The Weld family has long been a prominent family in Boston, with ancestors dating back to the 17th century in New England. One of these men was William Fletcher Weld, a merchant, later making investments in railroads and real estate. By the time of his death in 1881, he had an estate of approximately $20 million, or more than half a billion in today’s dollars, and he left nearly all of it to his family. His eldest son, William Gordon Weld II, received a large inheritance and he began construction on this summer “residence”cottage” in Newport. The house was designed by local architect Dudley Newton, who had the estate built of locally-quarried granite. Architecturally, the dwelling is eclectic in style with Dutch Renaissance gables with conical roof forms seen typically in Queen Anne and Romanesque buildings. Weld spent his summers here for over a decade until his death in 1896. His widow Caroline, summered in the mansion until her death in 1918. By this point, Newport was beginning to fall out of favor as a wealthy resort community, and the many Gilded Age mansions were increasingly viewed as costly white elephants from a previous era. This property was sold by the Weld family in the early 1920s and became the De La Salle Academy, a Catholic school for boys, and remained in use until it closed in the early 1970s. After the school closed, the mansion was converted to condominiums and some townhomes were built on the expansive property.
In 1885, a 28-year-old Leroy King (1857-1895) and his wife Ethel Rhinelander King (1857-1925) hired one of the country’s most prominent architects, Stanford White, to design a Newport home for their family. Leroy was the son of Edward King, a prominent local merchant, and upon his fathers death in 1875, inherited some of the $100+million dollar fortune he had amassed in today’s dollars. The corner lot at Bellevue and Berkeley avenues was purchased and work was underway on the new mansion. The house is a really interesting take on the Shingle style, but instead of cedar shingle siding, employs fireproof construction. A central hall, large gabled masses, picturesque window arrangements, and a spectrum of surface textures (here conveyed largely in natural stone and brick with flourishes of shingle and pebble dash work), align this house with McKim, Mead & White’s earlier efforts in this style. The interior has been meticulously preserved and maintained by the owners.
Built as the summer residence of Mr. Eben Rollins Morse and Mrs. Marion Steedman Morse of Boston and New York, Villa Rosa was one of the finest summer cottages in Newport. The property was purchased by Mr. and Mrs. Morse, which originally included three, large estates two of which were featured previously. Mr. Morse was a stockbroker and investment banker, and the couple lived on Commonwealth Avenue in Boston, maintaining a summer home in Beverly, Massachusetts. In 1900, the couple hired Ogden Codman, Jr., a society architect and historian from Boston, to design a townhome in New York (their new permanent home) and Newport, where they could summer with other wealthy New Yorkers. Their cottage, Villa Rosa, was a huge statement, likely to insert themselves into the high-society of Newport summers. Oriented to the south, rather than to Bellevue Avenue, the house took maximum advantage of its long narrow setting. The exterior of the house was covered in pastel pink stucco offset with white bas-relief panels and was crowned by a copper dome. The heart of the house was the green trellised circular Music Room or Ballroom, the first room in the United States to incorporate lattice design as a decorative scheme. The property was eventually sold for $21,500 to E.A. McNulty, a Rhode Island contractor. Ogden Codman’s masterpiece was demolished in December of 1962 and an apartment complex built on the site in 1965. Townhouse condominiums replaced the gardens in the 1970s and the gateposts, a final vestige, were cleared in 2004.
Image courtesy of Newport Historical Society.
Formerly located adjacent to “The Lodge” (last post) on Newport’s iconic Bellevue Avenue, this mansion once stood and today, would be one of the finest in town, but it suffered a similar fate as its neighbor. The home was built for Rebecca Mason Jones (1803-1879), a widow (who married her first cousin) and daughter of wealthy New York banker and developer, John Mason. Rebecca made money from her late father’s estate, developing some parts of Manhattan. For her summer residence, she hired local society architect, George Champlin Mason to design the cottage. The cottage was razed in 1899 for Rose Villa, which also necessitated the demolition of the two neighboring mansions (more on that tomorrow).
Believe it or not, but Newport, Rhode Island was once a “tear-down town”. Despite having arguably the largest extant collection of Gilded Age mansions, many older, properties were razed and redeveloped as tastes changed between the mid-19th century and the turn of the 20th century. And then there was the 1960s… But that’s for another time. This stunning mansion formerly on Bellevue Avenue was built in 1870 for Elizabeth Underhill Coles (1813-1891), the widow of William F. Coles of New York City by the high-society architect Richard Morris Hunt. The “cottage” was their summer residence and one of the finest Stick style residences built in the seaside town. The irregular layout, half-timbering and complex roof forms show the influence on the emerging Queen Anne style. The mansion was sold out of the Coles Family after Elizabeth’s death and was razed by 1900 for the second mansion on the site (next post).
For my last post on the spectacular Elms Mansion in Newport, Rhode Island, I wanted to highlight something I rarely feature on this page, a garden. When the mansion was completed by 1901, architect Horace Trumbauer and his firm went to work to produce plans for a natural landscape with a large lily pond at the far edge of the property. After 1907, the Berwind’s and high-society shifted and landscape ideals were influenced by newer theories in American landscape architecture, which sought influence from historical European gardens. Trumbauer reworked The Elms’ garden to reflect this new emphasis on reviving classical European garden design alongside landscape architects Ernest W. Bowditch and Jacques Greber advising on the parterre design in the sunken garden. A grand allée on the scale of 18th century French palace gardens extends across an expansive lawn toward two formal marble pavilions situated along a minor cross axis above a sunken garden. The marble pavillions appear to have been designed by Trumbauer and are inspired by 18th-century French garden pavilions. The grand context for the gardens is a park-like collection of specimen beech, elms, maples, linden and other large canopy trees. Many of the large trees have since succumbed to disease, but the formal Italian sunken garden remains one of the finest in the United States.
By 1911, the Berwind’s wooden stable at their summer home, The Elms, was deemed inadequate and the couple’s new automobiles needed an appropriate structure to protect them from the elements. Edward Berwind purchased a large estate from Ms. Ida Powell Johnson, abutting his sprawling property and razed it to have a new stable and garage structure built there. The two structures are modeled after the Louveciennes Pavillon de Goury in France, built originally for Madame du Barry. Above the garage space lived the stable keepers and gardeners. As the space shifted from stable to garage, it is said that the head coachman, in order to keep his job, became the family driver, but he could never learn to back up, so a large turntable had to be installed in the garage. The complex originally held space for ten carriages, stalls for six horses and room for eight automobiles, as well as harness repairs, laundry rooms and living quarters. The Beaux Arts style building employs the best of French architecture, including a mansard roof, corbels, and raised central pavillion.
We always see the ornate and entertaining spaces of house museums, but it is always amazing to see the “back of the house” which kept everything running. The two-story pantry and basement kitchen in The Elms are a rare look into the life of servants that worked in these mansions. These types of spaces were designed in a way to allow for servants to tend to the owners and guests, but neve The pantry spans floors one and two and would serve the owners and guests for smaller items and meals. The space features floor-to-ceiling oak cabinets to store china and other items. The basement kitchen is lined with white enamel tile for cleaning.
Mr. Berwind drew the short straw and occupied the smaller of the two bedrooms in the Elms mansion as his wife Sarah Torrey Berwind, got the larger corner room. I was shocked to see just how small the bedroom was for one of the richest men in the country, even if it was just a summer residence that they occupied for a couple months of the year! Mr. Berwind did have a small bedroom, but he spared no expense to furnish it well. The fireplace in his bedroom is of ox-blood marble with gilt bronze mounts. The walls are covered in red silk and the carpet is a late 19th-century Khorassan. His private attached bathroom contains a sink of translucent white onyx.
The formal Sitting Room at the Elms in Newport, Rhode Island is one of the many statement-rooms found in the Gilded Age mansion. This room is located directly above the Ballroom and is the first space seen when ascending the main staircase onto the second floor. The sitting room was used by the Berwind Family and their guests as a gathering and socializing space, a little less formal than the ballroom downstairs for more elegant events. The Preservation Society of Newport County has done an amazing job at restoring the building and purchasing furniture and fixtures that were sold off when much of the inside of the property was sold off at auction in the 1960s. The Preservation Society restored the red silk walls fabric in the 1980s, bringing the space back to its original grandeur. I cannot think of a better place to just “sit”.