Saturday, December 1, 2012

The Mansions & Gardens of Newport Rhode Island

Marble House Back Garden-Alba Roosevelt
The mansions and gardens of Newport Rhode Island represent 250 years of American history and are a wonderful place to visit for a long weekend in New England. I was able to experience a selection of these beautiful mansions and look forward to revisiting again someday.
Chinese Tea House (On Marble House Grounds)
The first to visit was the Marble House.  Marble House was given to Alva Vanderbilt from her husband William K Vanderbilt in 1882 as a gift for her 39th birthday.  Inside are walls constructed of marble and embossed with 22 caret gold overlay as requested by Alva.  After spending only three short summers in the 11 million dollar Marble House Alva divorced William and married neighbor Oliver Hazard Perry Belmont one year later.  She moved down the street into a simpler Belcourt Castle and kept the Marble House for storage and use of the laundry, which in her opinion, was much better there.   After the death of her second husband Alva moved back into the Marble House and used it to hold rallies and raise funds for women's suffrage making her one of the largest advocates for women.  No one is quite sure why but in 1913-14 Alva decided to have the above Chinese Tea House constructed on the Marble House grounds.  The Newport Preservation Society now rents it out for various social occasions. 
Marble House Backyard
As a gardener I noticed the simplicity of the gardens around these mansions, mostly neatly manicured hedges of boxwood and rose gardens...very traditional with majestic planters carved of stone. Towards the front entrance of the Marble House is a mature Copper Beach Tree (below) majestic in its own right.

Copper Beach Tree Outside Marble House
                                                Not just any ordinary tree...
Rosecliff Mansion

The next visit is to the Rosecliff Mansion.   This 21 acre summer home was completed in 1902 for 2.5 million dollars and was the home of Nevada heiress Theresa Fair Oelrichs. Due to its perfect layout Rosecliff has been used as the set scene for several popular movies including the Great Gatsby with Robert Redford and True Lies with Arnold Schwarzennager and has been the site of many lavish Newport parties.  Rosecliff is now maintained by the Preservation Society of Newport County.  The last private owners Mr. & Mrs. J. Edgar Monroe of New Orleans generously donated the home, all its furnishings and a maintenance trust fund to the Preservation Society in 1971.    
Rosecliff Mansion Garden

Here are some of the beautiful gardens of Rosecliff...a pergola

Rosecliff Rose Garden

and the formal rose garden.
Rosecliff Back View Lawn Area
The Rosecliff is also a popular site for many a wedding and elaborate affair.
Cliff Walk

If you come to Newport the best way to see many of the mansions is to take a leisurely stroll along Cliff Walk, funded by the National Park Service, Land & Conservation Fund and the State of Rhode Island.  Cliff Walk runs about 3.5 miles so plan accordingly and wear comfortable shoes and clothing.  Plan on approximately two hours or so depending on how far you want to go.  I was enjoying the walk so much that I didn't really pay attention to the time and it was well worth much to see including the view of the ocean below.       
Cliff Walk View of Ocean

Ochre Court Back View from Cliff Walk

Ochre Court (along Cliff Walk) was the summer home of wealthy New York banker and yachtsmen Ogden Goelet.  It was constructed in 1892 and modeled after a French Chateau for 4.5 million.   It is the second largest mansion in Newport after the Breakers (further below).  Ochre Court was gifted to the Religious Sisters of Mercy in 1947 and is now owned and maintained by Salve Regina University.

Newport Cliff Walk

This is a newly constructed gazebo which it a nice addition to the walk.
View Looking Down from Cliff Walk

Doris Duke's Rough Point (View from Cliff Walk)
Rough Point (also along Cliff Walk) constructed of red sandstone and granite was originally built by Frederick W. Vanderbilt and completed in 1892.  In 1894 the Vanderbilts began renting Rough Point to summer guests and in In 1922, James Buchman Duke (benefactor of Duke University) and his second wife Nanaline bought the mansion.  The house and grounds were left to Duke's only daughter Doris.   After Nanaline's passing Doris revisited Newport frequently and reopened Rough Point in 1962.  Doris Duke founded the Newport Restoration Foundation in 1968 which still runs the mansion today. Rough Point is now open to the public as a museum.  
Cliff Walk in September

There are some common signs of fall along the Cliff Walk...
Garden Topiary Animals
but on the way back I just had to get a photo of this not so ordinary garden.
The Breakers (Back Ocean View) Cliff Walk

Last but not least is the largest the of Newport mansions, the 70 room Breakers Mansion established by Cornelius Vanderbilt in 1895.   The original structure of the home suffered a fire in 1892 and Vanderbilt insisted that the home be reconstructed of fire resistant material which was done so as a cost of 12 million dollars.  Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt was a well known established entrepreneur in the steamship industry and later on in the New York Central Railroad and was the model of wealth in the Gilded Age.  This is the back view of the mansion from the Cliff Walk.
Newport Rhode Island Visitor Center
Hope you enjoyed the virtual tour of the Newport mansions and gardens.   Many of the mansions have either guided tours or self tours in which you can rent a headset.  Also be sure to go into town and stop by the visitor center.  They have lots of information on all the mansions and you can choose which you would like to see. 

Thank you for visiting and As Always...Happy Gardening!

Author: Lee@A Guide To Northeastern Gardening, Copyright 2012. All rights reserved 


  1. Nice article. Thanks for the virtual tour! I had heard that these mansions are supposed to be beautiful and would like to visit someday

  2. You must really be an enthusiast in gardening. I have seen a lot of beautiful landscapes on your blog and I was thinking like I am in a dream as I look at them.

  3. Thank you for visiting and for your comments. The mansions and gardens of Newport are truly magnificent. The gardens are very traditional with many hedges but I would love to see them again in spring/summer when the annuals and roses are in bloom...must be even more spectacular!


Thank you for visiting. I love reading your comments and knowing you have been here, and will try to reciprocate on your blog. If you have any questions I will try my very best to answer them. As always...HAPPY GARDENING!