakdale, Long Island, New York, was built in 1878–79 and destroyed by fire in 1899. A new “Idle Hour”, designed by Hunt’s son Richard Howland Hunt, was built on the same property from 1900–01 of brick and marble in the English Country Style and is now part of the Dowling College Campus.
    • Marble House” summer home in Newport, Rhode Island, in 1888–92.
  4. Emily Thorn Vanderbilt (1852–1946) built a townhouse, 642 Fifth Avenue, part of the Vanderbilt Triple Palace, provided to them by her father. Demolished. Also, “Elm Court” in Lenox, Massachusetts, in 1887. It is the largest shingle-style house in the United States.
  5. Florence Adele Vanderbilt (1854–1952) built a townhouse at 684 Fifth Avenue, New York (1883). Designed by John B. Snook,  Demolished.  Also, Florham” in Convent Station, New Jersey, in 1894–97. Designed by McKim, Mead and White as a summer estate, it is now used for classrooms, faculty offices, and administration at Fairleigh Dickinson University.  Also, “Vinland” in Newport, Rhode Island. Renovated by Ogden Codman, Jr.. Now part of the Salve Regina University.  Also, a townhouse, her second, a 70-room house at 1 East 71st Street, New York. Designed by Whitney Warren. Demolished.
  6. Frederick William Vanderbilt (1856–1938) built “Hyde Park” in Hyde Park, New York. Designed by McKim, Mead and White and built in 1896–99.  Also,  “Rough Point” in Newport, Rhode Island designed by Peabody and Stearns built in 1892. Also, “Pine Tree Point“, Adirondack Great Camp on Upper St. Regis Lake in 1901. Also, “Sonogee” (1903) in Bar Harbor, Maine purchased and renovated in 1915.
  7. Eliza Osgood Vanderbilt (1860–1936) built “Shelburne Farms” in Shelburne, Vermont, built in 1899.  Also, a townhouse (1883) at 680 Fifth Avenue, New York. The house was a wedding gift from William H. Vanderbilt to his daughter. Demolished.  Also, “NaHaSaNe” (1893), the 115,000 acre Great Camp located on Lake Lila in the Adirondacks.
  8. George Washington Vanderbilt II (1862–1914) built a townhouse (1887) at 9 West 53rd Street in New York City. Designed by Richard Morris Hunt. Demolished. Also, “Biltmore” in Asheville, North Carolina, in 1888–95. Designed by Hunt, it is the largest house in the United States.  Also, houses at 645 and 647 Fifth Avenue, New York, called the “Marble Twins”. 1902–05. Number 647 survives, a designated landmark, as the flagship store for Versace.  Also, “Pointe d’Acadie” (1869), the Bar Harbor, Maine cottage purchased and renovated in 1889. Demolished 1952

The Vanderbilts started the craze of building ostentatious mansions to showcase their wealth and to be a backdrop for their lavish parties. You will hear more about these houses in a few days when we visit the “Summer Cottages” in Newport, Rhode Island.

The Frederick Vanderbilt house in Hyde Park is arguably the smallest of the grand houses, a mere 55,000 square feet.  Unfortunately, it is undergoing restoration and thus is covered in scaffolding and slipcovers.

Today’s visitors center was originally built as a cottage for the Vanderbilts to view the ongoing construction:2017-07-04 Vanderbilt Hyde Park 01


The mansion as it looks today:

2017-07-04 Vanderbilt Hyde Park 02

2017-07-04 Vanderbilt Hyde Park 02a


We were allowed to take interior photos, but the interiors are in a state of disarray:

2017-07-04 Vanderbilt Hyde Park 03

2017-07-04 Vanderbilt Hyde Park 04

2017-07-04 Vanderbilt Hyde Park 05

2017-07-04 Vanderbilt Hyde Park 07

As you can see, this house, like others I will show you in Newport, is simply an ostentatious display of excess;  these people were not patrons of artists who benefited their development; they simply bought castles and palaces in Europe, dismantled them, and reassembled them here in America. Don’t forget, this is one on the smallest, simplest Vanderbilt house; we will see more…

We returned on the train back to the Villa; this being the 4th of July, the Park was packed with thousands of people, crowding the beaches and lawns.  It was quite a madhouse. Luckily the RV park is about 1/2 mile beyond all the partying, so we were not affected by the crowds once we were finally able to drive by them. W spent the evening cleaning and packing. Today marks the final day of Part 1 of this Odyssey; tomorrow we rendezvous with the Nor by Nor’east caravan in Ashaway, Rhode Island.



















Blog at

Up ↑