George Champlin Mason (1820-1894) can be credited as one of the most influential people who helped make Newport what it is today. He was born in the old Colonial town in 1820 and after a brief period working in New York City in dry goods, he traveled to Europe in his twenties to study art in Rome, Paris, and Florence, specializing in landscape paintings. Mason spent the 1840s trying unsuccessfully to make a living as landscape painter and published Newport and Its Environs, a collection of 11 engravings of his landscape views of Newport that is one of the earliest books about Newport to showcase its potential as a vacation destination. In 1851, Mason switched professions and became part owner and editor of the Newport Mercury newspaper. He often wrote on architectural subjects. In around 1858, he took his love for art and architecture and became an architect/developer, just as Newport was seeing early stages of development as a summer colony. He was hired by some early summer residents to design their homes, and did not disappoint, gaining notoriety all over the northeast. His son George C. Mason, Jr. (1849-1924), followed in his father’s footsteps and is said to have been the first professional architectural preservationist in the United States. George Sr., built this house as his primary residence in 1873, a stunning and rare example of Swiss Chalet architecture in New England, notable for the use of pierced bargeboards, board-and-batten sheathing, and cut-out railings. The property also included a charming stone English Revival tower in the rear yard, built in the 21st century as a workshop for the previous owners. How cool!
One of the most well-designed and least-pretentious summer cottages in Newport is this charming dwelling on a dead end street. The Samuel P. Tilton Cottage was designed in 1880 by the prestigious firm of McKim, Mead & White as an idiosyncratic blending of Queen Anne and Shingle architectural styles. Mr. Tilton was a milliner (maker and seller of women’s hats) with stores in Boston and Paris, France. He had this cottage built to summer close to the nation’s wealthiest, likely marketing some hats at elaborate Gilded Age events. The facade is assertively Queen Anne with its massing and decorative panels, with shingled side elevation seemingly sprouting from the earth. The architectural terminology for these unique decorative panels is “sgraffito” where here, cement or plaster siding is set and adorned with shells, pebbles, colored glass, and pieces of coal into a cartouche design. The house is one of the finest in Newport, and shows that bigger isn’t always better!
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.
One of the finest Queen Anne style residences New England is this 1877 summer cottage, named “Snug Harbor”. The mansion was designed by architects William Appleton Potter and Robert Henderson Robertson for Charles H. Baldwin, a prominent admiral in the United States Navy. The design utilizes a brick first floor with shingle siding above, a high cross-gabled roof, panels and half-timbering, asymmetrical form, and a porte cochere at the entry. Later owner Arakel Bozyan, painted the entire exterior a deep red color and renamed the house “Gamir Doon”, Armenian for “Red House”. The house was restored back to a traditional color scheme and sold in 2020. The interiors are STUNNING!
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).
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”.
The Louis XV style Ballroom of the Elms Mansion in Newport sits just off the Stair and Gallery halls at the core of the building. This room was the scene of lavish parties, including the 1901 housewarming party hosted by the Berwinds to announce the formal opening of The Elms to Newport’s summer society. The large, 50’x45′ ballroom was designed by French designer Jules Allard crafted the Louis XV style paneling with plaster shell and floral ornament. The white relief decorations on the doors, paneling, and cornice are continued in an elaborate ceiling frieze and center medallion of winged cherubs. As a stark contrast from other Gilded Age mansions in Newport, the ballroom has very minimal gold gilding, besides the mirror frames on the wall. The muted cream and white colored walls with ornament show the sophistication and grandeur of the design, not gold.