Bellevue Avenue Historic District Walking Tour, Newport

Bellevue Avenue Historic District Walking Tour (Self Guided), Newport

Situated along and around Bellevue Avenue in Newport, Rhode Island, the Bellevue Avenue Historic District is almost exclusively residential, featuring many of the Gilded Age mansions built as summer retreats for the rich and famous around the turn of the 20th century. For the most part, these exquisite properties, once owned by the likes of the Vanderbilt and Astor families, represent pioneering work in the architectural styles of the time and were created by major American architects.

In 1976, the district was declared a National Historic Landmark, with several of its mansions also designated as such individually, some now open to the public as museums.

One of the highlights of Bellevue Avenue is the International Tennis Hall of Fame and Newport Casino. This iconic building not only celebrates tennis history but also hosts various events and exhibitions.

For those keen on historic homes, Bellevue Avenue offers a plethora of options. The Kingscote Mansion and House Museum is a Victorian-era residence, showcasing intricate woodwork and period furnishings. The Isaac Bell House, designed by the famous architect firm McKim, Mead & White, is a prime example of shingle-style architecture.

Continuing along the avenue, you'll find The Elms, an opulent mansion inspired by French chateaux, and the grand Chateau-sur-Mer Mansion, which boasts Victorian elegance. Vernon Court, home to the National Museum of American Illustration, offers a unique blend of art and architecture.

Further down the road, you can see the magnificent Rosecliff Mansion, famous for its lavish parties and glamorous settings. Beechwood, also known as the Astor Mansion, is another exquisite Newport gem. The William Watts Sherman House is a charming example of Newport's fusion of medieval European, Renaissance English, and Colonial American architecture.

Last but not least, don't miss Marble House, a stunning mansion inspired by the Petit Trianon at Versailles, with its lavish interiors and breathtaking ocean views.

Bellevue Avenue District in Newport is a treasure trove for those eager to experience firsthand the splendor of America's Gilded Age. If you are such an enthusiast, take this self-guided walk and immerse yourself in the opulence and elegance of this truly exceptional destination.
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Bellevue Avenue Historic District Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Bellevue Avenue Historic District Walking Tour
Guide Location: USA » Newport (See other walking tours in Newport)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 10
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 4.5 Km or 2.8 Miles
Author: nataly
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • International Tennis Hall of Fame and Newport Casino
  • Kingscote Mansion and House Museum
  • Isaac Bell House
  • The Elms
  • Chateau-sur-Mer Mansion
  • Vernon Court and National Museum of American Illustration
  • Rosecliff Mansion
  • Beechwood (Astor Mansion)
  • William Watts Sherman House
  • Marble House
International Tennis Hall of Fame and Newport Casino

1) International Tennis Hall of Fame and Newport Casino

The International Tennis Hall of Fame is a distinguished institution that pays homage to both outstanding tennis players and those who have made significant contributions to the sport of tennis. This exceptional complex, housed within the former Newport Casino, offers a comprehensive experience, featuring a museum, meticulously maintained tennis courts, and various facilities to celebrate the sport's rich heritage.

The International Tennis Hall of Fame is a non-profit organization committed to preserving, celebrating, and inspiring the global tennis community. The heart of this organization is the hall of fame and museum, conveniently located within the Newport Casino. The casino's inception traces back to 1879 when it was commissioned by James Gordon Bennett Jr. as part of an exclusive resort catering to Newport's affluent summer residents. Designed by the accomplished architects Charles McKim and Stanford White, the Newport Casino is a masterpiece of Victorian Shingle Style architecture, radiating both elegance and historical significance.

The museum within the International Tennis Hall of Fame expertly traces the history of tennis, from its origins in the 12th century to the modern-day sport loved by millions. Its permanent collection boasts around 30,000 objects, encompassing a diverse array of artifacts. These include modern and historic tennis equipment, fine art, decorative pieces, items belonging to Hall of Famers and other prominent figures in tennis, trophies, textiles, clothing, ephemera, and furnishings.
Kingscote Mansion and House Museum

2) Kingscote Mansion and House Museum

Nestled at the intersection of Bowery Street and Bellevue Avenue Kingscote stands as an exquisite example of Gothic Revival architecture, offering visitors a glimpse into a bygone era. Designed by the renowned architect Richard Upjohn, this magnificent mansion, built in 1839, is a testament to the opulence of Newport's early summer "cottages."

Kingscote was one of the pioneering summer cottages constructed in Newport, setting the stage for the grandeur that would follow. This historic mansion now proudly holds the distinction of being a National Historic Landmark.

The original design, created by Richard Upjohn, is a striking early representation of the Gothic Revival style. It boasts an irregular and intricate roofline, adorned with numerous gables and chimneys, and features elaborate Gothic detailing throughout. Built primarily of wood, it was originally painted beige with sand mixed into the paint, lending it the appearance of textured sandstone.

Kingscote's rich history encompasses a diverse cast of owners. It was initially constructed by George Noble Jones, who owned the El Destino and Chemonie cotton plantations in Florida. The mansion was positioned along a farm path known as Bellevue Avenue. Following Jones's departure from Newport at the onset of the American Civil War, Kingscote changed hands.

In 1864, Kingscote found new owners in the King family, led by William Henry King, an Old China Trade merchant. The King family's tenure extended for more than a century, and they left an indelible mark on the mansion. Their bequest to the Preservation Society of Newport County in 1972 included not just the property but also all the furnishings that adorned Kingscote as of approximately 1880.

Today, Kingscote is a cherished National Historic Landmark, preserving the architectural and historical significance of this magnificent Gothic Revival mansion. It also plays a pivotal role as a contributing property to the Bellevue Avenue Historic District, itself another National Historic Landmark.
Isaac Bell House

3) Isaac Bell House

The Isaac Bell House, also known as Edna Villa, is a historical gem nestled in Newport. This architectural masterpiece is a National Historic Landmark and stands as a shining example of the Shingle Style in the United States. Designed by the renowned architectural firm McKim, Mead, and White during the opulent Gilded Age, the house reflects an era when Newport was the preferred summer retreat for America's elite.

Isaac Bell Jr., a prosperous cotton broker and investor, and the brother-in-law of James Gordon Bennett Jr., the publisher of the New York Herald, decided to create his summer sanctuary in Newport. To bring his vision to life, he enlisted the services of the distinguished New York architectural firm, McKim, Mead, and White. This architectural trio, known for their notable works like the Newport Casino, Boston Public Library, and New York City's Pennsylvania Station, embarked on the project, turning it into an architectural masterpiece.

The Isaac Bell House epitomizes the Shingle Style, an architectural movement credited to Henry Hobson Richardson in his design of the William Watts Sherman House, also located in Newport. This style, prevalent in the late nineteenth century, is characterized by the abundant use of wooden shingles on the exterior. The house's charm lies in its unpainted wood shingles, understated window and trim details, and numerous welcoming porches. It ingeniously combines elements of the English Arts and Crafts movement philosophy, colonial American detailing, and boasts a Japanese-inspired open floor plan along with bamboo-style porch columns. Inside, the house features delightful inglenook fireplaces, natural rattan wall coverings, wall paneling, and elegant narrow-band wooden floors.

Over the years, the Isaac Bell House has undergone various transformations, serving as both apartments and a nursing home at different times. The house's remarkable journey took a significant turn when, with the assistance of Carol Chiles Ballard, it was acquired by the Preservation Society of Newport County in 1994. Their dedicated efforts led to a meticulous restoration, which received awards for its excellence. Today, the Isaac Bell House is a vibrant museum that offers visitors a glimpse into the architectural and historical splendor of Newport.

In recognition of its architectural significance and the efforts put forth for its preservation, the Isaac Bell House earned the prestigious title of National Historic Landmark in 1997.
The Elms

4) The Elms (must see)

The Elms is not just a mansion; it's a grand testament to the Gilded Age's architectural opulence. Completed in 1901, this colossal "summer cottage," as they are sometimes whimsically called, is an embodiment of splendor and French-inspired design. Horace Trumbauer, the renowned architect of the time, created this masterpiece for Edward Julius Berwind, a prominent coal baron. Drawing inspiration from the 18th-century Château d'Asnières in Asnières-sur-Seine, France, Trumbauer designed The Elms as a palatial retreat.

Berwind's vision extended beyond the mansion itself. Collaborating with landscape architects C. H. Miller and E. W. Bowditch, working closely with Trumbauer, the estate's gardens and landscapes were meticulously planned to complement the mansion's grandeur.

The Preservation Society of Newport County recognized the historical significance of The Elms, and in 1962, they acquired the property, opening it to the public for all to admire. In 1971, The Elms earned a place on the National Register of Historic Places, and its status was further elevated in 1996 when it was designated a National Historic Landmark.

The estate is a testament to French elegance, from the architecture of the house to the splendid grounds. The house's architecture represents a reinterpretation of the Château d'Asnières, an 18th-century French estate in Asnières-sur-Seine, France. While The Elms draws significant inspiration from this French masterpiece, it's not an exact replication, and there are notable differences. For instance, the flanking sections of the Château d'Asnières have five bays, while Trumbauer's design features four bays, marking it with a unique charm.

The gardens, a vital part of The Elms' allure, echo the taste of the eighteenth-century French landscape. They boast a sunken garden, which adds to the estate's appeal, creating a serene and picturesque environment.

Notably, the original American elms that once graced the property fell victim to Dutch elm disease. In their stead, weeping beeches now provide the mansion's striking shade and reinforce the sense of elegance that The Elms exudes.
Chateau-sur-Mer Mansion

5) Chateau-sur-Mer Mansion

Chateau-sur-Mer stands as one of the earliest and most magnificent mansions of the Gilded Age. Today, this splendid residence is under the care of the Preservation Society of Newport County and welcomes visitors as a captivating museum. Chateau-sur-Mer played a pivotal role in ushering in the Gilded Age of Newport, serving as the epitome of grandeur in its time, a title it held until the arrival of the Vanderbilt houses in the 1890s.

Constructed in 1852, Chateau-sur-Mer was envisioned as an Italianate villa for William Shepard Wetmore. Hailing from St. Albans, Vermont, Wetmore was a merchant with ties to the Old China Trade. The mansion's design and construction were overseen by Seth C. Bradford, and it was meticulously crafted using Fall River Granite, adding to its architectural allure. It now holds the esteemed status of a landmark in Victorian architecture and design, showcasing a stunning array of period furniture, wallpapers, ceramics, and intricate stenciling.

Upon Wetmore's passing in 1862 at Chateau-sur-Mer, the legacy and ownership were passed on to his son, George Peabody Wetmore. During the 1870s, the Wetmores embarked on an extensive European sojourn, entrusting renowned architect Richard Morris Hunt to oversee the remodeling and redecoration of the mansion. Hunt's work transformed Chateau-sur-Mer into a stunning example of the French Second Empire style and incorporated a multitude of design trends from the latter half of the 19th century.

The mansion's interior boasts a breathtaking great hall, a towering three-story space crowned by a 45-foot ceiling and expansive balconies. The billiard room exudes the Eastlake style, with oak timbers elegantly arranged diagonally across the ceiling and herringbone-patterned flooring. The library, designed and constructed in Italy, then transported to Newport, showcases a rich Italianate influence.

Chateau-sur-Mer's historical significance is immense. The mansion was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1968 and acquired by the Preservation Society of Newport County in 1969. In 2006, it achieved the prestigious status of a National Historic Landmark, securing its place as a celebrated icon of the Gilded Age.
Vernon Court and National Museum of American Illustration

6) Vernon Court and National Museum of American Illustration

Vernon Court, designed by the renowned architectural firm Carrère and Hastings, is a magnificent estate and a testament to the opulence and architectural grandeur of its time.

The design of Vernon Court draws inspiration from the elegance of an 18th-century French mansion, the Château d'Haroué. Constructed in the year 1900, it was intended to serve as a splendid summer cottage for Anna Van Nest Gambrill (1865–1927), the widow of New York lawyer Richard Augustine Gambrill. Anna Gambrill was not only heir to her husband's wealth but had also inherited a substantial fortune from her father, Alexander T. Van Nest, a prominent figure in the railroad industry.

The Gambrill family retained ownership of the property until 1956, when it went to auction. Subsequently, from 1963 to 1972, Vernon Court served as the administration building for Vernon Court Junior College, an exclusive all-girls school. In the following decades, it passed through the hands of various owners, each contributing to its storied history.

Today, Vernon Court has found a new purpose as the custodian of American illustration. The mansion has been transformed into a museum, housing an extensive collection of American illustrative art. The collection boasts over 2,000 original works by celebrated American illustrators, including luminaries like Norman Rockwell, Maxfield Parrish, J. C. Leyendecker, N.C. Wyeth, and many more. The architectural splendor of the Gilded Age in which Vernon Court was born harmoniously aligns with the "Golden Age of American Illustration," the central theme of the museum's collection.
Rosecliff Mansion

7) Rosecliff Mansion

The Rosecliff, now open to the public as a historic house museum, was built between 1898 and 1902. The mansion is also known as the Hermann Oelrichs House or the J. Edgar Monroe House, reflecting its storied past and the prominent individuals who have graced its halls.

The mansion was commissioned by Theresa Fair Oelrichs, an heiress to the silver fortune of Nevada. Her father, James Graham Fair, was one of the fortunate few who struck it rich in the Comstock Lode. Theresa Fair Oelrichs was married to Hermann Oelrichs, the American agent for the Norddeutscher Lloyd steamship line. In 1891, the Oelrichs family, together with Theresa's sister, Virginia Fair, acquired the property from the estate of George Bancroft. They had a grand vision of creating a summer retreat that would be perfectly suited for entertaining on an extravagant scale.

The Oelrichs family entrusted the esteemed architectural firm of McKim, Mead, and White with the design of their summer home. The principal architect, Stanford White, drew inspiration from the grandeur of the Grand Trianon of Versailles. However, Rosecliff was scaled down in size, adopting a basic "H" shape. The mansion boasts an exquisite glazed arcade with arched windows and paired Ionic pilasters, which gracefully transform into columns along the central loggia. Rosecliff's design by White was further enhanced with a second story featuring a balustraded roofline that artfully conceals the third story, where twenty small servants' rooms and the laundry pressing room are discreetly tucked away.

What truly sets Rosecliff apart is its splendid ballroom. This grand space has not only been a centerpiece for social events but has also played a role in the world of cinema. The ballroom served as a stunning backdrop for scenes in several notable films, including the 1974 version of "The Great Gatsby," "The Betsy," "High Society," "True Lies," and "Amistad." It's a place where history and entertainment seamlessly intertwine.
Beechwood (Astor Mansion)

8) Beechwood (Astor Mansion)

Beechwood stands as a symbol of the opulence and grandeur of the Gilded Age. Its illustrious history and architectural significance have firmly established it as a prominent landmark within the Bellevue Avenue Historic District. Most notably, Beechwood is celebrated for its ownership by the prestigious Astor family, who infused it with their unique charm and elegance.

The tale of Beechwood commenced between 1852 and 1853 when it was originally conceived as a marine villa for the wealthy New Yorker Daniel Parish. Parish, a prominent clothing merchant . The initial design was the work of renowned architects Andrew Jackson Downing and Calvert Vaux, who were based in New York. Sadly, Downing's planned visit to the building site in July 1852 never came to pass as he tragically lost his life in a steamboat accident en route to New York.

Nonetheless, the mansion was constructed with a distinctive "Palladian spirit" under the guidance of Vaux and showcased in Vaux's book "Villas and Cottages" (1857). Unfortunately, a fire in 1855 damaged the mansion, leading to its reconstruction with significant alterations in 1856, with Vaux supervising the construction.

In 1880, Beechwood acquired new ownership when William Backhouse Astor Jr. purchased it for a sum of $190,941.50. William Backhouse Astor Jr. was married to Caroline Webster Schermerhorn, who would later be renowned as "the Mrs. Astor." The house underwent further transformation when, between 1888 and 1890, Mrs. Astor enlisted the acclaimed architect Richard Morris Hunt to oversee a series of renovations, including the addition of a lavish ballroom tailored to accommodate the prestigious "Four Hundred."

Beyond its breathtaking architecture, Beechwood boasts several resplendent rooms, including a well-appointed library, an elegant dining room, and a charming music room adorned with exquisite wallpaper imported from Paris. Throughout the Astor era, Beechwood became the revered setting for many of Mrs. Astor's celebrated dinner parties and social gatherings.

Even after its illustrious history, Beechwood still had more stories to tell. In a second-season episode of "Ghost Hunters," the mansion was featured as the team from The Atlantic Paranormal Society (TAPS) investigated claims of paranormal activity. While the investigation may have added a touch of mystique to its storied past, Beechwood primarily remains a lasting testament to the luxury and grandeur of Newport's Gilded Age.
William Watts Sherman House

9) William Watts Sherman House

The William Watts Sherman House is a testament to the genius of American architect H. H. Richardson. This house, now owned by Salve Regina University, has earned the status of a National Historic Landmark and is widely regarded as one of Richardson's crowning achievements. It also serves as the prototype for the Shingle Style in American architecture, setting a precedent for the distinctive architectural form that emerged.

The William Watts Sherman House was constructed between 1875 and 1876 and stands as a tribute to the vision of William Watts Sherman, a prominent figure associated with the banking firm Duncan Sherman & Co. in New York. It was designed by the architectural firm of Gambrill and Richardson, although there's no definitive evidence of Gambrill's direct involvement in the design process. The construction was carried out by the renowned Norcross Brothers.

The house is a harmonious fusion of architectural elements borrowed from medieval Europe, Renaissance England, and Colonial America. However, its most distinguishing feature is the Shingle Style. It appears to draw inspiration from the architectural works of British architect Norman Shaw, particularly his houses in Surrey, which were published in 1874. Interestingly, when it was built, the architectural style of the house was so unique that even the builders, according to the Newport Mercury, couldn't find an appropriate name for it. The Sherman family themselves simply referred to it as Queen Anne style.

In honor of its architectural significance, the William Watts Sherman House was designated a National Historic Landmark by the Department of the Interior on December 30, 1970. This recognition pays homage to its unique blend of architectural styles and its role in shaping the Shingle Style, which would become a defining feature of American architecture.
Marble House

10) Marble House (must see)

Marble House, an opulent Gilded Age mansion, stands as a testament to an era marked by extravagance and architectural grandeur. Built between 1888 and 1892, it was conceived as a summer cottage for Alva and William Kissam Vanderbilt and was masterfully designed in the Beaux Arts style by the esteemed architect Richard Morris Hunt.

Marble House is the embodiment of luxury and was unparalleled in opulence for an American residence when it was completed in 1892. Its temple-front portico, reminiscent of the White House, adds to its grandeur, setting it apart as an architectural jewel.

This mansion's historical significance is duly recognized, earning it a place on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971 and the prestigious title of a National Historic Landmark in 2006. Today, Marble House is open to the public, lovingly maintained and curated as a museum under the care of the Newport Preservation Society.

A visit to Marble House is a journey back in time, where you can explore not only the architectural splendor but also the social history that helped transform Newport. The mansion, with its fifty rooms, was a social landmark that played a pivotal role in reshaping Newport from a relaxed summer colony of wooden houses into the opulent resort known for its stone palaces today.

Maintaining Marble House in its grandeur was no small feat. It required a dedicated staff of 36 servants, including butlers, maids, coachmen, and footmen, to ensure that its elegance and prestige remained undiminished.

As you explore Marble House, you'll notice the subtle influence of French architecture. Loosely inspired by the Petit Trianon at the Palace of Versailles, the mansion's French-inspired interiors were designed by Jules Allard and Sons of Paris. These designs are a testament to the Vanderbilt family's commitment to excellence and elegance.

The grounds of Marble House were designed by landscape architect Ernest W. Bowditch, adding to the overall charm of the estate. The mansion's interiors have also made appearances in various films and television series, cementing its status as a cultural and historical landmark.

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