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.

“Breakwater” – Charles W. Lippitt Mansion // 1899-1924

Photo courtesy of Providence Public Library

Rhode Island is home to some amazing old homes, but “Breakwater”, the Charles W. Lippitt Mansion was NOT one of them! Former Governor, Charles Warren Lippitt (1846-1924), the son of Governor Henry Lippitt, wanted to be a member of Gilded Age society in Newport, after spending his time in Providence all year, so he had this absolute fortress built. Poor taste did not run in the family, as his father’s Providence mansion was very tasteful (featured on here previously). Breakwater was built on the southern tip of Newport, ironically across the street from Edith Wharton’s tastefully designed cottage, Land’s End (also featured on here recently). Wharton used the term “White Elephants” to describe the influx of massive, masonry mansions that replaced the traditional wooden cottages, similar to what she observed with the Vanderbilt estate, The Breakers. It is understood now why Edith Wharton abruptly moved when this monster of a house was built right next door! Architect Robert H. Robinson designed the fortress – erh I mean house…- and it remained on the site only until Lippitts death in 1924, when the castle was demolished by his son to make the property more marketable for sale. The property was purchased in 1926 by John Russell Pope, an architect, designed his own Tudor style home, “The Waves” (featured on here previously) atop the ruins of the previous estate. MUCH better!

“Beachmound” Mansion // 1897

Beachmound, a unique summer residence in Newport, was built in 1897 by architect Henry Ives Cobb for Benjamin Thaw Sr., (1859-1933) a Pittsburgh banker and philanthropist. The mansion is Neo-Classical in style, taking cues from Classical architecture, specifically Greek Revival, with the monumental columns, pediments, and pilasters. Benjamin Thaw was the half-brother of Harry Kendall Thaw (known for the 1906 murder of architect Stanford White). The murder took over the press as one of the more salacious scandals of the gilded era. Harry Thaw’s wife, the actress/model Evelyn Nesbit was said to have been raped by Stanford White while 16 year old (White was 47). She later married Harry K. Thaw. Thaw shot and killed White, the internationally famous architect, in front of hundreds of witnesses in a theater during a performance in New York. Following two trials, he was acquitted based on the insanity defense, a stint in an asylum from which he escaped, and eventual court-ordered freedom, Thaw was a celebrity. A comical piece of the story is that when Thaw later visited “Mar-a-Lago”, the Post Mansion in Palm Beach, Florida (now best known as Donald Trump’s home), he gasped, “My God, I shot the wrong architect!” Beachmound remains as a stunning, refined summer estate in Newport, and is comprised of condo units.

The Reefs Mansion – The Bells // 1885-1963

‘The Reef’ a fabulous Gilded Age estate in Newport was built in 1885 for Theodore M. Davis by the Boston architectural firm of Sturgis and Brigham. The elegant shingle and stone Queen Anne villa was erected as both a summer house and to house some of Davis’s vast collection of paintings and Egyptian artifacts, collected during his excavations in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings between 1902 and 1913. Besides the architecture of the home, the Reef Estate was also famous for its walled gardens, greenhouses, and outbuildings, sitting upon eighteen acres. overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. Following Mr. Davis’ death in 1915, Milton J. Budlong of Providence purchased the estate. Milton divorced from his wife Jessie in 1928, and it was MESSY. Their Newport summer estate was placed in contention. The house, never again lived in by the family. During World War II, anti-aircraft gun emplacements were set up around the grounds, with the mansion housing gunnery personnel. After the War, the estate was given back to the Budlong heirs, who did not reside there. Vandalized throughout the 1950’s, the villa was set on fire in 1961 and demolished two years later in 1963. In 1969, the waterfront property came under the control of the State of Rhode Island and in 1976, became a state park. The old carriage house/stable and a later observation tower (possibly converted from a former water tower) stand today.

The Breakers – Children’s Cottage // 1878

While the Breakers Mansion in Newport is one of the most opulent buildings in the United States, a tiny cottage on the grounds always gives me feelings of whimsy. Predating the larger mansion by two decades, this cottage was constructed on the grounds of the original Breakers House, owned by Cornelius Vanderbilt, which was destroyed by fire in 1893. The cottage was built as a children’s playhouse around the time the original Breakers mansion was built in 1878. The Boston architectural firm of Peabody and Stearns built the mansion and adjacent cottage for Pierre Lorillard IV, a New York cigar manufacturer and millionaire. The Queen Anne Revival style elements, including the half-timbering and shingles and asymmetry, were in keeping with the style of the original Breakers, and complimented it well. My favorite part of the cottage is the open porch facing the ocean, which has four wooden posts, carved in the shape of figures from Dutch folklore, a sort of caryatid, supporting the roof. The house contains a living room and kitchen separated by a huge red brick chimney, which would be maintained by servants for the children while they play.