Saturday, November 28, 2015

Newport Rhode Island Mansions and Gardens: A Visit to Chateau-Sur-Mer and Rough Point

This past September I had the pleasure of returning to the Newport Mansions and gardens in Newport, Rhode Island.  We visited the lovely Chateau-Sur-Mer and Rough Point Mansions and their grounds. Come along and I will share some of the sites and amazing history behind these mansions.
Chateau-Sur-Mer Newport Mansions Restoration Foundation
Chateau-Sue-Mer, Newport, Rhode Island
Chateau-Sur-Mer was the first of the grand Bellevue Avenue mansions (before the Vanderbilt family arrived in the 1890’s) and home to three generations of the Wetmore family. The Victorian style mansion was built in 1852 as a villa for William Shepard Wetmore, a well known China trade merchant. The centerpiece of the mansion is its Great Hall, a three story chamber with broad balconies and a massive 45 foot ceiling. An Italianate design library was actually designed and constructed in Italy, then disassembled and transported to Newport and a giant Green Room served as a ladies reception area.  The house was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1968 and purchased by the Preservation Society of Newport County in 1969. It was declared a National Historic Landmark in 2006.  
European Beech Tree
The back grounds of Chateau-Sur-Mer are the home to a croquet field and huge collection of mature trees of different species.  Mature Beech trees (such as the one pictured above) are known to grace the landscape of the mansion.
Japanese Cedar
Japanese Cedar is also among the specimens.

Monkee's Seat Gate at Chateau-Sur-Mer
 The moon gate that exists at the back of the property at Chateau-Sur-Mer onlooks the street and water beyond. William Shepard Wetmore built the gate with steps and seat to the southern entrance to the estate in 1860, and legend has it that monkeys he brought back from the Far East would sit there and alert him of any oncoming visitors. 
Chateau-Sur-Mer Beech Tree on Grounds

Rough Point Mansion

Rough Point was the Newport home of Doris Duke, famous heiress, art collector and philanthropist. The 105-room English style home was originally designed for Frederick William Vanderbilt and is one of the larger Gilded Age mansions. The red sandstone and granite mansion was completed in 1892, and in 1894 the Vanderbilts began renting Rough Point out to summer guests. 

Rough Point Mansion, Newport, Rhode Island
In 1922, the estate was purchased by James Buchanan Duke, the founder of fortunes in electric power and tobacco, and benefactor of Duke University, along with his second wife Nanaline. Dukes only child, Doris when born was nicknamed the million dollar baby and upon James Dukes passing in 1925,12-year-old Doris Duke inherited the roughly estimated 80 million dollar Rough Point. The estate came close to being sold twice at Nanaline's insistence; nonetheless, eventually became one of Doris' most prized properties.  Doris Duke continued to spend her summers at Rough Point; but her visits became less and less frequent. In the early 1950s, Duke took up permanent residence in New York City but after Nanaline's death in 1962, Doris once again became a frequent visitor to Newport.
Rough Point Camel Topiary
The grounds of the mansion are known for the impressive back yard view overlooking Cliff Walk and the Atlantic Ocean, along with the unusual camel topiary on the front lawn. The story behind the topiary is that Doris was gifted two pet Bactrian camelsPrincess and Baby from Adnan Khashoggi, billionaire Saudi arms-dealer and businessman, and the camels would travel to the mansion with her for the summer. Doris had also adopted many shelter dogs that would roam the house with its expensive Turkish carpets, Louis XVI furniture and Chinese porcelains. These topiary standing on the front lawn were created for Doris representing her two most prized pets. 
Rough Point Solarium and Back Lawn
While Dukes pet camels would spend summers in Newport she would set up a tent on the back lawn for them and during Hurricane Bob in 1991, the camels were brought inside the house's solarium, which served as a shelter for Princess and Baby. It was known that Doris would buy her camels large quantities of peanut butter cookies as treats, and at times Baby, the more rambunctious of the two, would often sneak up at the estate security guards at night, chasing and nipping at them if she got close enough.
Rough Point Doris Dukes Flower Garden 

While growing up Doris's father, knowing she would inherit his fortune, warned her to trust no one. During her stay at Rough Point, Doris kept high fences and hedges around her estate and even built a bridge to make Cliff Walk a little further away from her back property.  At Doris's direction secret flower gardens were filled each year with annuals from Duke farms to provide a steady supply of cut flowers. She wanted a sense of intimacy and seclusion to enjoy her peaceful retreat with her animals. Today the walled garden fosters beds of roses, dahlias, and numerous varieties of cottage style flowers.
Rough Point Doris Dukes Flower Garden Entry Live Arbor

Rough Point Doris Dukes Flower Garden 

Rough Point Doris Dukes Flower Garden 

Rough Point Doris Dukes Flower Garden Dahlia September

Rough Point Doris Dukes Flower Garden Vernonia noveboracensis NY Ironweed

Rough Point Doris Dukes Flower Garden Vernonia noveboracensis NY Ironweed

Rough Point Doris Dukes Flower Garden 

Cliff Walk Along Atlantic Ocean
Doris Duke was the founder of the Newport Restoration Foundation in 1968 to protect and preserve Newport’s 18th and 19th century buildings and cultural heritage. Along with her many donations as a philanthropist she contributed 40 million dollars to Trinity College which was then named Duke University, and at her death in 1993 she left a lasting legacy of support to medical research, the performing arts, environmental conservation and child abuse through the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.

Newport Mansions & Gardens

  I hope you enjoyed the tour! Newport with its mansions and gardens is such a wonderful place to visit and is accompanied by an abundance of Gilded Age history.

As Always...Happy Gardening!

For more information visit Chateau-Sur-Mer and Rough Point

Author: Lee@A Guide to Northeastern Gardening, © Copyright 2015. All rights reserved


  1. Amazing homes and grounds. I love that gate but I don't see how it would have kept the monkeys from getting out.

    1. Glad you enjoyed the photos Marti and good point about the monkeys!!! I just enjoy hearing and reading all the stories about the mansions and the people who took residence there.

  2. Wow, what a lovely place to tour! The mansions and the gardens are lovely. The moon gate is one of my favorites along with the huge birch trees. The cliff walk looks awesome too. Wonderful collection of photos. Happy Monday, enjoy your new week!

    1. It is a wonderful place to visit and there are many mansions and gardens to see. The Cliff Walk along the Atlantic Ocean is beautiful as long as you are alright with heights. There is a cement walk and railing most of the way and you can see the backyards of the mansions. Thank you for stopping by and commenting. Have a great week!

  3. I have not heard of this paradise...I will have to add it to my must see spots...just gorgeous!


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!


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