Since I played tourist today, I write about several of the Newport mansions i visited in Newport, Rhode Island. The mansions are relics of the Gilded Age, the American period from the 1870s to 1900 where as Mark Twain lamented, the problems of the era were covered or “gilded” by the thin layer of gold. We visited 3 of the 9 Newport Mansion estates, the first of these called the Breakers.
The Breakers is a multi story mansion named after the waves which break along the coast and cliff the house was built near. Finished in 1895 for the Vanderbilts, railroad and shipping pioneers who emerged as one of the most powerful families in America of the time. This mansion, made of brick, steel and stone was made to be essentially fireproof after the original Breakers burned to the ground. The high ceilings, ornate architecture and huge rooms present a look into what it might have been like to be wealthy and powerful American socialites at the turn of the 19th century as inside are pillars of alabaster, stone and varying types of marble, with walls adorned of platinum, silk, and gold leaf with high vaulted ceilings, indoor water fountains and a massive balcony.
The second mansion we saw was the Marble House, gifted to Alva Vanderbilt for her 39th birthday. As named, the majority of the inside of Marble House is walled in rose and gold marble and as with the Breakers, was adorned with gorgeous works of art surrounded by intricate gold leaf trim framed by cherubs, dolphins, and nymphs. The third mansion is the Elms, the home of a Mr. Edward Berwind, a coal mogul during the same time the Vanderbilts built their railroad empire.
Walking in with tickets in hand, visitors receive a headset for an audio tour which nicely complements the sights you see as you progress through the house. The audio tour also offers extra bits of historical information by entering numerical codes posted at certain intervals so you can either learn more or continue the basic tour. The walkways are wide and are able to handle groups as they wander the tour. My wife and I, traveling with a 6 week old baby in a carry harness, and two seniors moved easily throughout the tour. Each of the mansions we visited had stairs and narrow corridors but also had alternate routes for people unable to manage those paths.
The downsides to the tours we took is obviously a lot of walking and standing, and in two of the three mansions, I found them somewhat lacking in information on the lives and times of the staff workers, though the Elms does offer a guided tour of the servant staff’s quarters and lifestyles in the mansion. Another downside is no photography inside the mansions save for certain spots, and that’s not the case for every mansion.
Overall, this was a great tour, and this Saturday happened to be a two-for-one day, meaning two people gain entrance for the price of one. I definitely recommend.