Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Gilded Age In Newport

The Great Hall in the Breakers Mansion.
The Vanderbilt's felt it a suitable place
to greet their guests in their "summer" home.
Phot0 book published by the Newport Mansion Preservation Society of Newport County

Newport, Rhode Island has been a resort destination in our country since the Gilded Age. The Gilded Age was post civil war and ran wild until 1914 approximately.

"The Gilded Age: (1865 to 1914) was a rich and complex period in American culture, which played a critical role in shaping the modern world we live in now. Vast industrial fortunes, monumental architecture, and the emergence of the United States as a world power mark the era.

The term "Gilded Age" was coined by Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner in their 1873 book, The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today. The name refers to the process of gilding and is meant to make fun of ostentatious display." We found this quite ironic after visiting Mark Twain's home in Hartford, Connecticut, just a mere 19,000 square feet. Not exactly what I would call a humble home!

"Newport was the summer social capital of the nation during this time. The families who built summer houses in this coastal city were leaders in national life, in great part driving American art, architecture, diplomacy, and business. Newport’s houses reflect the evolution of the country’s architecture and the social story of the people who designed, built, lived in, and maintained these buildings."

The Breakers is considered to be the most impressive of all the mansions on the cliffs. There are 10 mansions that are owned in trust by The Preservation Society of Newport County and are open to be toured by the public. We spent most of one afternoon in The Breakers so to tour all of them would take several days. We felt like seeing one was enough for us to get the idea of what life was like for these wealthy people.

The Breakers was built to replace a home of the Vanderbilt's that burnt down. The original home was much smaller; this one was built in less than two years and completed in 1895. It was built by Richard Morris Hunt, a world renowned architect of the day, patterned after the Renaissance palaces of Turin and Genoa. Hundreds of workers labored on this home and many rooms were completed in Europe and disassembled and then brought to America. It became the fashion of the day to employ Mr. Hunt and give him free reign to build something that would be the most magnificent on the cliffs. It was all about keeping up with the Jones, or in this case the Vanderbilts, who owned more than one mansion here. The Vanderbilt's fortune was made in the railway business on the East Coast back in the day.

They do not allow photography in the mansions so we purchased this booklet and rephotographed their pictures to try and give you an idea of what it was like. We would have preferred taking our own photos but they preferred us buying theirs, so...here are theirs and ours kind of mixed together for this post. You'll be able to tell whose are whose. Theirs do give the advantage of a wide angle lens which is needed in their immense rooms.

The gate to the Breakers...their photo

The same gate...our photo

The largest dining room of all the Newport Mansions.
They said the 40 most wealthy people
of the world at that time dined in this room.

The grounds behind the mansion looking out to the sea.

A vaulted alcove off the Great Hall
frames the carved
fireplace in a
"small" section of the entryway.

The Library

The Music Room

The Morning Room was used for
informal daytime gatherings.

The little girl in the portrait above the bed is
Gertrude Vanderbilt.
Her bedroom was considered
to be very modest and scaled down
from the public places in the house.

The Kitchen. I love the copper!
40 staff members were busy in this part of the house
when company was expected for dinner.

We enjoyed visiting this house/museum of life in those days and it really made you stop and wonder..."What were they thinking?" It was almost unbelievable, even when you saw it with your own two eyes. I would not want to come to this area and not see the mansions, but one was enough. The opulence did not produce any coziness or a warm welcome or any sense of the home belonging to a real family. But as far as impressions go, I am sure they made a big one.

We learned that John and Jacqueline Kennedy dined here in the Great Hall right around the time of their engagement. It was customary to set up tables in the entry when they were having large gatherings. They were actually married in Newport as well.

All along the Cliffs one can walk and gaze at the sea or the mansions.

In the center of the back of the house is an
open air patio on the 2nd floor called a loggia.
It has a painted ceiling mimicking a great
awning and looks out to the sea.
Our photo

In this modern day time period
they even let the riffraff
into the loggia for the price of admission!

It is customary to feel under dressed
and under coiffed on such an occasion!

And to want to reduce the size of your photograph
to the size of a postage stamp, were it in keeping
with the design of the rest of the page.

Tata for now!


Julie Harward said...

What awesome pictures! I loved the gates and the walk along the cliff and every gorgeous room..wow :D

Deanna said...

Absolutely enjoyed the history lesson. I cannot even imagine how large those rooms must be in person. Oh that kitchen!! The copper!! I loved Gertrude's bed and the settee. I would definitely feel like a Princess in a Castle!

Deanna :D

Marie said...

Nobody does ostentatious better than rich Americans! Having worked for a very wealthy family for 7 years I learned that it was really all about how things looked and how people perceived them . . . not really about being a family at all. It was rather sad really. I expect one would get the same kind of feeling in these mansions of splendour. At the end of the day Bonnie, we have far more of importance than they ever did. xxoo

laura.elizabeth said...

Such a fun thing to see. The more I think about it the more I enjoyed it. It was especially fun being there with you and dad as I know you guys appreciate beautiful houses as much as I do. Love you!

Caroline Craven said...

Your photo of the gate was so much better. They should hire the "riffraff" for photography purposes. Can you believe the way some people live(d)? And why the heck aren't the rest of us living that way? I heard a quote in a movie once that would have made me laugh, had it not been so true: "If America is one of the wealthiest countries in the world, how come most of us can't afford to live here"? I paid bills this morning and I'm feeling the pain!!!