There are always those houses that just stop you in your tracks… For my last post (for the time being) on Providence, I wanted to share this significant property, known as the Woods-Gerry House, perched atop College Hill. Owner Marshall Woods, who married into the Brown family and was active in the affairs of Brown University. Locally he was also involved on the building committee for St. Stephen’s Church where he was a factor in selecting renowned architect Richard Upjohn to design the church. He must have liked Upjohn so much (or got a good deal) that he hired Richard Upjohn to design his new home on Prospect Street. The exterior of the three-story brick building stands out amongst the other Italianate mansions built in the same decade nearby, but is elevated design-wise with a bowed centerpiece on its east elevation with the handsome new front entrance renovated in 1931 by then-owner, Senator Peter Gerry, who was a great-grandson of Elbridge Gerry, the fifth Vice President of the United States (who had given his name to the term gerrymandering). Today, this significant building is owned by the Rhode Island School of Design and houses the Woods Gerry Gallery. The grounds are also very well designed.
William Binney House // 1859
Another of Providence’s stunning monumental Italianate mansions on College Hill is this, the William Binney House, which was built in 1859 from plans by local architect Alpheus C. Morse. In the mode of an Italian Renaissance palace, it features a strong, symmetrical facade, molded string course, classic trim detail at the windows and doors in brownstone, and a shallow hip roof. The original owner, William Binney (1825-1909) was born in Philadelphia and became a prominent attorney and became involved on various boards, building more wealth. Additionally, he was elected as member of the Rhode Island Assembly and the Providence City Council continuously 1857 to 1874. The house’s rear ell and wooden bay would provide sweeping views to Downtown Providence even today from the aptly named Prospect Street.
De La Salle // 1884
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.
Berkeley House // 1885
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.
Brook Farm // 1894
By the late 1800s, Vermonters had left the state in high numbers as agriculture began to sharply decline as a career path in New England, with many leaving to urban centers and manufacturing towns. Vermont politicians responded to the de-population with initiatives to encourage the redevelopment of existing farms by seasonal residents with money who could summer there to escape the hustle and bustle (and dirty air) of urban centers. Towns threw events like “Old Home” days with activities to entice affluent family members to return home and bring their money with them. After 1850, railroads made it easier for urban families to trade the heat and congestion of the city for the beauty of Vermont. One of these wealthy expats was James Hale Bates (1826-1901), who was born in Cavendish, Vermont, and moved to New York and worked in advertising, operating a major firm there. He retired in 1895, after the completion of Brook Farm one year earlier, a gentleman’s farm that he had built in his ancestral hometown of Cavendish. This massive Colonial Revival mansion was the centerpiece among sweeping fields and orchards contained by rustic stone walls. It is believed that Vermont architect, Clinton Smith, designed the estate house and many of the out-buildings on the site from the carriage and cow barns to the caretaker’s house and creamery. In recent years, the estate was operated as a vineyard, but it appears to be closed now. This is one of the hidden gems of Vermont and one of the most stunning Colonial Revival homes I have seen!
Naulakha // 1893
Located on a hillside in rural Dummerston, Vermont, you will find Naulakha, one of the most significant properties in the region. Naulakha (pronounced now-LAH-kuh) was built in 1893 for Rudyard Kipling an english journalist and author born in British India, an upbringing which inspired much of his professional work. In 1892, Kipling married Caroline Balestier, who was born into a prominent New England family. The couple honeymooned in Vermont near Carrie’s family home. The couple would settle in Vermont in a cottage which was soon outgrown, leading the couple to buy 10 acres of land from Carrie’s brother Beatty Balestier and built their own house. The new Shingle-style home they had built was named Naulakha after a book written by Rudyard and Caroline’s late-brother Wolcott. Kipling wanted a home that merged the distinctive qualities of the Indian bungalow with those of the American Shingle Style and he worked closely with his architect, Henry Rutgers Marshall of New York City, a Balestier family friend to achieve this.
The rectangular mass of the home parallels the contours the hill upon which its sited, and sits atop a raised fieldstone basement salvaged from stone walls on the property. From the home, Kipling wrote some of his most influential work, including the Jungle Books (1894, 1895), Captains Courageous (1896, The Seven Seas (1896), and The Day’s Work (1898). Sadly, the Kipling’s moved out of Naulakha after just a few years, largely from familial disputes with Caroline’s brother, Beatty. The family removed to England where they settled, though Rudyard always mentioned how much he missed his secluded life in Vermont. The property was then purchased by the Holbrook family, who made slight modifications to the property, but all maintaining the original design and feeling. In 1992, the British-based Landmark Trust acquired Naulakha as its first American building, later creating the Landmark Trust USA to maintain the property and more. The Landmark Trust USA rents out Naulakha and the adjacent carriage house for short-term rentals to provide revenue for maintaining these properties.
For more on my stay at the absolutely stunning Kipling Carriage House, check out my later blog post here.
Lounsbury House // 1896
One of the (many) stately homes on Ridgefield’s Main Street, this massive Neo-Classical mansion is also among the most visited in Fairfield County. Lounsbury House was built in 1896 by former Connecticut Governor Phineas C. Lounsbury. While attending the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, Governor Lounsbury was so taken by the Connecticut State Building that he built a replica to serve as his family home. The Connecticut State Building was designed by Waterbury-based architect, Warren R. Briggs at a cost of $112,000! Gov. Lounsbury loved this house, which he named “Grovelawn” until his death in 1925. After his death, his heirs were unable to maintain the massive home, and it started to decay. The Town of Ridgefield did not want to see the mansion demolished, and in an early example of historic preservation, the town purchased Lounsbury House in 1945. A school was built behind and nearly ten years later, the home was leased to the The Ridgefield Veterans’ Memorial Community Association. The home is now managed by a board and rented for weddings and community events.
Clarendon Court // 1904
Built at the tail-end of the Gilded Age in Newport, this turn-of-the-century mansion evokes feelings of country estates in England. “Clarendon Court” was built in 1904 for Edward Collings Knight, Jr. (1863-1936) and his first wife, Clara W. Dwight (1862-1910). Edward C. Knight was a railroad executive and amateur artist who “exhibited more talent at spending money than making it”, which was evident from his architectural taste and timing for building such an expensive home in Newport, which was beginning to wane in popularity at the time. Clarendon Court was actually designed in the 18th century by Colen Campbell, a renowned Scottish architect. The country estate was never built, but Gilded Age architect Horace Trumbauer, found the design in one of Campbell’s old books, and except for removing the cupolas over the wings either side of the central block, he reproduced a perfect copy. Trumbauer had just a year before designed a townhouse for the couple in Philadelphia. Edward Knight originally named the mansion “Claradon Court” after his wife Clara. In 1930, Claradon Court was purchased by Maisie Caldwell (1878-1956) and her third husband, Colonel William Hayward (1877-1944), legendary commander of the “Harlem Hellfighters” during World War One. Maisie had inherited a fortune of $50 million from her second husband, Morton Freeman Plant, a railroad and steamship magnate. The couple renamed the mansion Clarendon Court, a more traditional name.
Clarendon Court was later purchased by Claus von Bülow and Martha Sharp Crawford, who was known as “Sunny von Bülow”. Sunny was worth over $75 million and updated the mansion and grounds to exceptionally elegant conditions. It was known that Sunny and Claus had a rough marriage, but it came to a head when on December 26, 1979, after the family had come together for Christmas at their mansion, she was found unresponsive and was rushed to the hospital where she slipped into coma but was revived. After days of testing, doctors determined the coma was the result of low blood sugar and diagnosed her as hypoglycemic, warning her against overindulging on sweets or going too long without eating. No foul play was suspected at the time. One year later, on the evening of December 21, 1980, while celebrating Christmas with her family at their mansion, she again displayed confusion. She was put to bed by her family, but in the morning she was discovered unconscious on the bathroom floor. She was taken to the hospital where it became clear that this time she had suffered severe enough brain injury to produce a persistent vegetative state. A hypodermic needle was found in a black bag in Bulow’s study and coupled with their maid’s testimony he was subsequently charged with her murder, accused of injecting his wife with insulin so he could live at Clarendon on her money with his mistress. His mistress was the actress Alexandra (Moltke) Isles, better known as “Victoria Winters” in Dark Shadows. In 1982, in a sensational case that gripped the country, Bülow was convicted. But, he appealed in 1985 and was acquitted. His stepchildren then filed a $56 million law suit against him, which was dropped two years later: Bülow agreed to divorce his comatose wife, relinquish all rights to her fortune, leave the country and never to profit from the story. Bülow moved to London where he kept a low profile for the rest of his life while Sunny remained in a vegetative state in New York until she eventually passed away in 2008.
Fairholme // 1875
One of a handful of massive summer cottages in Newport that have always remained a single-family house is this beauty, known as Fairholme. Originally built in 1875, the summer cottage was built in the popular Stick style for Philadelphia arts patron and engineer Fairman Rogers by architect Frank Furness, also of Philadelphia. The estate was purchased, expanded and modernized at the turn of the 20th century by Philadelphia banker John R. Drexel (1863-1935) and his wife, Alice Troth (1865-1947). It is likely that Philadelphia architect Horace Trumbauer was hired by the Drexel’s to modernize the home, as he was hired in 1903 to design their Manhattan townhome. The enlarged home in the Tudor Revival style saw a couple successive owners, all uber wealthy bankers and industrialists. The waterfront mansion which neighbors The Breakers and Anglesea (both featured on here previously), sold in 2016 for $16.1 Million!
Ochre Court // 1892
Ochre Court, one of the grandest mansions in America was built in 1892 for New York banker and real estate developer Ogden Goelet (1846-1897) and his wife, Mary Wilson (1855-1929). In 1879, Ogden and his brother, Robert, inherited a real estate empire in Manhattan of 259 houses then worth a combined $40 million which was second only to the Astors. In 1892, Goelet and his wife Mary were included in Ward McAllister‘s “Four Hundred“, purported to be an index of New York’s best families, published in The New York Times, a position only solidified after his summer “cottage” was completed that year in Newport, Rhode Island. Named Ochre Court, the 50-room chateau overlooks the Cliff Walk and Atlantic Ocean and is the second-largest mansion in Newport (after The Breakers). Ochre Court was designed by architect Richard Morris Hunt, who also designed The Breakers, and summered in town himself. Shockingly, the Goelet’s only occupied the home during an eight-week summer season, and they spent the rest of the year in their homes in New York City, France, or London. The operation of Ochre Court usually required twenty-seven house servants, eight coachmen and grooms for horses and their carriages, and twelve gardeners for the grounds. In 1947 the Goelets’ son, railroad, hotel, and real estate developer Robert Goelet IV (1880-1966), gave ‘Ochre Court’ to the Religious Sisters of Mercy to establish Salve Regina College after it became too expensive to maintain. ‘Ochre Court’, which housed the entire college during its first years, is still in use and remains the heart of the greatly expanded Salve Regina University.