Chateau-sur-Mer is probably the most Victorian of all houses in Newport. It was owned by William Shepard Wetmore, who made his fortune trading with then-exotic China. When it was built in 1852 – long before the big four – it was one of the most famous houses in Newport. William’s son, George Peabody Wetmore, inherited it in 1862, and he had a massive addition designed by Richard Morris Hunt beginning in 1871. The house’s last owners were George’s two unmarried daughters, Maude and Edith, who lived in it together all their lives. They continued to host traditional Victorian teas in the mid-20th century, and they had the honor of hosting the Preservation Society’s first ever meeting. (I bet they served a lot of tea while discussing how to save Newport history.)
The house is Italian Renaissance-influenced. It is dark and dramatic, a bit like a haunted mansion. On the inside, it is highly ornate, as was popular in the Victorian era. The dining room is particularly imposing, but some of the other rooms are designed in the slightly lighter Eastlake style.
The great hall is three-stories high, with painted ceilings on the balconies and a lovely stained glass window at the very top. According to our guide, the hall is made to look taller than it really is by reducing the size of the openings on each floor and the skylight. As is the case with so many Newport mansions, most of the contents aren’t original to the Wetmore family because everything was sold at auction after the last sister’s death.