One of my favorite things to do each holiday season is to explore Newport and the mansions all gussied up with lights, ornaments and holiday cheer. This year, I visited The Elms, one of my absolute favorite buildings in Newport, which is a house museum! Stay tuned for some room features, similar to my series last year on The Breakers mansion.
The Elms was commissioned in 1898 by coal baron Edward Julius Berwind (1848–1936) and his wife Sarah Torrey Berwind (1856-1922) as a summer cottage where the couple could escape the woes of city life for a few weeks of every year. Edward was “new money” (his parents were middle-class German immigrants); and by the 1890s, he was hailed as “one of the 58 men who rule America”, making him one of Newport’s most important summer residents. To live up to his new status, he hired Philadelphia architect Horace Trumbauer, who took inspiration from the 18th century Château d’Asnières in France. The site on the iconic Bellevue Avenue is not directly on the water, so Trumbauer sought to enhance the siting of the mansion by elaborate landscaping (more on that later). The house was built to be fireproof, after the complete loss of the original Breakers mansion in 1892 and is clad with Indiana limestone. The couple held many lavish parties in the Elms until 1922, when Mrs. Berwind died. Mr. Berwind invited his youngest sister, Julia, to become his hostess at his New York and Newport houses. Mr. Berwind died in 1936 and Julia continued to summer at The Elms until her death in 1961. Childless, Julia Berwind willed the estate to a nephew, who did not want it and fruitlessly tried to pass The Elms to someone else in the family. Finally the family auctioned off the contents of the estate and sold the property to a developer who wanted to tear it down. In 1962, just weeks before its date with the wrecking ball, The Elms was purchased by the Preservation Society of Newport County for $116,000. It remains one of the most visited house museums in the nation to this day.