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Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The Elms - Newport Mansion

When the weather gets cold and the hiking is a little less inviting, I hit the map to see what kind of "alternative" adventures I can find on a chilly December day.  I woke up with the intention of going hiking, but when the temperatures hovered in the low 20's, I decided to get creative and find something else to do on a chilly but sunny Sunday.

After spending some time on google maps, I decided a day trip to Newport was just the ticket to a well spent weekend.  I have been to Newport many times but this trip was to see some of the Mansions decked for the Holidays.  That many Christmas trees brought on the holiday spirit and a tour of two mansions I had not been in before, The Elms and The Marble House.  With so many mansions decorating Bellevue Avenue, it takes several trips to Newport to see them all.  My first stop on the Mansion tour was to The Elms, one of the first mansions on your tour towards the water down Bellevue Avenue.  

This was a tour of a beautiful mansion and one that actually felt "lived in".  Great audio tour throughout the mansion.  Parking is on-site which made it easier for us, especially because we had our dog in the car.  The grounds were beautiful with a stable, expansive lawns and gardens and amazing crazy sculptures.  We did not do this but you can go on the Servant Life tour to see how the servants lived and access the mansion (advanced reservations required).  In the summer, you can have lunch at the cafe at the rear of the property at the Carriage House Cafe.  This mansion did not abut the water and did not have the amazing ocean views that some of the mansions have. The back lawn is still one of the best things about the property (you have to see the crazy sculptures for yourself.  Or scroll to the bottom of this post).  Every time I walk into one of these mansions, I am so thankful for conservation and preservation societies that keep these pieces of American history alive, so we can all daydream about the Gatsby era. See aerial footage of the mansion here. 

Parking for this mansion is directly at the mansion (turn in the main driveway) opposed to a designated area across the street like many of the other mansions.  Beware, this may be a little chaotic especially in the summer.  Either way, once you park, admissions into the Mansion is inside the building whereas some mansions charge you upon entry on the property.

newport ri mansions:

Visiting The Elms 
One House Adult:  $17.50 (excludes Hunter House and The Breakers)
The Elms Servant Life Tour: $18 ($15 for members) additional tour on top of normal audio tour.  The Servant’s Tour shows guests some of the living quarters, working rooms, rooftop facilities, underground tunnel system and appliances that helped create the illusion. call ahead to reserve a spot (401-847-1000) because there is limited space on these tours.

Winter Passport: $30 (for three houses open during winter season)
The Breakers Plus:  $27 (The Breakers plus 1 house, excluding Hunter House)
The Newport Mansions Experience:  $35 (admissions to any five houses excluding Hunter House)
Memberships:  Student ($35) Individual ($55)  Dual ($80) Household ($95) 

Visitors Guide/Brochure for more information including the seasons and schedules for the houses.  Audio Tour is provided with the admission into The Elms. 

Lunch at the Elms
After touring the mansion and the gardens, walk down the lawn and have lunch at the Carriage House Cafe. During the season you can enjoy a meal here between 10 am and 4 pm. 

If there is one thing the conservation society really nails with it's mansion, its the history and information provided online and during the audio tours.  I loved reading about the history of these mansions, the people who lived in them and try to envision how Newport looked and felt during the Gilded Age.  While doing a little perusing online, I found the National Historic Landmark Dedication and all the facts on the house.....47 pages to be exact.  So most of this (and anything you see in quotes) is a collection of that information and fun facts all about this mansion. 

 The Elms is one of the most popular mansions in Newport. But before it was maintained by the Conservation Society it was the summer home of Herminie and Edward Berwind of Philadelphia and New York. 

Edward J. Berwind was a leading figure in the American coal industry.  "Following the advice of J.P. Morgan, Berwind adopted Morgan’s aggressive tactics until he was the world’s largest individual owner of coal-mining properties. He was president of six coal companies and director of four others. Edward Berwind helped shape the pattern of industrial expansion and the economic course of this country. As the U.S. emerged as the industrial giant of the 20th century, he supported that industrialization by fueling a great share of its enterprises and serving its expanding resources.  Herminie his wife, was from a distinguished Philadelphia Quaker family. Together, the Berwinds were among one of the few couples of American society who took an active role in choosing the works of art that would adorn their living spaces."

Beautiful mansions like this one were not constructed without expensive and highly sought-after architects.  The construction of The Elms started in 1898 when the Berwinds hired Philadelphia architect Horace Trumbauer (one of the best of that era) to design a house modeled after the mid-18th-century French chateau d'Asnieres (c.1750) located outside of Paris.  The 11-acre property is not only known for its building, but also for its ten acres of lawn including large bronze statues and formal french gardens. 

The elaborate Classical Revival gardens on the grounds were developed between 1907 and 1914, several years after the final construction of the mansion.  They include terraces displaying marble and bronze sculpture, a park of fine specimen trees and a lavish lower garden featuring marble pavilions, fountains, a sunken garden and carriage house and garage. These gardens were recently restored and the Carriage House has been converted into a cafe. 

Although started in 1989, construction of The Elms was not completed until 1901 at a cost reported at approximately $1.4 million (at that time!). While Trumbauer was the architect, the interiors and furnishings were designed by Allard and Sons of Paris.  The interior was the setting for the Berwinds' collection of Renaissance ceramics, 18th century French and Venetian paintings, and Oriental jades. 

The mansion as a summer home under the Mr and Mrs Berwind ownership did not last long.  Mrs. Berwind died in 1922, and Mr. Berwind invited his sister, Julia, to become his hostess at his New York and Newport houses. Mr. Berwind died in 1936 and Miss Julia continued to summer at The Elms until her death in 1961.  In 1961, the house and most of its contents were sold at public auction and private ownership of this mansion officially ended.  The original sales agreement (likely to turn this place into apartments or a parking area) did not achieve consummation, and after a strenuous fund-raising effort The Preservation Society bought the house and grounds (for $100,000). Additionally, the society was able to buy at the auction some of the furnishings belonging in the house; the large gaps left were filled by loans and, gifts. Because of these loans and gifts, The Elms now contains much more in the way of authentic XVIII Century French furniture and decorative items than it did under Berwind ownership. The Preservation Society of Newport County purchased The Elms in 1962 and opened the house to the public. In 1996, The Elms was designated a National Historic Landmark.

Inside the mansion, you find yourself inside one elaborate and show-offy display of wealth.  From floor to ceilings, this mansion is dripping in expensive tapestries, paintings, sculpture and art.  The detail is like all of the Newport Mansions, insanely intricate and hard to comprehend unless you are standing in these very rooms.  The mansion has three stories (two on display to the public) with the basement and third floor servant quarters only on display during the Servant Life Tour. The grand entrance of the mansion was my favorite part in the interior with its ornate marble columns and staircase.

Decorated for the holidays 

Another room in The Elms decorated for the holiday

"The Conservatory was inspired by the orangeries of 18th-century France, and it is here that the relationship between house and garden is most pronounced. Minors, placed opposite the windows to reflect the garden view, are framed by trellising done in the 18th-century French manner. The fountain and plant basins are of Rouge Royale marble and are decorated with bronze horses and sea deities."

The Elms Ballroom- Source: Gavin Ashworth and The Preservation Society of Newport County

"The Louis XV style Ballroom is at the core of the building, ‘the place occupied by the Salon in the Chateau d’Asnieres. This room was the scene of lavish parties, including the 1901 housewarming party hosted by the Berwinds to announce the formal opening of The Elms to Newport society"

"The second floor of The Elms contains seven bedrooms, six baths, a sitting room, and a linen closet, all in the style of Louis XV and Louis XVI. The design of the second-floor hall reproduces a disposition of the hall downstairs; it forms a long gallery nearly the entire length of the house where all the bedrooms and apartments open"

One of the bedrooms 

"The third floor of The Elms was devoted to staff quarters. Horace Trurnbauer, to preserve - the design of the Chateau d’Asnieres model for the house, concealed these third floor quarters through an exterior balustrade." The third floor is off limits during the standard audio tour. 

While The Elms is famous for its mansion, the property is also unique, gorgeous, and of course, over the top.   The huge lawn stretches down to a sunken garden, with a stable and garage on the property.  

"The gardens of The Elms were developed from 1902 to 1914 under the direction of Horace Trumbauer, who produced the drawings and plans for the grand allee, marble pavilions, and sunken garden. The gardens were originally conceived as a place for staging grand entertainments and as an outdoor sculpture gallery. two animal sculpture groups in bronze, which were modeled after groups in the Tulieres garden, Paris, by the sculptor August Nicolas Cain."

"The stable and garage were built in 1911 on land owned by Ida Powel Johnson which - Berwind later purchased and added to his estate. They are modeled after an 1898 pavilion by the architect Henry Goury b. 1850 for the chateau at Louveciennes, France, built originally for Madame du Barry. The complex has space for ten carriages, stalls for six horses and room for eight automobiles, as well as harness repairs, laundry rooms and living quarters"

These crazy sculptures were one of my favorite things about this mansion.  There are two sculptures of lions killing various things.  My favorite was the one of the lion murdering an alligator.  Having this on your back lawn struck me as insanely bizarre and kind of awesome.  How many situations are these two animals in together and why would you decided that they belong on your lawn.  I guess because the French did it. 

  • The mansion has 48 rooms and covers 60,000 square feet
  • There are seven bedrooms
  • The Berwinds had more than 40 servants to keep The Elms polished and elegant. 
  • It wasn’t unusual for the couple’s summer entertainment bill to top $300,000.
  • When The Elms opened in 1901, the Berwinds threw a lavish housewarming party that hosted many of Newport’s best-known summer residents, including the Vanderbilts.
  • "Although The Elms was a summer residence, it was heated year-round by an elaborate central heating system. There were three boilers in the basement and the fuel was coal. When the coal was delivered, it was brought to Dixon Street and lowered into small railroad cars that ran on a track in a tunnel extending from the street to the basement. In this way, coal or ash was never transported within public view. 
  • There are 2 Main Entrance Gates I Stable Courtyard Gate 29 Garden Sculptures 2 Benches 44 Urns and 3 Fountains on the property. 
  • There was no electricity in this part of Newport in 1901, so Berwind had a generator installed in the basement. 
  • The light fixtures were made for the house and they were always electrified. Since the Berwinds had no children of their own, The Elms passed to Mr. Berwind’s sister Julia 1865-1961 at the death of Edward in 1936. Julia died childless in 1961 and a nephew, Charles Dunlap, inherited the property and sold many of the furnishings at auction and the estate to a developer. 
  • To protect The Elms from alteration, the Preservation Society of Newport County raised the funds to buy the house and opened it to the public in 1962. 
  • Today, much of the original furniture has been returned, and missing pieces have been replaced with historically appropriate items from other museums and private collections. Every possible effort has been made to restore The Elms to its original appearance.
  • It took five years, but the entire home has also been rewired, allowing the Society to finally install hardwired fire and burglar alarms.
Fun Fact Source: Yankee Magazine

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