The Gilded Age.

William Vanderbilt, heir to his family’s railroad fortune. Cornelius Vanderbilt, who also received a sizable inheritance from his family. Edwin Berwind, a coal baron. Theresa Fair Oelrichs, daughter of silver mining magnate James Graham Fair. Isaac Bell, a cotton broker. William Wetmore, one of the first merchants to arrange trade between China and the United States. These individuals, and others like them, were members of the wealthy elite during the Gilded Age. During this period of time in the late 19th century, leaders of industry experienced tremendous growth in wealth. In the city of Newport, Rhode Island, members of the wealthy upper-class (such as the ones named above) built elaborate mansions for their summer residences. On a cool and cloudy Sunday in May, I headed down to explore these buildings and to experience what life was like for the uber-wealthy one hundred and forty years ago.

Founded in 1640, Newport, was one of the first towns in the colony of Rhode Island. Quickly establishing itself as a major trading port in the colonies, Newport developed into a manufacturing center as well. Established, in part, for residents of the Massachusetts Bay Colony who were seeking greater religious freedom than what the Puritans were providing, Newport was home to a large Baptist community, and is also home to the second-oldest Jewish community in the United States. During the Gilded Age it became a destination for the wealthy elite to build their summer homes, forty- and fifty-room mansions which were used only during the hottest months of the year (via Wikipedia). While many of these homes are still private residences, several are overseen by the Preservation Society of Newport County, a non-profit organization that has opened these buildings to the general public. I chose to visit Marble House, the summer mansion of William and Alva Vanderbilt.

I hope you enjoy my photo essay from today’s trip. Before I begin, however, a few updates are in order as well:

Interior of 2012 Honda Accord.
First, a quick update on the Accord. Now at 106,200 miles, the car is purring along nicely. I treated the interior to a full cleaning and detail.
Honda Accord V6 engine.
The car also recently received its timing belt and water pump service. This major service happens every 7 years or 105,000 miles, whichever comes first. Given that a snapped timing belt can ruin an engine, this service is good preventative maintenance. I opted to take my car to Burns Honda in Marlton, New Jersey, as the dealers I contacted in Massachusetts wanted $600-$800 more than what Burns quoted me.
Plymouth Harbor, with a small pirate ship model in the water in front of two larger vessels.
Captain Jack Sparrow, your ship awaits! Friday night, with my fiancee in town, we headed for dinner to Plymouth, Massachusetts. We spotted this small pirate ship floating through the water. It was an advertisement for a water tour of 18th century pirate hideouts near Plymouth.
Plymouth Harbor at dusk.
After dinner, we walked into the middle of the harbor on a 0.72 mile-long rock jetty. The view was simply amazing.
View of Plymouth Harbor at dusk.
Despite the long and somewhat dangerous walk in the dark, the sky was spectacular.
Map of New England, with a red pin in the location for the Marble House in Newport.
Today’s destination? Newport, Rhode Island.
Exterior of The Fifth Element bar and restaurant.
Our first stop was lunch at The Fifth Element, a bar and restaurant on Broadway in Newport.
Salad with salmon.
My fiancee ordered the asparagus and beet salad with salmon (I went with a far less healthy, but equally yummy, burger). About half of the items on the menu can be ordered gluten-free.
Gas station with art installation on garage door.
This old service station next to the restaurant is now used as an artist’s studio. Check out that garage door!
Garage door with painting of woman's face and hair made of wood extending in all directions.
I totally missed this, but my fiancee spotted it as we walk past. Very cool.
Exterior of Marble House.
My fiancee departed after lunch to drive back to New Jersey, and I continued on to Marble House. The fifty room mansion was referred to by its owners as a “cottage.”
Marble House dining room.
The Dining Room. The paintings, gold inlays, and elaborate furniture… this room is a visual encapsulation of the Gilded Age.
The Gothic Room.
The Gothic Room. Remember… this was designed as a summer cottage!
The Gilded Room.
The house cost $11 million to build in 1888, which would be $300 million today.
Alva Vanderbilt's bedroom.
Alva Vanderbilt’s bedroom. A force in her own right, Alva did not stand in her husband’s shadow. She was a strong leader for women’s suffrage – the fight to give women the right to vote.
Chandelier hanging in the main staircase.
The main staircase… imagine coming home from work to this every day!
Cast iron stove.
How do you cook for the parties of the wealthy elite of Newport? With a very large stove.
Rear view of the mansion.
No trouble having enough room for parties on the back lawn…
Chinese Tea House on mansion ground.
Alva divorced William and received full ownership of the house. Her second marriage was to Oliver Hazard Perry Belmont, a politician. After his death, Alva built this Chinese Tea House near the cliffs overlooking the ocean behind the mansion.

Before departing, I decided to explore the Cliff Walk, a 3.5-mile trail along the coastline of Newport. Located on Newport’s eastern shore, this trail leads past stunning natural landscapes and many of the mansions of the Gilded Age. Two of my co-workers are from Rhode Island, and they highly recommended this walk as a must-see destination.

View of the Newport Coastline.
The Cliff Walk runs along the cliffs at the edge of the shoreline. The views were simply spectacular.
Rocky shoreline, with rock formations in the water beyond the edge of the cliff.
The rugged Rhode Island coastline must not have been forgiving to sailors who drifted too close to the rocks. Newport has seen numerous shipwrecks, even into the late 20th century.
Salve Regina University.
When their debts and tax payments became too high, several of the families donated their homes or sold them. Seven such mansions were donated to the Catholic Church to establish Salve Regina University.
Small gazebo along Cliff Walk.
Perhaps one of my favorite shots from the trip.
Sign that states "Caution: Stay on the Paved Path Steep Cliffs High Risk of Injury" with image of person falling off cliff. The water is behind the image.
The sign gets the point across.

This brief video shows why staying on the path is so important- the strong currents and jagged rocks make this an unforgiving place to have an accident:

Rock formation leading out into the ocean.
Despite the barrenness of the rocks, I found the formations to be very striking.
Forty Steps staircase leading to a viewing area.
Reminding me more of a backdrop from Game of Thrones or Lord of the Rings, 40 Steps is a staircase that leads to a viewing platform near the water’s edge. There is no railing, so walk carefully.
2012 Honda Accord in front of Cheateau-sur-Mer.
I was unable to park my Accord in front of the Marble House. I made due by stopping by Chateau-sur-Mer, William Wetmore’s villa, built in 1852. Parking my car in front of the building begins to give you a sense of the scale of these “cottages.”

The trip to Newport was absolutely terrific. The mansions were astounding, time capsules from a fascinating period of time in our nation’s history. Five of the mansions (including Marble House and Chateau-sur-Mer) are open year round for visitors from 9:00 am – 5:00 pm, while several other estates are only open seasonally. A ticket to tour the five main mansions is $35 for an adult and $12 for youth age 6-17. A ticket for only one mansion is $17, and $8 for youth age 6-17. The prices seem steep, but after a few moments of walking around, I certainly felt that it was money well spent. The Cliff Walk is free and open from sunrise to sunset. If you are in Rhode Island or southern Massachusetts, I would strongly recommend stopping by Newport and exploring this beautiful city.

‘Til next time.


4 thoughts on “The Gilded Age.

  1. Sheesh, if that’s a ‘cottage’ I’ll settle for a little shack! Exquisite materials and finishes, especially having withstood the test of time. I also enjoyed seeing the old service station that’s now an artist’s studio. And the interior of the Accord looks fantastic. Keep on rolling!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Tyson! The Meguiar’s Natural Shine was a terrific recommendation.

      The servants’ quarters in the house was nicer than my place – agreed, a “shack” of the Gilded Age standards would be nicer than most homes.


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