Settled in 1639 under political and religious dissention, the town of Newport, Rhode Island was a far cry from the grand image it is known for today. It steadily grew for almost a hundred and fifty years before claiming city status. This burgeoning port city continued to attract enterprising merchants and tradesmen. Then the American Revolution destroyed the economy of the city and it took another hundred years or so for Newport to regain glory. But goodness! What a Triumph!
In the mid 19th century a few southern plantation owners set up temporary residence to remove themselves from the sweltering summers of the Deep South. Soon after, Northerners took notice of the favorable climate and proximity to Boston and New York City. Employing the haute de jour architects such as Richard Morris Hunt, and McKim, Mead, and White, they instructed them to build quaint summer cottages along the picturesque backdrop of sea cliffs and ocean breezes. The architects filled these request for the scions and master of the universe of the Gilded Age. Newport’s Golden Age has arrived!
The Captain of Industry who is sometimes credited with making Newport a “destination” is Cornelius Vanderbilt II. It seemed, soon after his arrival much of his social set moved in on the island as well. Thus their homes continue to dot all along the shore line of Newport. The owners of these simple cottages only resided in them for a few months of the year; although some kept the staff year around. While lavish by any standards; these homes did not have the space, land, and “grandeur” of their permanent residences. Doing a cursory inspection of the Rhode Island Mansion, as they are currently dubbed, from the Newport Preservation Society list, “cottage standards” arise;
- Most of these summer homes sit on average of six acres of land.
- They are at least three stories in height.
- The average living space totals 50,000 square feet.
- The cottages have a mere 15-50 rooms.
- All have spectacular views of the Atlantic.
- Gardens, complete with gardeners, is practically mandated.
- Then there is the requisite stables. Naturally.
- Terrence or porch or loggia or portico to take in the view. A decent cottage has multiple.
- Lastly, there is the ballroom. What cottage is not complete without one? These homes were meant for entertaining small gatherings, after all.
I have visited some of these mansions a quite a few years past and made note of the rare blue solid marble fireplace/wall in the dining room, the imported rose marble columns from Egypt in the foyer, and the 24 caret plumbing fixtures throughout. To say the least, I was in awe and spent much of the time staring stupidly at the splendor like your average tourist. I long to go back and I shall! One summer in the future with my future husband. My Suitor, I am looking at you!
Perhaps, you might scoff at the description of such “cottages.” It is all about perspective, Dear Reader. Let us do quick analysis of the extreme, shall we? Let us take the Vanderbilt summer cottage; The Breakers with “one of” their other residence, The Biltmore Estate (Which to be completely accurate, is just another Summer home, or as William Henry Vanderbilt refers to it as his “little mountain escape.”) Upon reviewing, you shall see The Breakers is truly a quaint little cottage indeed!
The Breakers The Biltmore
70 Rooms 250 Rooms
65,000 sq. ft. 180,000 sq. ft.
13 acres of land 125,000 acres originally, now reduced to 8,000