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Newport for the holidays

Marble House, Newport, Rhode Island
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500,000 cubic feet of marble was used to build  Marble House. It was inspired by the Petite Trianon at Versailles.

One of the best times to visit the Newport mansions and grand historic homes in Bristol, Rhode Island is when they are beautifully decorated for the holidays. Knowing a bit about the inhabitants can make your visit come to life.

Bristol’s Linden Place, a Federal-style mansion built by George DeWolf in 1810 and a family home for 177 years is a good place to begin. The portico’s four Corinthian columns frame one of the finest Federal style doorways in America.

Linden Place, Bristol, Rhode Island
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Linden Place, in Bristol, Rhode Island, is a Federal-style mansion built by George DeWolf in 1810.

Inside, a Christmas tree stands by the four-story unsupported circular staircase, one of just four in America. Andrew Jackson’s portrait hangs in the Northwest Parlor over the fireplace mantle. He and four other U. S. Presidents are among the notables who visited this home.

DeWolf fled in 1825 to avoid creditors and irate townspeople when his sugar and slave shipping and local distillery businesses failed. His brother moved in. George’s daughter, Theodora DeWolf Colt’s, whose portrait is in the dining room. bought the house back after marrying into the wealthy Colt family from Hartford. She planted the linden trees in front of the property, named the house Linden Place, and made it the hub of Bristol society.

dining room, Linden Place, Bristol, Rhode Island
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Linden Place dining room, Bristol, Rhode Island

The dining room chandelier is from Buckingham Palace. The table, set for a holiday dinner, is made from mahogany packing crates used to ship rubber from South America to Bristol.

Theodora’s son, Colonel Samuel Pomeroy Colt, founded Industrial Trust Bank, now Bank of America, and turned a bankrupt Bristol rubber company into United States Rubber, now Uniroyal. His son Russell married the Academy-Award winning actress Ethyl Barrymore, who held a summer music school at Linden Place.

chandelier, Linden Place, Bristol, Rhode Island
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A crystal chandelier embellished with ribbons and greenery glows through a Palladian window at Linden Place.

And did you know Linden Place was used as Daisy Buchanan’s childhood home in “The Great Gatsby?”

Blithewold Mansion, Gardens and Arboretum in Bristol is one New England’s finest garden estates. It was the Van Wickle family’s summer and Christmas holiday home for over 80 years. Both Bessie and Augustus Van Wickle’s families made a fortune in mining. They bought the property on Narragansett Bay in 1894.

Blithewold, Bristol, Rhode Island
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Blithewold, Bristol, Rhode Island

Augustus Van Wickle died in a shooting accident in 1898, leaving two daughters, Marjorie, 14, and Augustine, born after his death. Bessie gave the Van Wickle gates to Brown University in his memory.

Bessie married family friend William McKee in 1901. After a fire in 1906 destroyed the original wooden home they built the current 45 room English-style manor.

McKee borrowed money from Bessie’s inheritance for his wholesale leather company in the 1920s and was hit hard in the Depression. They sold their Boston home and Bessie’s daughters had to assist them financially.

view of the bay from Blithewold, Bristol, Rhode Island
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The Billiard Room at Blithewold has a sweeping view of Narragansett Bay.

This year’s theme throughout the house is “A Toast to the Twenties,” celebrating the joyful years of the Roaring Twenties. The Christmas tree by the fireplace in the two-story foyer soars to the upper floor. The dining room to the left is decked out for the holiday Afternoon Tea.

foyer, Blithewold, Bristol, Rhode Island
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The holiday tree at Blithewold soars up to the second floor.

Newport: The Gilded Age

 Newport was a place that accepted people of different beliefs and nationalities.  Quaker and Jewish populations that had strong international trade connections, and skilled craftsmen made products that were in high demand.  Newport became one of the most prosperous port cities along the coast.

Although Newport’s independent nature led to British occupation 1776-1779 and economic decline, the city prospered again as a summer resort that attracted Gilded Age industrialists. They built “summer cottages” that were showplaces of wealth, power and extravagant entertaining.

carolers at The Breakers, Newport, Rhode Island
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carolers at The Breakers, Newport, Rhode Island

These architectural gems have been preserved for all to enjoy, thanks to post-World War II preservation movements by groups like the Newport Historical Society and the Preservation Society of Newport County.

Our top choice for holiday splendor? Holiday Evening at the Breakers, a 70 room Italian Renaissance palace that is the grandest of the mansions.

It was built in 1895 by Cornelius Vanderbilt II (1843-1899), Chairman of the New York Central Railroad system. His grandfather, shipping and railroad magnate Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt (1794-1877) amassed the largest fortune in the nation.

chorus at The Breakers, Newport, Rhode Island
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chorus at The Breakers, Newport, Rhode Island

Music fills the great hall, modeled after open-air courtyards in 16th century Genoa, Italy palaces. Baccarat crystal wall sconces and massive chandeliers illuminate a dining room with a 50’ high golden ceiling, alabaster columns, and seating for 34 around the table. The library’s 16th century French chimneypiece is from the Château d’arnav le Duc in Burgundy.

chorus at The Breakers, Newport, Rhode Island
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Dining Room at The Breakers

The gold and silver leaf, mirrors, and crystal lighting fixtures shine even brighter for the holidays in the Music Room. Only the finest marble and Parisian furnishings would do for this room. It was used festive occasions like family weddings and debutante parties.

Music Room, The Breakers, Newport, Rhode Island
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The Music Room at the Breakers was the site of family weddings and debutante parties.

Cornelius Vanderbilt II enjoyed the house for only four seasons. He had a stroke in 1896 and died of a second one in 1899 at age 56. Gladys Vanderbilt, the youngest of the seven children, married Hungarian aristocrat Count Széchényi. She inherited The Breakers when her mother died in 1934 and opened house to the public in 1948 to raise money for the Preservation Society’s restoration of Hunter House. She leased The Breakers to the Preservation Society for $1 a year and funded its maintenance.

The Breakers gingerbread house, Newport, Rhode Island
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Gingerbread house in the kitchen of The Breakers, Newport, Rhode Island

Marble House (1892) was one of the most opulent houses in America when it was built for Alva Vanderbilt. 500,000 cubic feet of marble were used for this summer home inspired by the Petite Trianon at Versailles.

Marble House, Newport, Rhode Island
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Alva Vanderbilt’s Marble House was one of the most opulent house in America when built and was the setting of the most elegant social events.

Alva Erskine Smith was the spirited and ambitious daughter of a wealthy cotton broker. She married William Vanderbilt and hired Richard Morris Hunt to built their Fifth Avenue mansion as well as Marble House.

She was known for the most elegant social events and maneuvered her way into an old money society that Caroline (Mrs. William) Astor and her social register, the Four Hundred, had defined. Alva divorced Vanderbilt, married his friend, Oliver Hazard Perry Belmont, and they built Belcourt Castle just down the street.

Marble House dining room, Newport, Rhode Island
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Marble House dining room, Newport, Rhode Island

Much to her daughter Consuelo’s distress, Alva arranged a loveless marriage for her to the Duke of Marlborough, Winston Churchill’s gruff first cousin. To her mother’s delight, Consuelo became a duchess.

Marble House Gothic Room, Newport, Rhode Island
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t was in Marble House’s Gothic Room that 18-year-old Consuelo Vanderbilt reluctantly agreed to marry the Duke of Manchester

The duke was given $10 million for improvements to their home, the 170 room Blenheim Palace, and a $2.5 million a year divorce settlement. Alva became a suffragist. Consuelo devoted herself to women’s rights and public welfare.

The Elms was built for coal magnate Edward Julius Berwind and his wife, Sarah, of Philadelphia and New York. It was modeled after the mid-18th century French chateau d’Asnieres (c.1750). The interior was designed by Allard and Sons of Paris and furnished with Renaissance ceramics, 18th century French and Venetian paintings, and Oriental jades.

The Elms dinng room, Newport
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The Elms dinng room, Newport

It was completed in 1901 at a cost of $1.4 million. Elaborate Classical Revival gardens, marble and bronze sculptures, marble pavilions, sunken gardens, and fountains were added.

After Mrs. Berwind died in 1922 Mr. Berwind’s sister, Julia, became his New York and Newport hostess. Mr. Berwind died in 1936 and Miss Julia continued to spend summers at The Elms until her death in in 1961. The house and most contents were sold at public auction.

The Elms gingerbread house, Newport, Rhode Island
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The Elms gingerbread house, Newport, Rhode Island

It was about to be demolished in 1962 when The Preservation Society of Newport County purchased it, used their resources to recover many of the furnishings, and opened it to the public.

Rosecliff (1902) 548 Bellevue Avenue, was the home of Hermann Oelrichs and his strong-willed wife, Nevada silver heiress Theresa “Tessie” Fair Oelrichs. Her Irish immigrant father, James Fair, made his fortune in the Comstock Lode, one of the largest silver finds. She met her multimillionaire husband, steamship magnate Hermann Oelrichs, at a tennis match at the Newport Casino.

Rosecliff, Newport, Rhode Island
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Rosecliff, Newport, Rhode Island

Rosecliff (1902) was the home of Hermann Oelrichs and his strong-willed wife, Nevada silver heiress Theresa “Tessie” Fair Oelrichs. Her Irish immigrant father, James Fair, made his fortune in the Comstock Lode, one of the largest silver finds. She met her multimillionaire husband, steamship magnate Hermann Oelrichs, at a tennis match at the Newport Casino.

They bought the original Rosecliff from historian and diplomat George Bancroft, who developed the American Beauty Rose. They purchased additional land, hired architect Stanford White, and spent $2.5 million for a home inspired by the Grand Trianon at Versailles.

Rosecliff dining room, Newport, Rhode Island
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Rosecliff dining room, Newport, Rhode Island

Mrs. Oelrich hosted some of Newport’s most lavish parties there, including a Mother Goose costume ball and a party featuring magician Harry Houdini.

Frequent guest Cole Porter revised “Anything Goes” and was inspired to write “Night and Day” while staying here.

The last private owners, Mr. and Mrs. J Edgar Monroe, gave the house, furnishings, and an endowment to the Preservation Society in 1971.

Scenes from Hollywood films shot here include The Great Gatsby (1974), True Lies, 27 Dresses, and Amistad.

Rough Point, Newport, Rhode Island
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Rough Point, Newport, Rhode Island

Rough Point is the English Manorial style oceanfront estate of tobacco heiress Doris Duke. It is just as the philanthropist, art collector, horticulturist left it to Newport Restoration Foundation when she died in 1993.

The holiday tour, “The Undecked Halls of Doris Duke’s Rough Point”, is unique in that it is just as the mansions would have been at this time of year, furnishings covered, while the owners were in a warmer climate. Photography is not allowed inside.

View of the Cliff Walk and the "Rough Point" the mansion.
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View of the Cliff Walk and the “Rough Point” the mansion.

The home was built for Frederick William Vanderbilt and purchased by Duke’s father, James Buchanan Duke, in 1922. a founder of the American Tobacco Company and Duke Power Company and a benefactor of Duke University. He died in 1925, leaving his only child, 12 year old Doris, the bulk of his estate, $80 million.

Rough Point from the back yard, Newport, Rhode Island
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Rough Point from the back yard, Newport, Rhode Island

She traveled the world, collecting fine art and furniture from Europe, Chinese porcelains, Flemish tapestries, and Islamic and Southest Asian art.

Duke founded the Newport Restoration Foundation in 1968 and spent much of her fortune preserving and restoring the colonial 18th and 19th century architecture in the city. She gave away over $400 million in lifetime, often anonymously, and left her fortune to the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation to support the performing arts, medical research, environmental conservation and the prevention of child abuse.

For additional information on tours, dates, prices, times, and other events go to www.discovernewport.org.

 

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