The Old Breakers Mansion // 1878-1892

For my last post on this series on The Breakers in Newport, I wanted to highlight the original Breakers mansion. Built in 1878, the original Breakers was equally as significant, but a completely different style architecturally. The Breakers was constructed for Pierre Lorillard IV (1833-1901), a tobacco manufacturer and thoroughbred race horse owner from New York. In 1760, his great-grandfather, and namesake of the family company, founded P. Lorillard and Company in New York City to process tobacco, cigars, and snuff. The ‘cottage’ would serve as a summer retreat for Lorillard and his family for the summer months. The home was designed by one of the premier architectural firms in the country at the time, Peabody & Stearns, who specialized in high-style country estates. In 1885, Lorrilard used his family land in Orange County, New York, to lay out a new residential colony as a playground for New York’s wealthiest residents during the summer months. The colony is known as Tuxedo Park. He sold The Breakers to Cornelius Vanderbilt II in 1885 and the family would summer in the massive Queen Anne style estate for just seven years until a fire destroyed the home. The detached children’s cottage (also designed in 1878 by Peabody & Stearns) survived the fire and remains on the site. The Vanderbilt’s decided to erect a fireproof house immediately, and the result is the massive limestone mansion we can tour today.

Williams-Sears House // 1905

Why cant we all have siblings this generous??

Located in Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood, this home was actually constructed as two attached homes for Ralph Blake Williams and his sister, Ruth (Williams) Sears, the wife of Dr. George Gray Sears. In 1905, Ralph B. Williams hired architect Julius A. Schweinfurth, who trained in the architectural firm of Peabody and Stearns, to design a double-townhouse, for him and his sister. After completion, Williams lived in the larger side (right three bays) with his widowed mother, and Ruth lived in the smaller home (left two bays) with her husband. After successive ownership, the buildings were and turned into a lodging house, soon after purchased together in 1955 and turned into a school, the Chandler School for Women. The homes remained separate until 1959, when the school demolished the interior party wall, effectively combining the two properties into one, this is likely when the Sears’ front door was filled in, leaving one front door in the center bay. In 1971, the New England College of Optometry purchased the building and occupies it to this day for classrooms and offices.

Wheatleigh // 1893

Designed in 1893 by the Boston architectural firm of Peabody and Stearns, Wheatleigh is an early example of Renaissance Revival architecture which became popular for country estates in the early 20th century. The estate was constructed for Henry Harvey Cook, who purchased over 250-acres of forest and lawns overlooking Lake Maheenac for his summer “cottage”. Cook was a New York-based businessman who made his fortune in the railroad and banking businesses, and he wanted a summer house to escape to every year. He named his home “Wheatleigh” as an homage to his family’s ancestral home, Wheatley, Oxfordshire. The mansion is approached by a circular drive that terminates in a formal entrance court partially enclosed by a buff brick wall and evergreen trees, centered on an octagonal marble fountain decorated with a shell and leaf motif. Upon Cook’s death in 1905 Wheatleigh passed to his daughter, Georgie, the Countess de Heredia. Under her ownership the formal garden was opened for evening worshipping services and musical events. Following de Heredia’s death in 1946 the property was divided and changed hands numerous times. In 1976 the mansion and 22 acres were opened as a resort hotel, known as the estates historic name. The Wheatleigh remains one of the most esteemed luxury hotels in the country.

Wheatleigh Caretaker’s house (1893)

Elm Court // 1886

Real estate listing 11-2020

At 55,000 square feet and 106 rooms, the Elm Court mansion retains the title of the largest American Shingle Style home in the United States. The structure was built for William Douglas Sloane and Emily Thorn Vanderbilt (granddaughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt) as their summer “cottage” in the Berkshires. The home straddles the towns of Stockbridge and Lenox and sits on a massive parcel of land, giving the owners space to breathe the clean countryside air. Emily’s brother, George, built The Biltmore in Asheville, North Carolina and her sister, Eliza (Lila), constructed Shelburne Farms in Shelburne, Vermont. The home was constructed in 1886 from plans by the great Peabody & Stearns architects. Shortly after the turn of the century, ca. 1901, the couple commissioned Peabody and Stearns again, to vastly enlarge their original house. The additions used both Shingle Style and Tudor Revival motifs, and the result is a structure highly reminiscent of an English country house. William Sloane died in 1915, and Emily Vanderbilt continued to use the summer cottage, and in 1921, she married a summertime neighbor, Henry White, a career diplomat. While Henry White died in 1927, Emily retained the house and kept the grounds running until her death in 1946. The property’s use evolved into an inn in the late 1940s. During the 1950s, it embraced the public for dinners, overnight accommodations and events. Eventually Elm Court’s doors closed, and for approximately 50 years the mansion succumbed to significant theft and vandalism. The property has been listed for sale numerous times in the past decades, after a renovation by the last owners in the Sloane family. It is now listed for $12,500,000!

Moorfield Storey House // c.1876

This home was designed by Robert S. Peabody of the firm Peabody & Stearns for his good friend Moorfield Storey. Peabody lived just next door. Moorfield Storey established a law practice in Boston, Massachusetts, eventually elected President of the American Bar Association in 1896. Storey served as the founding president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), serving from 1909 to his death in 1929. Storey was known to work 16-hour days, even into his later years. He was a fighter for unpopular issues, usually in the minority at any given time. Storey himself was quoted as saying “It is not success to fight on the winning side. It is success to fight bravely for a principle even if one does not live to see it triumph”. He moved out of this home in the early 20th century, relocating to Fenway which was seeing a massive surge in development.

Mills-Castle House // 1883

Look up perfection in the dictionary, and a picture of this Victorian home would be shown. Built in 1883, the Mills-Castle House exhibits the Shingle Style with a high-style Queen Anne detailing. Designed by the architectural powerhouse firm of Peabody & Stearns for Arthur Mills, the home is a significant addition to the already beautiful Pill Hill neighborhood of Brookline. Arthur Mills was an executive of the Boston & Albany Railroad. A subsequent owner of the house, Louise Castle, was Brookline’s first Selectwoman. Her husband, Dr. William Castle helped discover the cause of and cure for pernicious anemia.

St. Mary the Assumption Church & Rectory // 1886 & 1892

St. Marys Church in Brookline Village was the first Catholic Church established in Brookline. Irish immigrants originally settled in Boston, Cambridge and Somerville, and mostly worked in industrial occupations including for the railroad companies. The migration of Irish to Brookline was, in part, due to the opening of the Brookline branch of the Boston and Worcester Railroad, on which many Irish were employed as construction workers. Many settled in workers housing on the periphery of what is today Brookline Village. Many Irish families started congregating at the Lyceum Hall in Brookline as a Catholic meeting space. After the Civil War, land was purchased on Harvard Street for the erection of a church by the Catholic Diocese. Renowned architects Peabody & Stearns were selected to design a church.

Completed in 1886, the Victorian Gothic church is constructed of red brick with Longmeadow brownstone trim. Gothic lancet windows and arches adorn the building, which has prominent facades on both Harvard and Linden Streets. Directly to the right of the church, a rectory was built to provide a residence for the Rector. The 3 1/2-story rectory was also designed by Peabody & Stearns and is stylistically similar to the church next door. A school and convent were later added to complete the large campus.

Church Rectory (1892)

Hotel Bellevue // 1899

The Hotel Bellevue exemplifies the luxurious “apartment hotels,” catering mostly to permanent residents, that sprang up in Boston in the late 19th century. While this structure is located in Beacon Hill, the majority of apartment/hotels in Boston were being built in the Back Bay neighborhood. The original Beaux-Arts structure was designed by Peabody & Stearns, prolific architects who designed many iconic buildings in the region and beyond. The new Hotel Bellevue was described as having a commodious library, handsome dining room and good management. Early brochures showed luxurious interiors and praised the quietness of the area and
its proximity to Boston attractions.

Image courtesy of Brandon Bartoszek showing addition, original building to right.

As the population in Boston continued to grow into the 20th century, the ownership saw an opportunity to double the amount of rooms in their establishment. As the American Unitarian Association Building (1886) next door went up for sale, they decided to buy the building and raze it for a large addition. The addition was built in 1925 by Putnam & Cox architects in Boston. The addition is clearly similar to that designed by Peabody & Stearns, but reads as an addition as intended. There are decorative mascarons (faces) on the addition which appear to be of Hercules and Athena. The building is now occupied as a condominium with retail at the ground level.