Historic Places

An Introduction to Newport

Last week, I was lucky enough to spend some time in Newport, Rhode Island, where I saw eight gorgeous mansions in three days! Over the next week or so, I’ll provide you with the scoop on each of them. But before we get started, let’s talk about Newport itself.

Ocean view from the Marble House. All photos in this post are by A Scholarly Skater.

For anyone who doesn’t know, Newport is a beautiful New England shore town. It has been inhabited since the 17th century (my non-North American readers, please note that this is basically ancient history to Euro-American culture), and it was an important port in colonial times. However, it is most famous for being the summer resort destination of choice for the Gilded Age’s wealthiest families – railroad, shipping, and coal magnates with famous names like Vanderbilt. These millionaires built insanely expensive and luxurious “summer cottages” (their term, not mine!) in Newport, where they hosted elaborate parties for about six to eight weeks a year. The town is still a gathering place for modern-day elites. Thanks to the Preservation Society of Newport County, which was established in the mid-20th century, ten of these landmarks have been saved from the wrecking ball and are now open to visitors. The four major houses – The Breakers, Marble House, The Elms, and Rosecliff – are accessible from the end of June through New Years, but summer and early fall is the only time when all ten are open.

Just a humble seaside dwelling known as The Breakers (rear view).

As I mentioned before, Newport saw settled in the 1600s, and it seems to have always been good about preservation. Consequently, the town is filled with small 18th and 19th century buildings, many still in use as homes or businesses. All of them are well preserved thanks to a restoration project established by Doris Duke, and all are on the National Register of Historic Places. Each has a small plaques listing its name and date. The earliest I saw was built in 1710.

IMG_5543 - Hotel Viking
The Hotel Viking, completed in 1926.

I stayed in the Hotel Viking, which was completed in 1926 and is a Historic Hotel of America. I read online that it accommodated the guests that poured into town for some of Newport’s most glamorous post-Gilded Age parties. It’s very nice and elegant.

To get some context for my Newport adventures, I read Deborah Davis’s Gilded: How Newport Became America’s Richest Resort before I left home. It’s a great book that gives a full picture of all the key events, major players, homes, and stories from the Gilded Age through today. Trust me, some of this stuff is better than any soap opera, and I would still say that even if I liked soap operas!

One of the things I learned about in Davis’s book was the formation of the Preservation Society. Its first meeting took place in this very room at Chateau-sur-Mer.

Next time, I’ll tell you all about The Elms and the two tours I took there!

Click here to purchase Gilded: How Newport Became America’s Richest Resort by Deborah Davis on Amazon. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. However, I only recommend books that I have personally read and enjoyed.

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