Deck the Halls…Gilded Age-style by Valerie J. Patterson

We have never traveled during the holiday season.  It’s usually just so full of family, activities, shopping, and, well, work.  However, this year Steve surprised me with a holiday trip to Aquidneck Island in Narraganset Bay.  We’ve been there during the summer months and are really very fond of the area for multiple reasons–it’s on the east coast, the weather is exceptional, and Newport is loaded with history, which we both enjoy.

Newport is known for its Gilded Age Mansions, and it took Steve and I over a week to tour them all a couple summers ago.  Each year from Thanksgiving to Christmas Eve, the Preservation Society of Newport opens three of the mansions all decked out in holiday attire.  There are special evening festivities at the mansions like Christmas concerts, caroling, and even a grand holiday ball.  Steve and I have talked about wanting to travel to Newport during the holiday season to tour the mansions and participate in the Christmas festivities, and this year, Steve surprised me with a trip.

Photography is strictly prohibited inside the mansions with the exception of Marble House.

The Breakers (seen below) was the first mansion we toured.  It was the home of Cornelius Vanderbilt, II. It was built between 1893 and 1895 for $12 million ($335 million today).  This house is massive and awesome to see up close.  Mr. Vanderbilt’s billiard room alone was incredible.  He purchased immense blocks of marble, had them sliced in half, and spread open like a book so that the walls all matched in pattern!

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The second mansion we toured was The Elms–built from 1899-1901 for Edward Berwind, a Pennsylvania Coal Baron, for $1.5 million. It was among the first homes in America to be wired with electricity.  While this was the “cheapest” of the homes we toured, it was extremely ornate both inside and out!  (see below)

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At the rear of The Elms, Mr. Berwind–when he and his wife entertained–covered all the stone paths with fitted red carpet so the ladies in attendance did not ruin their dancing slippers or the hems of their gowns.   As well, the steps of the stairs interiorly and exteriorly were not as high as normal steps and were constructed so that it gave the appearance that women floated down the stairs as opposed to walking down them in their ballgowns.  I think I would have loved to have been a guest of the Berwinds when they entertained!

Elegant carved marble statues and huge marble settees graced the massive, manicured lawns at The Elms, and I wish I could share my entire photo album with you!

Next, was Marble House, constructed between 1888 and 1892 and built under a shroud of secrecy for William and Alva Vanderbilt, brother of Cornelius Vanderbilt, II.  Marble house is just that…a home made of vast quantities of gorgeous marble.  Floors, walls, staircases, and fireplaces were all constructed of marble.

Marble House (shown below) was a birthday present to Alva Vanderbilt and reportedly cost $11 million ($260 million today) to construct. Alva would later divorce William in 1895 and basically use Marble House as a giant closet to store her clothes and ballgowns once she remarried.

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If you look at the very top portion of Marble House, it appears to be simply a very ornate way to conceal the roof of this magnificent home.  However, what it actually conceals is a third floor, which was where the servants resided.  During the Gilded Age, the owners of these fabulous mansions wanted it to appear that the house ran by itself, so they never gave the appearance that they housed servants.  Thus, the servants’ quarters were concealed from the outside as well as the inside.

Marble House was the only mansion where photography was permitted in a limited number of specific rooms.  It was difficult to choose which photos to share (see below).  Enjoy!

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This was a most enjoyable holiday trip.  I thoroughly enjoyed stepping back into history and imagining myself as a guest in these glorious mansions.

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10 responses to “Deck the Halls…Gilded Age-style by Valerie J. Patterson

  1. What fun you had, Valerie! And what a wonderful surprise. My husband and I visited Newport briefly via a cruise, but spent the day mostly walking around and geocaching. I can see we need to go back. Those homes are beyond amazing. Thanks for sharing!

    • Valerie J. Patterson

      Newport is loaded with history. I hope you make it back and are able to tour these mansions. Thanks for stopping by and reading! 😛

  2. OHHHHH I want to go. I love old homes and castles and mansions. What a beautiful surprise, you have quite a guy there Valerie. Thank you so much for sharing. The pictures are wonderful.

    • Valerie J. Patterson

      Thank you for reading! I know it’s a long trek from the west coast to the east coast, but I don’t think you’ll be disappointed if you toured the mansions. 😛

  3. Oh gorgeous houses, Valerie. I especially love Marble House. What a lovely surprise your Steve planned for you. One day I’d like to visit in person the houses you’ve introduced us to in your post.
    Here in the UK we’re members of the National Trust which preserves old houses and gardens, and there’s nothing nicer than spending an afternoon touring around one of them.

    • Valerie J. Patterson

      I couldn’t agree more, Tricia. I love spending time with history. These mansions are tenderly cared for in order to preserve that era. It’s not just the amazing architecture but also the original furnishings and clothing and artwork that all go with it. Not all of the homes have their original furnishings, but they’re at least true to the era and complete the picture beautifully. I hope you make it to the States and tour these mansions. Thank you for reading. 😛

  4. What a lovely man you have. Wish mine would surprise me with trips like that. Sounds wonderful as I always enjoy looking around houses, and churches and castles. The mansions look most impressive, especially the Marble House. Thanks for sharing.

    • Valerie J. Patterson

      Thank you for reading and commenting, Kit. The mansions are well worth the time it takes to tour them. Marble House is quite impressive. Wish they allowed inside photos of all the mansions! 😛

  5. Wow. Thanks for sharing all these. How magnificent. Love, love. I would so like to see these in person. What a wonderful treat for you. That marble staircase made me swoon. Wow.

    • Valerie J. Patterson

      I know you would enjoy the mansions, Jillian, I hope you make the trip north to tour them. Several of the mansions have sweetheart staircases and they are absolutely gorgeous! Thanks for reading!

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