The glamorous lives of the members of the 400 Club in Newport, Rhode Island, have certainly been long admired. In the early 1900’s, New England socialites built summer cottages and vacation homes along Rhode Island’s beautiful 400-mile coastline.
These ‘cottages’ are really mansions that are still unrivalled even to this day. At the time, these New England mansions were social hubs for hosting and attending parties each week.
Today, vacationers to Rhode Island, New England, enjoy guided tours of these Gilded Age mansions and dream of what it would be like to live as one of America’s wealthiest families back in the day.
The Marble House – “Vanderbilt Summer Cottage”
The Marble House probably became one of the most famous mansions in Newport, Rhode Island, because of its owners – William K. Vanderbilt and his wife Alva – and their role in Newport society.
The owners and their hired designer didn’t spare any expense when building the mansion; it cost approximately $11 million to build back in 1892! The mansion was actually built as a 39th birthday present for Mrs. Alva Vanderbilt. As a leading hostess in Newport Society she dreamed that the mansion would be a “Temple to the Arts” in America.
The Vanderbilt’s summer cottage is named the Marble House because of its incorporation of marble into the design and structure. Nearly 7 million was spent on marble – over 500,000 cubic feet – that was used in fountains, statues and carved walls.
Many suggest that The Marble House and the Vanderbilt dynasty played a pivotal role of changing Newport’s quiet colony into a legendary resort filled with opulent, over-the-top stone palaces. Today, the cliffs on the property provide the same view of the Atlantic Ocean, while the Chinese Tea House on the property can be rented for private cocktail events.
The Breakers Mansion
The Breakers mansion is perhaps the most popular attraction in the entire state of Rhode Island, hosting nearly 300,000 visitors each year.
Preserved as a National Historic Landmark, the Breakers mansion was the summer home (or cottage) of Cornelius Vanderbilt.
Built in just 24 months (1893-1895), The Breakers was named for the ocean waves that continually crash or break on the cliffs below. At a cost of $7 million to build ($150 million today) this 13 acre estate withheld nothing – French and Italian Fashion, The Gold Room, a Great Hall with 45 foot high ceilings, and over 70 rooms in all.
Although The Breakers is now owned by the Preservation of Society of Newport County, Cornelius Vanderbilt’s great-grandchildren still occupy the third floor of the mansion during summer months.
The Elms Mansion
The Elms has been named the best mansion in Newport, Rhode Island, and was once owned by New England socialites other than the Vanderbilt family. Although it is not built on oceanfront property, the Elms Mansion still offers one of the best Newport mansion tours.
The Elms mansion was originally built by Edward Julius Berwind and his wife Sarah. This Newport mansion was modeled after the French Château d’Asnières and was completed in 1901. The Elms remained in the Berwind family for nearly 60 years.
The Elms mansion tour is a must if you spend more than a couple days in Newport, Rhode Island. Many Rhode Island tourists opt for the additional Rooftop/ Behind the Scenes Tour, which takes visitors to the servant’s quarters, kitchens, and through the underground tunnel system used to transport coal to the basement.
The Carriage House at the Elms, which is located just a short walk down the lawn, provides visitors with a light lunch during peak season.
Luckily, the Preservation Society of Newport County bought this mansion within weeks of it being scheduled to be demolished. In 1996, the Elms Mansion became a National Historic Landmark with its famous underground tunnel system and rooftop views of Newport Harbor.
Newport’s Historic Mansions – Part of New England Fall Tours
Caravan Tours has been offering fully escorted tours since 1952. Our all inclusive New England Fall Foliage Vacations include a tour of The Marble House and a drive through the 400 Club where The Breakers and The Elms are built.
Check out the reviews for Caravan New England tours and call 1-800-CARAVAN (227-2826) to check availability and reserve your vacation spot today!
(Editor’s Note – This original post from January 2012 has been updated to reflect current New England vacation details.)