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:
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.
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:
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.