Mansion Crawl

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 “The Elms”

Summer residence of Mr. & Mrs. Julius Berwind of New York & Philadelphia.

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After leaving Boston, our east coast road trip progressed on to Newport, Rhode Island where we happily remained in tourist mode by going on a good old-fashioned Mansion Crawl.

What better place, after all, than Newport-the original seat of the American Robber Barons, and home to some of the grandest and most outrageously opulent mansions in the country?

Thanks to The Preservation Society of Newport County, several of these gilded relics stand as stately as when they were first conceived, around the turn of the century, though leading a much different existence today.

First stop on our crawl was “The Elms”,  built in 1901 by coal magnate Julius Berwind and his wife Sarah.

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Sadly, no photos allowed inside, but this gives you some sense of the scale of “The Elms”…

and my hat is really big.

The estate, modeled after an 18th century French chateau, was a mere 3 weeks away from being demolished when it was saved by the  Preservation Society.   The recorded tour guide suggests a shopping complex was intended to take The Elm’s place.

Seriously.

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Though huge, there are only 7 bedrooms (the Berwinds had no children)

“The Elms” required a staff of 43 to run the estate in the manner to which the  Titans of The Gilded Age  aspired during Newport’s high season.

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We now take leave of  “The Elms”

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and make our way over to the entrance of “The Breakers”

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Slim Paley photo

Cornelius Vanderbilt II’s  65,000 sq.ft. Summer Cottage in Newport.

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Constructed between 1893-1895 the property cost over $12 million -

Thats $335 million adjusted to today’s inflated dollar, according to Wikipedia.

$335 million dollars

Let’s all just say the words “Summer cottage” one more time.

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Fully kitted out with the all the mod. cons. of the day, including dual gas/electric chandeliers, and both fresh & salt water faucets in the bathtubs, no  attention to detail or expense was spared at “The Breakers”.

Even the dimensions of the steps on the grand staircase were slightly shortened to accomodate the heels and accentuate the graceful sweep of a lady’s gown.

Those Vanderbilt chics apparently knew how to make an entrance.

The house, completed in 1895 (incidently the same year my home was built ) was considerably larger than “The Elms”,  boasting 14 bedrooms athough the staff numbered only 40 here.

Either The Breakers staff were much more efficient, or the Vanderbilts simply ran a tighter ship than the Berwinds over at The Elms.

Though the style of the architecture and furnishings in the ‘house’ (it’s almost ludicrous to call it a ‘home’) would appeal to very few in present day, it’s fascinating to imagine what summering at The Breakers must have been like in the Gilded Age (coined by who else? Mark Twain).

Wouldn’t you love to really know what went on behind the velvet curtains and pantry doors?!

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Once again, no photos were permitted inside, which is rather a silly, antiquated rule now that we have phones able to take photos with no flash. Still, I managed to behave myself, save this one time my finger slipped…

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The true beauty is to be found in the gardens, the stunning trees, and the deep lawns rolling to the sea…

This photo was taken from the 2nd floor loggia, one of the very best spots in the entire house.

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In an “Over the lawn to Gatsby’s place” moment, I was covetous of the little “cottage” perched closer to the water’s edge, just to the right of The Breaker’s property.

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.and while we’re busy coveting…

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Paging “Downton Abbey” fans-

oh, woops, I guess my camera finger slipped a couple of more times…too much sunscreen.

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“No Edith, I said the blancmange is in oven #11 !”

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I wonder how the lady guests dealt with ‘hat hair’ during their 5- 7 wardrobe changes A DAY summering at The Breakers?!

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FYI-That guy in the orange t-shirt is not with me.

He’s like fricking Waldo…he kept showing up in my shots.

Blast my lack of photo-shop skills.

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A few books for us Downton Abbey-ites in The Breaker’s bookshop

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There are numerous stately homes and mansions to see throughout Newport but unfortunately, our time was short, and there was, of course, one more stop to be made.

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What’s a trip to the Eastern Seaboard without some fish & chips

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and a lobster roll??

Do NOT miss Flo’s if you’re out that way.

Make your way upstairs to avoid the crowds and line-up below.

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Cocktails will be served on the loggia at 7:00pm.

Do dress accordingly and don’t forget your gloves and fan.

xoxo

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61 Comments

  1. We were there last year…oh my goodness. It’s SO Downton-esque…and I LOVED it. I really think that I should have been born in a different era.
    GREAT pics, even with Waldo.
    xxx

  2. AWESOME POST!!!!!!! Brings back great memories, lived in Newport when I was young girl..magical place. The mansions never get old…so amazing. The food is making me hungry!! SO much to love in this post…really enjoyed this walk down memory lane!

  3. Oh wowsers! There is so much to like on this post but of course your photos always take center stage!! Love the pics that got accidentally taken! HA! Too bad you didn’t get Waldos information and maybe could have made him a part of your trip!!! Loved the “cottage below The Breakers—would love to live there (in my dreams!) Thanks for a great post as always!!

  4. Not sure what this says about me, but I could happily call one of those ‘home’. Cute shots of you, Slim xo

  5. Newport is one of my favorite places. We’ve been about 6 or 7 times now, and love it. I loved the gardens at the Elms, and the view at the Breakers. We were able to see a few of the places now closed to the public, including Hammersmith Farms (where Jackie O grew up) and the Astor’s Beechwood, which has been sold to a private owner. That one had a stunning ballroom overlooking the water, and was more of a family home than the Breakers. Thanks for sharing Slim! Good to see you in the photos, too. It’s nice when we get out from behind the camera for a change.

  6. How fun. I would love to do this tour someday. Boy, the beach cottage gives a whole new meaning to the term “cottage” doesn’t it? I think I liked the Fitzgerald home the best. Fish ‘n Chips now sounds so delicious to me…these pictures were great.
    Karen

  7. Slim, what a magnificent job of capturing the glory and the grandeur!! As usual your photos are amazing. We saw the mansions a couple of years ago and were duly impressed.

  8. I did a ghost tour once in an owner occupied house near the Breaker’s. They were trying to make ends meet… The house had quite a few wings, a “Cinderella” carriage inside and one bathroom. It was a crazy dichotomy-Thanks for the reminder!

  9. loved this post, slim — thanks for the fond memory jog of visits there with my father & stepmother! so long ago, and nothing has changed. that’s the best part……

    • The mansions on the historic tour are open to the public during the summer season and are no longer used as private residences, though I read that members of the Vanderbilt family still occupy the 3rd floor of The Breakers.

  10. Oh I am in heaven—love, love, everyone of these “homes.” Thank goodness there are people like Ralph Lauren who has restored old priceless cars, Martha Stewart restoring Skylands and the many others who contribute to this preservation society so we do not lose these historic treasures!

    I don’t know how you eat all this spectacular food you show us and remain pencil thin! Is it those dang 10,000 steps? You should model–you look fabulous darling!

    • I agree entirely- good for those like Ralph L. with an appreciation for the history of these beautiful places (and the funds and wherewithal to devote to them, of course)

      PS.So NOT pencil thin KT, but if you were to look closely, I AM wearing my trusty pedometer on my belt. It’s like my plastic conscience :)

  11. I did a similar Mansion Crawl through Rhode Island with my parents a few years ago. I remember the kitchens the most. They were extraordinary! Those copper pots and pans would be worth more than our house. And the linen rooms luggage rooms were amazing too. I have a few friends lucky enough to live in grand old country houses and their linen and luggage rooms would make you swoon. One is filled with old Louis Vuitton steamer trunks from the days when the parents and grandparents used to sail the seas – stickers and all. She’s so casual about it – the trunks are just thrown in there in piles! And the ‘silver room’ and servery would make you gasp too – shelves FULL of old heirloom silver toppling all over each other. Oh, how the other half live (and decorate!)…

  12. Slim,
    I glimpsed you writing a screenplay set at one or all of these grand locales
    kind of like “Downton Abbey” for the American Robber Baron age!! You could
    write a wickedly funny/suspenseful/engaging/romantic story set at one of these!!!
    Atleast consider it…instead of Lady Mary, use the American equivalents from that
    age and bring the whole era alive for another generation.
    Please, please just consider it…you really have the talent to pull it off.

    • Oooh, I totally agree with the lovely Susan Wilson. The exact same thoughts crossed my mind. I remember visiting RI many many moons ago and was gobsmacked by the architecture and history and felt “woo, some shit went down here” Beginning, middle and…..continuing…………

    • Would that the story come to me…I wouldn’t hesitate to put it to paper. Let’s hope the muse visits (and is wearing something appropriately fabulous!)

  13. I told Adan that you bought a new house and showed him these pics. Hilarious. He was having a heart attack. What a fun stroll thur history. Any husbands for me in the “hood” ..? : )

  14. I have never been up there so thank you for sharing these pics! Hard to imagine that kind of wealth. And you ARE slim:):) Love your hat. XO, pinky

  15. My daughter & I sometimes do the Newport mansions on Mother’s Day & it’s always fun. I love the stories of Mrs. Astor throwing lavish parties for her friend’s dogs.
    Did you make it to Green Animals Topiary Garden? That’s pretty amazing too.
    It would be so wonderful if someone did a Downton Abby-esque show set in Newport – a movie or TV series would be great.
    Thanks for all the beautiful photos!

  16. Well, your posts are always lovely to read and so entertaining, although I got my nose out of joint when I thought of the “$335 million” spent on one adobe and the “5- 7 wardrobe changes A DAY” the ladies where occupied with to keep their pretty little heads unburdened by more substantive matters of politics and state.

    I’m just a sour puss today.

    Oh well, what did take my heart, were the gleaming tiles, filtered light coming from the windows and copper pots hanging in the kitchen…I could just imagine the counters strewn with fruits and vegetables and game ready to be prepared and cooked into some lavish meal by the many hands that worked there,

    B

  17. I happen to know for a FACT that the man in the orange shirt is one of your most avid readers! Uh oh, he’s reading this post right now! :-) Having never been anywhere, (I mean to Newport) I absolutely luved the summer cottages, dawling!

  18. Please don’t think I’m stalking you, BUT, having just left Boston, and o Ya!, and with a detour to friend’ s horse farm in Plymouth, I’m on my way to Rhode Island…to visit new baby grandson, Asa Quickbeam (! that’s quite a first and middle name combo, no?!). So, I will now make it a point to visit upstairs at Flo’s…..what’s next on “our” itinerary, Slim?
    Thanks again, yet again!

  19. GREAT POST:)

    Your blog is so wonderful and Im following…I hope you follow me also:)

    If you want some swedish decor inspiration…check out my blog:)

    Have a great weekend

    LOVE Maria at inredningsvis.se
    (sweden)

  20. Aaahhhh…”the good ole days!” They don’t makem like they used to. We did that “tour” and it is an all time fav. franki

  21. I’ve been reading your blog for about a year and I love your amazing photos. You really have a talent! Of all the blogs that I read, your photography ranks first in my book. Can you share with us what kind of camera and lens that you use? Have you ever considered a post on photography tips?

    • I don’t really have any tips I’m afraid Mary, but most of the photos this past year were taken with a Leica D-Lux 5. I use only natural light as my pics with flash are horrible. Earlier photos were taken with a Panasonic Lumix which is a great little point & shoot for under $250.

  22. Always LOVE your posts and this one is so timely….Off to a Newport weekend today!
    Tonight is a concert at the Breakers and the rest of the weekend will be sailing the
    glorious waters…weather permitting, of course. I agree with Mary…your photos beaver
    disappoint!

  23. Wow. WOW. I am in love with the columns on that “summer cottage.”

    And I LOVE your Gatsby shot – it’s enough to make a young girl sigh in her cubicle, dreaming of parties and romance.

    And why, oh why, would ladies need to change clothes SEVEN TIMES A DAY? Makes my sister’s 2 or 3 times a day seem completely normal.

  24. Oh Love it! I’ve always been curious about these abodes. How strange, the no photo policy. I’m thankful for your devoted use of sunscreen!! Thanks for sharing, hoping more is coming.

  25. I am going to Newport in September! Thank you for the scoop…I will NOT miss Flo’s. And I HAVE to see that Breakers kitchen in person. Anything else that is not-to-be-missed? We are only there 2 nights so want to hit the highlights on this first trip. Your post has me so excited for what was just meant to be a quick getaway during a Boston trip :)

    • Hi Cynthia- We only had one night in Newport so I really didn’t have time to do anything else. You will love it though- it’s so pretty and I’m sure September will be a beautiful time of year to visit.

  26. Loved this! So fun to peak inside this world. I cannot believe anyone would ever think of tearing down the Elms for a shopping center. Crazy!

    Those kitchens are something else. I have, “To Marry an English Lord,” and it’s a great read. You really learn so much about that era.

    xo
    Kim

  27. I really enjoy seeing the world through your eyes, especially when I’m tethered to my computer and totally unable to travel.
    Thanks for the fantastic post.
    Theresa ~ SCD Griddle

  28. Been there done that….but oh so glad you brought back such fabulous memories of that trip…I can almost smell the air and feel the breeze….I really got into the Vanderbilts and bought several books on them….quite the family. Sure enjoy every post and wanted to thank you for that!

  29. Loved this post. Bill Bryson wrote about the mansions of Newport in one of his books, I seem to remember, but no pics. And now I know why you’re called Slim!
    You are in my neck of the woods at the moment, I understand, enjoying the Olympics. And our wonderful changeable weather (hope you packed a raincoat and suncream).

  30. Coveting your trip! Someday I’ll make it back there….Hoss used to go all the time (he worked in Newport and in Boston), and has seen many of these quaint summer cottages. Your photos are beautiful! I can smell the ocean from here! xx

  31. Slim, you should get photoshop! It is heaven and the orange shirt flaw-man could be erased in two seconds! Use the clone stamp…you will love it!!! I use it constantly to make my photos perfect! Thank you for sharing your summer trip. Fabulous!
    M

  32. I remember attending a party at one of Newport’s summer homes and we spent most of the evening practicing rolling down the hill in our summer whites. . . what fun!

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