Even though Rhode Island is the smallest state in America, it is home to the homes of America’s richest families in the Gilded Age. The American Gilded Age was characterized by wealthy people competing to be the most important in their circle. Part of this involved building ornate mansions and paying for the newest forms of entertainment for their guests. Due to Newport’s northern location, the mansions were mostly treated as summer homes. Today, some of the homes have been opened to the public for tours! Here is an overview of the mansions:
One of the primary ways that guests at The Breakers were pampered was through the Stable and Carriage House. To request a carriage, one would sign a book for the times a carriage was needed, or they could call down to the Carriage House and have one brought up for them! The mansion itself was inspired by Italian Renaissance styled villas, and is the grandest of all of the Newport homes.
This “House” has some of the most diverse architecturalinspirations of any of the mansions. From the Greek columns to the French art and an outdoor Chinese tea house, the Marble House combines cold marble with rich colors and art. Alva Vanderbilt, one of the original owners, used her influential status in society to host rallies for the women's’ suffrage movement in the gardens and tea house.
The Elms also has gorgeous outdoor scenery, as well as one of the most ornatestaircases. Like many of the mansions, it was inspired by French castles and architecture, while integrating all of the newest modern conveniences. Additionally, The Elms was built in a way that concealed the servant quarters, and had a series of tunnels that allowed deliveries to be made away from the mansion so that the garden was always peaceful.
Inspired by the Grand Trianon in Versailles, this mansion has stunning artistic detail as well as a beautiful view of the ocean. The house has even been used for movies such as The Great Gatsby and 27 Dresses! Rosecliff got its name from the rose gardens planted by the original owner, and because it is along the Cliff Walk, which is a path that runs for miles along the beach. Tourists can access the Cliff Walk, and it runs behind a few of the Newport properties.
The parties held at this palatial home helped to bring the social elite to Newport in the 1850’s- once there was a picnic for 2,000 guests! Some of the ceilings are painted in a similar style to Versailles, and the walls are also reminiscent of that style of architecture.
Kingscote was the first of many cottages to be built in Newport. When the cottage was expanded in the 1880’s, the architects combined Eastern Oriental and Colonial American styles to create a cozy, yet elegant home.
Isaac Bell House
This house is one of the few remaining examples of “shingle style”architecture in America. This style is one of the few uniquely American styles of homes, and was particularly popular in New England.
Green Animals Topiary Garden
The focal point of this mansion is not the house, but the gardens outside! There are over 80 different animals and patterns, and it received its name from the daughter of the original owner because she liked the “green animals”. She loved them so much that she made the house her permanent residence.
Originally owned by a British loyalist in the Revolutionary War who was forced to flee from Newport, the house received its name from William Hunter, a U.S. senator. The house was built in a “Georgian” fashion, which refers to the kings of England and not the country! This style is based on symmetry both inside and outside the home, with the focal point being the front door. The pineapple on the frame is a colonial symbolof hospitality.
One of the smallest (and most home-like) mansions, Chepstow was under the ownership of the family until 1986. Thus, there is a mix of the original decor, family heirlooms, and 1980’s renovations. This home also has collections of artwork and documents from the family, and the second owner continued hosting social parties well into the 1900’s.
Ornate: very fancy and artistic
Treat: to deal with
Mansion: a very large house
Pamper: to give someone lots of attention
Carriage: vehicle pulled by horses
Grand: very large and impressive
Diverse: lots of variety and/or differences
Rally: meeting of a large group of people to protest or support an idea
Women’s Suffrage Movement: movement for women’s right to vote
Convenience: things that are easy to get or use
Conceal: to hide away from sight
Servant’s Quarters: the rooms that servants lived in
Palatial: like a palace (a mansion for a royal family)
Reminiscent: something that causes a memory of something else
Shingle: a rectangle of wood or stone used on roofs or walls; in shingle style architecture the whole house was covered in shingles
Focal point: center of attention
Colonial: referring to the time when the United States was under British rule
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sydney Weidler is a sophomore (2nd year) student studying Nutrition and Dietetics at Messiah College, and is one of the virtual interns at America House this year! She loves travelling, reading, and baking, as well as playing the oboe and spending time with friends and family.