Fleeton Year of Adventure travel blog

Cornelius Vanderbilt's "The Breakers"

The back view of The Breakers

William and Alva Vanderbilt's "Marble House"

Marble House from the rear

Across the shore line from Marble House to the area where the...

"Rosecliff" - see my story

"The Elms" - built by a coal magnate named Berwind (from the...

The Elms, from the formal rear gardens

The carriage house of The Elms


Newport, RI is where many of the rich of America built vast summer "cottages", which they only occupied for 8-10 weeks every summer during America's gilded age from 1890 to when income tax was created in the 1920s sometime. There was much competition to see who could outshine each other in glorious entertaining (apparently among the women - their husbands went to work in New York a lot of the time!), and the homes got bigger and fancier. Many of the homes over the years have been destroyed, either due to fires, hurricane damage, or destroyed by developers, but there is a preservation society which is helping keep some of them in good condition for all to see. So far on this day we managed to tour four of these, including two of the largest. The largest and most expensive is Cornelius Vanderbilt II's "The Breakers", with gold leaf walls in some rooms, and even platinum-leaf decorations on one room. Huge, magnificent rooms, all designed after French Louis 14th and 15th styles, and gorgeous furnishings of course. Three of the houses on this day used audio-tours, with little digital units and headphones which let you select how much detail you wanted to go into, and were very informative. We then went to "Marble House", which was built by Cornelius' brother William's first wife Alva. It really WAS built out of marble - the outside and most of the inside, and was just as elaborate. Alva was a huge "votes for women" advocate (we saw exhibits of this) and very modern in her outlook - she later divorced William and married another billionaire down the block. The third house we saw was Rosecliff, which was built for Mrs. Herman Oelrichs - her husband was the American head of the German steamship line which competed with the White Star and Cunard lines, and she was the daughter of one of the finders of the Comstock Silver Lode in Nevada - money on both sides! Unfortunately it had suffered much damage in the 1930s and had it's contents sold off, but had been resurrected in the 1940s and refilled with antique furniture, although not the originals. It is available for hire, and there was a wedding happening there after the place closed for the night. The last place we saw was "The Elms", the second largest home there, built by a coal magnate for his wife to entertain with. It was designed to look like the Grand Trianon at Versaille, and was equally luxurious in the grand French manner. It even included a whole suite of embroidered cushions actually made for Marie Antoinette. All of these houses had No photograph policies, so the only photos I could get were on the exteriors and their beautiful, mostly-ocean-front locations, but I did buy a book with interior photos.



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