The back of The Elms
The words The Gilded Age and Newport go hand in hand. Newport, Rhode Island was the first and richest summer resort, where grand palaces replicated European classics so closely that it appeared as if they were plucked from their native, continental soil and set down on the dramatic, sloping, Rhode Island cliffs overlooking the sea. These gilded, almost theatrical, estates were amusingly referred to as "summer cottages." This is, of course, because these oversized mansions were merely the summer homes of their nouveau riche owners. The man of the house rarely even spent a full week there. These titans of commerce were usually in New York City during the week, building their wealth, taking trains to their "cottages" only on the weekend. (And you can now tour many of these mansions through The Preservation Society of Newport County.)
The front of The Elms
I visited The Elms on an especially warm July day, when the bright sun caused the palatial mansion to cut a long shadow over the manicured lawn. The external edifice gleamed to a near shine and the grounds were impeccably kept.
Strolling the grand back porch
The Elms was the home of Edward Julius Berwind, a coal baron out of Philadelphia and New York, and his wife, Sarah. As was the trend with this ostentatious generation of wealthy Newport summer residents, they looked to Europe for the design of their estate. The Berwinds copied the design of the Chateau d'Asnieres in Asnieres-sur-Seine, France for their own American palace. It was finished in 1901, complete with 18th century French inspired grounds, including a sunken garden. The total cost was around $1.4 million.
Statues on the back porch
The porch steps
The Sunken Garden
In the sunken garden
One of the main distinguishing features of the Elms is that it holds the largest collection of 18th century Venetian paintings in America. In fact the dining room was designed specifically to display these massive, antique paintings.
A sphinx on the front porch
Having no children, after Sarah and Edward's deaths, the gilded palace was inherited by Edward's sister, Julia, who was known for eccentrically keeping to old ways and fashions until her death in 1961. The Elms was purchased by The Preservation Society in 1962, saving the 60,000 square foot summer cottage from the fate of a wrecking ball.
Unlike many other old Newport mansions, The Elms was not built directly along the coast. However, I felt that was made up for by the spectacular gardens, and there is an ocean view from inside the mansion.
I look forward to sharing more Newport Mansions with you, as I revel in any chance I get to spend at these gilded relics of Newport's past.