Mature Life Features

Cecil Scaglione, Editor

Rhode Island Mansions House Opulent Past

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Doris Duke's "cottage"

Doris Duke’s “cottage”

 

By Pat Neisser

Mature Life Features

NEWPORT, R. I. — Most people, if they think about this town at all, revive images of robber barons and billionaires who invaded Newport in the 19th century and built “cottages” of 100 or so rooms that resembled European palaces.
These opulent mansions draw thousands of visitors, especially during the annual August Jazz Festival, Van Alen Cup tournament every summer at the International Tennis Hall of Fame, and the hundreds of fairs and activities staged each year.
The settlement was an early seaport in the 1630s that rivaled Boston and New York in the amount of shipping to far corners of the world. It’s much more laid back today. You can spend hours walking on Historic Hill or the Point, and chatting with homeowners weeding their gardens or repainting old shingles.
Cobblestones can make bike riding in town a bit rough, but you can pedal along the Cliff Walk, or the harbor. Still, walking among the restored buildings is a delight for any history buff. And the piers are packed with seaside eateries and shops housed in period buildings.
The schooner America sailed out of Newport in 1851 and defeated a British boat in a race around the Isle of Wight to win what became known as the America’s Cup. It remained here until 1983, when an Australian crew snatched it away before America  regained it four years later.
Although the trophy was not returned to Newport, the community has retained its position as a sailing center. You can take all sorts of cruises around the area, as well as paddle a canoe or kayak in the bay.
But a major reason many people visit Newport is still to see the historic mansions built during the 18th and 19th centuries by the wealthy. Some still are privately owned but are open to the public. You can view several of these from the outside or go inside by joining a group at the Newport Restoration Organization Office.
We dined with a group in the gold-encrusted ballroom at Marble House, built for William and Alva Vanderbilt by famed architect Richard Morris Hunt. Versailles has nothing on this mansion.
My favorite is Doris Duke’s 105-room Rough Point. Duke played serious piano and studied art in a studio crammed with antiques, mother-of-pearl pieces, and tapestries. The solarium, her favorite room, housed one of her pet camels during a hurricane.

(Newport, R. I., Convention and Visitor Bureau photo)

Mature Life Features, Copyright April 2004

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Written by Cecil Scaglione

February 5, 2013 at 8:52 am

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