Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.

Henry David Thoreau

The Elms Mansion in Newport

Tuesday  Afternoon September 17, 2013
Newport, Rhode Island



We’re getting a late start on our five house tour.

At the Visitor Center in Newport this morning we bought tickets for the Trolley Ride and for the Mansions.  None of the choices suited us as we thought we could see three while we were here.   No three choice.  Two for $24.95 or five for $31.50.   So even though we know we won’t be able to see five in the next two days, we buy the tickets anyway since they are good “forever”.  Usually I don’t trust those forever things since companies tend to go out of business before then.   But I’m pretty certain these houses will be here for as long as I live so it seems like a good risk.  Besides, as frugal as we are, it will force us to come back for sure!



Newport (184)


We’ve had a wonderful morning in Newport. You can read about that with this link. 

Now it’s  3:30 in the afternoon and The Elms closes at 5:00.


It’s the first mansion we’ve seen here and the first glimpse of it is overwhelming.  It is HUGE.  This was a single family dwelling built in 1898  as the summer residence for Mr.. and Mrs. Edward Julius Berwind of Philadelphia and New York and now Newport.  Good grief! 

Mr. Berwind made his fortune as head of the Berwind-White coal Company.  The firm’s mining operations covered more than 260,000 acres of coal lands in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Kentucky.  These were the country’s largest individually owned coal properties.  Even at the time there were many who were very critical of the conspicuous consumption of those who made their money on the backs of the poor. But the wealthy had their own little circle here in Newport and in it, Mr. Berwind was highly regarded.


As we approach the house from the side I notice the statuary on the roof and above the windows. 


Exquisite detail.  The artists who did this were exacting craftsmen.   There are sculptures like this on every roof corner.  I’m betting it’s some Greek Myth.  Anyone familiar enough with them to know this story?


Newport (78)

Newport (79)A



The Preservation Society has you enter the house through the giant wrought iron doors just as though you’d been dropped off in your carriage for a party in 1904.  The doors are huge.  The scroll work is beautiful.  Notice the faces carved above the doors.  There are faces carved in the same elaborate way above all the windows as well.


Newport (185)



Newport (81)

Newport (80)



The detail is astounding.  I wonder from where these artists were hired.  There is information about the architect Horace Trumbauer but nothing about the artists  who made these dazzling sculptures.


 Newport (82) Newport (83)




They allow no photographs inside the house.


I have taken just a couple pictures off of the Preservation Society web site so you can see the opulence in which these people lived.

Here’s where you’d be if you were invited for dinner at the Berwind home.


Elms dining 2


I would love to see these homes decorated for the holidays but I was hoping I could find a picture of the magnificent grand staircase just as we saw it with the beautiful curved wooden handrails coming from the left and right and meeting.  Lovely ladies would glide down from either side to stand in the middle and make their grand entrances in gowns costing more than my annual salary ever was.


elms grand staircase


I’m going to admit here among friends that I did use the shoot from the hip approach without flash to sneak some pictures inside.  One of those was this one since I wanted my daughter Carrie to see this stunning piano and there were no postcards or pictures of it at all that I could find.   Please don’t turn me in to the preservation police.


Newport (113)



How about playing this one sweetheart? 
I’d love to know the make wouldn’t you?

Elms piano


Unfortunately there are not many pictures on line of the incredible interior furnishings, carvings, sculptures, tapestries, paintings marble columns and even door hardware.  You just have to go see it for yourself and help the Preservation Society pay for it.  They have the houses open all year so their heating bill must be outrageous in those cold Newport by the sea winters.



Just as we exit the house we see the areas in which the staff worked.


Newport (154) 

It was important that the house appear to run on its own so few of the staff were ever seen by guests.  Only the butler and some footmen were allowed into the rooms when anyone else was in them.  But there is a lot of work keeping one of these huge homes running. 

The exit took us out the door used by the staff for any deliveries so that none of it could be seen from inside the house.   This covered circular drive hid all the work being done so no one from above would see it.

The extensive staff quarters were concealed behind a third floor balustrade and the kitchen laundry and other work rooms were in the cellar from which we exited

Apparently there was quite a behind the scenes competition among the extremely wealthy for who could have the biggest and grandest house with the least appearance of its being taken care of.  It was to operate like magic.


Newport (175)


We take so long inside the house where they have an excellent head set audio tour with multiple levels of information.  You can take the short straight through tour or you can take the longer multi detail tour.  We of course take the longer one.  So when we are finished with the tour we have barely a half hour left before we must vacate the grounds at 6:00. 


The back of the house is as much or more of a showplace than the front. 


We are not able to see all of the gardens but here is some of what we did see including some of the largest beech trees I have ever seen, before the clock struck six.


 Newport (158)



Newport (171)






Newport (176)



Isn’t this just amazing!!!
How do you even hug such a tree??


Newport (164)


To return to the gardens at the Elms is definitely on our NEXT TIME list.  You do not have to have a ticket to tour the grounds of any of the mansions, only to go inside.  Put it on your list.  It’s just mind boggling.


  1. These grand houses were such a shock to me when we visited Newport a couple of years ago on our New England cruise. The "royals" of our country during that period during the early part of the 20th century were definitely extravagant. I suppose they still are. It still amazes me how some people have lived, both here and in the grand castles in Eastern Europe that Melody and I saw last year. The 1 percent would you say? Or maybe the .1 percent!

  2. I find myself just shaking my head in these places. The opulence is unbelievable. They always feel cold to me. I still like tiny and cozy. Careful... that tree looks like it could give you a hug.... maybe a permanent choke the life out of you kind!

  3. how do you hug a tree such as that? You do exactly what you did, you just curl up in its "arms" and enjoy it hugging you.

  4. yep... just curl up and in its 'arms'... I like that Betty ;) gorgeous home... I went to Hearst Castle a number of years ago ... good lord! how people can have so much money .. well? the Biltmore in Asheville... man oh man

  5. Wow, that people actually lived like that!! Beautiful place tho!

  6. I think I would just go and tour the gardens for free. I have taken tours of large "houses" like that in the past. Now that I live in a small. cozy RV - those houses are just unreal. (Not that I had a huge house before, I guess I just think differently about big things.)

  7. Would be interesting to tour but way too big and opulent for me.

  8. Absolutely spectacular...reminds me of The Biltmore House only there are 5 of them in Newport;o)) Hard to imagine having enough money to spend that much for your house. I would indeed love to see the gardens!!

  9. Those gardens are just beautiful. Catherine and I visited Newport in the early nineties. I am not sure which mansions we toured. I do remember the Tennis Hall of Fame which we both thought was really good.

  10. What a beautiful house. It reminds me of the Biltmore in NC. I wonder which is bigger? We did the same thing with the headpiece when we toured the Biltmore. It was worth the extra money. When we were there, it was so crowded there was no way I could "shoot from the hip" to get some photos.....but I sure wanted to!

    I know you don't watch TV, but there is a really good show on PBS/Masterpiece Theater called Downton Abbey. It's set in a similar home and you get the story of both the downstairs help and the people that live in the house. It's amazing to me how those huge houses were run and all that's involved. The servants even help them dress and undress. Heaven help them if they had to take off their shirt by themselves!

  11. It's hard to wrap your mind around that kind of money being spent on that mansion. It certainly is beautiful!

  12. I wonder how much they paid their servants. It is a beautiful building, but I'd have a hard time calling it a home.

  13. Wow, and that was just their summer home! Would be fascinating to see. I imagine the staff consisted of an entire army to take care of that place!

  14. We are now making our way to the Northeast for the Fall colors and will certainly be referencing your travels along the Cape. Thanks for the beautiful photos and commentary. Lynda

  15. Great coverage of the Elms! A window to the past that just gives a glimpse and leaves the rest to imagination. It does not seem right that some should live so high while others have nothing, but it seems it has been that way since the Pharaohs and probably longer, so I am not holding my breath until this disparity resolves. Seems to be getting worse actually. I wonder if our grand children will be able to tour the estates of today's egregiously wealthy in another 100 years when their heirs can no longer afford the taxes and upkeep..

  16. Your someday list is getting longer and longer ;) The wealth back then was astounding! And all on the back of the working people. Gorgeous detail! A gold piano...wonder who played that and how often?! Beautiful gardens too. That tree is priceless :)

  17. Amazing house - especially the sculptures. The gardens on those old estates are unbelievable.


Your comments are the best part of this blog for me.
I LOVE hearing from you!