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Tour the Gilt and Glamour of Newport’s Mansions

by Debra Bokur

Oct 1, 2019

Lei Xu | Dreamstime.com

Destinations / North America

Summer may be over, but it’s a great time to enjoy the less-crowded roads and spaces of Newport, Rhode Island, for tours of this elegant seaside city’s collection of restored Gilded Age mansions. The fabulous homes were built as summer “cottages” for the rich and powerful, and survive thanks to the work of the Preservation Society of Newport County.


Most of the famous houses are located on or near Bellevue Avenue, with wide lawns and terraced gardens that slope down to the sea. What many visitors to Newport’s more highly recognizable houses don’t know is a shocking number of other fabulous mansions were completely demolished from the 1930s through the 1960s.


Some, such as the beautiful Stone Villa — a stunning Italianate manor house built from fieldstone trimmed in granite — were replaced with shopping centers and parking lots. Others, including the sprawling Harper-Field Warren Estate, called Seafield, and the timber-framed estate known as Seaverge, disappeared from history to become subdivisions or were replaced with modern homes.


Happily, you can still visit a collection of beautifully preserved mansions that include The Breakers, The Elms, Marble House, Rosecliff, Chateau sur Mer, Isaac Bell House, Kingscote, Chepstow, Hunter House and Green Animals Topiary Garden. While seasonal closures begin at some houses Oct. 15, there’s still a chance to enjoy a docent-led tour or a self-guided audio tour.


Plan for a holiday season visit, when events include an exploration of Shirley Jackson’s seminal horror story originally published in 1959, The Haunting of Hill House (Penguin Classic, 2006). Part of the Books@Bell series, the talk takes place Oct. 19 and will be led by Dr. Renee Somers, assistant professor of English, Bridgewater State University.

The Cliff Walk, Cliffside Mansions of Newport Rhode Island. Photo: Joe Sohm | Dreamstime.com

On Oct. 24, an evening lecture led by author and journalist Julie Satow will delve into the fascinating history of New York City’s Plaza Hotel. “The Plaza: The Secret Life of America’s Most Famous Hotel” will be hosted at Rosecliff, and will address the myriad stories of scandal, tragedy and fabulous wealth associated with the Plaza.


Pumpkin Decorating at Green Animals will take place Oct. 26 in the Topiary Garden. The event is planned 10 a.m. to noon, and includes a garden walk to collect decorating materials from the expansive grounds.


A lecture covering “Food in the American Gilded Age” will be offered at Rosecliff on Nov. 7, led by Helen Zoe Veit, associate professor of history, Michigan State University. Dr. Veit will discuss the diet disparities between classes via period cookbooks, dietary studies and advice manuals from post-Civil War America.


Learn all you ever wanted to know about the glass windows and lampshades created by Tiffany Studios Dec. 8 at Rosecliff during “Tiffany Glass: Painting with Color and Light” Exhibition Opening Lecture and Reception.


A festive Holiday Dinner Dance at The Breakers, Dec. 21 includes a cocktail hour on the loggia, an elegant three-course seated dinner in the mansion’s Great Hall, and dancing in the opulent Music Room. The event is black tie, and reservations are required.


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