My friend Pam Lamp, blogger and podcaster at Who I Met Today, joins me today with a fun post on Newport mansions and books. Pam interviews people from all walks of life. Through conversations about health, hobbies, books, food, aging, and travel, she invites you to join her, explore new territory, and expand your horizons. You can find her at Who I Met Today. Here's what she has to say about Newport:
I adored the television show, Downton Abbey. And when its creator and producer, Julian Fellowes, developed an Americanized version of the series for HBO, I fell in love with it too. For history fans who enjoy a peek into lavish architecture, beautiful fashion, and the lives of wealthy industrialist families in the late 1800s, The Gilded Age is a delectable treat.
Railroad, shipping, and mining tycoons from Philadelphia, New York, and beyond escaped to their “cottages” in Newport, RI, during the summer season. All six weeks of it. And now visitors flock to Newport to see those historic mansions. The public’s interest in trooping through the grand homes—and imagining the privileged comings and goings—has never been higher.
The Newport Mansions
On a recent trip to Newport, I assumed my husband had no desire to stroll through more than one Gilded Age home. And, so, I made plans to tour the grandest of the Newport mansions—The Breakers. Built in 1895 by Cornelius Vanderbilt II, this 140,000-square-foot summer cottage is massive and gaudy and completely over the top. But so much fun to see!
When a rainy afternoon caused us to shift plans, my good sport of a husband was willing to keep going…
And More Mansions
We added Marble House (Alva Vanderbilt's 39th birthday present), Rosecliff (the summer home of a Nevada silver heiress), and The Elms (a 48-room French chateau) to our itinerary. With a membership to the Preservation Society of Newport County, guests receive unlimited admission to all mansions for one year.
To get into the Newport spirit and Gilded Age mindset, I suggest reading a few books before you go…
The Social Graces by Renee Rosen
I loved this historical fiction novel narrated by Caroline Astor, Alva Vanderbilt, and Society. Caroline—the Mrs. Astor is a Knickerbocker. Alva is new money. And Knickerbockers do not want to mingle with the nouveau-riche.
Alva will stop at nothing to persuade society to accept her. Based on fact, this novel is a delightful romp of the extravagant measures the two women undertook to maintain their places in society’s hierarchy.
A Well-Behaved Woman by Therese Anne Fowler
Another book focused on the indomitable Alva Vanderbilt…In this New York Times bestselling novel, the author introduces us to the savvy, determined woman who turned her fortune around when she married into one of the nation’s wealthiest families. Although Alva has unimaginable resources, her family is socially shunned for its “new money.” With relentless perseverance and planning, Alva turned society on its head and became a leader in the women’s suffrage movement.
Lost Newport: Vanished Cottages of the Resort Era by Paul Miller
This book, recommended by master tour guide Raymond Roy of the Preservation Society of Newport County, features 59 magnificent Gilded Age homes not preserved or saved for posterity. Some burned down, and bulldozers smashed others to make room for “progress.” A sad read historically but good background information before a visit to Newport.
The American Heiress by Daisy Goodwin
In the late 1800s, daughters of the Gilded Age’s wealthiest families set sail for Europe to nab a husband. It turned out to be a win-win. A British royal with diminishing resources married the daughter of an American business magnate. The groom gained funds to keep his European estate afloat. The bride seized social status and a title.
Loosely based on the life of Consuelo Vanderbilt, who summered at Newport’s majestic Marble House, this historical fiction novel follows Cora Cash and her mother as they travel through Europe. Her mother wants a titled husband for her daughter despite what Cora desires.
But money and titles don’t always buy happiness.
The Glitter and the Gold by Consuelo Vanderbilt Balsan
For a non-fiction version of The American Heiress, this historical biography—despite mixed reviews—offers a glimpse into the life of the “real” Lady Grantham in Downton Abbey.
Consuelo Vanderbilt was young, beautiful, and heir to a shipping and railroad empire. Although she was in love with someone else, her mother—a mighty force—decided Consuelo would marry a Duke.
In 1895, the Duchess of Marlborough moved into Blenheim Palace.
The Gilded Newport Mystery Series by Alyssa Maxwell
Alyssa Maxwell’s beloved Gilded Newport mysteries take readers through various Newport mansions and landmarks. Guided by the historical mysteries’ amateur sleuth and Vanderbilt cousin, Emma Cross, readers uncover crimes at the grand mansions, including The Breakers, Rough Point, Beechwood, and Chateau-sur-Mer. Murder at Beacon Rock is the newest book in the ten-book series.
The Elms closed in October for a few weeks while the next season of The Gilded Age was filmed. After touring these mansions and learning some backstories, I plan to rewatch the first season!