Newport has narrated trolley tours and I took an informative one that drove us all over this very beautiful town and area. There was so much to see including the harbor, St. Mary’s Church where John and Jackie Kennedy were married in 1953, the farm where they had their wedding reception, Touro Synagogue (oldest Jewish synagogue in North America, 1763), the yacht club, beaches, parks, Fort Adams, historic homes and many mansions. We visited two of the most famous mansions, summer “cottages” of two wealthy Vanderbilt families. These homes were only used a few months out of the year, a chance to get away to the seaside and relax from busy New York City. In spite of not being used much, they were designed to be just as large and lavish as their homes in New York City. In our travels I have seen a number of fancy homes, but these were the most extravagant yet.
Marble House, completed in 1892, was our first stop and the creation of Alva Vanderbilt. Alva spent much of her time elevating herself as a high society matron and wanted to have the most impressive homes and expensive parties. She was constantly trying to outdo other wealthy families in New York and planned Marble House to be the fanciest summer “cottage” in Newport. As the name implies, the walls and floors are covered with marble. The mansion cost about $11 million to build and furnish, of which $7 million was spent on 500,000 cubic feet of marble. The house is truly a statement of what the gilded age was all about with no expense spared. Some months ago I read an intriguing book on the Vanderbilts and the Gilded Age. It was not unusual for them to spend several hundred thousand dollars on one fancy party and that was back in the late 1800’s. While partying huge sums of money away in their mansions on 5th Avenue, other New York City residents were living not that many blocks away poverty stricken in tenement buildings.
The dining room in Marble House features pink marble on the walls and gilt bronze decoration. Alva got her inspiration for the mansion from a chateau on the grounds of the French Palace of Versailles. The mansion was a gift to Alva for her 39th birthday from her husband William.
There are 50 rooms in Marble House, so this is by no means a moderate sized summer cottage. It took awhile to walk through and “gawk” at all the rooms. The gothic room pictured above was designed for Alva’s collection of medieval artifacts.
It wasn’t all marble on the walls though. In the Gold Room or Gilded Ballroom are 22 karat-gold wall panels, probably the fanciest room in the house.
Stepping outside to the back of the house brings the view above. Marble House like many of the Newport mansions is located along the cliffs above the ocean with a remarkable vista.
After visiting Marble House we stopped at the Breakers, built by Cornelius and Alice Vanderbilt in 1895. Cornelius was the grandson of Commodore Vanderbilt who built up the family fortune in steamships and the New York Central Railroad. Cornelius later became Chairman and President of the New York Central. This home has 70 rooms and was built in Italian Renaissance style, inspired by the 16th century palaces of Genoa and Turin.
Although Marble House was for awhile the premier house in Newport, once the Breakers was built it became the largest and most grand home. It cost less to build though at $7 million. Once again, it is amazing that so much time and money was spent on a residence that was only used for a summer cottage.
Breakers has five floors and 62,482 square feet of living space. Below are photos of the beautiful music room and dining room in the mansion.
A large glass wall on the Eastern side of the Breakers looks out at the Loggia (covered corridor), back lawn and the sea. The mansion gets its name from the waves that continually crash against the cliffs below the house.
It was quite a visit to a much different time touring these amazing summer cottages. I hope you enjoyed reading about them as well. Stay tuned for my next blog post on more Newport adventures.