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Marble House, Newport, Rhode Island

Rhode Island: The Newport Mansions

During America’s ‘Gilded Age’ at the turn of the 20th Century the rich and famous flocked to Newport, Rhode Island to spend the summer months partying and enjoying the fresh sea air. Here they built marvellous mansions, which they referred to, rather amusingly, as cottages, styled on those that are dotted across Europe.

Several of these spectacular mansions have been preserved and are now open to the public. You could spend days visiting these mansions. We only had a day and decided to visit a couple; Breakers and the Marble House.

THE BREAKERS

Built for Cornelius Vanderbilt II, The Breakers (1893-1895), located at 44 Ochre Point Avenue 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. In 1893, Mr. Vanderbilt and his wife Alice commissioned Richard Morris Hunt to design a house that would replace one on the same property that was destroyed by a fire in November of 1892. The end result was a 70-room house with 5-floors.

The front of The Breakers, the Vanderbilt Mansion in Newport

The interior of The Breakers is hard to describe, but words such as ornate, lavish and opulent immediately come to mind. To think that was built purely as a summer ‘cottage’ that would only have been occupied for about 6-weeks of the year is hard to fathom. As you enter The Breakers you come into the splendid entrance hall with its tall, painted ceiling from which hang the most magnificent chandeliers. It sets the scene of what to expect from the rest of the house.

The opulent main entrance hall of the The Breakers
Painted ceiling
A fountain on the ground floor
The dining room

The rooms of the upper floors of the Breakers are mainly made up of bedrooms and there is quite a number! Compared to the reception rooms on the lower floor, the bedrooms are plain and simple. Probably our favourite rooms of the upper floors were the bathrooms, they are made them so more elegant in those day!

The view down to the reception hall at the Breakers
One of the bathrooms of The Breakers

Our favourite place to visit in these mansions is the ‘downstairs’ where the kitchens and the other domestic areas.  The kitchens of The Breakers did not disappoint. 

THE MARBLE HOUSE

Marble House
The main staircase in Marble House

The Marble House is not on the scale of The Breakers, but it is nonetheless extravagant. As you enter the house you have an impressive staircase right in front of you.

Italian marble surrounds you as you walk through this epic hallway. Back when the Vanderbilt’s lived here, the French doors would be open to catch the cool sea breeze on a hot summer day in Newport.

From the hallway to your left is the imposing dining room. The dining room played host to many lavish Vanderbilt lunches. The gold-covered chairs will be the first thing that catches your eye upon entering. The rose marble was imported all the way from Algeria.

The most lavish room on the ground floor is the Grand Salon. What says Gilded Age like a room covered completely in 22 karat gold? The Grand Salon was a room for music, balls, and entertaining guests

The dining room in Marble House is completely over the top
The french-style influenced ceiling
The gold-leaf encrusted Grand Salon of Marble House
The dark and mysterious Gothic Room in Marble House

On the 2nd floor, you’ll find William and Alva’s separate bedrooms along with their son’s bedroom. Alva’s room was created in the Louis XIV style and there is a magnificent painting of the goddess Athena on the ceiling. William’s room is a lot more modest and manly. Consuelo, had more flair, reflected in the bright and bold pink colours in her bedroom. Consuelo first marriage was to the ninth Duke of Marlborough, which makes her related to Winston Churchill and Lady Diana Spencer. It was a loveless and unhappy marriage. They would eventually divorce in 1921, and have the union annulled by the Vatican in 1926. It was Consuelo’s second marriage that would prove to be happier: she married Lt. Jacques Balsan, a French balloonist and pilot who worked with the Wright Brothers, in July 1921, shortly after her divorce was finalised. 

Consuelo's bright pink bedroom - Marble House
Alva Vanderbilt's bedroom in Marble House was the largest of all by some measure
William Vanderbilt's modest chamber

Of course, before leaving the house we had to check out the kitchen. 

The Marble House kitchen

Beyond the house are the grounds which run down to the sea.

Here you will find the Chinese Team Room which has an interesting history.

Alva divorced William Vanderbilt and then married Oliver H.P. Belmont and became Alva Belmont. She is known as an ardent crusader for women’s equality and gave thousands of dollars to the National Women’s Party to advance women’s rights. After her second husband’s death in 1908, she reopened Marble House and had the Chinese Tea House built on the cliffs. It was here that she held her rallies for women’s right to vote.

The view to the rear of Marble House
The Chinese Tea Room

Planning your visit to the Mansions of Newport

Address:Various addresses
Website:https://www.newportmansions.org/
Telephone:T: 401-847-1000
Hours:Breakers & Marble house open daily 10 a.m.- 4 p.m. Check the website for more information
Admission Fees

One house: Adults-$20 | Youth (6-17)-$8 | Under 6 – Free        Two houses: Adults-$34 | Youth (6-17)-$10 | Under 6 – Free 

Best time to visit Newport

The best time to visit Newport is between March and May and from September to November. In May (the end of the spring season) and September (the start of the autumn season), mild temperatures and few rain showers mean you’ll have ideal weather for exploring the city’s famous mansions.

Where to stay in Newport

1. INN ON BELLEVUE

Located in Newport in the Rhode Island region, with Easton Beach and Touro Synagogue nearby, Bellevue House provides accommodations with free WiFi and free private parking.

The bed and breakfast offers a buffet or American breakfast.

Popular points of interest near Bellevue House include International Tennis Hall of Fame, The Preservation Society of Newport County and Rosecliff Mansion. The nearest airport is T.F. Green Airport, 28 miles from the accommodation.

2. THE ARTFUL LODGER

This property is a 1-minute walk from the beach. Situated on Newport Harbor, this guest accommodation is just a 4-minute walk from Elms Mansion. It boasts a fresh-made breakfast each morning and offers free Wi-Fi in all guest rooms.

Every Artful Lodger room features individual décor and a private bathroom. A cable TV and a telephone are included.

Guests will enjoy the Lodger Artful breakfast area where food is served by floor-to-ceiling windows with a view of the harbour.

3. CAPTAIN SIMEON POTTER HOUSE

This 300-year-old house won the Newport Historic Preservation award. Set 0.8 mi from Touro Synagogue, Captain Simeon Potter House offers barbecue facilities and free WiFi.

Offering a patio, air conditioned units and have a dining area and a seating area with a cable flat-screen TV. There is also a kitchen in some of the units equipped with a dishwasher and oven.

If you would like to discover the area, cycling and fishing are possible in the surroundings and the property can arrange a bicycle rental service.

 

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