If you’ve read all my posts in this series, you’ve officially been introduced to every Newport mansion I visited. (But not every Newport mansion, since unfortunately I didn’t get to visit two of them.) But my Newport adventure wasn’t entirely mansion tours. There’s lots else to see and do in town.
The Redwood Library and Athenaeum is America’s oldest library in continuous existence. It was established in 1747 by Abraham Redwood, who used his own money to purchase its first 751 used books from England. The library is neo-classical in style, which you would expect for someplace called an “athenaeum”, but according to the visitors’ guide, it’s made of wood rather than stone. The library is available by paid subscription only, but visitors can look around for a $10 entrance fee. Besides the antique books and architecture, it has a fabulous collection of portraits by early American paintings such as Robert Feke, Thomas Sully, Rembrandt Peale, Charles Bird King, and Gilbert Stuart. The art alone is worth the price of admission. The most exciting piece is a full-length portrait of George Washington attributed to Jane Stuart. Jane was Gilbert Stuart’s daughter, and she supported the family by making copies of his George Washington portraits after her father died. The library also hosted a speical exhibition about Newport style between WW1 and WW2, showing fashion, decorative arts, and ephemera. I enjoyed seeing several dresses worn by Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney. (If you don’t remember why she’s special, go back to my post on The Breakers.) Unfortunately, no photography was allowed inside this exhibition.
The Newport Casino, on Bellevue Avenue, was built in the 1880s and has been a gathering place in Newport ever since. Right now, it hosts the International Tennis Hall of Fame, shops, and restaurants. It’s a pretty cool looking building.
In addition to the Gilded Age mansions, Newport is home to many other historic structures. Among these are numerous small eighteenth and nineteenth-century houses that can be found all over town. Many still occupied by homes or businesses. All are very well preserved and have small plaques giving their names and dates. The earliest I saw was built in 1710.
Getting back to the mansions, some are still privately owned. Miramar, the former Widener family residence, looks particularly tantalizing behind its tall fence and “private property” sign. Fortunately, most of them are somewhat visible from the street. I haven’t posted any pictures of private homes out of respect for their owners’ privacy. However, some mansions are accessible to the public in different ways.
· Belcourt, the Richard Morris Hunt-designed home of horse enthusiast (and Alva Vanderbilt’s second husband) Oliver Hazard Perry Belmont, is open by appointment only. I didn’t get to take this tour, but I did get to see the exterior pretty well.
· Rough Point, a former Doris Duke residence, is now owned by the Newport Restoration Foundation that she started. I believe most of the old houses in the center of town were restored thanks to her project. Rough Point is open for tours, but I didn’t have a chance to go. (This will be a priority next time I’m in Newport!)
· Vernon Court once belonged to the Gambrill family, but it’s now the National Museum of American Illustration.
· Ochre Court, which was owned by Ogden Goelet and his family, is now part of Salve Regina University. I believe that the family donated their mansion to the university in order to save it. I’m glad they did, because it’s a pretty cool medieval fantasy. I think it’s probably fine to go inside, since it’s the college admissions building, but I settled for a nice walk around the exterior. The view of the ocean is beautiful! Photos below.
Lastly, the wharfs in Newport are filled with shops, restaurants, and tons of boats! This area is a nice place to go shopping, eat, and walk around. You can visit the official Preservation Society of Newport County store while you’re there. It sells different stuff than the mansion gift shops (which are much better in my opinion.)
Thus ended my Newport adventure. But I’m sure I’ll be back. Believe it or not, there’s still much that I haven’t seen. If you’ve had your own Newport adventures, feel free to share your experiences in the comments section below. If you’re planning to go in the future or just want know more, ask me anything about Newport!