America’s Castles

The Elms at night

We kicked off a summer East Coast road trip with a visit to Newport, Rhode Island, to usher in a new decade with one of my sisters.  A favorite vacation spot for my siblings and parents, Newport holds wonderful memories for my family.  It is hard for me to believe that in the last 18 years since I have been there, I got married, had three children and lost both my parents.  It feels like the Kenny Chesney song, “Don’t Blink”, and I made a promise to myself to leave the sunny West Coast more often to venture back East.

High on my list of things to do with the kids was to take a stroll along the Cliff Walk, a 3.5 mile public access walkway that affords one the view of many of the stunning coastal properties, many famous for their history and architecture of Newport, such as the stunning Breakers mansion, used as the setting of the original Great Gatsby film with Robert Redford.

Newport Cliff Walk

Even though there are warning signs about the dangers that abound on the Cliff Walk, if you can walk without difficulty, you will be just fine.  (Please note: the entire walk is not handicap accessible.)

Who comes up with these signs?

We were dropped off at the western end of First Beach so we didn’t have to fight for a place to park on a spectacularly sunny day.  After about a mile past our start, and past the “40 Steps” and Webster Street, we came to the second largest of the Newport mansions, Ochre Court.  Built in 1892 as the summer home for banker and developer Ogden Goelet, Ochre Court was designed by Richard Morris Hunt, and gifted to the Religious Sisters of Mercy in 1947 by Goelet’s descendents.  This magnificent building of Newport’s Gilded Age now houses the administrative offices of Salve Regina University.  You can also see it on the big screen in the opening scene of True Lies with Arnold Schwartzenegger.  To the best of my knowledge, there are no guided tours, but you can walk up the lawn and tour around Ochre Court at your leisure.

Ochre Court

Located just a few steps down the path on Ochre Point, and also designed by Richard Morris Hunt, The Breakers is the most popular attraction in the state of Rhode Island.  Built between 1893 and 1895 at a current cost of over $150 million, the 70-room Breakers (33 of which was for staff) was the summer residence of the President and Chairman of The New York Central Railroad, Cornelius Vanderbilt II (check out my New York Minute post to read about his grandfather who built Grand Central Terminal).  It was at this point that I started asking myself why I brought Hubby and the kids along, as none of them would have had the patience to tour all these homes with me.  Well, maybe Hubby, but not the kids.  About 1/2 mile into the walk they were already dreaming about the beach, and, to be fair, who could blame them on this beautiful day?

The Breakers

So we kept walking.  Our goal?  Bailey’s Beach, which is the end of the Cliff Walk.  However, we had to make a detour along Ruggles Avenue.  Hurricane Sandy apparently has made a mess of things, and the stretch between Ruggles Ave. and Ledge Ave. will be closed until further notice.  As were were wandering over to Bellevue Ave., we stumbled upon this beauty which is under restoration.

Je m’excuse, mais je ne connais pas le nom de ce chateau

In front of Marble House, I couldn’t stand it any longer.  I had to ditch Hubby and the kids for a tour.  For $14.50, I treated myself to an hour at the summer “cottage” of Mr. and Mrs. William K. Vanderbilt.  Built between 1888 and 1892 and modeled after the Petit Trianon in Versailles, Marble House was also designed by William Morris Hunt and is named for the 500,000 cubic feet of marble from Europe and Africa found in the interior.   

Marble House

William Vanderbilt, the younger brother to Cornelius II, gifted Marble House to his wife, Alva, for her 39th birthday.  A leader in the women’s suffrage movement, Alva shocked society by divorcing William in 1895 at a time when divorce was rare.  She then married a friend of her husband’s, a younger man by the name of Belmont, and moved into another fabulous mansion down the street, while using Marble House for “storage”.  She sounds like quite the spitfire. 

Ocean front view of Marble House
Alva had the Chinese Tea House built in 1914 where she held rallies for women’s right to vote

the Louis XIV ballroom to the Gothic living room, the tour was worth
every beach-deprived minute.  Photos are not allowed inside; however, you
may have realized by now that I like to break the rules every now and then.  So what
did I sneak a photo of?  The culinary geek in me absolutely fell in love with the 20-foot long cast iron stove…I am just picturing the work involved in slaving over this bad boy for a dinner party for Alva’s closest 200 or so friends.     

I also could not resist a pic of the “Votes for Women” plates

We left Newport with images of quaint summer cottages in our heads…


but wouldn’t you just “settle” for one of the smaller traditional wooden homes?  Je pense que oui.

On a tasting note…

Not to be missed is Eva Ruth’s Bakery,, in Middletown, Rhode Island.  A gluten-free bakery (yes, that is correct), Eva Ruth’s has bar none the best pumpkin bread, EVER!  I am calling today to have some shipped to AZ.  Stay tune for our next adventure!


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