Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Private Newport

I recently read a book called Private Newport byBettie Pardee. It was a brilliant book, documenting some of Newport's last private "cottages". Every since 1851, when the Wetmore family built Chateau Sur Mer, millionaires, debutantes, socialites, tycoons, businessmen, philanthropists, architects, historians, heirs, heiresses, celebrities, Presidents, senators and more have built "cottages" and summered in Newport (even a few billionaires, like Doris Duke, Dodo Hamilton and Lawrence Ellison). Today, many of the grand mansions they built are now museums and institutions, a few have even been demolished or burned down, but there are some that are still private homes, many owned by newcomers, but a few owned by occupants that have lived there decades or even grew up their. Here are some of those privates homes. 

Bellevue House

Bellevue House is owned by Ronald L Fleming, the noted preservationist, urban planter and President of the Townscape Institute, who bought the home from the estate's second owner. He restored Bellevue House's beautiful rose gardens and added several intricate outbuildings, included a teahouse, which is a replicate of the main house. Built in 1910 by Ogden Codman Jr, it was the summer home of heiress Martha Codman. She later shocked her friends by marrying opera singer, Maxim Karolik, 30 years her junior. After Martha's death, Maxim continued to summer in the home until his death. It was then owned by singer and actress Jane Pickens, whom Fleming purchased it from. Fleming hopes to one day live in a small keeper's cottage at the back of the property, his kids having the main house, and that he will occasionally be invited over for dinner. 


Newport would not be the place it is today without people like Ruth Buchanan Wheeler of Beaulieu. Heiress to the Dow Chemical Company fortune, she has lived in the home for fifty years. Her late husband Wiley T. Buchanan, who served as President Eisenhower's (a fellow Newporter) Chief of Protocol, bought the dump of a house in the 1960's and he and Ruth restored the estate to the masterpiece it is now. Built in 1859 by a Peruvian merchant, it was later bought by William Waldorf Astor, whose aunt lived in nearby Beechwood. He sold the home to Cornelius and Grace Vanderbilt. When Grace died in 1953, the home slowly faded, until the Buchanans purchased it. After Wiley's death, Ruth married her high school sweetheart, Edward Wheeler, who died in 2009. When asked if she wished her husband had picked a different home to restore, back in 1961, Ruth quickly retorted "No" she further says "The house is perfect. It was a headache. But now it is perfect" 

The Ledges

Occupying one of the most spectacular promontories in Newport, overlooking Bailey's Beach, is the graceful estate, The Ledges, also known as The Cushing Family Compound. Howard Cushing III, the owner and current President of The Sprouting Rock Beach Association (Bailey's Beach), lives in the main house with his wife, Nora, and their two sons, Jamie and Howard.  The estate was built by Howard's great grandfather, Robert Cushing, and passed down through family hands until he ended up with it in 1964. Also living on the estate, residing in a small cottage, is Howard's brother, Thomas Cushing, and his wife, Caterine. Down the street his Howard's sister, Minnie Coleman. Recently redone by interior designer John Peixinho, the home was featured, in 2007, in the film Evening. The Ledges is the only home on Ocean Avenue still in the hands of descendants of it's original occupants. 


Though currently for sale, Wildacre had been for many years, up until it was listed, the home of billionairess Dorrance "Dodo" Hamilton. Dodo, an heiress to the Campbell's Soup fortune whose net worth is around $1.1 billion, purchased the home back in 1998, when she first came to Newport. Hamilton set out to restore the home, which was a wreck, back into the former beauty it was. Originally built as a bungalow in 1901 by Irving Gill, with gardens designed by the Olmstead Brothers, it was, overtime, enlarged into the mansion it is today. In 2008, the estate and grounds were the scene of Dodo's 80th Birthday Party. An avid preservationist, Hamilton has purchased what remains of the Blue Gardens on the former Curtiss James estate, Beacon Hill, which she plans on restoring and living after she moves from Wildacre. 

Stonor Lodge

On November 6, 2012, Noreen Stonor Drexel died at her summer home, Stonor Lodge. Named after her parent's home in England, Stonor Lodge was Noreen's residence for more than 50 years. Noreen, who was famous for her large financial contributions to the Newport Hospital, Newport Birthing Center and the Preservation Society of Newport, usually headed up Rhode Island's Republican National Committee with her good friend, Eileen Slocum, who died in 2008. Stonor Lodge was built by Noreen and her husband, John R Drexel III, who grew up in Newport and died in 2007, back in the early 1950's. Noreen also spent her winters in Palm Beach and New York City. After her husband's death, she had moved into the spacious former garage house of the estate, which she converted into a residence like her friend Oatsie Charles. 

The Whim

Lower levelFormerly the gardener's cottage and garage to the neighboring estate, Land's End, it is now the dower house of famed Georgetown hostess Marion "Oatsie" Charles, wife of the late Robert H. Charles, Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for President Kennedy. Oatsie, the current President of The Newport Restoration Foundatio, purchased the cottage when she also bought Land's End with her first husband, Thomas Leiter, in 1940. When Thomas died, she moved into The Whim with her second husband, Robert. The six-bedroom cottage was redone by Oatsie and turned into what she called "A lovely jewel". Charles filled the home with a large assortment of antiques, including antique panels from nearby Marble House, which she purchased at it's auction and now grace The Whim's "garage" walls. Oatsie also redidi the grounds, which she filled with several beautiful gardens. 

The Windmill 

Designed by Jackie Kennedy and owned by the same people for decades, The Windmill is now for rent. The reason, a recent hike in property taxes. It was owned by the Auchincloss Family, who lived at the nearby Hammersmith Farm, the last farm in Newport and now privately owned. When Janet Auchincloss sold Hammersmith Farm in 1977, she and the other family members kept many of the outbuildings, where they would continue to summer for decades. The main buildings they kept were The Castle (formerly the farmhouse), The Palace (formerly the garages) and The Windmill (a windmill). For many year Jackie Kennedy herself summered at The Castle, but then gave it to her stepbrother, Hugh D "Yusha" Auchincloss, when she died. The Windmill was occupied by Nina Auchincloss, half sister of Gore Vidal, and was where she, for many years, spent her summers away from DC. With an increase in property taxes, Nina thought she would have to sell The Windmill. After celebrating Yusha's 80th birthday there, procedures were made to sell the home. Fortunately, Nina decided not to sell the home, but instead rent it out.

TO BE CONTINUED...........


  1. TH -
    I have that book "Private Newport" and it is excellent. What is the first house shown at the top of this post? I don't recognize it.

  2. The first house is Angelsea, at the end of Ruggles Ave across from the Breakers. :)

  3. Anon -
    Thank you!
    Anon / CSF

  4. Does anyone know anything about The Unsinkable Molly Brown's (Margaret Tobin Brown's) summer "cottage" in Newport? All I've been able to find is that it's name was Mon Etui or something like that, but I can't find any solid info except the name and it had if I remember correctly 46 rooms, as well as it was located in Newport Rhode Island. Any info would be very helpful!

  5. I just posted the comment about the Mon Etui cottage, I just found several references that say it was at 44 Bellevue Avenue, Newport, RI. Does anybody have any furhter info on Mon Etui, by the way, i stand corrected, it is/was 43 rooms. But I can't find any other historical records on any websites or in books about a 44 Bellevue Ave, I'll check Google Earth later on this afternoon, hopefully I can find it on there. But it is strange, there are no records I can find of it being torn down or built with floor plans or anything. I do know though that in 1914, Margaret Brown donated it to the American Red Cross during WWI, it was her Summer Home. If anyone can help me find any more info, that would be great!

    1. Anon.

      I know a bit about the house but I will have to find the information amongst my files. Please let me get back to you. I do know they had a photo of the house at the Titanic Museum in Branson. I have a photo, though it will require some digging.

    2. Tyler,

      That would be great! I've only seen one small picture in a book, but it didn't show details of the house, just the front door. I can't seem to find it on Google Earth either, it's as if the address itself doesn't even exist. But any info you or anybody else can get me would be very much appreciated.

  6. Hi! I'm coming in late to this Molly Brown conversation but I wanted to add what I know. According to the book Molly Brown: Unraveling the Myth, pg 181, "Following her Titanic experience and perhaps bolstered by the recognition she receives after the disaster, Margaret took up her permanent summer residence in Newport at the Reitz Cottage, which she called "Mon Etui", at 44 Bellevue Avenue, just adjacent to the Muenchinger-King Hotel... In 1914 Margaret moved next door to the Club Cottage, also adjacent to the Muenchinger-King at 40 Bellevue Avenue. For the next ten years she alternated between these two cottages, from 1915 to 1920 living at Mon Etui, from 1921 to 1923 at the Club Cottage."

    Though the Muenchinger-King Hotel (building) still exists, it appears that the cottages occupied the area where the parking lot is just to the south of the old hotel building.

    Judging by the area of this cottage, in the older and more subdued neighborhood, I would doubt that it was a forty-some-odd room cottage as hardly any of the houses in this stretch of Bellevue are that size. I've seen reference of it being 26 rooms which sounds much more likely.

    I can't seem to find any pictures of the cottage either but I hope this helps.

  7. As mentioned within the content about the sell property privately, I have collected huge amount of knowledge regarding it and need to find the same quality assets for myself also. So, i would also seek a chance to purchase property for here only.

  8. Stoner Lodge Burnt To The Ground Today. Very Sad...

  9. What house did Col. Alfred Simson own? And what is being done with it now.

  10. Beaulieu was a handsome and very Victorian Second Empire house, as illustrated in the book, 'The Architectural Heritage of Newport, Rhode Island : 1640-1915,' by Antoinette F. Downing and Vincent J. Scully, Jr., with elaborate period fittings.

    It has been stripped of much of its ornament, and very sadly, the fittings have been simplified, in a real mid-century 'I don't really care all that much for Victorian' sort of way. My hope is that the present family was not responsible for the alterations.


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