West Kingston, RI – Buyin’ that Yacht

Looks like a beautiful day – let’s go to Newport and buy our yacht. We’ve heard that there is a great sale going on and we don’t want to be left out.

And, while we’re there, let’s drop in on our good friends, the Vanderbilts, at their summer ‘cottage’ the Breakers.

Oops, I’m thinkin’ we couldn’t even afford the taxes on that yacht and the Vanderbilts left long ago. I guess we’ll tour the house, walk the Cliff Walk and then swing through the yacht sale. Sounds like a plan.

Newport, RI was the summer playground for the wealthy around the turn of the 19th Century. Their ‘cottages’ along the cliffs overlooking the Atlantic were some of America’s grandest private homes. With WWI, the depression and WWII they became extremely difficult to maintain and there were fewer who could afford them. Now, many of them are the property of the Newport Preservation Society and open to the public. I toured the Breakers long ago when my mother visited Rhode Island from Iowa. But, Gary hasn’t and I’d like to see it again. The inside pictures here are from the website of the Society since we could not take pictures inside. (One of the guys standing next to me in one room must not have heard this since he very obviously took a picture. He had a strap holding his camera on his chest, he looke down, touched the button on the top and I head a tell-tale click. Funny, I thought the warning was quite clear.)



The ‘cottage’ was built by Cornelius Vanderbilt II, the son of the founder of the New York Central RR system, to reaplace a wooden house called the ‘Breakers’ which had burned in 1892. He hired Richard Morris Hunt to design a villa built to resemble an Italian Renaissance palace and it was built, decorated and furnished in 2 years. Actually some rooms were built in Europe, divided and transported to America in pieces – only to be rebuilt here. It had 70 rooms, 300 windows and 750 door knobs. (Aren’t you glad that you know all that?) Unfortunately Vanderbilt suffered a dibilitating stroke in 1896 and died in 1897 only enjoying his home for a year. 4 of his 7 children died before his wife, Alice Claypoole Gwynne Vanderbilt died in 1934.

One of his daughters, Gertrude realized at the age of 19 that she was an heiress and wanted to be poor so that she could be loved for who she was and not for her money. She married a young man named Whitney who was wealthy in his own right and she then went on to found the Whitney museum in New York. She was an accomplished sculptor and actually studied in Europe. Her family and her husband never appreciated her abilities. Initially she worked under an assumed name but later exhibited under her own name.

Another daughter, Gladys married Count Laszlo Szechenyi of Hungary and inherited the house when her mother died in 1934. In 1948 she opened it to tours and to raise money for the Preservation Society. In 1972 the Society purchased the house from the remaining heirs and opened it for tours in their own name.


The tour was self-guided and we each had headset to give us commentary as we walked from room to room. Very opulent and well gilded. But the Preservation Society has done a reamarkable job in preserving the house. The tour was very interesting and not only told about the home and the owners but also spent time telling us about the servants who kept the house. They told about the daily life of one of the female servants: plumping, dusting, drawing bath water, laundry, etc. They changed the sheets on each bed twice a day – since the family took a nap in the afternoon. Female servants were never to be seen by the public, onlythe butler and the footmen, who were chosen for their height. Tall and lean with perfect posture.

If your were the footman who was in charge of the clocks, you wound clocks all day. If you were the footman in charge of brass shining, that’s what you would do all day. There were 30 servant bedrooms, all in the top two stories of the house – with little ventilation and only a small window on the 4th story.

It’s time for the Cliff Walk a walk along the cliffs of Newport, in front of the mansions. Anytime the wealthy mansion-owners tried to limit access, the fishermen of the village went to court and preserved public access under the ‘fishermen’s Rights’ section of the Colonial Charter of King Charles II. Now. centuries of use have guaranteed public use although it is really a public walkway over private property. Of course, lots of tall hedges were built along the cliff walk. But, what a walk. The picture below is from the Newport Cliffwalk website and shows the path along the cliff. Watch out for that 70’ drop. Most of it is alphalt or cement although the southern edge is much rougher and is over flat-topped boulders. Thre is a tunnel and several bridges over chasms and large boulders near the southern edge but the view is spectacular all the way.


Here are some of my photos.

Now for the yacht sale. We walked through some of the town of Newport and happened upon this yacht sale.


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