John N. A. Griswold House // 1863

John Noble Alsop Griswold (1822-1909) was born into wealth, with his family business involved in land speculation in New York as well as the N. L. & G. Griswold Company, which imported sugar and rum from the Caribbean on clipper ships. In his 20s, John traveled to China for a trade and within a year of that trip, was appointed United States consul at Shanghai, serving in that role until 1854. Upon his return to America, he helped develop several prominent railroads, serving as president of the Illinois Central Railroad and chairman of the board of directors of the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad. He eventually settled in Newport and helped shape the sleepy town into a summer resort town for high-society. His statement-piece in town was his own mansion on Bellevue Avenue, built in 1863 from designs by Richard Morris Hunt, and completed that next year. It was the first of Hunt’s many notable works in Newport, and is considered a prototype work of the Stick style of architecture in America. Hunt would go on to design Ochre Court, The Breakers, and other Gilded Age mansions in Newport and all over the northeast. Griswold died in the house in 1909; it remained vacant until 1915, when it was acquired by the Art Association of Newport, which now uses it as a museum gallery. I really want to see the inside of this beauty!

“Rest Haven” – “Le Chalet” // 1870

Bellevue Avenue in Newport is best-known for its massive summer cottages, many of which are built of stone and look more like art museums than a house. “Rest Haven” is one of the most stunning summer cottages in Newport and can stand toe-to-toe with the later mansions which neighbor it. The Stick style cottage was built in 1870 as a spec. house for merchant and financier John N.A. Griswold, who had his own cottage farther up the street (last post). Similar to his own house, he hired world-renowned architect Richard Morris Hunt to design the house, which was to be sold soon after completion for a profit to Anna Gilbert of New York, a wealthy widow who wanted to keep up with high-society in Newport. Anna Gilbert’s son, Charles Pierrepont Gilbert, was a New York architect who trained at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris. He and his wife, Clara, summered at Resthaven until 1916. The home was likely renamed “Le Chalet” by a subsequent owner. The cottage was altered over the years, but restored a number of years ago by Newport Collaborative Architects and Behan Bros, and looks stunning!

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.

The Breakers – Great Hall // 1895

Merry Christmas from The Breakers! This 1895 Gilded Age mansion is the best to explore during December, when the halls are decked and stunning Christmas trees adorn the lavish rooms (learn more about the mansion in my last post) When you walk into The Breakers, you enter the Great Hall. Architect Richard Morris Hunt designed the Great Hall after the open-air courtyards in Italian villas, but enclosed due to the tough New England winters. The palatial space (measuring 50 foot square), even if crowded by tourists trying to get the perfect shot on their smartphones, feels spacious yet somehow welcoming given the art museum-like detailing. The walls are made of carved limestone from Caen on the coast of France and adorned with plaques of rare marbles. Elaborately carved pilasters decorated with acorns and oak leaves support a massive carved and gilt-cornice which surrounds a ceiling painted to depict a windswept sky, further expressing the open-air courtyard feeling envisioned by Hunt, the architect. Four bronze chandeliers dangle from the gilded ceiling, and flood the room with warm light, evoking warm summers in Italy.

The Breakers // 1895

The most opulent of all summer ‘cottages’ in Newport is the iconic Gilded Age mansion, The Breakers. This mansion was completed in 1895 as a summer residence for Cornelius Vanderbilt II. Cornelius’ grandfather, Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt (1794-1877) established the family fortune in steamships and later in the New York Central Railroad. Cornelius Vanderbilt II became President of the New York Central Railroad system in 1885, and bought a wooden summer house called The Breakers in Newport during that same year. The original Breakers Mansion burned in a fire in 1892 and was rebuilt, but more substantially. Vanderbilt commissioned famed architect Richard Morris Hunt to rebuild it. Vanderbilt insisted that the building be made as fireproof as possible, so the structure of the building used steel trusses and no wooden parts. He even required that the boiler housed in an underground space below the front lawn. The Italian Renaissance-Beaux Arts style mansion was likely the most expensive home constructed in New England at the time at a cost of over $7 Million USD (equivalent to over $150 million today).

Cornelius Vanderbilt died from a cerebral hemorrhage in 1899 at age 55, leaving The Breakers to his wife Alice Gwynne Vanderbilt. She outlived him by 35 years and died at the age of 89 in 1934. She left The Breakers to her youngest daughter Countess Gladys Széchenyi (1886–1965). In 1948, Gladys leased the near-impossible to maintain property to The Preservation Society of Newport County for $1 per year. The Preservation Society bought The Breakers and approximately 90% of its furnishings in 1972 for $365,000 ($2.3 million today) from Countess Sylvia Szapary, Gladys’ daughter, although the agreement granted her life tenancy. Upon her death in 1998, The Society agreed to allow the family to continue to live on the third floor, which is not open to the public. The last-remaining family members residing there were evicted from the third floor due to safety concerns, but others state it is retaliation for the Szápárys’ opposition of the controversial Breakers Welcome Center, the plan for which other members of their family, including Gloria Vanderbilt, also opposed.

Bird’s Nest Cottage // 1872

One of the more unique and relatively modest summer cottages in Newport, Rhode Island is Bird’s Nest Cottage on Bellevue Avenue. The cottage was built in 1871-2 for Samuel Freeman Pratt, who lived his early life in Boston. The son of a carpenter, Pratt was was working as a carver in Boston, where he saw success as an inventor with several patents to his credit. From the success of one of his inventions, a device for sewing machines, the invention gave him the financial freedom to explore other interests, namely architecture. In Boston, he likely learned his craft from partner John Stevens, before setting out on his own. He designed buildings in Oak Bluffs on Martha’s Vineyard, but decided to reside in Newport. While many state that this cottage for Pratt was designed by the Newport resident and star-chitect Richard Morris Hunt, the design and the fact that it was his own cottage lead me to believe it was designed by Pratt himself. The eclectic cottage features complex gable shapes, fancy stickwork under the eaves, projecting corner bays, and a wall covering of multicolored slate roof shingles. It is now a professional office.

Verna Farm // 1892

In Fairfield, Connecticut, land owned by Timothy Dwight, a minister and eighth President of Yale, a large farm once stood. The year after he was appointed to his position at Yale, he sold his farm Verna Farm, in 1796 to Isaac Bronson. The farm was eventually inherited by his grandson, Frederic Bronson. Dwight’s eighteenth-century house was eventually torn down in 1891 by Frederic’s son, Frederic Bronson, a wealthy New York City lawyer and socialite, who was included in Ward McAllister‘s “Four Hundred“, purported to be an index of New York’s best families, published in The New York Times. In 1892, Bronson hired starchitect Richard Morris Hunt, one of the greatest American architects of all time, to design a new country estate here. In 1933, the Bronson estate was acquired by W. A. Morschhauser, who had the house remodeled and made smaller in 1900; removing the third story and reducing the number of rooms from 42 to 13! Since 1949, the property has been occupied by the Fairfield Country Day School. The windmill as part of the estate was eventually gifted to the Town of Fairfield.