News / USA

Magnificent Mansions Abound in Tiny US State

One of many sumptuous “cottages” of the rich and famous in Newport, Rhode Island. (Carol M. Highsmith)
One of many sumptuous “cottages” of the rich and famous in Newport, Rhode Island. (Carol M. Highsmith)
TEXT SIZE - +
Ted Landphair
In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1926 short story "The Rich Boy," a character famously remarked, “The rich are different from you and me.”  To this day, Americans love to peek into the lives - and enclaves - of the very rich.

They include one of the greatest concentrations of magnificent homes in the world, on an island in America’s smallest state.
    
It’s Newport, Rhode Island, the nation’s first summer resort.

Newport was founded in 1639 by settlers seeking religious freedom and soon prospered as a seaport.
Magnificent Mansions Abound in Smallest US State
Magnificent Mansions Abound in Smallest US Statei

Gradually, wealthy landowners from the American South sought relief from the summertime heat and built grand homes there, on bluffs overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.  

But these were mere huts compared with what was to come. In the 1880s and ’90s, wealthy industrialists began creating what they called “summer cottages” in Newport. Cottages on the scale of European castles.

Most famous was The Breakers, built by Cornelius Vanderbilt in the style of an Italian palace. And as a wedding present to his bride, Vanderbilt’s brother, William, erected an even more lavish home out of marble.  Gold leaf, fine tapestries, and elaborate silver service adorned the modern palaces that were built all across town. 
This is the lavish dining room of The Marble House, William Vanderbilt’s Newport summer home. (Carol M. Highsmith)This is the lavish dining room of The Marble House, William Vanderbilt’s Newport summer home. (Carol M. Highsmith)
x
This is the lavish dining room of The Marble House, William Vanderbilt’s Newport summer home. (Carol M. Highsmith)
This is the lavish dining room of The Marble House, William Vanderbilt’s Newport summer home. (Carol M. Highsmith)

Each May, “the 400,” as Newport’s elite called each other, would arrive by yacht or private railroad car, bringing their servants with them.  

But the advent of the income tax, the stock market crash of 1929, and the Great Depression that followed made it difficult for many of the multi-millionaires to maintain their “cottages” in the style to which they had become accustomed.  Many lost interest in Newport and began to summer elsewhere around the world.

Some of the 200 or so grand mansions on Bellevue Avenue and Ocean Drive were converted into apartments.  More than 40 burned down.  But seven of the greatest homes, including The Breakers, landed in the hands of the local preservation society and today are open for public tours.

Combined with the city’s famous yacht races and jazz festival, the surviving great homes - rising like fortresses along the Newport cliffs - remain alluring for those who want to see just how differently from you and me the very rich can live.

You May Like

Algerians Vote in Presidential Election

There were few media reports of protests and clashes around the country, but so far no significant violence More

Sharks More Evolved than Previously Thought

The discovery could “profoundly affect our understanding of evolutionary history” More

Pakistan Military Asked to Protect Polio Workers

Request comes as authorities say a Taliban ban on vaccinations in 2012 and deadly attacks on anti-polio teams have prevented thousands of children from getting inoculated More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Google Buys Drone Companyi
X
George Putic
April 15, 2014
In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Ray Bonneville Sings the Blues and More on New CD

Singer/songwriter Ray Bonneville has released a new CD called “Easy Gone” with music that reflects his musical and personal journey from French-speaking Canada to his current home in Austin,Texas. The eclectic artist’s fan base extends from Texas to various parts of North America and Europe. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin.
Video

Video Millions Labor in Pakistan's Informal Economy

The World Bank says that in Pakistan, roughly 70 percent work in the so-called informal sector, a part of the economy that is unregulated and untaxed. VOA's Sharon Behn reports from Islamabad on how the informal sector impact's the Pakistani economy.
Video

Video Passover Celebrates Liberation from Bondage

Jewish people around the world are celebrating Passover, a commemoration of their liberation from slavery in Egypt more than 3,300 years ago. According to scripture, God helped the Jews, led by Moses, escape bondage in Egypt and cross the Red Sea into the desert. Zlatica Hoke reports that the story of the Jewish Exodus resonates with other people trying to escape slave-like conditions.
Video

Video Police Pursue Hate Crime Charges Against Kansas Shooting Suspect

Prosecutors are sifting through the evidence in the wake of Sunday’s shootings in a suburb of Kansas City, Missouri that left three people dead. A suspect in the shootings taken into custody is a white supremacist. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, he was well-known to law enforcement agencies and human rights groups alike.
Video

Video In Eastern Ukraine, Pro-unity Activists Emerge from Shadows

Amid the pro-Russian uprisings in eastern Ukraine, there is a large body of activists who support Ukrainian unity and reject Russian intervention. Their activities have remained largely underground, but they are preparing to take on their pro-Moscow opponents, as Henry Ridgwell reports from the eastern city of Donetsk.
Video

Video Basket Maker’s Skills Have World Reach

A prestigious craft show in the U.S. capital offers one-of-a-kind creations by more than 120 artists working in a variety of media. As VOA’s Julie Taboh reports from Washington, one artist lucky enough to be selected says sharing her skills with women overseas is just as significant.
Video

Video UN Report Urges Speedier Action to Avoid Climate Disaster

A new United Nations report says the world must switch from fossil fuels to cleaner energy sources to control the effects of climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released the report (Sunday) following a meeting of scientists and government representatives in Berlin. The comprehensive review follows two recent IPCC reports that detail the certainty of climate change, its impacts and in this most recent report what to do about it. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble has the details.
AppleAndroid