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.
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.
Built in 1901, “The Crossways” is one of Bar Harbor’s most stunning summer cottages built in the 20th century. The home was designed by the illustrious Boston architectural firm of Andrews, Jaques and Rantoul, possibly as part of the of the William B. Rice estate. The home appears to have been rented in early years until it was occupied by Edward and Esther Mears. Edward ran a hotel in town during the summer months before getting involved in real estate, where he made much more money. The home blends together the best of architectural styles of the time from Queen Anne to Shingle Style, and remains in an excellent state of preservation.
Sunset Cottage was designed by local architect Milton Stratton and cost $20,000. The cottage was constructed for New Yorker Gertrude Stevens Rice, a decade after the death of her husband William. She and her husband formerly resided at The Tides, a home nearby, but she decided to construct a new home to summer at with her sister. The shingled home originally had half-timbering in the gables, but other than that, looks almost identical to when it was built 110 years ago!
Located next door to “The Poplars” (last post), another summer cottage Thornhedge, stands out for its architectural splendor and great state of preservation. Similar to “The Poplars”, the home was built in 1900 for Lewis A. Roberts, a retired book publisher from Boston. Roberts ran the publishing house with his brothers, and they published work by authors including Emily Dickinson, Fyodor Dostoyevsky and George Sand, the first American edition of Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, and had their greatest commercial success with Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. The business was purchased by Little and Brown Publishing in 1898. Lewis Roberts died in 1901, only a year after completing Thornhedge, and the house came under the care of his son, Lewis Niles Roberts. Mr. Roberts kept the house as a summer residence until 1920, then sold it to the family of William F. Frick, a prominent judge from Baltimore. The home became an inn by the 1970s. Thornhedge is a Queen Anne style cottage which was originally organized with the first and second floor serving as the living quarters and the top and bottom floors for the servants. The laundry, servants dining hall, and kitchen were out of sight in the finished basement, with a dumb-waiter to bring hot food to the butler’s pantry. The third floor was the servants’ living quarters.
It’s Tudor Tuesday so I have to share one of the great Tudor Revival cottages in Bar Harbor, Maine, “The Poplars” (because any good summer cottage needs a name)! The cottage was built in 1899-1900 for Lewis A. Roberts, a retired book publisher from Boston, who purchased the lot which contained a summer cottage and stable, razing both. He hired the local firm of Goddard & Hunt, an architect/builder duo who worked on many projects in the village. The Tudor Revival cottage was only occupied in the summer months by Roberts and his family as the home was not winterized at the time. The cottage was built of wood and rough stucco work with rough timber trimmings all hallmarks of the Tudor style. The home was later known as the Stratford House, and became an inn until just a couple years ago. It was recently listed for sale and has 13 bedrooms and 13 bathrooms!
West Street in Bar Harbor was laid out in 1886, and developers laid out house lots on both sides, with larger, more expensive land right on the water. One of the earliest homes built on the street is Greenlawn, constructed in 1887 for William Rice, an industrialist who co-founded Rice & Hutchins, a shoe manufacturing company with main offices in Boston. The architectural firm of Rotch and Tilden, comprised of partners Arthur Rotch and George Thomas Tilden. Both had studied at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and at École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. Both had worked at the architectural firm of Ware and Van Brunt, and would be best known for their Gilded age mansions in New England. By 1896, the cottage was owned by William L. Green, which is likely when the cottage’s name “Greenlawn” stuck. The house recently sold for $4.25 Million and the interiors are gorgeous!
“La Rochelle”, one of the many beautiful summer “cottages” in Bar Harbor, Maine, sits on West Street, a well-preserved stretch of mansions that showcase Gilded Age wealth in the town. The cottage dates back to the 1902-3, when George Sullivan Bowdoin, great-grandson of Alexander Hamilton, and partner at J.P. Morgan, and his wife, Julia Irving Grinnell Bowdoin, a great niece of Washington Irving) commissioned the Boston architectural firm of Andrews, Jacques & Rantoul to design a cottage for them. They hoped to spend their summers away from New York, where they could rub elbows with other wealthy and well-connected summer residents in Bar Harbor. The French Renaissance style cottage, known as La Rochelle, became one of the first Bar Harbor mansions constructed of brick. The forty-one room, 13,000 square foot cottage was built with twelve bedrooms and nine full-bathrooms on two acres of land, which backs up to the Mount Desert Narrows and harbor. The name La Rochelle comes from La Rochelle, a seaport in Nouvelle, Aquitaine, France, where George’s ancestors lived before settling in present-day Maine (later moving to Boston). In the 1940s, Tristram C. Colket of Philadelphia and his wife (the former Ethel Dorrance, daughter of John T. Dorrance, the Campbell’s Soup king) acquired La Rochelle. In 1972, La Rochelle’s owners, the Colket family, donated it to The Maine Seacoast Mission, who then sold it in 2019 to the Bar Harbor Historical Society.
The Yellow House in Bar Harbor is one of the most stunning summer cottages in town, and luckily for us, is an inn! The cottage sits on a sleepy road just off Main Street, just steps from the rugged Mount Desert Island coastline on one side and busy restaurants, shopping, and bars on the other side. The cottage appears to have been built in the late 19th century from deed research and was acquired by socialite Ms. Sarah Parker Torrey Linzee, of Boston by 1886. Sarah married Thomas Linzee, a treasurer of a mill in Lowell, in 1855 and engaged in upper-class society together in Boston until his death in 1863. His wealth went to Sarah, who within a year of his death, purchased a rowhouse in Boston’s newly established Back Bay neighborhood. Her sister, Susan and her husband John Revere (the grandson of the American Patriot Paul Revere), had a matching home built nextdoor in Boston. Like any good socialite, Sarah Linzee desired a summer cottage in desirable Bar Harbor, Maine, to escape the woes of city life for clean air and large parties. Sarah and her sister Susan purchased this cottage, painting it yellow, and the name “Yellow House” stuck. The home was purchased by Leonard Opdyke and remained in the family for generations. By the second half of the 20th century, it became an inn, a use it remains as to this day. The old cottage features the finest wrap-around porch I have seen, large rooms, and original detailing inside and out. For anyone thinking about visiting Acadia National Park, I HIGHLY recommend checking in here to get the true Bar Harbor vibe!
Benjamin E. Waters (1863-1962) was a local businessman and real estate developer in Marion by the end of the 19th century. He acquired a large property not far from the beach, in the middle of a high-class residential enclave and developed the property, running a small dirt path through the middle, known today as Pie Alley. He built three large Shingle style homes and appears to have rented them out to wealthy residents. The homes are all situated very well on their lots among large lawns framed by stone walls, just a short walk from the beach.